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I'm new to getting my finances in order, and I've decided to use GNUCash to track my spending and general financial health. I'm reading the manual and trying to take control!

My trouble and confusion stems from the fact that I don't have a current clear picture of my financial state right now. I understand the concept of an Equity:Opening Balances account, and I've used this to set the opening balance of my new checking account. However, I obviously have more stuff that I may need to count as equity (things that I don't know that I might want to include later...). I just can't find any clear guides for what to call it when I do decide to enter it as an asset (probably later, as I can't count it all up at once). I also can't decide what equity account to name as the source for these new asset entries. They aren't Opening Balances, after all!

For example:

  1. I'll soon get a refund for a parking pass. This isn't income as I already earned the money I spent on the pass, but it also isn't an opening balance for an account. When I get the cash, what equity account should be credited?
  2. I might sell some minor property, like a TV or a computer or something. It's not income since I already bought the TV with income. How do I deposit the cash in an asset account and label it with a source account in equity?
  3. What if I find $100 in my jacket that I didn't know I had? Again, not income or an opening balance. What equity account should be credited?

All of this is confusing because there is so much property in my life that is unaccounted for.

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I would say when starting with Gnucash to start with the level of granularity you are comfortable with while sticking to the double entry bookkeeping practices.

So going through each one:

  1. Refund for Parking Pass. Assuming you treat the Parking Pass as a sunk cost, i.e. an Expense account, its just a negative entry in the Expense account which turns into a positive one in your Bank account. Yes it may look weird, and if you don't like it you can always 'pay from Equity' the prior month, or your Bank Account if you're backfilling old statements.

  2. Selling physical items. If you sold it on eBay and the value is high enough you'll get tax forms indicating you've earned x. Even if its small or not done via eBay, treat it the same way and create a 'Personal Items/Goods' Income account to track all of it. So the money you get in your Bank account would have come from there.

  3. Found jacket money would be an Equity entry, either Opening Balances into Cash or Bank account.

Remember you are treating Equity / Opening Balances as the state before you started recording every transaction so both the value going into Assets (Banks,Stock,Mutual Funds) and Liabilities (Mortgage, Student Debt, Credit Card Debt) originate from there.

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I would take each of these items and any others and consider how you would count it as an expense in the other direction. If you have an account for parking expenses or general transportation funds, credit that account for a refund on your parking. If you have an account for expenses on technology purchases, you would credit that account if you sell a piece of equipment as you replace it with an upgrade. If you lost money (perhaps in a jacket) how would you account for the cash that is lost? Whatever account would would subtract from put a credit for cash found.

  • I see. So the goal would be to not modify the opening balance transactions and simply treat these as negative expenses (meaning positive for my assets). In the last scenario, I'm saying that the cash had been lost before I ever started keeping track of my accounts. It's "like" found money, but it's not income. I'm still confused about that case. – lifecrisis Jan 19 '17 at 23:12
  • Effectively, scenario three would involve debiting Assets:Cash and crediting an account that I would normally debit in the case of a cash loss or theft. Is that what you're saying? In that case, I'd likely have only one transaction in an account. Seems like overkill. Is there a better way? – lifecrisis Jan 19 '17 at 23:15
  • I wouldn't have an account for stolen or lost cash, I'd use a miscellaneous account for things like gifts that I receive, and I'd note the details of the money I received in each entry. – Nathan L Jan 19 '17 at 23:52
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    My point is to use your closest spending account to track refunds, etc. and to have some way to account for other discrepancies that don't fit tidily into any other account. – Nathan L Jan 19 '17 at 23:59

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