To create a scheduled transaction, simply right-click any entry, select Schedule and define the specifics, such as Frequency, Amount and Duration. Scheduled transactions are vital if you want to plan ahead, enabling you to see what your balance is likely to be at the end of the month, and so provides time to avert disaster or plan to make additional payments on the mortgage.
GnuCash also has facilities far beyond those needed for simple home accounts. In fact, it's a fully-fledged business management application with an extensive range of report options, tax and UK VAT management, comprehensive invoice and contact management facilities. For a small business, this feature set is brilliant and the fact that it costs nothing is astonishing.
If your needs go beyond simple budgeting and the idea of multiple linked accounts makes you more excited than it should, GnuCash is the ultimate finance package. Ordinary home users, though, may be slightly intimidated by its steep learning curve.
Verdict: A stunning piece of software. May be too complicated for basic home use.
2. Moneydance 2008
Moneydance is unusual in this lineup because it's the only proprietary package we're testing. The Java base makes installation easy – just drag the folder from the downloadable archive and double-click the Moneydance icon – but also means that you'll have to add an icon to your desktop or the appropriate menu.
When you start the package, which betrays the typical Java ugly font syndrome, you can define the home currency and choose whether to use a Typical or Minimal setup. The latter, it's suggested, is best if you're migrating from another package. The former creates a file containing Savings and Current accounts, with a large and useful range of categories for income and expenses already defined and ready to use, which is a real time saver.
The Home screen is organised to give you a good overview of your current financial state and the calendar at the bottom-right highlights any upcoming payments due or expected. Above this is a section of reminders that includes upcoming events and also overdue payments. To the left is a net worth estimate and an exchange rate calculator, and other items will appear as data is added to the system. Fortunately, the elements that do appear can be edited from within the Preferences section of the software, so it's possible to tailor the home screen to your own needs.
For day to day use, Moneydance is very simple. To add a new item to the standard current account, for instance, select the account from the list, hit the New Transaction button and begin adding information. The Ledger screen where transactions appear is clean, easy to read and can be re-ordered using the column headers, just like a spreadsheet.
Importing our test data worked flawlessly, and the software provides a dynamic reconciliation option where you can record or discard transactions as part of the importing process. This is an excellent tool for checking your records with the bank's and shouldn't be rushed. The process also involves tagging each entry and hearing perhaps the best sample of a cash register ever. Once we'd tagged, for instance, a purchase from Boots as Home > Miscellaneous, the next time a Boots transaction appeared in the list, the tag defaulted to the same label, which made the entry process quicker.
Once you've added data to the register from the bank, it's easy to turn one transaction into a recurring one. Right-click on a transaction to reveal a context-sensitive menu. Select the Memorise option to define the frequency of the payment, the amount and the duration, then hit OK and the transaction will be added to the calendar and will be added to the register at the appropriate time.