The Waste Book: The Oldest Book in Accounting


Zoya Lehrke


Reviewed by


April 12, 2023

This article is Tax Professional approved


April is Financial Literacy Month—and if you’re looking to improve your understanding of accounting and how it came to be, then you’ve come to the right place.

If you own a small business, you’re likely familiar with the practice of hoarding your receipts and keeping track of online transactions. However, did you know that business owners have been doing this in the form of ‘waste books’ since the early fourteenth century?

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As an entrepreneur, you likely understand the important role that accurate bookkeeping plays in running a business, or depending on your background—you may even be familiar with how it’s done. Modern bookkeeping services like Bench (that’s us), still use recording methods that originated hundreds of years before our time. But today, instead of scribing individual transactions on paper, we provide an all-in-one financial platform that will do it for you.

What is a waste book?

The term ‘waste book’ isn’t one commonly used in modern accounting terminology, but the book itself was once used daily by business owners and bookkeepers of the early eighteenth century.

The waste book was one of the first books traditionally used in bookkeeping. This book was used to track the daily transactions of a certain business in chronological order. Once the business day was complete, its contents would be re-recorded in a larger journal called a ledger. The ledger would then be used by a bookkeeper to balance the business’s books.

Each day, a new waste book would be used to record business transactions, and yesterday’s book would go to waste—hence its namesake.

History of the waste book

The first use of a waste book in the world of accounting was recorded in early eighteenth-century America. Before this, what was known as ‘waste books’ were commonly used by artists and scientists like Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton, to record ideas or take notes.

During the eighteenth-century, a waste book was used to record the daily expenditures of an individual or business. The use of waste books became less common when the rise of double-entry accounting made its way to North America—which we have Luca Pacioli, (the Father of Accounting) to thank for.

Luca Pacioli was best known for his publishing of the first text ever written on double-entry accounting. Pacioli’s book The Summa would be the first full description of this accounting method and was based on the Venetian merchants’ use of balance sheets, income statements, trial balances, and debits and credits.

Double-entry accounting is still widely used as a method of bookkeeping that tracks where your money comes from and where it’s going on a general ledger. This method of recording business transactions would change bookkeeping for more than 500 following Pacioli’s time.

The waste book and modern bookkeeping

Though the practice of bookkeeping has changed a lot over the years, the definition of a bookkeeper has remained relatively the same.

A modern bookkeeper is defined as someone who prepares your accounts and documents daily financial transactions. Bookkeepers have been around as far back as 2600 BC—when records were tracked with a stylus on slabs of clay—making bookkeeping, not the oldest profession, but pretty darn close.

In eighteenth-century America, bookkeepers would use a waste book to record daily transaction data—an upgrade from clay slabs in our opinion. But like those old waste book days, bookkeepers would typically hand off their records to an accountant come tax time or when big decisions needed to be made.

Today, it’s common practice to use bookkeeping or accounting software to record, organize and balance your business’s books.

With the modernization of bookkeeping, records have become more accurate, less time-consuming, and of course, less tedious than the recording of each transaction on an individual piece of paper, book, or slab of clay.

Bookkeeping options for your business

In both eighteenth-century and modern-day America, this fact still rings true—managing your books is a tedious task and requires some serious time and attention to detail. Accurate bookkeeping is a must-have for maintaining a successful small business, but it shouldn’t be something that takes up a majority of your time.

Automated bookkeeping is the way of the future, and is an excellent solution for entrepreneurs who are looking for a way to cut down on the repetitive work associated with their books.

Enter Bench—an online bookkeeping automation service that caters specifically to small business owners who are looking to get some of their time back. In addition to compiling all your business transactions for you, Bench uses proprietary software and human bookkeepers to take care of your monthly bookkeeping needs.

If you’re on the fence about whether outsourcing your bookkeeping is a wise investment, check out our short guide on The ROI of Hiring a Bookkeeper.

Read up on the basics of modern accounting:

This post is to be used for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal, business, or tax advice. Each person should consult his or her own attorney, business advisor, or tax advisor with respect to matters referenced in this post. Bench assumes no liability for actions taken in reliance upon the information contained herein.
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