The crucial question is how to keep accounts so that they will answer the questions one wishes to ask, and yet will not be a nuisance, a burden, or a time-consuming task.
The forms available for household accounting are numerous. The greater number are books with columns two ways on the page, one for the heading and one for the days of the month. There are several objections to this type of account. First, they do not allow itemized accounting under a single heading. It is not easy to trace back the Clothing items and to find when a certain article was bought or its cost. They give a total to date, of the whole expenditure and of each heading. But (the second objection) they do not offer space enough for the detailed headings strongly recommended in this book. The grouping of headings differs with different compilers, but there is invariably grouping of some sort, and almost always the reprehensible Miscellaneous or Sundries. The third objection is that the squared spaces and the following of lines across a page are not easy to the person unused to bookkeeping, and are very frequently confusing to the eye and.bewildering to the mind.
If the family is to keep detailed accounts under the headings chosen to fit its own needs, no printed form with headings can be used. The family must use either a card or a loose leaf system, each card or leaf with its own head and perhaps subhead. Whether the card or the leaf shall be chosen is chiefly a matter of temperament. The card is undoubtedly the most compact and economical form, economizing both time and storage space. But there are some people to whom a card file of any sort is anathema, and these prefer the loose leaves, fastened into covers. In giving directions for accounts this book will speak in the terms of the card, but whatever applies to that applies equally to the loose leaf. Accounts are kept on either in exactly the same way, and cards and leaves arranged alphabetically. In actual use the card is easier not only because most people turn to a given heading in a card file quicker than to one in a book, but because it is easier to slip the card from the file to study or to make entries than it is to handle the page of the book. It is also less trouble to add new cards than new leaves. But for the person finding the leaves easier, their use is an economy. No attempt should be made to keep the accounts in a blank note-book, with headings for each page or series of pages. This is sure to mean an undue allowance of space under one head and not enough under another, and new headings or subheadings cannot be added easily. It is also difficult to work out index edges that will enable one to turn rapidly to the heading wanted. There is no advantage to the book unless it be that a book is harder to lose than a card or leaf, but as the account file is kept in or on desk or writing table, there is no reason to fear loss.
The first provision for account keeping is for the record of cash as spent. For this purpose there must be paper and pencil at hand. If the housewife pays some money out at the kitchen door, the best arrangement is probably a small cheap pad hung in some convenient place, with pencil secured to it by a string. For marketing a small cheap note-book is best, as a single sheet of paper is apt to get mussed or even lost. If the keeper of accounts resembles most women, she has several purses or bags to use on different occasions. Then each of these should be provided with a little book, such as can often be bought for a penny each, and a short pencil with protected point. The only safety for the account keeper is to jot down expenditure as soon as it is made. If marketing, the note-book should be taken out with the money, and the item entered - the date, in the shortest form, the briefest indication of the item and the amount. It takes but an instant. If one buys a pair of shoes it is not necessary to put down more than "Shoes." When recorded permanently they may be "Tan sport shoes" or "Black walking boots" or "Gray suede pumps" but the briefest indication is enough to recall to the memory the details of the purchase. If Food is kept as one general heading, that word is enough to go down in the note-book, but if the headings Food-Vegetables and Food-Meat, Fish, Poultry are used, then one jots down "Veg." or "Fish," as the case may be. Carfare goes down as one rides, and the newspaper bought on the street goes down the next time one opens the book. It is a help worth noting to fasten together with a clip the used pages of each note-book, so that the book opens to the page to be used next.
The second provision is the cards themselves. Those approximately 4x6 inches are the best, being small enough to allow (in two columns) 26 entries on each side of the card. They are best ruled like the cards illustrated, but if such ruling is not to be had, it is a simple matter to buy the cards without any vertical lines, and to rule (preferably in red ink) the one double (central) and six single lines needed. There must be a card for every heading and one for every subheading. There should be an extra supply for Budget, Assets, Income, and additional cards. An initial purchase of 100 will allow a good margin. Each Clothing budget - for each member of the family, that is - will take eight
Income card shows recording of all sums received, ready to add for the income tax returns. Postage shows compact method of recording expense where itemizing is unnecessary.
cards, so that five people use forty cards. When the cards are bought, get also one or two dozen guide cards, "fifths;" that is, blue or yellow cards 4x6, with a pr-jecting tab at the top that is one-fifth the length of the card.
On the top line of each card, at the extreme left, should be printed or very plainly written the heading. If there is a subhead, both names go on, with a dash between as, for example, Clothing-Accessories, Clothing-Underwear. This is to ensure an alphabetic arrangement of the budget divisions. Another dash follows, and the year; as, for example, Clothing-Under-wear-1922 (or if the calendar year is not used, 1922-23). Then at the extreme right of the line, write the amount allowed in the budget. Where there are subheads, as in Clothing, put this figure on only one card, the one that comes first in the alphabetical order. It is a help in using the Clothing cards to color the tops differently for different members of the family - red ink for one, blue for another, green for a third, black for a fourth. This makes it easier to put back into the file in the right place any card removed for entry or consultation.