Looking for some Double Entry Bookkeeping Advice

This. In conventional double-entry bookkeeping, you’re not really “deciding where money goes” as much as you’re entering transactions two places for checks & balances purposes. It all goes into a system that boils down to two numbers - and those numbers should basically equal one another. Makes it pretty easy to know whether you goofed somewhere. :slight_smile:

Are you physically moving money from your checking account to other accounts for saving / budgeting purposes? Or are you just using your system in such a way that “food” + “gas” + “clothes”, etc. = your checking account balance?

I tried to produce a spreadsheet that mimics YNAB but couldn’t. Have you managed it? For those that may not know YNAB was originally a collection of spreadsheets before it became an app.

I think what I like at the moment is that everything is on one spreadsheet.

So true. This is actually quite easy to maintain. I can’t imagine spending more than an hour a month doing this.

Yes everything is on one spreadsheet. Debit, Credit including cash.

I’m not needing the complexities of a business. But the system can be made quite simple I have found.

I looked at a whole number of apps including GNUCash, but they are way too complex, or expect you to adopt their method. I don’t do stocks and shares. All I needed was a simple way to record what’s coming in and where it’s going, plus a few buckets of where I’d like some spare cash to go. Double Entry on a spreadsheet seems to be working for me here.

I’m quite enjoying it now. Let’s see how it is by next year.

While this is true, my “deciding” is about categorising my spending. I like the fact that there is no difference between real account and categories in my setup. So “Groceries” is a category alongside checking account. Because I’m using Double Entry I really have to decide where it’s gone rather than simply entering “Amazon”, which tells me nothing about what the money has done.

I’m moving the money on my spreadsheet. This becomes the defacto of what I currently have to spend, irrespective of what my checking account balance may be. “Groceries”, “Car Fuel”, “Christmas” etc, are all categories alongside physical accounts. It means I can manage everything from the spreadsheet without needing to move money around my accounts, although long term goals may mean it goes into a saving account, but it is designated on the spreadsheet.

I’m pretty much following the 4 rules apart from tracking the age of my money.

Edit: fixing typos

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Yes, I did it originally, but I found I didn’t really need a bucket-style budget, so I scrapped it for my own version.

I had a spreadsheet for each account that told me how much money I had available for the month. That amount was then displayed on the main budget page with the buckets. This screen was pretty easy to replicate from the main screen of YNAB when it was still a desktop app.

The main problem with roll your own spreadsheets (at least for me) is that it does require more work month-to-month to clean it up. More data entry as well. It’s also not as pretty as YNAB. For a few years I was using Banktivity to track my spending and accounts, and then had a spreadsheet for my budget and buckets, that worked really well until Banktivitiy lost the plot on their pricing. Now I am 100% Excel. My finance tracking is in about 5 different workbooks with a couple of dozen of spreadsheets (bank registers, budget, mortgage, net worth, investments, etc). If I ever showed it to anyone else they would think I was crazy, but I love it.

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Hold my beer. :wink: I have a drive full of spreadsheets that make strong men cry.

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I recently moved away from Banktivity also (running it in parallel just to finish the year, but then I’m done) to a Numbers workbook. I have about 10 worksheets to track activity across accounts and then a couple summary pages. It is a little clunky but I am liking the simplicity so far.

Banktivity was frustrating b/c a lot of the time saving features just don’t work - they made bank feeds subscription only and the recurring transactions don’t “remember” the account assignments.

The double-entry sheet is very interesting, I just feel like it would get so cumbersome with so many columns. I have about 20 or so expense accounts I like to track. So that would be upwards of 25-30 columns if you add the description, date, debit, credit and notes.

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Why do separate expense accounts need separate columns? Couldn’t there be a single column for account, and then each expense gets its own line? More rows where you have multiple accounts for one expenditure, but fewer columns.

When I was trying to figure out how to do it, I believe it is because it’s trying to force a spreadsheet into handling it without having to make multiple entries for each transaction. They are combining a bunch of ledgers into one spreadsheet.

I think the correct way to do it would be to recreate a paper ledger with each account having its own ledger. Then you would have to make multiple journal entries, which means lot of room for mistakes, and it would be a nightmare to balance. Just like old paper ledgers probably were. :slight_smile:

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I tried it the way you describe with each account having its own sheet in a Numbers/Excel workbook. But it gets really cumbersome with many accounts. I even combined a bunch of savings accounts into one sheet and my mortgage/auto loan/escrow account into another but it was still a lot.

I think this double entry method will work better for me - 2 main “spending” accounts on one sheet - checking and main credit card will track 95% of my stuff. I have a “transfer” column that will refer to a 2nd sheet with all my other accounts that are mainly savings/investments/things with less activity.

Hopefully that makes sense.

Sorry, I wasn’t clear. I’d use one sheet, one column of which is the category. So something like this (omitting a bunch of columns):

vendor  | category | amount
------- | -------- | -------
IHOP    | dining   | $18.53
Target  | grocery  | $33.24
Target  | clothing | $44.32

So that Target trip is probably one trip, but where you might put the two amounts in different columns, one for grocery and one for clothing, this approach splits it into two lines.

Then, if you want to look at totals by category, for example, you can use a pivot table. (Contrary to @MacSparky’s recent digression, pivot tables can be very useful in making sense of data like this.)

All that said, if a column per category works for you, keep doing it!

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Your way works, but makes it harder to rapidly total a category……right?

An If then formula would make it easy to total the categories, but then you really aren’t doing double entry.

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I must have missed this. No offense to MacSparky, but I am not sure I would listen to a lawyer’s advice about spreadsheets. :stuck_out_tongue: Pivot tables are amazing when you have a lot of data.


I would just set up a pivot table in another sheet of the workbook, with ranges that include not only existing data but also blank cells that will hold future data (eg, in Google Sheets: A1:C will get all cells in rows A to C, however many rows there are; pretty sure the same works in Excel).

Then as I add data, the pivot table will update, eg with totals. In fact, as I add new categories, the pivot table will expand to include them.

To avoid accidental categories (the “grocery”/“groceries” problem), I would do two things: one, rely on auto fill once I’ve used a category once; and two, have a master list in a column in a tab (usually named lookup), and use Data Validation to flag values that aren’t in that column – ideally with a drop-down list for when I don’t want to type. But this is optional, since the pivot table will show you quickly when you have stray categories (suddenly there will be a row for grocery and groceries).