A User's view of Hledger

Learning about hledger

Creating a positive impact

This post is inspired by a recent RANE podcast: The Best Approaches to Creating a Positive Impact With Dr. Bjorn Lomborg. One of the central ideas discussed there is simple: if you have limited resources, such as money, where does it make most sense to use those resources, knowing that you can’t solve every problem that you would like to?

The themes in the above podcast are concerned with international development. So what does this have to do with hledger?

First, using a tool such as hledger may make us sufficiently well off one day that we will want to contribute to causes that will benefit others. If that happens, wouldn’t we want to bring about the greatest benefit for our contribution?

However, the above may be far off in the future. What about right now? Specifically, can we ask the same question about personal finances? That is, how can we get the most value out of our limited resources when it comes to personal finances?

This is a broad topic, and in some ways it is case specific. However, as an hledger fan, I will say that tracking your income and expenses has a positive benefit. How much does it cost to track your finances? Well, the hledger program is free, so that’s a great start. And if you already have a computer, there is no extra cost.

What if you don’t already have a computer? To use hledger, you would have the expense of obtaining a computer. Note, though, that the expense may be smaller than you might initially think. For example, in 2019 I successfully installed hledger on a Raspberry PI, a single board computer costing less than $100. Not included in that price would be a monitor, keyboard, or mouse, so that would have been about another $100.

Let’s take an extreme case. You can’t even afford an inexpensive computer. But you really wanted the benefits of tracking your income and expenses similarly to hledger. One option would be to use a ledger book for double entry accounting. I am currently seeing one for $7 on Amazon.

I have to confess that I would be loathe to give up all the great things that hledger does and move to doing things manually on paper. But I am guessing that the information that I would gain would be far more valuable than the cost of a ledger book and a few pens. Being forced to go more slowly might even have the benefit of making me think more deeply about my finances. So, doing things on paper might feel like the end of the world, but it wouldn’t necessarily be.

The concept, though, of wisely choosing what to do with limited resources in order to bring about the most good seems to be one that deserves close attention.