Friday, September 5, 2003
Posted by Philip Colmer in "SOFTWARE" @ 09:30 AM
Entering a transaction into an account is easy. Clicking on the New option on the menu (either on the Start page or within the Register view of Spb Finance) brings up the New Transaction window where you can specify the account, a reference, the date, the payee, the amount (and is it coming in or going out), the reconciliation state, category and class. There is also a memo tab to allow you to enter text to help you to remember what this entry is for.
Figure 11: Entering a transaction
Figure 12: Specifying a category for a transaction
Categories are handled just like any other finance system that uses them. There are two sets of category - income and expense. Within those, there are the primary categories and then there are subcategories, if relevant. Spb Finance comes with a reasonable set of categories built in, but it is very easy to add your own. You can either do this from the transaction window by clicking on New against the drop-down menu or from the View menu of the main application.
Figure 13: Creating a new category
One thing I didn't like about picking a category from the drop-down menu is that it seemed fiddly. The menu displays eight entries and it got a bit tiresome trying to find an expense category in the middle of the list. The software needs to allow you to enter the first few letters so that this process becomes easier.
The software does do this for payee names. As you enter the name of the payee, it tries to match it against it against previous names, presenting you with a list of matches. Clicking on the matching name pulls in the values from the memorised transaction, thus saving a lot of data entry. It is also possible to edit memorised transactions for future use.
Classes are another way of organising your transactions. For example, if you are going on holiday, you might want to categorise your expenses as usual (e.g. dining out, gifts, etc) but to specially mark those ones that occurred during your holiday so that you can see how much you've spent overall. Initially, there aren't any classes defined. It isn't possible to have sub-classes - there is only the one level.
Figure 14: Creating a new class
It is possible to split the transaction amount between multiple smaller transaction amounts. Examples of where you might do this include your salary (to track tax payments or pension contributions) or if you are depositing multiple cheques and want to keep track of which ones contribute to the whole. The interface to the split functionality is very easy to use. For each sub-transaction, you can specify the category, class, description and amount.
Figure 15: Splitting a transaction into sub-transactions
I've mentioned the reconciliation state of a transaction a couple of times. A transaction can have one of three states - nothing, cleared and reconciled.
In case you've never come across reconciliation before, here is a summary of how it works. When you first enter a transaction, it has no state. If you have online access to your bank account or credit card account, you might note that the transaction has cleared through the banking system, so you might change the state to reflect that. Finally, when a statement arrives, you would go through the statement, marking all of the transactions that match to be reconciled.
There are just two problems.
The first is that Spb Finance doesn't support the concept of balancing an account. With this process, you would specify the date of the statement along with the opening and closing balance of the statement. The finance software would then display any transactions that have not been reconciled. You would click on each transaction that is present on the statement with the aim being that once you've clicked on all of the matches, the software agrees with the figures you put in at the beginning. Without this process, it becomes a very arduous task to make sure that you've kept your electronic financial records in sync with what the bank believes.
The second is that changing the reconciliation state is painful. It requires four clicks - click on the transaction, click to get the drop-down menu, click to pick the state, click on OK. It would be better if the software either offered it on the context menu (so that would be long click then single click) or put the reconciliation state into a separate column so you could click in the column itself to change the state.