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Applying the fundamental account theory - simple example

Consider a person with the following transactions who just began tracking their finances in June 2017. We use a dummy account in the beginning to give the initial balance on the checking account and credit card. After that, it should never be used again. This simplified hypothetical person has 11 transactions for the month (I average about 100 transactions per month) between the following accounts:

Income sources Employer
Wealth containers Checking account, credit card
Spending categories Groceries, auto, housing

Joe Hypothetical records the following transactions for the month.

Date Description Value From To
2017-06-01 Starting balance checking $3000 dummy checking account
2017-06-01 Starting balance credit card $200 credit card dummy
2017-06-02 Paycheck $2000 employer checking account
2017-06-04 HEB groceries $150 credit card groceries
2017-06-05 Gas $12 credit card auto
2017-06-06 Paid credit card $350 checking account credit card
2017-06-12 Gas $11 credit card auto
2017-06-13 Oil change on car $45 credit card auto
2017-06-15 Electric bill $90 credit card housing
2017-06-15 HEB groceries $170 credit card groceries
2017-06-20 Gas $16 credit card auto
2017-06-26 Gas $14 credit card auto
2017-06-30 Rent $800 checking account housing

These transactions can be viewed as expenses or income for the month by category. In future months, Joe Hypothetical will want the totals to sum only the values over the past month.

2017-06-02 Paycheck -$2,000
Total -$2000
2017-06-04 HEB groceries $150
2017-06-15 HEB groceries $170
Total $320
2017-06-05 Gas $12
2017-06-12 Gas $11
2017-06-13 Oil change on car $45
2017-06-20 Gas $16
2017-06-26 Gas $14
Total $98
2017-06-15 Electric bill $90
2017-06-30 Rent $800
Total $890
Total over all categories -$692

Or they could be viewed as changes in the account balances. In future months, Joe Hypothetical will want to display the transactions over the last month but display a total for the entire history of record-keeping right back to these starting balances.

Checking account
2017-06-01 Starting balance checking $3000
2017-06-02 Paycheck $2000
2017-06-06 Paid credit card -$350
2017-06-30 Rent -$800
Total $3850
Credit card
2017-06-01 Starting balance credit card -$200
2017-06-04 HEB groceries -$150
2017-06-05 Gas -$12
2017-06-06 Paid credit card $350
2017-06-12 Gas -$11
2017-06-13 Oil change on car -$45
2017-06-15 Electric bill -$90
2017-06-15 HEB groceries -$170
2017-06-20 Gas -$16
2017-06-26 Gas -$14
Total -$358
Total net worth $3492

The point of using software is that it is fairly easy to record the information in the first table but difficult to read anything useful out of it. The software generates the second two tables from the information in the first. There are a lot of ways to do this. It can be programmed in Excel or any real programming language. Mint, Quicken, YouNeedABudget.com, EveryDollar, and many other packages will do this for you. The mechanisms by which you must record the first table vary, some of them require you to manually enter every item, some access your bank account's information to automatically populate the database. They offer different graphing capabilities but they all do the same thing at a basic level.

Tracking of this kind is critical for understanding spending patterns. I have met many people who ought to be able to estimate their expenses (by virtue of their education or claims of financial prowess) but I have never met a single person who could do so accurately without tracking the numbers. It is also important for taxes. If you are paid for any job as an independent contractor, anything related to the job is a tax deduction. If you do not have records like this, you will miss deductions. Even if you are never paid on a 1099 form, there are tax deductions you will miss out on if you do not keep records. Money spent on healthcare is tax-deductible (office visits, parking, prescription medications, etc) but you cannot deduct it if you have no record of it.

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© MC Byington