Money is dull

I am in the process of buying my first house.

Unless you’ve already done it, you would not believe how tedious it is. You can read a lot about how stressful it is, but so far I’ve not found it very stressful, only irritating when I can’t get in touch with the bank. Other than that, it seems like an excuse for “financial institutions” (translate: black holes for your money) to send you loads of paperwork which you will have to read, check for naughty loopholes, sign, return and also send to someone else because why would any of the people you’re employing talk to one another?

Thankfully we’ve had the net to help us out. There are hundreds and probably thousands of sites which give advice on everything from mortgages, home inspections, how to negotiate price, how to use your estate agent (i.e. don’t, just use – they actually have good information on pretty much everything), the difference between surveying and conveyance, moving and so on. It is all profoundly boring and yet you’re somehow expected to know it all for this one purchase, starting from a knowledge base of zero, which, in the scheme of things, despite total prices, isn’t really that expensive. sigh.

What it certainly is, is a cash cow. No wonder the banks et al. have been hoisted with the petard of their own greed, we’ve paid around £2,000 on our house move (you have to “buy” the right to get into hundreds of thousands of pounds of debt, and you have to “buy” the right to make sure the building is, y’know, actually *as described* and without fundamental problems) and the sellers could still pull out at any moment, if they wanted to.

Anyway, I cannot even imagine doing all of this without net connectivity. It would have taken *weeks* just to do what can now be done in hours. The preparation alone would have been a massive timesink, and I can totally see people getting even more robbed by banks by being sold their expensive add-on insurances which are mostly much more expensive than specialist sellers (which, of course, places like moneysupermarket will compare for you and moneysavingexpert will give advice on).

Hopefully you can gather from the tone of this that I think the whole charade is a big fat con, but more than that, just incredibly, incredibly boring.

Personal finance tracking

How much money do you have and how do you find out what you’re spending it on?


This is the question that irks me. The financial free software world is centred around GnuCash which is all about detailed tracking of your finances – well, as far as I’m concerned my bank already does this for me so all I need is the visualisation from that data.

What my bank (Barclay’s) actually allows me to do is download up to the last three months’ worth of data in OFX format.

So, right now I’m using ofx-parser, a Ruby library,  to process the data and import into into a sqlite database. I’m then using CodeIgniter to display a list of my transactions and the Yahoo! Charts library to graph them (the CodeIgniter PDO library needed some patching to support sqlite properly before I could make much progress).

Unfortunately Barclay’s don’t put a timestamp on the transactions, only a date, so the graphed balance isn’t always accurate – in the screenshot above you can see that it looks as though my account has twice dropped below zero although no such thing ever happened. Obviously this is part due to my woeful lack of graphing skills but the lack of time is still pretty annoying.

I can so far group and plot my expenditures and savings. The next set of features will be tagging by type and vendor recognition at which point I’ll be able to work out and plot exactly how much I’m spending on food over time and with which retailers.

This is all inspired by Wesabe which is an excellent application but despite their reassuring Data Bill of Rights I just don’t feel comfortable uploading all my bank details and transactions to an American company once every three months.