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Double-entry accounting system with a command-line reporting interface
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#comment -*-muse-*-
#title Ledger: Command-Line Accounting


* 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:

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

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.[1]

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:

; 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

The account balances and registers in this file, if saved as
=ledger.dat=, could be reported using:

$ ledger -f ledger.dat balance
$ ledger -f ledger.dat register checking
$ ledger -f ledger.dat register bell

** 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:

cp ledger /usr/local/bin

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

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

Here is the Pacific Bell example from above, given as a Ledger

9/29  (100)  Pacific Bell
    Expenses:Utilities:Telephone               $23.00
    Assets:Checking                           $-23.00

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:

9/29  (100)  Pacific Bell
    Expenses:Utilities:Telephone               $23.00

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:

9/29  My Employer
    Assets:Checking                           $500.00
    Income:Salary                            $-500.00

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

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

$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)

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:

100.00 AU
  AAPL 40
 BORL 100
 FEQTX 50  Assets:Brokerage

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:


Specify the prices file using the =-p= option:

ledger -p prices.db balance brokerage

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:

$40880.00  Assets:Brokerage

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:

ledger -p "$=0.00280112 AU" balance checking

14.01 AU  Assets:Checking

$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:

$=0.00280112 AU
AU=300 Euro
Euro=MD 0.75

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:

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

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
**-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

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:

9/29  Get some stuff at the Inn
    Places:Black's Tavern                   -3 Apples
    Places:Black's Tavern                   -5 Steaks

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:

10/2  Strum Brightblade
    EverQuest:Inventory                     -2 Steaks
    EverQuest:Inventory                     15 Gold

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.

10/2  Opening Balance
    Assets:Checking                         $100.00
    Equity:Opening Balances

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:

2004/03/15 ATM
    Expenses:Cash                      $100.00

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:

2004/03/20 Somebody
    Expenses:Food                       $65.00

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

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):

$ ledger -f ledger.dat -b 2000/1/1 -e 2002/1/1 print \
    > ledger-old.dat

To delete older data from the current ledger file, use "print" again,
this time specifying year 2002 as the starting date:

$ ledger -f ledger.dat -b 2002/1/1 print > x
$ mv x ledger.dat

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:

$ ledger -f ledger-old.dat equity > equity.dat
$ cat equity.dat ledger.dat > x
$ mv x ledger.dat
$ rm equity.dat

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

10/2  Paycheck
    Assets:Checking                        $1000.00
    Income:Salary                         $-1000.00
    (Debt:Alimony)                          $200.00

In this example, after receiving a paycheck an alimony debt is
increased -- even though no money has moved around yet.

10/2  Paycheck
    Assets:Checking                        $1000.00
    Income:Salary                         $-1000.00
    [Savings:Trip]                          $200.00
    [Assets:Checking]                      $-200.00

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

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:

; 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

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

2003/01/01 (101) Baha'i Huqúqu'lláh Trust
    Liabilities:Huqúqu'lláh          $1,000.00

That's it.  To see how much Huqúq is currently owed based on your
ledger entries, use:

ledger balance Liabilities:Huqúq

** 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:

; -*-ledger-*-

And this in your =.emacs= file, after copying =ledger.el= to your
site-lisp directory:

(load "ledger")

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

For example, the command-line version of the timeclock tool (which is
written in Python) could be used to begin a timelog file like:

$ export TIMELOG=$HOME/.timelog
$ ti ClientOne  category
$ sleep 10
$ to waited for ten seconds

The **.timelog** file now contains:

i 2004/10/06 15:21:00 ClientOne  category
o 2004/10/06 15:21:10 waited for ten seconds

Ledger can parse this directly, as if it had seen the following ledger

2004/10/06 category
    (ClientOne)      0.00277h

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:

2004/11/01 (INV#1) ClientOne, Inc.
    Receivable:ClientOne       $0.10
    ClientOne              -0.00277h @ $35.00

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

2004/12/01 ClientOne, Inc.
    Assets:Checking            $0.10

And now the time spent has been turned into hard cash in the checking

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

I like to =!include= my timelog at the top of my company's accounting
ledger, with the attached prefix "Billable":

; -*-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

* 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

The most often used command will be the "balance" command:

export LEDGER=/home/johnw/doc/ledger.dat
ledger balance

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:

ledger balance expenses:food

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:

ledger -d sep balance expenses:food

Or maybe I want to see all of my assets, in which case the -s (show
sub-accounts) option comes in handy:

ledger balance -s

To exclude a particular account, use a regular expression with a
leading minus sign.  The following will show all expenses, but without
food spending:

ledger balance expenses -food

If you want to show all accounts but for one account, remember to use
"--" to separate the exclusion pattern from the options list:

ledger balance -- -equity

** 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:

  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:

+ ::
  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.

  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).

  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).

  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.

  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.

  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

*** 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

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:

2004/03/15 * Viva Italiano
    Expenses:Food                       $12.45
    Expenses:Tips                        $2.55
    Liabilities:MasterCard             $-15.00

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:

ledger entry 2004/4/9 viva food 11.00 tips 2.50

This will produce the following output:

2004/04/09 Viva Italiano
    Expenses:Food                       $11.00
    Expenses:Tips                        $2.50
    Liabilities:MasterCard             $-13.50

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

**-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

**-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"

**-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
**-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

** Environment variables

  A colon-separated list of files to be parsed whenever ledger is run.
  Easier than typing =-f= all the time.

  The ledger file used to hold pricing data.  =~/.pricedb= would be a
  good choice.

  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.

[1]  In some special cases, it will automatically balance the entry
     for you.
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