The Five-Minute Ledger Update

Problem: Updating Your Ledger is a Pain!

That’s right, updating your ledger with data from your financial institutions is the most laborious and frustrating part of personal finance. It doesn’t need to be so with Plain Text Accounting (eg: Beancount), which is the point of this article.

At first glance, it seems like commercial products may have an edge here, with their business associations with banking institutions and slick import tooling. However, with a little bit of effort upfront, open source tooling can actually be way better, and far more flexible and extensible.

Zero Effort Updates

The ultimate vision of this set of articles is to have your ledger updated automatically with zero effort from you. How close can we get to that vision? When I started out, each update would take hours of frustrating effort and reconciliation across 60+ accounts at institutions. So much so, I only did updates once in a few months. After understanding why, and developing solutions, I am now at a point where my ledger updates take well less than five minutes.

Bringing it down to under five minutes was critical to making personal finance productive and fun, because it lets me get away from tinkering, and enables me to focus on the actual finances.

Principles vs Implementation

Unfortunately, there is no single universal data format, and institutions differ highly in the data format they provide. Importers thus need to be institution, and even account specific. Thus, simply writing and sharing importer code for a few institutions does not help you setup your own system.

What works better is writing and sharing the principles behind building a robust ingest system that makes your ingest workflow lightning fast. The problems, gotchas, and details are reasoned about, so you understand how to make things work for your situation.

And so, although the accompanying code examples refer to Beancount, the article series works equally well for any Plain Text Accounting software.


There are several aspects to solving this problem. Each in the set of interconnected articles below focuses on a single aspect. A rough map is given below to help you navigate the ideas. Starting at the top and working your way down should generally give you the most bang for your buck. However, feel free to jump around.

This is a Work In Progress; Not all pages are currently finished.

Plan It Out

The Basics

Refining Your Automation

Reducing Friction

Bells and Whistles

  • [[ Attaching receipts ]]

Wrapping up

  • [[ The Five-Minute Ledger Update - Summary and Learnings ]]
  • [[ The Zero Minute Ledger Update ]]

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