In the realm of personal finance, there are many, many different apps that one can use to keep track of their finances (if one even wants to keep track of them at all). One such famous app is the venerable GnuCash: a free, cross-platform accounting app.
GnuCash has been around for literal decades — its first release was all the way back in 1998! But today, we're going to talk about the good and bad of GnuCash, and what other possible (modern) alternatives exist for an individual like you.
Why to Choose GnuCash as an Individual
If you're an individual (and not a business) looking to use GnuCash, here are some of the reasons why you might want to choose it:
This is the big one. GnuCash is both free as in beer (i.e. it costs no money to use) and free as in freedom (i.e. it's open-source). For the penny-pinchers among you, that means you can use GnuCash however you want, for however long you want; no annoying subscription fees to pay here!
Whether it's Windows, Mac, or Linux, GnuCash is available on all the major desktop operating systems. Unless you're a hardcore Chrome OS fanatic, GnuCash has you covered (although even then, you can try to run it with the beta Linux support).
However, while it is technically available on Android and iOS, the experience isn't exactly great. We'll get to that in a bit.
Although likely confusing for the average personal finance first-timer, double-entry accounting is a powerful system for ensuring that your finances are accurately tracked. GnuCash uses double-entry accounting through-and-through; maybe too thoroughly for some people.
But hey, at least there's no more wondering why your account balances are all out of whack!
Since GnuCash is first-and-foremost a desktop app, it saves all of your data to a set of portable files. Just copy them over (or sync them over) to another machine and you're on your way!
For a free piece of software, GnuCash is probably the most feature-rich double-entry accounting app on the market. That comes as no surprise given the decades of development work that's gone into it.
So if you're looking to be a personal finance power user, then GnuCash is probably where you should start looking.
Why not to Choose GnuCash as an Individual
As much as there are good reasons to go with GnuCash, there are also a handful that really stem from GnuCash's age.
Dated UI Design
Being an app first designed and developed in the 90s, it's not exactly a surprise that GnuCash looks rather dated. You're certainly not choosing GnuCash because it's pleasant to look at.
And with a dated design comes a less-than-ideal user experience. Maybe it's because it's naturally 'harder' to use double-entry accounting, or maybe because of the dated design, but GnuCash has a definite learning curve to it.
Poor Mobile Experience
Although there do technically exist GnuCash mobile 'apps' (for Android and iOS), they are far from being the complete experience. In essence, they are mostly simple trackers so that you can enter your transactions on the go. But then you have to export everything you enter to then re-import it into one of the desktop apps.
Hardly the feature-rich experience one expects from mobile apps these days.
No Cloud Sync or Web App
Speaking of having to export and re-import, this problem all comes down to the fact that GnuCash doesn't have any kind of Cloud Syncing or 'account' system. You can't just log in to all your devices to access your finances.
This is made even more apparent by the lack of a web app. Although this is somewhat excused by GnuCash being natively supported on basically every platform, many people these days like to just live in a browser, so not being available on the most ubiquitous 'platform' on the planet is a letdown.
You'd Rather Budget
Although GnuCash technically has some built-in budgeting support, it's most definitely not the main focus of the app. If you're out to more to budget than track, then GnuCash is probably not your best choice.
Best GnuCash Alternatives for Individuals
Having now examined the various pros and cons, we can finally start looking at alternatives to GnuCash for you, the individual.
Each of the alternatives will be compared to GnuCash based on how well they hole up GnuCash's failings while also maintaining its strengths.
If you're looking for a modern UI, cloud sync, and much better budgeting features, then YNAB (aka "You Need a Budget") is the app for you!
YNAB adopts the 'envelope' method of budgeting to give you a very structured system for keeping your finances in check. Additionally, it supports robust bank sync so that you have less work to do!
Cost: $11.99/month or $84/year
Firefly III is a more direct GnuCash alternative. It's also free and open-source, yet still retains some of the 'DIY' charm of GnuCash since it's a self-hosted web app. That means that you still retain complete control over your data, but you can access it from anywhere, on any device.
Additionally, it has a more modern UI design while still retaining a double-entry accounting system.
If you thought YNAB was a more modern alternative to GnuCash, then Lunch Money is the more modern alternative to YNAB! Cleaner UI, still a web app, still a focus on budgeting.
Unlike YNAB, however, Lunch Money doesn't have a native mobile app, nor is its web experience especially optimized for mobile devices. But as a GnuCash replacement, it's definitely one of the better-looking alternatives on this list.
Cost: $10/month or $70/year
If you're deep into the Apple ecosystem, then maybe MoneyWiz is the app for you. Sporting a clean design and robust bank syncing, MoneyWiz is a Mac and iOS app that supports cloud sync to access your finances on all your (Apple) devices.
Although not free, MoneyWiz is still cheaper than most of the paid alternatives on this list.
Cost: $4.99/month or $49.99/year
Google Sheets (or Excel)
If GnuCash wasn't hardcore enough for you, then there's always the time-tested standby of "spreadsheets". Taking the DIY approach, you can basically replicate or create any personal finance workflow you could imagine.
And if you choose to use a cloud-based option (like Google Sheets), then you automatically get syncing and easy access on all your devices!
Cost: Basically free
Want the ultimate in modern GnuCash alternatives? If you're an individual, you can look no further.
uFincs is the privacy-friendly GnuCash alternative. It has a clean, modern design while still adopting all of the best parts of double-entry accounting.
uFincs is a responsive web app that works great whether you're using your laptop or your phone. And since all of your financial data is encrypted before it ever leaves your browser, you maintain sole ownership of your data.
If you're looking for a modern GnuCash alternative and want the best personal finance experience, uFincs is a very compelling choice for individuals.
Cost: $20/month or $120/year
While GnuCash is certainly still a capable app in this day age, as an individual, you're probably better off with something a little more modern. Hopefully, this list of GnuCash alternatives will help you improve your personal finances.