This year I've decided to bite the bullet and properly try out hledger for personal accounting. It seems I need to commit to it properly if I'm to figure out whether it will work for me or not.

Up until now I'd been strictly separating my finances into two buckets: family and personal. I'd been using GNUCash for a couple of years for my personal finances, initially to evaluate it for use for the family, but I had not managed to adopt it for that.

I set up a new git repository to track the ledger file, as well as a notes.txt "diary" that documents my planning around its structure and how to use it, and a import.txt which documents what account data I have imported and confirmed that the resulting balances match those reported on monthly statements.

For this evaluation, I decided to bite the bullet and track both family and personal finances at the same time. I'm still keeping them conceptually very separate. To reflect that I've organised my account names around that: all accounts relating to family are prefixed family:, and likewise personal jon:.1 Some example accounts:

family:assets:shared    - shared bank account
family:dues:jon         - I owe to family
family:expenses:cat     - budget category for the cat
income                  - where money enters this universe
jon:assets:current      - my personal account
jon:dues:peter          - money Peter owes me
jon:expenses:snacks     - budget category for coffees etc
jon:liabilities:amex    - a personal credit card

I decided to make the calendar year a strict cut-over point: my personal opening balances in hledger are determined by what GNUCash reports. It's possible those will change over this year, as adjustments are made to last year's data: but it's easy enough to go in and update the opening balances in hledger to reflect that.

Credit cards are a small exception. January's credit card bills are paid in January but cover transactions from mid-December. I import those transactions into hledger to balance the credit card payment. As a consequence, the "spend per month" view of my data is a bit skewed: All the transactions in December should be thought of as in January since that's when they were paid. I need to explore options to fix this.

When I had family and personal managed separately, occasionally something would be paid for on the wrong card and end up in the wrong data. The solution I used last year was to keep an account dues:family to which I posted those and periodically I'd settle it with a real-world bank transfer.

I've realised that this doesn't work so well when I manage both together: I can't track both dues and expense categorisation with just one posting. The solution I'm using for now is hledger's unbalanced virtual postings: a third posting for the transaction to the budget category, which is not balanced, e.g.:

2022-01-02 ZTL*RELISH
    family:liabilities:creditcard      £ -3.00
    family:dues:jon                     £ 3.00
    (jon:expenses:snacks)               £ 3.00

This works, but it completely side-steps double-entry book keeping, which is the whole point of using a double-entry system. There's also no check and balance that the figure I put in the virtual posting (£3) matches the figure in the rest of the transaction. I'm therefore open to other ideas.

  1. there are a couple of places in hledger where default account names are used, such as the default place that expenses are posted to during CSV imports: expenses:unknown, that obviously don't fit my family/jon: prefix scheme. The solution is to make sure I specify a default posting-to account in all my CSV import rules.