I hate keeping track of money. Bank accounts, credit cards, investing—it's such a hassle. Hell, sometimes I even hate the fact that money exists and needs to be dealt with in the first place. But I admit that it's an easier system than bartering for everything.
In college I pretty much ignored most things financial. I rarely had more money than I needed, and put little financial planning into deciding what I could and could not spend money on besides, "I'm going to make X dollars this summer," and, "think twice." But now that I have a steady paycheck, it seems like a good idea to know where all my money goes, so I can make better decisions about how I'm spending (and saving) it.
But I've kept procrastinating starting to do so, because GUI programs like Gnucash and HomeBank seem like such a hassle. Their first screen is dauntingly complex, and if you don't know much about accounting it's scary and difficult to be asked to set up a big set of accounts when first starting to use the program, without having any prior experience with what you personally would find useful to keep track of. Entering data through menus and dialogs is tedious and slow.
hledger (or ledger, which came first) had been appearing on my radar recently, not least because Iron Blogger uses it). hledger changed my opinion of accounting software. In about 15 minutes, using only the sample transactions from the manual, I was able to enter all my assets and liabilities—bank accounts, credit card, student loans, money I've borrowed from people and never paid back though I said I would, etc. And then, I could run 'hledger balance' and it would tell me what sorts of things I had spent money on in the past few days, as far back as I could bother looking up actual transactions for, rather than entering a single transaction with a balance forward. Duuude, awesome!
I'm a geek. I like statistics and data about my life, as long as it's not a huge pain to collect the data in the first place. More data means more on which to base decisions, decisions which will then be freer from the bias of what I find memorable enough to remember having done.
Here's what I like best about ledger:
- Command-line interface for the hacker in me.
- Pre-existing facility with a text editor transfers over to facility of data entry.
- No need to set up accounts separately from transactions. Transactions are the important thing, and accounts just automagically appear when the account name appears in a transaction. Mistakes are trivial to correct in a text editor.
- Easy to start out with "use text editor to add transactions" and "hledger balance" and then branch out to more advanced features as necessary.
- Text file format is well-suited to storing in a version control system.
- It easily replaces two text files that I used to keep: "money owed to others" and "checks written but not yet cashed by the other party."
I don't think I'd be enjoying keeping track of my money nearly so much without a tool like hledger. It gets out of your way to let you focus on the hard things, like choosing categories for the things you spend money on and remembering to record the data in the first place.