15.2. Creating a Budget

Even before you begin to make a budget, it’s important to have given some thought to your account hierarchy. For example, if you want to budget a certain amount for your electric bill and a certain amount for your water bill, you can’t have only an Expenses:Utilities account. Your accounts must be at least as specific as your budget.

15.2.1. Choose Which Accounts To Budget For

The first step in creating a budget is to decide what it is you want to plan for. This decision will affect which accounts you include in your budget. For example, if you are only interested in tracking your expenses, you may create an expense budget by only entering amounts for expense accounts. On the other hand, if you want to track all of your cash flow, you may create a cash flow budget by entering amounts for asset, liability, income and expense accounts.

Before you begin to create your budget, you need to make two decisions: What accounts do I want to budget for? and When do I want my budget to be for? You can always change your mind later, after you’ve created a budget, but you need to start with something.


As a rule of thumb, if you mostly care about what you spend your money on, you may want to make an expense report. If you’re also concerned about having enough money in the right places at the right times, you may want to use a cash-flow budget.

15.2.2. Choosing a Budget Period

Before creating a budget you must also decide what period of time you want to plan for. The most common budget periods are monthly and annual. If you want your budget to plan for changes in financial patterns over time, then you should include multiple budget periods in your budget. For example, if you want to plan on having higher utility expenses in the winter than in the summer, then you might break your annual budget into 4 quarters or even 12 months, and budget a higher value for the winter periods than for the summer periods.

15.2.3. Getting Started

To create your first budget click on ActionsBudgetNew Budget. You will immediately see a new budget with the default settings and no entries. Then click on the Options button. The most important options are the budget period and the number of periods. For the budget period, choose the beginning date and the smallest period of time that you want to plan for. Then, for the number of periods, choose how many periods you want to plan for.

The budget page now shows a list of accounts with a column for each budget period. The date shown in the title of each column is the beginning of that budget period.

15.2.4. Entering Budget Values

Now, you must enter the budget values - the amounts that you expect the account balances to change during the budget period. There are two ways to enter budget values. The first way is to simply click on the cell and enter an amount.

If you have past transactions recorded in GnuCash, the second way is to let GnuCash estimate the budget values by looking at those transactions. First, select the accounts you want GnuCash to estimate. Then click on the Estimate Toolbar button. In the Estimate Budget Values dialog, select the date past which GnuCash should look for past transactions. GnuCash will start at that date and look forward for the duration of your budget. For example, if you are making an annual budget, and you select Jan. 1, 2005, GnuCash will look at all the transactions in that account from Jan. 1, 2005 through Dec. 31, 2005.