Many of us keep personal journals of life. A journal acts as a chronological order of events. Well a business journal is exactly the same thing. It is a date order of activity for a particular function. Ledgers are different though. Ledgers relate to the various accounts customarily found in the chart of accounts. A ledger tracks the activity in this account. A good example is your bank account. A ledger identifies the in’s and out’s within this account. Most often the order is by date but sometimes there may be an entry or two not date based but function based.
The following sections go into much more detail related to these two types of books, where they are found and who typically uses them. I finish up by explaining how modern accounting software incorporates these two types of sources of information into their processes.
Journals – Original Source of Entry
In Lesson 2 I explained how Pacioli wrote about the dual entry process for accounting. His basis was the methods used by Renaissance merchants specifically the Venetian merchants selling their wares. What the merchant did was to take a journal with him to the market. When a customer purchased an item he would record by date and the event the particular transaction. He simply stated he sold item X to customer C for a certain set sum of money. In addition he recorded how he collected his money. Today we would call this the Sales Journal.
A journal is merely a date sensitive log of activity for a particular function of business. There are about one dozen common journals used in accounting. The following are the more common journals found in business:
• Sales Journal
• Payroll Journal
• Purchases Journal
• Cash Disbursements Journal
• Inventory Received Journal
• Shipping Journal
• Deposit Journal
• Invoices Journal
• General Journal
A lot of beginners think that the journals are in the physical possession of the accountants or bookkeepers. In reality they are controlled by the clerk in the respective departments. As an example, the sales department generates and controls the Sales Journal, shipping controls the Shipping Journal and so on. Some of the journals are kept by the accountants but most are out and about in the company where other parties are involved.
Also in Lesson 2 I introduced the dual entry system for accounting. This is where the dual entry starts. When the merchant recorded his entry he basically records a sale as a credit and the cash collected as a debit. Just think of it visually with a ‘T’ account as I described in Lesson 2. Once this entry is in the journal he then transfers the entry to the respective ledgers.
Ledgers – Final Resting Place for Entry
A ledger is merely a line by line or row after row of information related to a particular account. The sales entry from above affects two ledgers. The first ledger is the sales account. So, one line of data is entered in this ledger with same date as the journal entry with the dollar value associated with that sale. In general the value is recorded in the Credit column as most sales are credits. A corresponding debit is recorded in the cash ledger in the Debit column.
Both entries are marked in the ledger from the Sales Journal with a simple SJ code that corresponds to the same date. So now the cash account ledger will look like this:
Date Source Description DR CR Balance
11/10/1429 SJ 1 Bag of Wheat 7.02 -0- 7.02
Remember the sales ledger will look exactly the same except the value will be a credit. The balance is a carryforward value from the prior line of information. In the sales journal a tick mark is given to that particular transaction indicating it is recorded and in modern day accounting there is an indicator for the particular lines of entry. In accounting we refer to this as the ‘Split Account’ i.e. the offsetting account. So in the sales journal, there is a column labeled ‘Split’ and for this particular transaction the word ‘Sales’ is inserted in the ‘Split’ column and in the cash collected line the word ‘Cash’ is inserted. This way the reader knows which ledger the value was entered.
Seems pretty cumbersome doesn’t it? A lot of writing is needed to record a single economic transaction. But remember, back in those days it wasn’t like you had 3 – 5 million transactions per day like modern day Walmart. These were relatively low volume transactions but generated significant value to the merchant.
Believe it or not the use of journals and ledgers was quite common for small business right through the 70’s. Today accounting software resolves a lot of this automatically for us.
Modern Technology Application
There are several different small business accounting software packages on the market. Depending on the nature of your business and the corresponding volume of economic activity (number of transactions per day) determines which is best for your business. I have written several articles related to accounting software and encourage you to visit the accounting systems and technology section of the website. One particular article is geared towards choosing the best software.
Overall I endorse QuickBooks for small business as you get the best bang for your buck.
Almost all of the different software packages use the basic journal and ledger concept along with dual entry to record activity. In addition, the software limits access for certain individuals to just their respective function in the business. So the sales clerk can’t explore the software and look at the payroll or the financial reports unless granted those rights.
Whenever a transaction is initiated, the information is automatically recorded in the respective journal along with all the necessary information. In some software packages you can require customer or other similar information for additional use. But in general the journals are similar to the journals described above. The ledgers associated with the respective lines of entry are automatically updated and in reality the bookkeeper doesn’t really have to do too much in entering the source data.
This doesn’t mean a bookkeeper isn’t needed it just means that some functions are automatic for the operation.
An example is QuickBooks Retail and Accounting package. Here the retail sales transaction automatically updates the sales ledger and the corresponding cash ledger.
The real value for a bookkeeper is in keeping up with all the other traditional entries. These include paying the bills, running the payroll, balancing the books, reconciling the bank accounts and creating the close of period entries. The better bookkeepers can also keep up with the accrual adjustments for the business. All of these issues are explained and taught in future lessons. Just remember, technology inserts the information into the correct journals and ledgers at the point of the economic transaction. Therefore you don’t have to worry about the cumbersome process of recording data in different journals and ledgers by hand.
Summary – Ledgers and Journals
Two key terms are used in accounting in referring to the sources and compiling of the data. The first is the source book of information and this is the journal. It is date driven and in chronological order. It is considered the actual dual entry point. Both sides of the equation are then transferred to the respective account ledgers as single lines of information with a balance carry forward. Journals do not have any balance information related to the entries. Journals simply record the entries. Ledgers identify the balance for the respective account. Act on Knowledge.
If you have any comments or questions, e-mail me at dave (insert the usual ‘at’ symbol) businessecon.org. I would love to hear from you. If interested in my help as an accountant or consultant, contact me through the ‘My Services’ page in the footer.