A Cautionary Tale About Free Accounting Software

A few weeks ago I was looking at accounting software. The main reason is for legal/tax purposes but I was also keen to gain skills in business administration. I was surprised to find that Xero costs more than double what G-Suite does.

I asked around for advice about record keeping methods and technology, but for the most part found that people held their cards close to their chest on this. I’m yet to see any great advantage to being secretive about general business advice. As someone who’s interested in business from an intellectual perspective, it seems boring and almost self-defeating to not discuss lessons learned.

I soon found something called Wave Apps. It seemed too good to be true. It had everything I was looking for and a lot more than I could understand the use for at the time. And it was free. I had some fun designing and sending out my first invoices. I had less fun recording my expenses. I was elated to find that it integrated with my bank account very easily. What was their angle, was this some sort of free government thing to encourage small business?

I found their angle when I sent out my first invoices. Without my knowledge, the emails contained a prominent link for credit card payment of the invoice and my request for direct transfer in the invoice was drowned out. This wouldn’t be a problem were it not that they send the money first to something in the US called Stripe which I never heard of or approved of. It took well over a week for the money to get to my account, making it two weeks from sending out invoices. Not convenient. This gave me problems with liquidity and I had to borrow money to pay my bills. I then found out that every transaction costs AU$10, making it about 3 times more expensive than Xero for my purposes.

Needless to say, I’m in the market for other options. A friend of mine who’s an accountant recommended I just use spreadsheets. Seems like suspiciously pro-accountant advice but I’m seriously considering it. I imagine that’s it’s like learning Latin to improve your English: learning the roots of accounting to better understand the accounting function. It’s a curious yet boring thing, accounting. At first, it can seem that a business is entirely abstract and at risk of disappearing with a frown of disapproval from a real person. Soon though it seems that it has a cardiovascular system in the form of accounts. Skin and facial features in the form of web pages.

Spreadsheeting seems that it would be easy once you have a system going and get into a rhythm. Once you know where to put the numbers it’s just a matter of entering them in, which is essentially what you’re doing with accounting software. In my case, that’s relatively few numbers each week. I’m 100% sure that someone has come up with an effective system for spreadsheeting that can be found on Google. There is definitely free online invoicing services (but I hope that doesn’t turn out the same way as Wave Apps). On the other hand, if there is a suitable accounting software that costs AU$10 or less I’ll just choose that because it will save the time and mental energy required to understand spreadsheets.

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