Saturday, January 10, 2009

Redoing my books for simplicity

I just completely restructured my personal finance books. I decided that it had become too much work to maintain them, yet I still feel a need to maintain them. So I restructured the hierarchy to be much shallower: no more Expenses:Transport:Car:Gas, now it's just Expenses:Transport, and it rolls up all of the sub-categories like taxis and public transit. In short, I collapsed probably 150 expense accounts into 10. Okay, I'm lying—there are many more than ten, but only for critical and automated transactions, like the tax line-items in my pay checks. But as far as day-to-day categories, where I have to put all of the transactions when I import my credit card and bank statement, there are only about ten.

This is quite a departure from my past. I remember a year ago deciding that I needed to create sub-accounts under Expenses:Gifts Given for Christmas, Birthdays and Weddings. But you know how many times I actually cared about those numbers? Zero. So today I collapsed them back together. And I collapsed, and collapsed and collapsed my accounts. The most interesting are Expenses:Living (lifestyle-related expenses and unaccounted-for cash) which includes sub-categories for Groceries and Personal Care (which includes clothes, haircuts and fitness club dues, though not as sub-accounts). There is also Expenses:Goodies, which I loosely define as "wants:" gadgets, movies, or books. Expenses:Housing is another important key account for improving and maintaining my household (could be toilet paper from Walgreens or paint for the bedroom), as well as sub-accounts for mortgage interest (kept as an account for tax purposes).

In addition, I restructured my hierarchy so that they are no longer sorted by account type (used to be Accounts:Bank:Savings, Accounts:Bank:Checking, Liabilities:Loans:Mortgage, Liabilities:Credit Cards:Diners Club, etc). Now they are sorted by how I want to aggregate the information. So now I have, Floating:Cash, Floating:Checking, and Floating:Credit Cards. That way I can look at the Floating level in the hierarchy and see if I have enough money in my Checking account to cover the credit card bill, or if I need to transfer money from Stable:Savings (a regular occurrence, because I keep checking as lean as possible so that I can earn better interest in Savings).

Phew, this is a wordy post that means little to anyone but me. Why are you still reading? I hope that this makes my life a little bit simpler and removes a little bit of stress. I also hope that it helps me, how shall I say, less resistant to dealing with my books and keeping them up-to-date and accurate. But not too accurate, because that's why I landed here in the first place! :)

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