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Ask HN: Basic Personal Finance/Accounting Application
17 points by nyc_jenna on July 7, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 11 comments
Hey guys,

A friend and I are trying to put together a very basic finance/accounting app, where anyone will be able to easily record their expenses and income. We were looking for an existing app for personal use, but couldn't really find anything that's very simple in features and usability. We found ledger (http://wiki.github.com/jwiegley/ledger/) to be the closest, but want something that's Web-based. We are looking to build the app exclusively for "tiny enterprises" (i.e. personal use, households, single person businesses, small businesses and early startups).

The most basic feature will be the ability to record (or upload a CSV with) income transactions and expense transactions; and generate a simple summary report at any time.

We'll really appreciate any ideas and suggestions which we can address in our product, mainly:

1. Do you have a use for such an application (basic accounting, no frills, no extra features)? If so, what one feature would you like to have and what one feature you wouldn't want in the app?

2. Should we base it on single-entry or double-entry accounting? Or maybe something altogether different.

3. What sort of report(s) do you envision, if you were to use such an app?

4. How do we deal with data security? Many individuals and small businesses may not be comfortable with us storing their transactional data.

5. If you were to use such an app, where will you primarily access/use it for its full worth - desktop/laptop, smartphone, tablet?

Any guidance, tips or frank opinions are welcome! Thanks in advance.

Clickable Ledger link: http://wiki.github.com/jwiegley/ledger/

People who use ledger seem to universally swear by it. It's been on my list of things to play with but I haven't gotten to it yet.

I wonder if you couldn't build a server and web front-end for it, in the same vein as GitHub for git. They even identify the problem begging to be solved:

"Ledger is a powerful, double-entry accounting system that is accessed from the UNIX command-line. This may put off some users, as there is no flashy UI, but for those who want unparalleled reporting access to their data, there really is no alternative."

I actually learned accounting basics by using ledger. Loving it.

I use Moneydance http://moneydance.com/. It's not a web app but runs on java. Uses double-entry accounting.

All though that said I would love a website that didi it. To answer (5) I would use it on both my laptop and my phone. The phone version would be to just enter transactions on the spot while the laptop would be used to reconcile for expenses etc.

I have a pet project that is a personal finance app you can check it out. it's very simple and i add features as i can.

It does have an iphone optimized interface but it's in need of work.

you can play around here: http://www.phosney.com and the sources are here: http://github.com/ishmael/phosney_web/

I think your idea is good. I have been using an excel spreadsheet for keeping track of income, expenses and credit card accounts. I've been thinking about turning it into a web application but I don't have the time.

While not all people use excel of this, one question you should ask is if most of your target audience will consider switching from their own excel or hand drawn accounting or what have you to your app.

As for your questions

1) best features I would love to have in an app like this are: - ability to see detailed monthly income info (estimated vs actual to see if i'm on track) - ability to see how much money i'm saving or have saved up for the past n days (eg. 1 year) (estimated vs actual to see if i'm on track) - ability to see how much money i'm spending from checking accounts and credit accounts - ability to see how much i'm spending on certain categories that are relevant to me (food,entertainment,travel,utilities,etc) - ability to enter all my data manually (not using something like the mint model) - very nice summaries with charts of daily, weekly, monthly income, expenses, credit card purchases/payments/expenses.

also for people who like to enter all their data manually, how about an reminder option every 1 or 2 weeks reminding them to update their info?

2) Not sure what single-entry/double-entry means nor do I care about GAAP. Leave out the typical financial terms. I just want data to be easy to input, easy to see and easy to draw conclusions from.

3) Not sure. Some nice summary tables and charts.

4) To deal with data security easier, one idea would be to simply not store identifiable account information (eg. don't store account numbers). And don't make users enter their personal info like full names and addresses etc.

5) Web browser based access is best in my opinion. I rarely do finances on my phone because I need to look at as much of the data as possible (in my case excel)

my app, www.phosney.com, still doesn't do the reporting, but that is where i want it to go next. you can check it out and say what you like or don't like. it's an open source app, and u can find the link to the github account in my previous post. all feedback is appreciated :)

I've been using BucketWise for over a year. Not only for my personal but also for my business' finances.

It works like a charm!

Source: http://github.com/jamis/bucketwise

Video: http://weblog.jamisbuck.org/2009/4/9/bucketwise-preview-2

On #4, data security, please check out:


It was designed for a personal finance application, but is generally useful for storing data securely behind a REST-based web service. Think of it as GPG-as-a-service.

1) Yes!

2) Both, I guess. For users not familiar with GAAP, you could ask them to choose the type of transaction - Receipt, Payment, Bank Transfer etc., and receive the entry in a single-entry form.

Power users would prefer double entry. IMHO, the data should always be internally represented as double entry so that you can extract proper accounting reports.

I'd built a DOS based software 4 years back that followed my idea of what a simple accounting software should look like. I'd thought on building the web version of it many times, but stopped short of taking the plunge.

If you're interested I'll share the code - you can run it on DOSBox. My mail id jasim dot ab at gmail com

You should checkout Xero.com and Saasu.com and see what room there is in the market for what you're proposing.

http://zoho.com is good.

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