Getting StartedCreate a budget and your first account
Creating a budget
When you first open Actual on the desktop you will be asked to create a budget with a name. Next, you will be asked for the name and balance of your initial account. This is required to start budgeting.
You can always change your account name or starting balance later, so feel free to guess the initial balance. Otherwise, login to your bank and find your current account balance.
To change your starting balance, select the account and change the amount of the "Starting Balance" transaction by clicking on the amount value.
Open the budget page to start working on your budget. The first thing to think about is how you want to categorize your spending.
If you don't have much experience tracking your finances yet, we recommend starting simple. For this reason, Actual only comes with a few basic categories by default. Don't worry about tracking things super closely. Tracking a few basic areas of your life will still give you profound insights on your spending.
The basic categories are:
Food: all grocery and restaurant spending.
General: everything else (you probably want to split this up over time, but having a general category is nice for a lot of miscellaneous expenses).
Bills: all bills that charge that same amount each month. Some people like to split this up too, but we think reports will eventually make this clearer.
Bills (Flexible): All bills that charge various amounts (power, water, bi-monthly bills, etc).
Savings: any transfers to savings accounts. These are treated as expenses because it's moving money out of the budget, but if you add your savings account on the budget you'll want to budget all that money accordingly instead.
Adding a category
Create categories by hovering over a group and clicking the "+" button by the name. You can also rename categories by simply clicking on the name, and reorder them by dragging them. You can rename groups by holding Shift and clicking on them (this will be improved).
Make an initial budget
Notice the "To Budget" amount on the budget page. This amount should be the same as your initial account balance because you budget money you already have. It's time to create your first budget.
Estimate how much you'll spend in each category, and distribute the entire "To Budget" amount. If you think don't have enough money for the month, you'll have to wait until you make another deposit or overbudget and assume you'll make up the negative amount later. If you have too much money that probably means you can put whatever is leftover into the Savings category.
Don't worry too much about the values of your budget. If you've never budgeted before, just make a guess. It will take a few months to get an accurate picture of what your budget should be, and it's easy to change your budget over time.
Add off budget accounts
Any accounts to you create by default are included on the budget, meaning their money must be budgeted. If desired, select the "Off-budget" option when creating an account to add an off-budget account. These accounts will not be included in the budget and allow you to simply track their transactions and balance over time.
Reports like Net Worth include these accounts, and there will be other interesting reports as well. If you are interested in tracking investment or other types of accounts, Actual wants to help you at with this too.
Next, read How It Works to understand the typical workflow using Actual.