Searching for an accounting system

Over the last couple years, I’ve massaged my financial management into a very, very effective system that uses GnuCash. I’ve managed to take wide advantage of it’s account tree functionality to create a sophisticated accounting and budgeting system. I have an article in draft explaining this, and perhaps I’ll finalize it and post it later.

But GnuCash is desktop-only. I have it connected to a MySQL server on my home network. This allows me to access that from home or work. But GnuCash must be installed on all computers that I use, plus I need to make sure that I can access the MySQL server from wherever I am. That presents one hell of a problem of convenience.

So I’ve been searching for a cloud-based accounting system. I’d prefer one that I can run in my own webspace that I already pay for — the web space that hosts this blog — but I’m willing to find something else if it means I can meet my needs. That means I have a relatively narrow requirements set:

  1. Written in PHP, Perl, or Python
  2. Support MySQL or SQLite as it’s back-end — nothing else is supported by my web host
  3. (Optional but desirable) Compatible with mobile browsers as I’d like to use it from my cell phone, or at least usable on a mobile browser without being a headache.

As my web hosting plan includes MySQL, I could migrate the MySQL server into my web space. But that would mean having to tunnel into the web server every time I needed access. Currently that’s only required when I’m on the road. Migrating the MySQL server to my web hosting means I’d have to do that also from home. And I’m looking to get rid of inconvenience, not compound it.

But along with the technical requirements, one GnuCash feature that I’d like to also see supported is a tree of accounts. At minimum, I need to be able to modify the chart of accounts. If I can’t set up my own custom chart of accounts, it’s a deal breaker. And with most of what I evaluated, the chart of accounts either could not be customized at all, or not customized to the degree I want — e.g. I could add accounts but not delete the accounts already provided.

On self-hosting options, the only system I’ve found that can give me anything close to what I want is Webzash. It doesn’t have the concept of sub-accounts or sub-ledgers, though someone has requested that feature, but you can group ledgers (accounts) into groups or subgroups. At minimum, it should show the total for all accounts in a group on the accounts page, a feature I requested.

I’ve looked at other systems as well, downloading them or taking advantage of free trials. So far, nothing else has come close to what I’m looking for. Sure, Webzash comes close. It’s actual double-entry accounting, at least. And I could transfer all of the GnuCash data into Webzash, although it’s a very hands-on effort. But it has a very clumsy user interface that is not intuitive or user-friendly.

GnuCash was designed from the beginning to be about double-entry accounting and whatever could fit on top of that. It works well, and it’s relatively simple, and the user-interface is intuitive. If you know how double-entry accounting works, then GnuCash should come easy.

Virtually all of the cloud-based offerings (self-hosted and not) appear to be more about ERP than accounting and financial management. They are more complicated than what I’m trying to find, and thus much more difficult to use. They talk about double-entry accounting, some even specifically listing it in their feature list, while providing a user interface that doesn’t even come close to providing it. It might be built on double-entry accounting principles, but it doesn’t provide an interface anywhere near that.

So far the only one that actually fits the bill of actually doing double-entry accounting is CashCtrl. And I could completely customize the chart of accounts. But it doesn’t support splitting transactions the same way as GnuCash. GnuCash has, easily, the simplest and easiest method for handling transaction splits. Webzash can do it too, but again it’s clumsy.

In CashCtrl, splitting payments requires using invoices. But it’s a minor inconvenience the way they’ve implemented it. But they don’t allow for importing previous financial information. In the end, though, I decided against going with it long-term.

I’m just looking for a simple, double-entry accounting system. Some contact management might be beneficial, but I don’t need anything more complicated. I manually enter the transactions into the journal/ledger in GnuCash, so I want to do the same since I know what I’m doing there. I don’t want a massive amount of retraining in order to have a functional, web/cloud-based system.

Double-entry accounting with the ability to customize the chart of accounts. That’s all I want. I don’t want any automatic synchronization with my bank account and credit cards. Or billing/invoicing. Or anything related to enterprise resource planning or customer relation management.

I’ve looked at the “cloud” offerings as well — Intuit, Sage, FrontAccount, etc. Again, most are designed with businesses in mind, meaning complication. If a system didn’t have a free trial or online demo, I didn’t touch it. Mint isn’t an accounting or financial management system either. Wikipedia classifies it as “account aggregation“.

So in the end, the search continues. Hopefully I’ll find something meeting my needs so I won’t be relegated to writing my own.