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In Gnucash, what is the best way to structure category accounts which will hold funds distributed across several bank accounts?

In Canada we have Tax Free Savings accounts which return more interest than regular savings accounts, but they have a quota on how much can be stored in them without a tax penalty.

So for example say I have $15,000 saved for house renovations, which is actually stored in 3 bank accounts: my TSFA, my spouse's, and a regular savings. How do I represent that in the gnucash account structure? When part of the money is spent, how should that be recorded? At any given time we should be able to look at the House Renos "account" and answer the question "can we afford to replace the roof yet?"

[update] The standard Assets top level parent can't be used because then the virtual category account of "New bike", "Vacation", etc. which also store funds in those same accounts would be included in the roll up as well.

So I need to get these virtual accounts:

-Savings........................... $20000.00
  -House Renovations............... $15000.00
  -New bikes....................... $ 2000.00
  -Vacation........................ $ 2000.00
  -Other........................... $ 1000.00

From these real accounts:

-Some Bank......................... $20000.00
  -Savings Account................. $10000.00
  -TFSA Account 1.................. $ 5000.00
  -TFSA Account 2.................. $ 5000.00
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1 Answer

GnuCash allows hierarchical listing of accounts, with the parent also summarizing the children when in the accounts' list. So you can create "TFSA Accounts" account under "Assets", and create separate account for each of the TFSA's under that "TFSA Accounts" parent account. You can mark it as a placeholder for your convenience so that you won't assign transactions to the parent by mistake.

When you're looking at the "Accounts" page, you'll see something like this:

-Assets ................................. $115010.50
  -Savings Accounts ..................... $115000.00
     -Some Non-TFSA Savings Account ..... $100000.00
     -TFSA Accounts...................... $15000.00
        -TFSA Account 1 ................. $8000.00
        -TFSA Account 2 ................. $2000.00
        -TFSA Account 3 ................. $5000.00
  -Checking Account ..................... $10.50

When you collapse the "TFSA Accounts" it will look like this:

-Assets ................................ $115010.50
  -Savings Accounts .................... $115000.00
     -Some Non-TFSA Savings Account .... $100000.00
     +TFSA Accounts..................... $15000.00
  -Checking Account .................... $10.50

And you'll be able to see exactly how much you have in all of them, without trying to summarize them every day.

Transactions go as usual, for each of the accounts (you'll have to have a withdrawal transaction from each, when you pay the $15000 to the roofer, anyway).

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+1 although I think the OP made a typo in the question and TSF is supposed to read TFSA –  thepassiveinvestor Jan 3 '13 at 11:48
    
thanks, corrected –  littleadv Jan 3 '13 at 18:08
    
Thanks for the clear picture. Where in that structure would the "House Renos" account live? (which is a virtual account, a category, rather than an actual bank account, and has a summation of funds stored in several real bank accounts. The "Assets" parent can't be used because then the virtual category account of "New bike", "Vacation", etc. would be included as well.) –  matt wilkie Jan 4 '13 at 5:23
    
@matt, that would not be an account, that would be a budget. I haven't actually used the GnuCash budget support, but you can google it and see what you find. This article looks promising: suburbandollar.com/2009/04/08/budgeting-with-gnucash –  littleadv Jan 4 '13 at 5:37
    
I read the gnucash docs for budgeting and it doesn't sound like what I'm after. I don't care about the time period, it'll be done when we "have enough", which might be one year or five. I don't need to track cash flow or expenses either (for these categories). After reading the linked article I now know I'm using the "envelope system", I didn't realise it had a name, however that can't be used (or I haven't figured out how) for money disbursed across accounts. –  matt wilkie Jan 4 '13 at 6:05
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