The maze book for programmers!

Algorithms, circle mazes, hex grids, masking, weaving, braiding, 3D and 4D grids, spheres, and more!

DRM-Free Ebook

The Buckblog

assorted ramblings by Jamis Buck

Buckets: Preview

24 March 2009 — 1-minute read

So, yeah. With Capistrano and friends off my plate, I’ve actually found time to work on a project that has been in the works for years (and that’s no exaggeration, I first mentioned it in a blog post in October 2004). I’ve named it and renamed it (“Penny Pincher”, “Chump Change”, “Make Me Rich”, and “BudgetWise”) but its current incarnation is “Buckets”.

Buckets is a simple web-based personal finance application that I’ve been working on, written specifically for my wife and me. Its focus is on simple budgeting, and reducing debt, and It is intentionally “feature-poor”. It is loosely based on an envelope budgeting strategy, and while it definitely isn’t the only web-based finance app using such a strategy, it just may be the simplest.

I recorded a screencast demonstrating the budgeting aspect of Buckets; it’s a 5M QuickTime movie, 2:42 in length. Click here to view it, if you care to..

Buckets is still private: it has been deployed and my wife and I are using it, but that’s it. The source code is in a private repository on GitHub, and the production instance of the app is currently only accessible to me. That will change eventually (maybe a couple of weeks, depending on how initial testing goes), but I want to make sure it’s actually going to be useful before I open it up.

Reader Comments

That looks like a really good idea. I’ve never had much luck managing budgets before using spreadsheets, but this approach could be quite nice.

One thing that might be cool is having it pick-up previous transactions, e.g. if I have a bucket for gasoline and put in a transaction one week for Texaco at $25 and assign that to the gasoline bucket. Then next time I enter a new transaction for Texaco it could automatically pick the last bucket used.

Recurring transactions would be nice too for utilities etc.

Great screencast, Jamis!

I wrote a small personal finance system in Perl while in college. It helped me feel in control of my finances in ways a pre-packaged copy of Quicken couldn’t. Now I’m using

@Dave, there are a lot of things I plan to implement eventually, and “memorized” and “recurring” transactions are two of them. There will also be some reporting features, and account reconciliation, etc. It’s not there yet, but I’m in no hurry.

@Geoffrey, I looked at mint (and all the other options out there), but I am morally opposed to using any app that won’t let you use it unless you give it the keys to your bank account. :)

Jamis, Looks good thus far! :) I’ve been looking for a simple app to do much of what it appears to be in Buckets. If you end up opening it up at all I definitely be interested in trying it out. ~ Steve

Hi Jamis,

Looks really good and simple. As I was watching the screencast, I remembered that I had already seen a personal finance app using the same term and yes, MoneyWell … ... I haven’t used it but the terminology is quite similar. I rather use a web-based app if there was an API and an iPhone app at some stage ;-)

I was highly interested in BudgetWise, and actually downloaded a copy from somewhere. I was disappointed that it was not being maintained. I’d love to get a copy of the latest incarnation, and see if it will meet my needs. I’ve been thinking of writing my own simple app, since none of the available options are to my liking. (And I want full control of my finances, so hosted apps are generally out of the question.)

I like that you’ve already got a feature to split an expense between multiple buckets.

Wow, I’m really impressed AND really interested to see where this goes.

Count me as interested.

Hey Jamis, that’s great. My personal experience is that you have to be really diligent about putting your expenses in the system. The easiest way to do that is to import direct from the source: Quicken/CSV exports from the bank accounts, and assign afterwards.

I have a good start on that here:

Unfortunately, my wife won’t use it too much. She still thinks it’s too complicated: 6-7 steps to get the raw data from the bank into the application.

Good luck though!

@Jamis, I use and understand your aversion to their requirement that you entrust them with your account info in order to use the app. I had the same concerns. However, my #1 requirement for any personal finance app (and I’ve tried many of them) is that the app must eliminate the maintenance burden of recording and categorizing each transaction. With something like Quicken, the amount of time required to stay on top of this eventually outweighs the benefit you receive from the app. does such a good job of this (by automatically retrieving this information from your online statements) and then accurately categorizing each transaction that in the end I reluctantly surrendered my account credentials because the value of the service they offer outweighed my hesitancy to trust them with my sensitive personal information.

If Buckets could provide me that same benefit without requiring that I surrender my bank account credentials, so much the better. I’d be willing to download my statements from my bank and import them to Buckets. But Buckets would still need some functionality to do the categorization for me. The ability to create categorization rules is a good start (something does). Another approach would be to add some kind of classification engine. Bayesian classifiers tend to work pretty well for this kind of task. Especially where you are already categorizing each transaction manually – if you plug in a Bayesian classifier and leverage that manual categorization effort to train the classifier, then the app will (in theory) get better over time at predictively categorizing your transactions. I’ve toyed a bit with this concept using the Bishop Bayesian classifier ( and found the results to be somewhat promising.

@Francois and @Kelly: Buckets will never import from bank accounts. That’s a feature I don’t want. I do not intend Buckets to take over the world—in fact, I only intend for Buckets to be used by me, but if others find it useful, great. However, auto-classification of transactions, bayesian filters, etc, etc… that’s all way, way beyond the scope of this project.

When the source is available, you’re welcome to knock yourselves out on things like that.

Would love to try this out. Please do post if you make it public on github.

Hi Jamis,

Why do you wait for open sourcing it? I think a lot of us could already benefit from it, and you could also get valuable contributions, don’t you agree? Could you share your reasons for not opening to the world what you have so far?

I developed a very similar app for Rails Rumble ‘08 (, but I didn’t take it further after the event due to lack of time.

Can’t wait for the first relase!

Capistrano is a really unique and needed tool. A shame that you decided to focus your talents on personal finance – something that is being done already by Quicken, Mint, and many other tools.

@Ivan, the reason I’m holding it back still is because it’s not ready for release yet. I really don’t want contributions at this point, or feature suggestions. That’s not to say I’m waiting until the app is “done” to release it. Not at all: I’ve got a list of things that I feel need to be done before I can open the app up, but there is a long list of things I’d like to do after that, too.

@Mark, it’s a shame you think it’s a shame. :) I’ve decided I’m not out to please people anymore—Capistrano killed me for that reason. I’m working on what I want to work on, and if it’s disappointing to people, so be it. FWIW, I’ve tried “Quicken, Mint, and many other tools”, and was not impressed. I’m scratching my own itch. If those other tools work for you, great! Buckets isn’t for you, then. Nothing to see here!

Great app! I’ve been looking for a good, simple, and flexible envelope-style budgeting app and this looks perfect. It would be awesome if you made this public.

This looks great and it appears you do budgeting the same way I do. Please let me know if you need beta testers. I would be glad to help.

No wait! You can’t tease me like this! My husband just sent me the link to the video and I fell in love with this program instantly! I can’t believe he’d send me a link to something that I can’t play with right now – he’s so mean. If you want anyone else to help you play with this and test it I’m more then happy to help – the sooner I can get my hands on this the happier I’ll be ;)

Looks like a great little app. I like it. I used to do something similar “virtually”. I would keep a separate file (spreadsheet or whatever) to move “in” and “out” funds into categories. It never really worked for me because it was too cumbersome. I always thought that my online banking site should provide this type of functionality.

I am interested in seeing how you tackle the potential UI and UX challenges. I can envision logging receipts and expenses getting too cumbersome for some.

I agree with your decision to not integrate with banks like Mint. I have always felt that was too easy. Making it slightly difficult is part of being made aware of your spending habits.

Good luck.

That looks great. I currently use a Numbers sheet to maintain the budget. The budgeting feature is limited, but it does give soem nice charts and helps in seeing the expense trends. I really like the flexibility of splitting an expense across multiple accounts. Can I be a testing member? :) ashwinks @ github.

That’s a great-looking application, Jamis! As you know, I scratched my own itch in the same sector with AssetsGraphed, although it’s not as good as Buckets is already…

Your app looks great! I am currently using some kind of outliner on my mobile phone for expense tracking. Buckets looks like it would be worth a try to use on the phone. Looking forward to try it :)

Looks great already! I’ll certainly be trying Buckets when it’s released.

I like it too. Especially to manage savings actually. Every month I transfer different amounts of money to a saving account for different goals: $75 for the 6-month car insurance bill, $150 for home improvement, $100 for the next vacations, and so on. The bank account app does not keep track of the buckets, so I do it in a spreadsheet. But an app like your proto might do a much better job! +1

Okay… this is rather random, but it’s so weird that it had to be shared.

I was listening to Röyksopp’s new album. In particular, I was listening to track 5, Royksopp Forever. I saw your article in my newsreader, and decided to watch the screencast.

Then something weird happened. You started talking during the perfect moment, and the tempo of your dialog was perfectly in time with the music.

I was freaking out to my girlfriend over IM about how much more exciting the music was making your screencast. The music got dramatic when you needed to withdraw funds from multiple buckets. When your college friend dropped by, it was downright suspenseful.

And then, as if the universe was trying to screw with my head, your screencast ended at the EXACT SAME TIME as the song. Fade to black, fade to mute.

Basically, this experience has convinced me that if there is a god, he wants me to use Buckets if it ever becomes available to the general public.

Jamis, I’m glad to see you’re doing stuff for yourself. People should be doing more of that.

To me some of the UI features felt very 37Signals-esque. Under the covers are you using any internal 37Signals code or styles?

I started working on a similar app called MoneyTracker. My goals are also similar (it’s for mine and my wife’s personal use). Looking forward to the release of Buckets. Looks good (simple and usable) now, keep up the good work.

@Mason, that’s awesome! I’ll have to look into adding a sound track for the next screencast. :)

@andy, I’m not reusing any internal 37s code, though I am using some published plugins. None that touch the UI, though. I’m not intentionally using any 37signals styles, though I suppose you can’t work at a place like 37signals without some rubbing off on your own style. :)

Jamis, I think it looks great. I’m currently using KMyMoney (think Quicken for Linux but with an open data format) to track our accounts and a sheet of paper on the fridge for budgeting. Buckets looks like it could replace the most important 80% of our use right now. Once you open source it, I’d be happy to add in the other 20%.

I feel the same way as you about, I don’t want to hand over my bank account data to someone else. I also want to make sure I have control over my data, so I can move it to a new system if I need to (or if a company changes).

If you need a “beta” tester, I volunteer to take a look at the system and the code.

Looks very nice Jamis. I can definitely see myself using something like that.

Looks very useful! Can’t wait for you to open it up.

Hey, I really like the concept. If this ever become widely available, I’d like to offer a translation to Brazilian Portuguese, since I find this very useful!