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This personal blog comprises whatever I feel like saying on any given day, which often involves topics like new media, journalism, Web technologies, Racket/Scheme/Lisp, Free and open source software, societal issues, cinema film, Boston, frugality, and humor. Many things noted here are solely for the benefit of future Web searchers trying to solve particular esoteric problems, and are not of general interest. This blog is largely insulated from my professional life, and vice-versa. I attempt to provide full disclosure of potential conflicts of interest. Last time I checked analytics, my site was getting over 1000 unique visitors a day.

Amazon Orders and GnuCash

As a relaxing hobby, I'm playing with GnuCash for personal finance. One non-relaxing part of this relaxing hobby is accounting for Amazon orders. Complications of Amazon orders:

  • The minimum $35 qualifying items for free shipping means that I let my shopping cart fill for weeks or months before an order, and the items tend to be from more than one expense category.

  • Payment for the order might be split across any or all of the following: credit card, rewards points, gift card.

  • There might not be a credit card charge, so if your personal finance accounting of Amazon orders is based on starting from a credit card OFX download, you might not ever account for the order.

  • CC rewards points seem like a pain to account for, and might be considered income.

  • Amazon tells you a total sales tax number for an order, but doesn't break it down by line item, nor even tell you which items are taxable. The tax affects the price of an expense.

  • Any shipping cost, which also affects the price of an expense, is also not apportioned among the items.

I'm not an accountant, I know almost nothing about this field, and of course this is not accounting or tax advice, but here's how I'm currently trying to put Amazon orders into GnuCash...

Let's say we ordered an anvil and a hat, and the Amazon order page looks something like this (simplified):

Order 123-4567890-1234567

Items Ordered                Price

Acme Anvil
1 of: Acme Anvil             $19.88
Sold by: Amazon.com LLC

1 of: OldSchoolCool Fedora   $19.50
Sold by: Amazon.com LLC

Item(s) Subtotal:               $39.38
Shipping & Handling:             $6.82
Free shipping:                  -$6.82
        -----
Total before tax:               $39.38
Estimated tax to be collected:   $1.24
Rewards Points:                 -$2.27
        -----
Grand Total:                    $38.35

For the tax, this time the accounting is not bad. It seems that Amazon only charges sales tax for items that are marked as "Sold by" itself, not items by third parties through Amazon. Also, clothing is generally not taxable in my state, so only the anvil is taxed, at 6.25%. If multiple items were taxed, we'd have to use a calculator.

When we go to enter this order into GnuCash, we need to start in the user interface for one of the accounts that is involved, it doesn't matter which. In this case, we add this split transaction to Liabilities:Credit Card:Chase CC 1234:

| Date       |A| Memo                                | Account                               |R|Payment|Charge |
+============+=+=====================================+=======================================+=+=======+=======+
| 2014-08-29 | | Amazon (order 123-4567890-1234567)  |                                       | |       | 38.35 |
|            | | 1 of: Acme Anvil $19.88 + $1.24 tax |                        Expenses:Tools |n| 21.12 |       |
|            | | 1 of: OldSchoolCool Fedora $19.50   |                      Expenses:Clothes |n| 19.50 |       |
|            | |                                     | Liabilities:Credit Card:Chase CC 1234 |n|       | 38.35 |
|            | |                                     |   Assets:Other Kinds:Points on Amazon |n|       |  2.27 |

How we got this...

The transaction Memo we enter before we hit the Split button takes the format "Amazon (order X)", where "X" is Amazon's order number. And since we're in the account for the credit card, we enter what Amazon said was the credit card charge, $38.35, as Charge.

Then we hit the Split button, to get the additional lines.

There was also a contribution to the payment from a credit card rewards points conversion that Amazon does. We'll have to do more with this in a minute, but for now, we just add a Charge of $2.27 to account Assets:Other Kinds:Points on Amazon.

Then we add the items. We start by copy&pasting each item line from Amazon's order page, including its price before shipping and taxes, into the Memo of its own line. For each line, we select the appropriate account under Expenses for each item, and also copy the price into the Payment column.

If there was no tax and no shipping, then the order should balance internally. However, this time, there was some tax, so the order doesn't balance, and we have to apportion the tax. Since there's only one taxable item, we update the Memo to show how to calculate the Payment for that item ("$19.88 + $1.24 tax"), and then change the $19.88 in Payment to the result of that calculation, which is $21.12.

Our order should balance internally now, so now we have to do more on the reward points. If we could easily account for rewards points as discounts on the purchases that created the points, that would be best, but I don't think it's worth the effort. Instead I'm currently assuming that we have to track Amazon's conversion of reward points as income. (I briefly looked into tracking available rewards points themselves, as their own kinds of currencies, but there was no real benefit, and something so restricted and ephemeral couldn't really be considered an asset.) So, as income, we account for points only once they're used, in the dollar value that Amazon gave us for them.

For this purpose of accounting for points only when they're used, I made an account Assets:Other Kinds:Points on Amazon, which is to always have a balance of $0.00.

If we go to that account immediately after entering our order, however, we see it has a balance of -$2.27. This is when we account for the points as income. We add a credit from account Income:Points:Points Used on Amazon of $2.27, to bring the balance back down to $0.00.

| Date       |N| Description                        | Transfer                            |R|Increa|Decrea|Balance|
+============+=+====================================+=====================================+=+======+======+=======+
| 2014-08-29 | | Amazon (order 123-4567890-1234567) |             -- Split Transaction -- |n|      | 2.27 | -2.27 |
| 2014-08-29 | | use points                         | Income:Points:Points Used on Amazon |n| 2.27 |      |  0.00 |

This order is done for now.

At tax return time, I'll have to look into what one is supposed to do with the Income:Points:Points Used on Amazon total.

Although not shown on this example order, Amazon gift card credits happen. Fortunately, they're much easier than rewards points: I just have an Assets:Other Kinds:Amazon Gift Card Balance account. The total shown in GnuCash I said "Other Kinds" because this asset's cash value is restricted to use on Amazon, and only for some kinds of purchases there (you can't even buy other Amazon Gift Cards with it).

If you think that's fun, wait till you see how I'm tracking physical currency in wallet and coin jar, for various small purchases at convenience stores and such. (Spoiler: My current approach is to have an Assets:Cash:Wallet and Coin Jar, and to add any necessary adjustment at the time I bring the coin jar to the coin machine, and to count the paper currency in wallet only at that time. I never have to count coins manually.)

Indiegogo for Ottawa Linux Symposium

An early Linux community/industry organizer, Andrew Hutton, is doing an Indiegogo fundraiser related to Ottawa Linux Symposium (OLS).

Long-time Linux insiders might recall OLS as a key get-together. Unfortunately, it seems that OLS ran into financial trouble. Andrew doesn't get into the reasons on the Indiegogo page, but from the bits I've heard from people, it sounds like it wasn't his fault. I understand that his house is in the balance.

If you're a GNU/Linux person, or have the ear of people who are, please broadcast the Indiegogo link.

For the companies that sponsored and benefitted from OLS in the past, even if you're committed to a different conference now, making an Indiegogo contribution would be a great gesture.

Net Neutrality

This video by Vihart is a great way to explain to non-techies what Net Neutrality is, and why it's so important:

Vihart, "Net Neutrality in the US: Now What?," YouTube video, 2014-50-07

Yes, it's long (11 minutes), but it's well done.

Earlier to... 2014-05-04

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