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Updated: Feb 4, 2023

This article was originally written for and published in The Business Bulletin. I also had recommendations for software which are outdated, especially the pricing info, so hopefully I'll get an updated article on that out soon!

I want to preface this little article with this: Computers or computerized bookkeeping are not for everyone. It is perfectly acceptable in many cases to keep your books manually. In fact, it may be advisable to do it manually first, before switching to using a computer, in order to understand the nuts and bolts of proper record keeping. I want to echo Kelvin Gable’s thought in his previous article about not “pushing it off to a more convenient season.” Whether you use a computer or not isn’t as important as whether you are responsible with your record keeping. Nuff said.

I am often asked, “What bookkeeping or accounting program do you recommend?” Many times this question comes right on the heels of the statement, “I just bought QuickBooks,” or “I just bought a computer that came with Microsoft Money,” or “I just loaded Quicken for Business on my computer.” So, what’s the right one? Usually QuickBooks is the software I recommend.

If you already purchased your software and you're ready to go, here are a few useful tips:

Trash In, Trash Out

No computer program will make up for a lack of knowledge, discipline or consistency that you may have. Pay attention to how you enter your transactions. Do it the same way every time, i.e., if you make a payment every month to GMAC, don’t save it to “Pickup Loan” one month and “Car and Truck Expense” the next month. Use the same account every time, even if you’re not sure it’s right. That way, when you discover an error, you can easily find all related transactions and fix them. Reconcile your checking account with the bank every month. Reconcile your checking account with the bank every month. Worth repeating.

What kind of QuickBooks reports does my accountant need at tax time?

Better yet, don’t send ANY reports; rather send a backup of your data on a CD or flash drive. Then your accountant can tell exactly what was going on without you printing a book first or having to call you with lots of questions. But if that’s not available, send a Profit and Loss, and a Balance Sheet Previous Year Comparison. Be sure that the reports say “cash basis” in the upper left hand corner. If you have plenty of ink and paper, print a “Transaction Detail by Account” report. You can shorten the report significantly without hindering it’s usefulness by going to the “Modify Report” screen, choosing the “Filters” tab, then “Account” and then choosing “Multiple Accounts.” From there mark all the accounts on the list, but go back and un-mark the checking accounts and maybe accounts receivable. This gives your accountant all the detail in each expense account, and is a good report in the case of an audit. If you happen to use Quicken, print a Cash Flow Summary including all categories and accounts. Then print an Itemized Category Report and set it to “subtotal by category.” Be sure that the report fits on 1 page wide.

Print Your Checks and Deposit Slips with QuickBooks

Why? Because once your checks and deposit slips are printed, most of your bookkeeping chores are done. If you write your checks by hand, you have to reenter everything into the computer. If you enter it in the computer to start with, you can print the check, pop it into a windowed envelope and put the stamp on it. Buy the self-stick envelopes and it won’t even leave a bad taste in your mouth. A little extra money spent on compatible checks is well worth it.

Use Multiple Window View

If you like to be able to get around better in the program go to “View” on the top of your screen and choose “Multiple Windows.” Then take your mouse and slide it over the bottom right hand side of each window. When the little arrows appear click it and hold the left mouse button down and move it around to size the windows to suit you.

Print a View of the Screen

If you want a picture memory of how you did something, or some error message that came up, here’s how to print a copy of the screen you’re looking at. First, open a word processor like Word, or Write. Then click on the window that you want to take a picture of (for example “Edit Account” if you’re editing a QuickBooks account or setting it up). Then click on the top line of that window so that it turns a little deeper in color (meaning you have selected it) and press the “Print Scrn” button on the top right of your keyboard while holding down the “Alt” button right by your space bar. This puts that image into your computer’s clipboard or memory. Now go to your word processor and right click anywhere on the blank page. Choose “Paste” from the little menu and you will pop a picture into that document.

(This can be done from any Windows compatible program, not just QuickBooks).

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