Simon's setup notes

Author: Simon Michael
Last updated: 201903
Tested on: mac mojave
Tested with: hledger 1.14
Tools used: hledger, hledger-ui, GNU make, ...


The LEDGER_FILE environment variable is currently set to /Users/simon/notes/2019.journal. This is done in some super secret way that I'll have to track down, or more likely several ways, to ensure that it is consistent for:

  • programs started from command line in iTerm/Terminal windows
  • programs started from emacs shell buffers
  • emacs modes such as ledger-mode
  • for both text-mode and graphical emacs, whether started from command line or mac GUI (Dock/Finder/Spotlight)
  • etc.


$ tree ~/notes
├── 2019.journal
├── 2019.prices
├── all.journal
├── current.journal -> 2019.journal
├── forecast.journal

Files are in ~/notes. There's one YEAR.journal file per year containing all transactions in date order. It includes:

  • YEAR.prices containing P records for the year
  • forecast.journal containing periodic transaction rules

all.journal includes all the year journals. It provides all historical data, but is slow, and my old journals are inconsistent/broken, so it's currently rarely used.

current.journal is a symlink for scripts which don't know the year. Symbolic links are a mixed blessing, causing file path confusion in emacs, eg.

Data entry

Most journal entries are generated from downloaded CSV:

  • Transactions from three banks are aggregated and cleaned in a Google sheet by Tiller ($5/mo). A command line tool downloads this sheet as CSV (via cron ? currently disabled).

  • Paypal CSV is downloaded manually, then moved into place by a make rule. I use Paypal's CSV because Tiller doesn't handle multiple currencies and Paypal's extra metadata fields.

For troubleshooting: when downloading a CSV the previous copy is saved as FILE.csv.old.

$ make csv

Cash transactions are entered in emacs, using ledger-mode. Mostly by copying and pasting similar past transactions.

When rewriting account names, I use either ledger-mode completion (TAB) or dabbrev-expand completion (M-/), which have different strengths.

I fetch currency prices with barrucadu's script (details).

Version control

Journal file, included files, makefile and scripts in git. A mixture of manual and cron-based automatic committing.

Workflows / Routines

; Recurring (daily, weekly, monthly, yearly..) workflows

Data entry

Downloaded transactions


  • In an iterm3 tab titled FINANCE, I have a TUI emacs with two side-by-side windows.
  • In the first window is 2021.journal, with ledger-mode and auto-revert-mode enabled.
  • In the second window I switch to a shell and run make Import to download and import latest transactions.
  • These show up in the journal right away. I switch focus there, select all the new entries and hit M-q to realign them with ledger-mode (which is better at that).
  • I process them one at a time from the top, marking each one cleared (C-c C-e) when it looks good.
  • When there's an unknown posting, I:
    • replace the unknown account with the appropriate account (assuming I know it)
    • switch to common.rules in the second window, and search for that account or its parent (assuming it's in the rules somewhere)
    • add some portion of the new entry's description as a new pattern for this account. Or tweak the existing patterns so it will be matched next time (or to avoid over-matching by the wrong rule).
  • when all new entries are marked cleared, I git commit the journal and any updated rules file(s). Or if I don't, it will be auto-committed by a nightly cron job, in theory.
  • I do this daily-ish, so it's a small number of new txns each time.

Manually-entered transactions

For transactions which don't appear in downloaded data (cash transactions, loans, etc.):

  • Note it somewhere, anywhere, as quickly possible, or it will be forgotten (and I'll have to add an unexplained cash adjustment transaction later).
  • If the laptop is out of reach, that will usually be a brief note on today's page in a phone notes app (Obsidian, currently) or a paper notebook. Later that gets copied to the laptop.
  • On the laptop, my usual routine is:
    • get to the place of data entry
      • iterm3 app (or start it if not running),
      • FINANCE tab where a TUI emacs (client) is running (or create that tab/start that emacs client),
      • emacs window showing the journal (or C-j l if not showing),
      • end of buffer (M->).
    • add the journal entry: either
      • if short of time: just a commented line, or date and description (and expand it later)
      • if a familiar transaction: search back for a similar one, copy, jump to the end again, paste, adjust as needed (especially the date)
      • otherwise type it in, starting with the date, using ledger-mode's completion (TAB), or hippie-expand's completion (M-/) if they help. (ledger-mode required careful configuration for best behaviour with account names, the main thing I recall is turn on ledger-complete-in-steps.)
      • when the journal entry is finalised, mark it cleared (C-c C-e).


; Account hierarchy used, any organisational principles, how I maintain it..


I have convenience aliases for hledger commands and reports in ~/notes/bashrc, which is automatically sourced by my bash profile.

More reports and file-generating scripts are defined in ~/notes/Makefile.

Increasingly, I am moving reports and scripts in a (more powerful and robust) Shake file, ~/notes/do.hs (details).