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#comment -*-muse-*- #title Ledger: Command-Line Accounting <contents> * Introduction Ledger is an accounting tool with the moxie to exist. It provides no bells or whistles, and returns the user to the days before user interfaces were even a twinkling in their father's CRT. What it does do is to offer a double-entry accounting ledger with all the flexibility and muscle of its modern day cousins, without any of the fat. Think of it as the Bran Muffin of accounting tools. To use it, you need to start keeping a ledger. This is the basis of all accounting, and if you haven't started yet, now is the time to learn. The little booklet that comes with your checkbook is a ledger, so we'll describe double-entry accounting in terms of that. A checkbook ledger records debits (subtractions, or withdrawals) and credits (additions, or deposits) with reference to a single account: the checking account. Where the money comes from, and where it goes to, are described in the payee field, where you write the person or company's name. The ultimate aim of keeping a checkbook ledger is to know how much money is available to spend. That's really the aim of all ledgers. What computers add is the ability to walk through these transactions, and tell you things about your spending habits; to let you devise budgets and get control over your spending; to squirrel away money into virtual savings account without having to physically move money around; etc. As you keep your ledger, you are recording information about your life and habits, and sometimes that information can start telling you things you aren't aware of. Such is the aim of all good accounting tools. The next step up from a checkbook ledger, is a ledger that keeps track of all your accounts, not just checking. In such a ledger, you record not only who gets paid -- in the case of a debit -- but where the money came from. In a checkbook ledger, its assumed that all the money comes from your checking account. But in a general ledger, you write transaction two-lines: The source account and target account. *There must always be a debit from at least one account for every credit made to another account*. This is what is meant by "double-entry" accounting: the ledger must always balance to zero, with an equal number of debits and credits. For example, let's say you have a checking account and a brokerage account, and you can write checks from both of them. Rather than keep two checkbooks, you decide to use one ledger for both. In this general ledger you need to record a payment to Pacific Bell for your monthly phone bill. The cost is $23.00, let's say, and you want to pay it from your checking account. In the general ledger you need to say where the money came from, in addition to where it's going to. The entry might look like this: <example> 9/29 BAL Pacific Bell $-200.00 $-200.00 Equity:Opening Balances $200.00 9/29 BAL Checking $100.00 $100.00 Equity:Opening Balances $-100.00 9/29 100 Pacific Bell $23.00 $223.00 Checking $-23.00 $77.00 </example> The first line shows a credit (or payment) to Pacific Bell for $23.00. Because there is no "balance" in a general ledger -- it's always zero -- we write in the total balance of all payments to "Pacific Bell", which now is $223.00 (previously the balance was $200.00). This is done by looking at the last entry for "Pacific Bell" in the ledger, adding $23.00 to that amount, and writing the total in the balance column. And the money came from "Checking" -- a debit (or withdrawal) of $23.00 -- which leaves the ending balance in "Checking" at $77.00. This is a very manual procedure; but that's where computers come in... The transaction must balance to $0: $23 went to Pacific Bell, $23 came from Checking. There is nothing left over to be accounted for, since the money has simply moved from one account to another. This is the basis of double-entry accounting: that money never pops in or out of existence; it is always a transaction from one account to another. Keeping a general ledger is the same as keeping two separate ledgers: One for Pacific Bell and one for Checking. In that case, each time a credit is written into one, you write a corresponding debit into the other. This makes it easier to write in a "running balance", since you don't have to look back at the last time the account was referenced -- but it also means having a lot of ledger books, if you deal with multiple accounts. Enter the beauty of computerized accounting. The purpose of the Ledger program is to make general ledger accounting simple, by keeping track of the balances for you. Your only job is to enter the credit/debit transactions. If a transaction does not balance, Ledger will display an error and indicate which transaction is wrong. In summary, there are two aspects of Ledger use: Updating the ledger data file, and using the Ledger tool to view the summarized result of your entries. And just for the sake of example -- as a starting point for those who want to dive in head-first -- here are the ledger entries from above, formatting as the ledger program wishes to see them: <example> ; Set the year for subsequent entries to 2004 Y 2004 9/29 Pacific Bell Payable:Pacific Bell $-200.00 Equity:Opening Balances 9/29 Checking Accounts:Checking $100.00 Equity:Opening Balances 9/29 Pacific Bell Payable:Pacific Bell $23.00 Accounts:Checking </example> The account balances and registers in this file, if saved as =ledger.dat=, could be reported using: <example> $ ledger -f ledger.dat balance $ ledger -f ledger.dat register checking $ ledger -f ledger.dat register bell </example> ** Building the program Ledger is written in ANSI C++, and should compile on any platform. It depends only on the GNU multiprecision integer library (libgmp), and the Perl regular expression library (libpcre). It was developed using GNU make and gcc 3.3. To build and install once you have these libraries on your system, enter these commands: <example> make cp ledger /usr/local/bin </example> Note that when building GNUmp, make sure to pass the =--enable-cxx= flag to configure, otherwise it will not build **libgmpxx.a**. And in case it is not already on your system, **xmlparse.h** is part of the libxmltok package, and not expat. * Keeping a ledger The most important part of accounting is keeping a good ledger. If you have a good ledger, tools can be written to work whatever mathematically tricks you need to better understand your spending patterns. Without a good ledger, no tool, however smart, can help you. The Ledger program aims at making ledger entry as simple as possible. Since it is a command-line tool, it does not provide a user interface for keeping a ledger. If you like, you may use Gnucash to maintain your ledger, in which case the Ledger program will read Gnucash's data files directly. In that case, read the Gnucash manual now, and skip to the next chapter. If you are not using Gnucash, but a text editor to maintain your ledger, read on. Ledger has been designed to make data entry as simple as possible, by keeping the ledger format easy, and also by automagically determining as much information as possible based on the nature of your entries. For example, you do not need to tell Ledger about the accounts you use. Any time Ledger sees a debit or a credit to an account it knows nothing about, it will create it. If you use a commodity that is new to Ledger, it will create that commodity, and determine its display characteristics (placement of the symbol before or after the amount, display precision, etc) based on how you used the commodity in the transaction. Here is the Pacific Bell example from above, given as a Ledger transaction: <example> 9/29 (100) Pacific Bell Expenses:Utilities:Telephone $23.00 Assets:Checking $-23.00 </example> As you can see, it is very similar to what would be written on paper, minus the computed balance totals, and adding in account names that work better with Ledger's scheme of things. In fact, since Ledger is smart about many things, you don't need to specify the balanced amount, if it is the same as the first line: <example> 9/29 (100) Pacific Bell Expenses:Utilities:Telephone $23.00 Assets:Checking </example> For this entry, Ledger will figure out that $-23.00 must come from "Assets:Checking" in order to balance the entry. ** Credits and Debits Credit and debit are simple enough terms in themselves, but the usages of the modern world have made them very hard to puzzle out. Basically, a credit means you add something to an account, and a debit means you take away. A debit card is correctly name: From your point of view, it debits your checking account every time you use it. The credit card is strangely named, because you have to look at it from the merchant's point of view: Every time you use it, it credit's *his* account right away. This was a giant leap from the days of cash and checks, when the only other way to supply immediate credit was by a wire transfer. But a credit card does not credit you anything at all. In fact, from your point of view, it should be called a liability card, since it increases your liability to the issuing bank every time you use it. In Ledger, credits and debits are given as they are, which means that sometimes you will see a minus sign where you don't expect one. For example, when you get paid, in order to credit your bank account, you need to debit an income account: <example> 9/29 My Employer Assets:Checking $500.00 Income:Salary $-500.00 </example> But wait, you say, why is the Income a negative figure? And when you look at the balance totals for your ledger, you will certainly be surprised to see Expenses as a positive figure, and Income as a negative figure. Isn't that the opposite of how it should look? It may take getting used to, but to properly use a general ledger you will need to think in terms of correct debits and credits. Rather than Ledger "fixing" the minus signs, let's understand why they are there. When you earn money, the money has to come from somewhere. Let's call that somewhere "society". In order for society to give you an income, you must take money away from society (debit) in order to put it into your bank (credit). When you then spend that money, it leaves your bank account (debit) and goes back to society (credit). This is why Income will appear negative -- it reflects the money you have drawn from society -- and why Expenses will be positive -- it is the amount you've given back. These credits and debits will always cancel each other out in the end, because you don't have the ability to create new money: It must always come from somewhere, and in the end must always leave. This is the beginning of economy, after which the explanation gets terribly difficult. Based on that explanation, here's another way to look at your balance report: Every negative figure means that that account or person or place has less money now than when you started your ledger; and every positive figure means that that account or person or place has more money now that when you started your ledger. Make sense? Also, credit cards will have a negative value, because you are spending *from* them (debit) in order pay someone else (credit). They are called credit cards because you are able to instantly credit that other person, by simply waving a card. ** Commodities and Currencies Ledger makes no assumptions about the commodities you use; it only requires that you specify a commodity. The commodity may be any non-numeric string that does not contain a period, comma, forward slash or at-sign. It may appear before or after the amount, although it is assumed that symbols appearing before the amount refer to currencies, while non-joined symbols appearing after the amount refer to commodities. Here are some valid currency and commodity specifiers: <example> $20.00 ; currency: twenty US dollars USD 20 ; currency: the same 40 AAPL ; commodity: 40 shares of Apple stock MD 60 ; currency: 60 Deutsch Mark £50 ; currency: 50 British pounds 50e ; currency: 50 Euros (use symbol) </example> Ledger will examine the first use of any commodity to determine how that commodity should be printed on reports. It pays attention to whether the name of commodity was separated from the amount, whether it came before or after, the precision used in specifying the amount, whether thousand marks were used, etc. This is done so that printing the commodity looks the same as the way you use it. An account may contain multiple commodities, in which case it will have separate totals for each. For example, if your brokerage account contains both cash, gold, and several stock quantities, the balance might look like: <example> $200.00 100.00 AU AAPL 40 BORL 100 FEQTX 50 Assets:Brokerage </example> This balance report shows how much of each commodity is in your brokerage account. Sometimes, you will want to know the current street value of your balance, and not the commodity totals. For this to happen, you must specify what the current price is for each commodity. The price can be in any commodity, in which case the balance will be computed in terms of that commodity. The usual way to specify prices is with a file of price settings, which might look like this: <example> AU=$357.00 AAPL=$37 BORL=$19 FEQTX=$32 </example> Specify the prices file using the =-p= option: <example> ledger -p prices.db balance brokerage </example> Now the balance for your brokerage account will be given in US dollars, since the prices database has specified conversion factors from each commodity into dollars: <example> $40880.00 Assets:Brokerage </example> You can convert from any commodity to any other commodity. Let's say you had $5000 in your checking account, and for whatever reason you wanted to know many ounces of gold that would buy. If gold is currently $357 per ounce, then each dollar is worth 1/357 AU: <example> ledger -p "$=0.00280112 AU" balance checking </example> <example> 14.01 AU Assets:Checking </example> $5000 would buy 14 ounces of gold, which becomes the new display commodity since a conversion factor was provided. Commodities conversions can also be chained, up to a depth of 10. Here is a sample prices database that uses chaining: <example> AAPL=$15 $=0.00280112 AU AU=300 Euro Euro=MD 0.75 </example> This is a roundabout way of reporting AAPL shares in their Deutsch Mark equivalent. *** Commodity price histories Whenever a commodity is purchased using a different commodity (such as a share of common stock using dollars), it establishes a price for that commodity on that day. It is also possible, by recording price details in a ledger file, to specify other prices for commodities at any given time. Such price entries might look like those below: <example> P 2004/06/21 02:17:58 TWCUX $27.76 P 2004/06/21 02:17:59 AGTHX $25.41 P 2004/06/21 02:18:00 OPTFX $39.31 P 2004/06/21 02:18:01 FEQTX $22.49 P 2004/06/21 02:18:02 AAPL $32.91 </example> By default, ledger will not consider commodity prices when generating its various reports. It will always report balances in terms of the commodity total, rather than the current value of those commodities. To enable pricing reports, three options are possible: **-P FILE** :: With this option, or if the environment variable =PRICE_HIST= is set, pricing information obtained from the Internet will be kept in this file. Also, this file will be read after all other ledger files are read, so that full history information is available for reports. **-T** :: Report commodity totals only, not their market value or basis cost. **-V** :: Report commodity values in terms of their last known market price. **-B** :: Report commodities in terms of their "basis cost", or what they cost at time of purchase. Thus, totals in the register and balance report reflect the total amount spent. **-A** :: Report commodities in terms of their net gain, which is: the market value minus the cost basis. A balance report using this option shows very quickly the performance of investments. **-Q** :: When needed (see the =-L= option) pricing quotes are obtained by calling the script =getquote= (a sample Perl script is provided, but the interface is kept simple so replacements may be made). **-L MINS** :: When using the =-Q= flag, new quotes are obtained only if current pricing data is older than MINS minutes. The default is one day, or 1440 minutes. **-p ARG** :: If a string, such as "COMM=$1.20", the commodity COMM will be reported only in terms of the conversion factor, which supersedes all other pricing histories for that commodity. This can be used to perform arbitrary value substitutions. For example, to report the value of your dollars in terms of the ounces of gold they would buy, use: -p "$=0.00280112 AU" (or whatever the current exchange rate is). Note that the =-B=, =-T=, =-V=, and =-A= are mutually exclusive. ** Accounts and Inventories Since Ledger's accounts and commodity system is so flexible, you can have accounts that don't really exist, and use commodities that no one else recognizes. For example, let's say you are buying and selling various items in EverQuest, and want to keep track of them using a ledger. Just add items of whatever quantity you wish into your EverQuest account: <example> 9/29 Get some stuff at the Inn Places:Black's Tavern -3 Apples Places:Black's Tavern -5 Steaks EverQuest:Inventory </example> Now your EverQuest:Inventory has 3 apples and 5 steaks in it. The amounts are negative, because you are taking *from* Black's Tavern in order to credit your Inventory account. Note that you don't have to use "Places:Black's Tavern" as the source account. You could use "EverQuest:System" to represent the fact that you acquired them online. The only purpose for choosing one kind of source account over another is for generate more informative reports later on. The more you know, the better analysis you can perform. If you later sell some of these items to another player, the entry would look like: <example> 10/2 Strum Brightblade EverQuest:Inventory -2 Steaks EverQuest:Inventory 15 Gold </example> Now you've turned 2 steaks into 15 gold, courtesy of your customer, Strum Brightblade. ** Understanding Equity The most confusing entry in any ledger will be your equity account -- because starting balances can't come out of nowhere. When you first start your ledger, you will likely already have money in some of your accounts. Let's say there's $100 in your checking account; then add an entry to your ledger to reflect this amount. Where will money come from? The answer: your equity. <example> 10/2 Opening Balance Assets:Checking $100.00 Equity:Opening Balances </example> But what is equity? You may have heard of equity when people talked about house mortgages, as "the part of the house that you own". Basically, equity is like the value of something. If you own a car worth $5000, then you have $5000 in equity in that car. In order to turn that car (a commodity) into a cash flow, or a credit to your bank account, you will have to debit the equity by selling it. When you start a ledger, you are probably already worth something. Your net worth is your current equity. By transferring the money in the ledger from your equity to your bank accounts, you are crediting the ledger account based on your prior equity value. That is why, when you look at the balance report, you will see a large negative number for Equity that never changes: Because that is what you were worth (what you debited from yourself in order to start the ledger) before the money started moving around. If the total positive value of your assets is greater than the absolute value of your starting equity, it means you are making money. Clear as mud? Keep thinking about it. Until you figure it out, put "-- -Equity" at the end of your balance command, to remove the confusing figure from the totals. ** Dealing with cash Something that stops many people from keeping a ledger at all is the insanity of tracking cash expenses. They rarely generate a receipt, and there are often a lot of small transactions, rather than a few large ones, as with checks. The answer is: don't bother. Move your spending to a debit card, but in general ignore cash. Once you withdraw it from the ATM, mark it as already spent to an "Expenses:Cash" category: <example> 2004/03/15 ATM Expenses:Cash $100.00 Assets:Checking </example> If at some point you make a large cash expense that you want to track, just "move" the amount of the expense from "Expenses:Cash" into the target account: <example> 2004/03/20 Somebody Expenses:Food $65.00 Expenses:Cash </example> This way, you can still track large cash expenses, while ignoring all of the smaller ones. ** Archiving previous years After a while, your ledger can get to be pretty large. While this will not slow down the ledger program much -- it's designed to process ledger files very quickly -- things can start to feel "messy"; and it's a universal complaint that when finances feel messy, people avoid them. Thus, archiving the data from previous years into their own files can offer a sense of completion, and freedom from the past. But how to best accomplish this with the ledger program? There are two commands that make it very simple: "print", and "equity". Let's take an example file, with data ranging from year 2000 until 2004. We want to archive years 2000 and 2001 to their own file, leaving just 2003 and 2004 in the current file. So, use "print" to output all the earlier entries to a file called =ledger-old.dat=. (Keeping in mind that the ending date is not inclusive, which is why 2002 is mentioned in the following command): <example> $ ledger -f ledger.dat -b 2000/1/1 -e 2002/1/1 print \ > ledger-old.dat </example> To delete older data from the current ledger file, use "print" again, this time specifying year 2002 as the starting date: <example> $ ledger -f ledger.dat -b 2002/1/1 print > x $ mv x ledger.dat </example> However, now the current file contains *only* transactions from 2002 onward, which will not yield accurate present-day balances, because the net income from previous years is no longer being tallied. To compensate for this, we must append an equity report for the old ledger at the beginning of the new one: <example> $ ledger -f ledger-old.dat equity > equity.dat $ cat equity.dat ledger.dat > x $ mv x ledger.dat $ rm equity.dat </example> Now the balances reported from =ledger.dat= are identical to what they were before the data was split. How often should you split your ledger? You never need to, if you don't want to. Even eighty years of data will not slow down ledger much -- and that's just using present day hardware! Or, you can keep the previous and current year in one file, and each year before that in its own file. It's really up to you, and how you want to organize your finances. For those who also keep an accurate paper trail, it might be useful to archive the older years to their own files, then burn those files to a CD to keep with the paper records -- along with any electronic statements received during the year. In the arena of organization, just keep in mind this maxim: Do whatever keeps you doing it. ** Virtual transactions A virtual transaction is when you, in your mind, see money as moving to a certain place, when in reality that money has not moved at all. There are several scenarios in which this type of tracking comes in handy, and each of them will be discussed in detail. To enter a virtual transaction, surround the account name in parentheses. This form of usage does not need to balance. However, if you want to ensure the virtual transaction balances with other virtual transactions in the same entry, use square brackets. For example: <example> 10/2 Paycheck Assets:Checking $1000.00 Income:Salary $-1000.00 (Debt:Alimony) $200.00 </example> In this example, after receiving a paycheck an alimony debt is increased -- even though no money has moved around yet. <example> 10/2 Paycheck Assets:Checking $1000.00 Income:Salary $-1000.00 [Savings:Trip] $200.00 [Assets:Checking] $-200.00 </example> In this example, $200 has been deducted from checking toward savings for a trip. It will appear as though the money has been moved from the account into "Savings:Trip", although no money has actually moved anywhere. When balances are displayed, virtual transactions will be factored in. To view balances without any virtual balances factored in, using the "-R" flag, for "Reality". Write about: Saving for a Special Occasion; Keeping a Budget; Tracking Allocated Funds. ** Automated transactions As a Bahá'í, I need to compute Huqúqu'lláh whenever I acquire assets. The exact details of this are a bit complex, so if you have further interest, please consult the Web. For any fellow Bahá'ís out there who want to track Huqúqu'lláh, the Ledger tool makes this extremely easy. Just set up the following automated transaction at the top of your ledger file: <example> ; These entries will compute Huqúqu'lláh based on the ; contents of the ledger. = ^Income: = ^Expenses:Rent$ = ^Expenses:Furnishings = ^Expenses:Business = ^Expenses:Taxes = ^Expenses:Insurance (Liabilities:Huqúqu'lláh) 0.19 </example> This automated transaction works by looking at each transaction appearing afterward in the ledger file. If any match the account regexps, occurring after the equal signs above, 19% of the value of that transaction is applied to the "Liabilities:Huqúqu'lláh" account. So if $1000 is earned through Income:Salary, which is seen as a debit from Income, a debit of $190 is applied to "Liabilities:Huqúqu'lláh"; if $1000 is spent on Rent -- seen as a credit to the Expense account -- a credit of $190 is applied to Huqúqu'lláh. The ultimate balance of Huqúqu'lláh reflects how much must be paid to that account in order to balance it to zero. When you're ready to pay, just write a check directly to the account "Liabilities:Huqúqu'lláh": <example> 2003/01/01 (101) Baha'i Huqúqu'lláh Trust Liabilities:Huqúqu'lláh $1,000.00 Assets:Checking </example> That's it. To see how much Huqúq is currently owed based on your ledger entries, use: <example> ledger balance Liabilities:Huqúq </example> ** Using Emacs to Keep Your Ledger In the Ledger tarball is an Emacs module, =ledger.el=. This module makes the process of keeping a text ledger much easier for Emacs users. I recommend putting this at the top of your ledger file: <example> ; -*-ledger-*- </example> And this in your =.emacs= file, after copying =ledger.el= to your site-lisp directory: <example> (load "ledger") </example> Now when you edit your ledger file, it will be in =ledger-mode=. =ledger-mode= adds the following commands: C-c C-a :: For quickly adding new entries based on the form of older ones (see previous section). C-c C-c :: Toggles the "cleared" flag of the transaction under point. C-c C-r :: Reconciles an account by displaying the transactions in another buffer, where simply hitting the spacebar will toggle the cleared flag of the transaction in the ledger. It also displays the current cleared balance for the account in the modeline. ** Using GnuCash to Keep Your Ledger The Ledger tool is fast and simple, but it offers no custom method for actually editing the ledger. It assumes you know how to use a text editor, and like doing so. Perhaps an Emacs mode will appear someday soon to make editing Ledger's data files much easier. Until then, you are free to use GnuCash to maintain your ledger, and the Ledger program for querying and reporting on the contents of that ledger. It takes a little longer to parse the XML data format that GnuCash uses, but the end result is identical. Then again, why would anyone use a Gnome-centric, 35 megabyte behemoth to edit their data, and a 65 kilobyte binary to query it... ** Using timeclock to record billable time The timeclock tool makes it easy to track time events, like clocking into and out of a particular job. These events accumulate in a timelog file. Each in/out event may have an optional description. If the "in" description is a ledger account name, these in/out pairs may be viewed as virtual transactions, adding time commodities (hours) to that account. For example, the command-line version of the timeclock tool (which is written in Python) could be used to begin a timelog file like: <example> $ export TIMELOG=$HOME/.timelog $ ti ClientOne category $ sleep 10 $ to waited for ten seconds </example> The **.timelog** file now contains: <example> i 2004/10/06 15:21:00 ClientOne category o 2004/10/06 15:21:10 waited for ten seconds </example> Ledger can parse this directly, as if it had seen the following ledger entry: <example> 2004/10/06 category (ClientOne) 0.00277h </example> In other words, the timelog event pair is seen as adding 0.00277h (ten seconds) worth of time to the ClientOne account. This would be considered billable time, which later could be invoiced and credited to accounts receivable: <example> 2004/11/01 (INV#1) ClientOne, Inc. Receivable:ClientOne $0.10 ClientOne -0.00277h @ $35.00 </example> The above transaction converts the clocked time into an invoice for the time spent, at an hourly rate of $35. Once the invoice is paid, the money is deposited from the receivable account into a checking account: <example> 2004/12/01 ClientOne, Inc. Assets:Checking $0.10 Receivable:ClientOne </example> And now the time spent has been turned into hard cash in the checking account. The advantage to using timeclock and invoicing to bill time is that you will always know, by looking at the balance report, exactly how much unbilled and unpaid time you've spent working for any particular client. I like to =!include= my timelog at the top of my company's accounting ledger, with the attached prefix "Billable": <example> ; -*-ledger-*- ; This is the ledger file for my company. But first, include the ; timelog data, entering all of the time events within the umbrella ; account "Billable". !include /home/johnw/.timelog Billable ; Here follows this fiscal year's transactions for the company. 2004/11/01 (INV#1) ClientOne, Inc. Receivable:ClientOne $0.10 Billable:ClientOne -0.00277h @ $35.00 2004/12/01 ClientOne, Inc. Assets:Checking $0.10 Receivable:ClientOne </example> * Running Ledger Now that you have an orderly and well-organized general ledger, it's time to start generating some orderly and well-organized reports. This is where the Ledger tool comes in. With it, you can balance your checkbook, see where your money is going, tell whether you've made a profit this year, and even compute the present day value of your retirement accounts. And all with the simplest of interfaces: the command-line. The most often used command will be the "balance" command: <example> export LEDGER=/home/johnw/doc/ledger.dat ledger balance </example> Here I've set my Ledger environment variable to point to where my ledger file is hiding. Thereafter, I needn't specify it again. The balance command prints out the summarized balances of all my top-level accounts, excluding sub-accounts. In order to see the balances for a specific account, just specify a regular expression after the balance command: <example> ledger balance expenses:food </example> This will show all the money that's been spent on food, since the beginning of the ledger. For food spending just this month (September), use: <example> ledger -d sep balance expenses:food </example> Or maybe I want to see all of my assets, in which case the -s (show sub-accounts) option comes in handy: <example> ledger balance -s </example> To exclude a particular account, use a regular expression with a leading minus sign. The following will show all expenses, but without food spending: <example> ledger balance expenses -food </example> If you want to show all accounts but for one account, remember to use "--" to separate the exclusion pattern from the options list: <example> ledger balance -- -equity </example> ** File format The ledger file format is quite simple, but supports many options. These are summarized here. The initial character of each line determines what that line means, and how it should be parsed. The possibilities are: NUMBER :: A line starting with a number denotes a regular ledger entry. It may be followed by any number of lines that beginning whitespace, to denote account transactions. The format of the header line is: <example> DATE [*] [(CODE)] DESC </example> + :: If a line begins with plus, it denotes an inclusion regexp that will always be considered, as if it had been specified by the user at the end of their command-line. **-** :: If a line begins with minus, it denotes an exclusion regexp that will always be considered, as if it had been specified by the user at the end of their command-line. **<verbatim>=</verbatim>** :: If a line begins with equals, it denotes an automated transaction. The next item on the line must be a regular expression. Any number of such lines may appear, with no intervening whitespace. Following this block of lines can be a list of account transactions preceded by whitespace. !WORD :: A line beginning with an exclamation mark denotes a command directive. It must be immediately followed by a word specifying which directories. At the moment, only =!include= is supported, for including the content of other ledger files into the current one. whitespace :: A line beginning with whitespace, which is not part of a regular or automated transaction, is ignored. ; :: If a line begins with semicolon it is ignored. This is the preferred method of entering comments. Y NUM :: If a line begins with a capital Y, it denotes the year to be used for all subsequent entries that specify a date, whatever their type. This sets the "default year", which ordinarily is the current year at the time the program is run. Useful at the beginning of a file to specify the file's year. P DATE SYMBOL PRICE :: Capital P specifies a historical price for a commodity. Any such number of entries are allowed. These are usually found in a pricing history file (see the =-Q= option). C SYMBOL PRICE :: Capital C specifies a conversion price for a commodity. This has no reference to time, and always takes precedence over any historical price (even very current prices). N SYMBOL :: Capital N indicates that no implicit price conversions should be obtained for the given symbol. This means that no quotes will ever be downloaded for that symbol. Useful for a home currency, such as the dollar ($). Be aware that these pricing options will set the default reporting characteristics for a commodity. Thus it is recommended that pricing options occur only after all regular ledger entries have been parsed. i DATE TIME ACCOUNT [DESC] :: Lowercase (and capital) i indicate an time-in event. This will start accumulating hours in the account specified. Usually these entries are created in a timelog file by the timeclock program, which is distributed with ledger. There must be two spaces between the account name, and the optional description, if one is used. o DATE TIME ACCOUNT [DESC] :: Lowercase (and capital) o indicate an time-out event. This will accumulate hours in the account specified. Usually these entries are created in a timelog file by the timeclock program, which is distributed with ledger. There must be two spaces between the account name, and the optional description, if one is used. b, h :: Entries beginning with lowercase b and h are ignored. These are special entries used by timeclock, but ignored by ledger. ** Command summary *** balance The "balance" command reports the current balance of any account. This command accepts a list of optional regexps, which will confine the balance report to only matching accounts. By default, the balances for all accounts will be printed. If an account contains multiple types of commodities, each commodity's total is separately reported. *** register The "register" command displays all the transactions occurring in a single account, line by line. The account regexp must be specified as the only argument to this command. If any regexps occur after the required account name, the register will contain only those transactions that match. Very useful for hunting down a particular transaction. The output from "register" is very close to what a typical checkbook, or single account ledger, would look like. It also shows a running balance. The final running balance of any register should always be the same as the current balance of that account. *** print The "print" command prints out ledger entries just as they appear in the original ledger. They will be properly formatted, and output in the most economic form possible. The "print" command also takes a list of optional regexps, which will cause only those transactions which match in some way to be printed. The "print" command is a handy way to clean up a ledger file whose formatting has gotten out of hand. *** equity Equity transactions are used to establish the starting value of an account. You might think of equity as the "ether" from which initial balances appear. *** price This commands displays the last known current price for a given commodity, using the specified end date for the cutoff (default is the present moment). It takes a list of regexps, which can match the commodities used in the ledger file. This command is helpful to quickly seeing the last current price for a specific commodity, or all commodities referenced by a ledger. *** entry The three most laborious tasks of keeping a ledger are: adding new entries, reconciling accounts, and generating reports. To address the first of these, there is a sub-command to ledger called "entry". It works on the principle that 80% of all transactions are variants of earlier transactions. Here's how it works: Let's say you have an old transaction of the following form: <example> 2004/03/15 * Viva Italiano Expenses:Food $12.45 Expenses:Tips $2.55 Liabilities:MasterCard $-15.00 </example> Now it's 2004/4/9, and you've just eating at Viva Italiano again. The exact amounts are different, but the overall form is the same. With the "entry" command you can type: <example> ledger entry 2004/4/9 viva food 11.00 tips 2.50 </example> This will produce the following output: <example> 2004/04/09 Viva Italiano Expenses:Food $11.00 Expenses:Tips $2.50 Liabilities:MasterCard $-13.50 </example> This works by finding a transaction that matches the regexp "viva", and then assuming that any accounts or amounts you specify will be the same as that earlier transaction. If Ledger does not succeed in generating a new entry for you, it will print an error and set the exit code to 1. There is a shell script in the distribution called "entry", which simplifies the task of adding a new entry to your ledger, and then launches =vi= to let you confirm that the entry looks appropriate. ** Option summary *** Basic options **-v** :: Display the version of ledger being used. **-h** :: Print out quick help on the various options and commands. **-f FILE[<verbatim>=</verbatim>ACCOUNT]** :: Read ledger entries from FILE. This takes precedence over the environment variable LEDGER. If "<verbatim>=</verbatim>ACCOUNT" is appended to the filename, then all of the entries are seen as if the transactions accounts were prefixed by "ACCOUNT:". There may be multiple occurrences of the =-f= option. **-i FILE** :: Read in the list of patterns to include/exclude from FILE. Ordinarily, these are specified as arguments after the command. *** Filtering options **-b DATE** :: Only consider entries occuring on or after the given date. **-e DATE** :: Only consider entries occuring before the given date. The date is not inclusive, so any entries occurring on that date will not be used. **-c** :: Only consider entries occurring on or before the current date. **-d DATE** :: Only consider entries fitting the given date mask. DATE in this case may be the name of a month, or a year, or a year and month, such as "2004/05". It's a shorthand for having to specify -b and -e together. **-C** :: Only consider entries whose cleared flag has been set. The default is to consider both. **-U** :: Show only uncleared transactions. The default is to consider both. **-l AMT** :: Limit balance reports to those which are greater than AMT. **-N REGEXP** :: If an account matches REGEXP, only display it in the balance report if its total is negative. Useful to avoid seeing credit in accounts where one cannot spend that credit, and it will soon become negative anyway (such as credit cards). **-R** :: Ignore all virtual transactions, and report only the real balance for each account. *** Output formatting options **-n** :: Do not show subtotals in the balance report, or split transactions in the register report. **-s** :: If an account has children, show them in the balance report. **-S** :: Sort the ledger after reading it. This may affect "register" and "print" output. **-E** :: Also show empty accounts in the balance totals report. **-F** :: Print full account names in all cases, such as "Assets:Checking" instead of just "Checking". Only used current by the "balance" command. **-M** :: When used with the "register" command, causes only monthly subtotals to appear. This can be useful for looking at spending patterns. TODO: Accept an argument which specifies the period to use. **-G** :: Modifies the output generated by -M to be friendly to programs like Gnuplot. It strips away the commodity label, and outputs only two columns: the date and the amount. *** Commodity reporting options **-P FILE** :: With this option, or if the environment variable =PRICE_HIST= is set, pricing information obtained from the Internet will be kept in this file. Also, this file will be read after all other ledger files are read, so that full history information is available for reports. **-T** :: Report commodity totals only, not their market value or basis cost. **-V** :: Report commodity values in terms of their last known market price. **-B** :: Report commodities in terms of their "basis cost", or what they cost at time of purchase. Thus, totals in the register and balance report reflect the total amount spent. **-A** :: Report commodities in terms of their net gain, which is: the market value minus the cost basis. A balance report using this option shows very quickly the performance of investments. **-Q** :: When needed (see the =-L= option) pricing quotes are obtained by calling the script =getquote= (a sample Perl script is provided, but the interface is kept simple so replacements may be made). **-L MINS** :: When using the =-Q= flag, new quotes are obtained only if current pricing data is older than MINS minutes. The default is one day, or 1440 minutes. **-p ARG** :: If a string, such as "COMM=$1.20", the commodity COMM will be reported only in terms of the conversion factor, which supersedes all other pricing histories for that commodity. This can be used to perform arbitrary value substitutions. For example, to report the value of your dollars in terms of the ounces of gold they would buy, use: -p "$=0.00280112 AU" (or whatever the current exchange rate is). ** Environment variables =LEDGER= :: A colon-separated list of files to be parsed whenever ledger is run. Easier than typing =-f= all the time. =PRICE_HIST= :: The ledger file used to hold pricing data. =~/.pricedb= would be a good choice. =PRICE_EXP= :: The number of minutes before pricing data becomes out-of-date. The default is one day. Use =-L= to temporarily decrease or increase the value. Footnotes:  In some special cases, it will automatically balance the entry for you.