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Plain Text Accounting, a Guide to Ledger and Friends (plaintextaccounting.org)
150 points by nottwo on Feb 24, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 26 comments

For displaying the results/reports generated by Beancount [1] I created fava [2], a web-based interface with charts, tree-tables and tree-maps, including reports like Balance Sheet and Income/Expenses.

It supports filters (time, tags, account and payee) and you can find a demo here: http://fava.pythonanywhere.com

[1] http://furius.ca/beancount/ [2] https://github.com/aumayr/fava

Anyone who is into Ledger-like double-entry accounting and looking for a project to hack on, check out my very-early-and-rough project "DoubleBook": https://github.com/haberman/dblbook

The idea is to run the app in a web browser using IndexedDB. It's written in React and all client-side, so I'm hoping this could run in a web browser or as a native app. It could also run purely client-side as a Chrome App so you don't have to trust a server.

I've put a ton of work into the data layer, which is pretty functional, but I'm a backend guy and not very fast at writing UI's. If anyone is interested in helping me on the UI I'd love that. (Fair warning: since I'm a Googler by day I released this as a Google Open Source project, and to contribute to it you'd have to sign the Google CLA. I understand if some people might not be into that).

It even has a (very rough) importer from Ledger format.

Does anybody have a suggestion for an Android/Sailfish OS app which supports this? Ideally I’d like to run something like hledger-web on my home server and have a little app on my phone which lets me do data entry during the day, either directly talking to the server and/or caching the results until a connection can be made again.

There's no "nice" app where you click on drop downs or type in amounts and then it appends it to your ledger file.

Generally, and it's been discussed a lot on the mailing list/irc, people end up finding just writing down transactions in a text file works best. e.g. google keep, or simplenote, or Notes app etc.

I keep my ledger file on dropbox, so I can edit it directly.

I've not tried hledger-web on my phone to see what it looks like, but that has an add transaction function. So you could just go to your site and edit it. Obviously want some security to prevent others accessing it, e.g. VPN to home network.

My approach is a web app. It's not native, but effective.

This is an incredible resource, +1. I started using ledger heavily about a year ago and it's been a game changer.

Personal accounting is about data capture; if you don't gather good data, you end up with garbage in garbage out analysis. Having a simple, non-propretary file format enables so many things. The data capture side (OFX/QIF/CSV files, bank websites, etc. etc.) is still clunky and painful but that's a hard problem to solve.

Data capture is the issue. I have tried ledger but always go back to other apps because they can automatically capture all the data from my credit card, brokerage, etc.

i find these plain text accounting projects very interesting but what i need is something more akin to what YNAB provides, which is budgeting.

It's very much a "what works for me", but any accounting system that supports an account hierarchy (which ledger seems to) can have some form of budgeting "bolted on".

At my bank, I have a "Chequing" and "Savings" account (that's their use, anyway). I use GnuCash for Android as kind of an additional data layer on top of my bank accounts.

In GnuCash I have a Savings and Chequing account I manage, but I've got a whole separate hierarchy of "bank accounts" called "Budget". Under that I build a whole tree of "Bills", "Planned Purchases", "Car", "Credit Card Payment", etc. When I get paid I transfer the appropriate amounts into the various "budget" accounts to plan for my bills and such. The displayed amount for my "Savings" account is actually "money that is not allocated to anything right now". (The true total is Savings+Budget.)

If I pick something up on my credit card (e.g., buying something online), that expense gets logged against my credit card right away and I can just transfer some money from Savings/Chequing/Budget into my "Credit Card Payment" budget item.

It doesn't really provide me any forecasting, and I can't really set up "future bills", but once I move the money into the budget accounts it's essentially "spent", so it serves the purpose just as well.

(As an added benefit, I've set up the expense accounts to more or less mirror my budget accounts, with some additional ones for the unbudgetted day-to-day. I can always get an accurate picture of "how much have I spent on <x> since I started tracking", which is interesting.)

Here's how I do YNAB-ish budgeting, I think it's similar to what you said except using virtual subaccounts instead of a parallel hierarchy: https://gist.github.com/simonmichael/a1addcb652da4e78b183

I've just started to take a look at LedgerSMB (perl), ERPNext (python), and Odoo (python). These are backed by Postgresql or MariaDb. Anyone have any experience with these for a small business?

For personal finance or very small businesses there is GnuCash.

Rushabh here from the ERPNext core team. ERPNext is mostly used by small businesses with 3-50 users and covers most use cases for accounting, inventory, sales, purchase and other functions. We estimate there are between 800-1000 businesses using ERPNext at the moment. These are mostly small businesses (non tech) in services, manufacturing, distribution and retail.

The project is reasonably stable, but still takes a bit to set it up. The community is quite active (https://discuss.erpnext.com) and there is a long list of things that need to be done (https://github.com/frappe/erpnext/issues)

It has a metadata based framework and has REST API's out of the box. Its never been discussed on HN, so would love to get feedback.

I like Odoo, but, there doesn't seem to be enough glue in the Open Source release to do things like billing for services in a sane and coherent manner.

The UI for LedgerSMB is just horrible. I don't think it's really been updated since 1999.

I really haven't messed with ERPNext, mainly because I can't get it to install correctly.

It's my opinion that there really are not a lot of good, truly open source ERP/Accounting systems for businesses out there.

> I really haven't messed with ERPNext, mainly because I can't get it to install correctly.

Please post any issues, tracebacks on the forum. Install is pretty straightforward and works well for most people https://github.com/frappe/bench

Edit: You can also use the VM https://erpnext.com/download

One way to look at ERPnext is with their live demo: https://demo.erpnext.com/desk

(for example, click POS and enter an order..)

Great resource, thanks for sharing. My business accounts aren't too complicated but there are a few quirks which seem to stop me from migrating over from Freeagent, namely:

. Client + invoice integration

. Invoice preparation, with translated templates

. Multiple currency invoicing, with auto-calculated gain/loss

. Cashflow reports

. P+L, balance sheet

. UK tax calculations for self-assessment and for corporation tax

There's a chance I could replicate some of this in Ledger, but that's got time, energy and potential mistakes written all over it.

The accountant I work with charges more than average (from what I can tell - I pay £1k per year all-in, more or less, rarely have to lift a finger) but a) includes me on their own Freeagent [0] license ('saving' £300 pa) and b) is very tax efficient.

Knowing what I now know after years of working with accountants, however, there's an outside chance I could be as efficient without the associated costs. But then a contact of mine pays £500 a year for their accountant to submit official accounts and has to do his book-keeping manually, with no real cashflow oversight. Plus with ever-changing regulations and the ability to more easily sell or obtain credit for the business, it really makes sense to work with an accountant, as far as I can tell.

Anyone else wrestled with this before? I take it some of you might have, as this CLI accounting approach seems to appeal to us DIY'ers.

This year I do intend to get serious about accounting and my approach to finances. First I'm going to read Financial Intelligence for Entrepreneurs [1], as previously recommended on HN and elsewhere, to get a handle on what I ought to be looking at on a regular basis. Then I'm going to start to follow my new YNAB [2] account closely, although the use of that is unfortunately complicated by one of my accounts not importing statements automatically (the import option in the web application is not visible, despite the docs mentioning one) and so I may have to manually add all transactions which... I'm not keen on doing.

I found a spreadsheet that does what YNAB does, but without the bells and whistles, and with manual data-entry, I'll pay for the modestly priced online offer if it turns out to be simple enough to use.

Overall, it's not that things are in bad shape, but they could be better and I'd like to know what to focus on to ensure stability and growth.

So yes, interested in DIY accounts, but not able/willing to contribute to improving them just yet.


[0] - https://lukespear.co.uk/2011/07/online-accounting-for-freela...

[1] - http://www.amazon.com/dp/1422119157/

[2] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/You_Need_a_Budget

> The accountant I work with charges more than average (from what I can tell - I pay £1k per year all-in, more or less, rarely have to lift a finger)

There's accountants and accountants, and £1k for an accountant who knows their stuff is reasonable. I prefer that to having a glorified book-keeper-cum-accountant who doesn't think beyond what's needed to do the paperwork, as some of the larger firms targeting small companies have become.

Thanks for confirming that. I only had a few data points to go on so far. I did work with a small one-person-band £300/year accountant for a while, but then paid for the Freeagent account on top of that (£300) and didn't feel that the accountant was doing more than, as you say, the paperwork. Still, helped with securing a mortgage, so not all bad.

I am wrestling with it now, because I cant justify spending 150EUR/month _and_ 1500EUR at year end to keep books and file returns. I have but six to ten invoices a year, and only myself as an employee; but such an animal doesn't seem very interesting to every relevant tax and accounting professional I've inquired with in Berlin. Perhaps it is the "English" premium, but at those costs I'm stuck spending more time than I care, at possibly greater risk than I am aware of, trying to do my own paperwork and books. In a system I mostly grok from (translated!) blog posts!

I have British friends in Berlin who run a bar and they pay around 800€/year. I don't know what your business is like, but I'd imagine a Bar is on the complicated side of things (lots of small transactions, changing personell etc).

You probably don't even need to do double-entry bookkeeping. If you look at your files from the last years, it should be pretty easy to figure out how to handle the different transactions. It only gets complicated when you start hiring people (as employees, not contractors) or have debt/investments.

Your accountant should at least let you do the monthly stuff yourself (usually very easy: just add the VAT you charged) and then do the yearly accounting for much cheaper, as long as you can get him/her the data in an easy=to-process format.

That isn't cheap. It keeps you above board, so that's worth its cost already, but offshoring is such a grey-area that it might not pay to even investigate it if you ever fell foul of any local regs. I once knew a Swede who successfully operated his business through a HK company, but how feasible that is now, and how well that fits into German regs is beyond me.

Your affairs sound so simple I'm surprised there isn't the equivalent of a low-cost, online-only type of accountant in Germany. Plenty of those here, at least, in GB.

My other thought was for you to enlist the help of a local to call around for quotes to confirm whether or not you are being quoted an "English premium".

Is that the price for an accountant, right?

I pay a bookkeeper to keep our books, and the accountant only comes into the picture at the end of the year when the company's accounts need to be filed and corporation tax needs to be paid.

Our company pays more for those services than your quote above, but if you're not incorporated as a company surely you could get a cheaper way to file returns?

At the least, you could take the monthly bookkeeping side of things away from your accountant.

Another shameless plug: easy web-based accounting that is free to install locally, or pay someone to host it for you. https://beansbooks.com/

Shameless plug: if you do prefer something that the rest of your family can use try my app: Family Fortune https://family-fortune.ridgebit.com

Sorry, but personal accounting shouldn't need a guide. Everyone writing personal accounting software seems to nerd off on accounting stuff making it unusable. You should nerd off on other stuff instead: photographing receipts would be an awesome way to data entry for instance.

You've got a great idea for your next project. These folks will continue to spend their free time as they wish.

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