Organizing Ledger

Ledger is a double-entry accounting system that stores data in plain text. I began using it in 2012. Almost every dollar that has passed through my world since then is tracked by Ledger.1

Ledger is not the only plain text accounting system out there. It has inspired others, such as hledger and beancount. I began with Ledger for lack of a compelling argument in favor of the alternatives. After close to a decade of use, my only regret is that I didn’t start using earlier.

My Ledger repository is stored at ~/library/ledger. This repository contains a data directory, which includes yearly Ledger journal files such as data/2019.ldg and data/2020.ldg. Ledger files don’t necessarily need to be split at all, but I like having one file per year. In January, after I clear the last transaction from the previous year, I know the year is locked and the file never gets touched again (unless I go back in to rejigger my account structure).

The root of the directory has a .ledger file which includes all of these data files, plus a special journal file with periodic transactions that I sometimes use for budgeting. My ~/.ledgerrc file tells Ledger to use the .ledger file as the primary journal, which has the effect of including all the yearly files.

$ cat ~/.ledgerrc
--file ~/library/ledger/.ledger

$ cat ~/library/ledger/.ledger
include data/periodic.ldg
include data/2012.ldg
include data/2013.ldg
include data/2014.ldg
include data/2015.ldg
include data/2016.ldg
include data/2017.ldg
include data/2018.ldg
include data/2019.ldg
include data/2020.ldg

Ledger’s include format does support globbing (ie include data/*.ldg) but the ordering of the transactions can get weird, so I prefer to be explicit.

The repository also contains receipts in the receipts directory, invoices in the invoices directory, scans of checks (remember those?) in the checks directory, and CSV dumps from banks in the dump directory.

$ tree -d ~/library/ledger
├── checks
├── data
├── dump
├── invoices
└── receipts

5 directories

The repository is managed using a mix of vanilla git and git-annex.2 It is important to me that the Ledger journal files in the data directory are stored directly in git. I want the ability to diff changes before committing them, and to be able to pull the history of those files. Every other file I want stored in git-annex. I don’t care about the history of files like PDF receipts. They never change. In fact, I want to make them read-only so I can’t accidentally change them. I want encrypted versions of them distributed to my numerous special remotes for safekeeping, and someday I may even want to drop old receipts or invoices from my local store so that they don’t take up disk space until I actually need to read them. That sounds like asking a lot, but git-annex magically solves all the problems with its largefiles configuration option.

$ cat ~/library/ledger/.gitattributes
*.ldg annex.largefiles=nothing

This tells git-annex that any file ending with *.ldg should not be treated as a “large file”, which means it should be added directly to git. Any other file should be added to git-annex and locked, making it read-only. Having this configured means that I can just blindly git annex add . or git add . within the repository and git-annex will always do the right thing.

I don’t run the git-annex assistant in this repository because I don’t want any automatic commits. Like a traditional git repository, I only commit changes to Ledger’s journal files after reviewing the diffs, and I want those commits to have meaningful messages.


  1. I do not always track miscellaneous cash transactions less than $20. If a thing costs more than that, it is worth tracking, regardless of what it is or how it was purchased. If it costs less than that, and it isn't part of a meaningful expense account, I'll probably let laziness win out. If I buy a $8 sandwich for lunch with cash, it'll get logged, because I care about tracking dining expenses. If I buy a $1 pencil erasure, I probably won't log it, because it isn't part of an account worth considering.
  2. I bet you saw that coming.