GnuCash and Multiple Businesses

Whilst not great, there are some ways to cope with multiple businesses when you use GnuCash.


GnuCash is a free accounting package that allows you to manage multiple businesses. You place each business in a separate file. You can have as many businesses as you need. It is a very workable arrangement.

What are the downsides?

The version I am currently using (2.2.9) saves some settings globally that I sometimes prefer were specific to a file. For example, importing data saves mappings globally. If you have a bank account common to two businesses you may want map it as an expense (or loan) for one company and an income source (or liability) for the other company. It needs to be mapped to different accounts depending which company you are importing into.

You can’t look at the big picture. Each business has a separate GnuCash file so you can’t see the overall result. The alternative is to put the lot in one big file but then you can’t see how each business is doing on its own.

GnuCash records the movement of money. Where this is internal to a business or between the business and the wider world this works fine. Money moving between related entities ends up needing to be entered twice. Once for each business.

If you forget to load one half of the transaction (ie in the other business) it will show up when you reconcile the other business. However, it would be better if you could load both bits at the same time.

The Longer Term Solution

The people that develop GnuCash have done lots of improvements over the years and they’ll probably come up with good solutions to these. In the meantime the issues are minor.

The Shorter Term Solution – Excel

On my small laptop, GnuCash takes a while to load. This is surprising because something as big and complex as Excel loads faster. In some ways it is easier to load GnuCash transactions into Excel than into GnuCash. The downside is Excel doesn’t have the nice data entry features that GnuCash does. For example in GnuCash you can enter “ex:4:ra” for “Expenses:4 Main Street:Rates”.

The other thing about Excel is it isn’t GnuCash. GnuCash does a lot of good things that accounting packages are supposed to do. These are things like keeping track of account balances and producing useful reports. A spreadsheet is good for recording transactions. It is not, without a lot of additions, an accounting package.

The following file will let you add transactions in Excel and then generate a QIF file for each business. Use Alt-F8 to run macros and then choose “ToQIF”. It creates QIF files in the same directory as the spreadsheet. You can Import these into GnuCash.


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