If you choose to enter transactions manually, much of the time you spend in your personal finance software will be in the account registers. Even if you opt to download transactions, if you plan to keep a budget, you'll still need to visit the account register after transaction downloads to verify that the correct budget categories have been assigned.
To enter a transaction, select the account in your software that you used to make the transaction. The register will appear on your screen. Depending on your software, you can start entering your transaction directly in the register by clicking on the first blank line below listed transactions, or you will need to click on a "new" or "new transaction" button. If you need to click a button to create a new transaction, either a window will pop up or a space in the register will become available and you just enter the transaction details in the appropriate fields. A field refers to a box or empty space in software where you enter data.
The following is a list of the fields you will typically see in the account registers in your software. I am listing all the fields I've seen in the variety of personal finance software I've used and tested, so keep in mind that not all software has every one of these register fields.
Enter the date in which the transaction took place. Credit cards usually take a day or two to post to your account with the financial institution, and checks clear depending on when the payee cashes them, but you should consider the money as being spent when you write the check or use your credit card. You can usually enter a date in the mm/dd/yy format, or you can choose a date from a pop up calendar in the software. Some personal finance software lets you change the order of the month, day and year in the preferences. For example, some Europeans traditionally use dd/mm/yy, and would use the software preferences to change the format to one that is more comfortable for them to use.
The payee is simply the name of the retailer where the transaction took place, or the name of the person or business a check was written out to. After you enter a payee once, your software may add it to a database so the next time you start entering this payee, it is filled in automatically. In a few rare cases, some personal finance software does not have a payee field and instead uses Description as the field to enter the payee.
Description or Memo:
This field is for notes to yourself. For example, if you made a special purchase and wanted to enter some brief information for your reference later, you would enter it here. Not all personal finance software has a memo or description field.
Income and Expense:
Some personal finance software account registers have columns for income and expense, deposit or payment or similar titles. Obviously, expenses and purchases are entered in one column and income is entered in the other.
If your personal finance software doesn't have an income and expense column, it will have a field for transaction types. Select the transaction type and the amount of the transaction will be recorded in the register as a positive or negative number. Not all account registers in personal finance software include the transaction type. Typical transaction types are:
- Transfer: Used to move money from one account to another.
- Income or Deposit: Pay checks, refunds, interest from savings accounts and other interest bearing accounts.
- Expense: Purchases, payments, interest paid on loans if you're tracking interest separate from principle.
- ATM: Use to record cash withdrawals from an ATM, usually using a debit card but credit cards often allow for cash withdrawals as well.
Fields for categories and tags are used to define expenses for the purpose of budgeting and producing understandable reports. Attachments are used to access documents that accompany a transaction, like a warranty, and flags are used to remind you to follow up on verifying an transaction. There is enough to learn about these features that they have their own tutorial. Read Categories and Tags, Attachments and Flags to gain an understanding of how to use these features.