Get started with HomeBank
With HomeBank you can automate recurring transactions, set reminders for future transactions, assess your future account balance so you can plan your spending sprees and manage your expenses expertly. You see, we work hard for our pay cheques - well, some of us work harder than others - and we spend money on groceries, utilities and, ahem, fun Fridays. But keeping track of what's coming in, when the bills are due and how much is left after the recurring monthly expenses is not something that many of us make the effort to do. It's time-consuming and boring and there's always that episode of 24 that you'd rather be watching.
If you take the time to master some good home accounts software - such as HomeBank or one of the other great apps we featured in our home finance software group test - you'll find these accounting chores much less painful. Read on!
HomeBank is available in the software repositories of most distributions. If you're running Fedora or Ubuntu, it's only a su -c "yum install homebank" or sudo apt-get install homebank command away. You can similarly install it on Debian, OpenSUSE, Mandriva and Arch Linux using their native package managers.
To install it from source, download the latest tarball, uncompress it with tar zxvf homebank-4.0.2.tar.gz and browse into the newly created homebank-4.0.2 directory. You now need to run the ./configure, make and make install trio of commands to install HomeBank. Once HomeBank is installed, you'll be able to launch it from its icon in the Applications > Office menu.
The first step when you launch HomeBank is to create a wallet. Click on File > Properties and type in a name in the Owner field. Click on OK when you're done. Before you can get down to filling in your transactions, you need to create an account. Think of the account as a virtual namesake of your physical account. Hit the Accounts button on the toolbar or click Edit > Accounts to bring up the Manage Accounts dialog.
Click the Add button and then fill in the details of your account in the relevant fields. Like in the real world, you can configure HomeBank to work with multiple accounts. After filling in the information for the first account, hit the Add button again and then fill in the details for your second account. Before you go any further, click on File > Save As and save the file.
HomeBank makes it easy: the car cost report quickly determines your car's fuel efficiency, and you can also include insurance and repair costs in the report.
Enter your payees
To the right of the Accounts button on the toolbar is the Payees button. Payees are anyone you conduct business with - they are entities you pay out money to, like the local grocery store, the landlady, and they're also your sources of income. Everything you spend money on - fuel, electricity, tuition fees, transportation, etc - is a payee.
To input a list of payees, click on the Payees button to launch the Manage Payees dialog box. The Manage Payees dialog box isn't much to look at, with only a text field at the top and some buttons on the right, but it gets the job done. Type a name in the text field and hit the Add button to enter the name as a payee, and keep going until you've entered all your sources of income and expenses. Click the Close button when you're done.
You don't have to enter all the payees in one go, and frankly no one expects you to. After all, no one would willingly want to remember all avenues of draining one's bank balance. The Manage Payees dialog box doesn't enable you to specify whether a payee in the list is a source of income or someone you pay money to. Don't worry, you can specify that when you enter your transactions into HomeBank.
To view a list of your transactions, click on the Show button on the toolbar or click on Transaction > Show. HomeBank can show the transaction for only one account at a time, so you need to select the account from the main window before you click on Show. A list of all transactions in the default range of the last two months is displayed. If you wish to display only last month's transactions, click on the Month drop-down button at the top and select a month. You can similarly select a range such as the last 30 days or the last six months from the Range drop-down box.
Step by step: Enter your transactions
Add Transaction dialog: Click on the Add button on the toolbar to launch the Add Transaction dialog box. If you can't see the Add button on the toolbar, click the button on the far-right and select Add.
Money in or out? The +/- button next to the amount field is what you use to define whether the transaction denotes income or expense. Select a mode of payment and the Payee respectively from the drop-down boxes.
Validated or reminder: You can define whether the transaction has been made or set a reminder for it. Click the Validated checkbox if the transaction has been made. For example, if you've paid the rent, the transaction should say be validated.
There are times when it's helpful to look at the month's expenses. For one, it can help you decide how much you can spend on your friends' birthday present. The basic filtering options, such as Range, Month and Year are accessible from the transaction window. There are however, many more complex filtering options that you can make use of by clicking on Tools > Filter.
There are four parameters for you too choose from: Date, Amount, Transaction State and Payment. For each of these parameters, choose Include or Exclude from the Option drop-down box. For instance, to view transaction made between 1 March and 15 March, choose Include under the Filter Date heading and fill in the From and To fields. You can similarly choose to exclude transactions made between certain dates.
There may be times when you realise you've entered an incorrect date or amount for a transaction, or you didn't fill out a field at all. HomeBank doesn't announce your oversight, so you may have a transaction that doesn't show the right amount, and HomeBank won't let you know.
When you encounter such an erroneous transaction entry or wish to edit an existing transaction for whatever reason, click on the Show button on the toolbar and then double-click the transaction you wish to edit. This brings up the Modify Transaction dialog box. You can now change your transaction details, be it filling in something you left out or changing one of the fields. Click on OK when you're done to save your changes.
Filter and sort options
For example, If you want to display all cash transactions from $200 to $500, irrespective of the date, first select Inactive Option for Date and State options. Next, choose the Include option under Filter Amount and fill in the From and To fields. Finally, select Include under the Filter Payment option and click on the Cash checkbox. Alternatively, you can choose Exclude from the Option drop-down box and select all payment methods except for cash. Once you've entered your filtering criteria, click on OK and HomeBank will display only the relevant transactions.
Apart from the Date, Amount, State and Payment parameters, you can also filter your transaction by choosing to include or exclude certain Payees. Click on the Payee tab at the top of the Edit Filter dialog box, and after choosing Include or Exclude from the Option drop-down box, select the relevant payees from the list. If you entered any transaction into HomeBank without specifying the payee, you will not be able to include or exclude those transactions using the payee parameter. It is advised you enter all possible payees that come to mind. You can then edit the existing transactions to suggest the payee.
Now that you've entered a few transactions into HomeBank, its time to find out what you've been up to. To view the statistics report of your account, select the account from the main HomeBank window, then click on the Statistics button on the toolbar or click Reports > Statistics. You can define some basic parameters for the statistics report from the left pane of the Statistics Report window. To view only expenses or income or both expenses and income, click on the View drop-down box and select from the list. Hopefully the reports will be able to show where you could be saving a few of your hard-earned pounds!
How to generate reports
Statistics reports: On the left of the Statistics Reports window are some basic filtering options, with a row of buttons at the top to help you best assess the figures. Finally there's the main display, where your income and expenses are listed.
Filtering options: The filtering options in reports are the same as they are when you're working with transactions, except for the Account tab. From here, you can include or exclude any account in the report.
Bar and pie charts: The Bar and Pie buttons generate graphics that help you clearly see your transactions in comparison with one another. Look at the pretty colours!
First published in Linux Format magazine