Probe House Expense Manager

Edward S. Baiz shows how to track your personal finances with this powerful software


Hello once again fellow Atarians. I am back to discuss yet another great program for Atari computer owners. When I first got married I decided it was time to put my computer to some practical use. I was mainly just playing games and sending/receiving messages. I wanted to keep track of my household's expenses and also if we were making/losing any money on a month to month basis. Programs like this for the Atari were almost non-existent and the ones that were around were not something I wanted to use or were not what I was looking for.

I decided that if the program I wanted did not exist, I would just use a spreadsheet program. I am a pharmacist at a local hospital and I had created/used spreadsheets before. They are a very easy way to keep track of almost any kind of data and work very well if created correctly. The best spreadsheet program for Atari computers was Texel. I could kick myself for passing up a chance to buy version 1.6 at a MIST show in Indianapolis, but I was told it was buggy and that a newer version was coming. Well that did not happen soon enough for me, so I ended buying LDW Power. I created my spreadsheet and used it for almost ten years.

In December of 2002, I got that feeling again and felt I needed another kind of program to do my expenses. The spreadsheet was nice, but it had its flaws. For example, I had an expense area for the kids. When I made the spreadsheet I figured I would need about ten lines for this. This worked most of the time, but sometimes I needed more, I either had to combine entries on one line or else put the entry on another line in another category. The final numbers were correct, but the data were messed up. I decided to look for another program.

I figured it would be a little easier now to find an expense program than it was ten years ago, but I was soon to find out different. There were more expense programs, but now I had to find one that ran on my Hades. Most did, but they just were not what I was looking for. I needed one that would let me create expense accounts and revenue accounts, enter figures into these accounts, calculate whether I made money or lost money each month and then give me a final figure at the end of the year. I need that final figure as I use it to determine whether I have enough to invest or else use it for some other useful purpose.

My search ended when I came across an old program called PHEM. This stands for Probe House Expense Manager and is by William Wong. I had run across this program before, but passed it up because it seemed too hard to understand and use. At this point, I was determined to learn this program since it seemed to be what I was looking for. After some intense experimenting, I got to the point where I was able to understand the program and how to use it.

Basically, PHEM is mainly to be used for keeping a budget in a household or even a small business from month to month in a given year. It is designed to let you know if you are over or under the budget that you have set for yourself to follow. Its concept is simple. Accounts are created from which money flows out. Examples would be petty cash, or a flower fund... Next there are categories. These are expenditures that money is used on. Examples would be lunch, dinner, gas... Then there are transactions. These are when money flows out from a particular account for a particular category - like taking money from petty cash to be used for lunch. Let me say that PHEM allows a check number to be attached to a transaction if a check is used and allows tracking if/when the check clears.

And last but not least, PHEM takes all the accounts, categories and transactions and keeps them in a book. It can then produce reports and charts of any account, category or transaction. This makes it very easy to keep track of all expenses and to keep a nice monthly budget.

Some of the features of PHEM are:

  • Fully supports the desktop with 3D look and feel.
  • Multiple windows for reports and data entries.
  • Window icon style bar.
  • Number of transactions are limited only by available memory.
  • Unlimited account and category types.
  • Sort transactions by account, category or date.
  • Edit transactions at any time.
  • Field for check numbers with cleared/uncleared.
  • Pie and bar graphs.
  • Graphs are self-scaling to fit windows.
  • All reports are generated by report generator.
  • GDOS printing supported.
  • On-line help with ST Guide.
  • TOS, MultiTOS, Geneva MagiC operating systems supported.

There are many more features listed on the hypertext file included with PHEM, but the above shows just how powerful and how good a program it is.

All right. You can all see from my description so far, what kind of program PHEM is and how it can be applied to a budget. That is all and good, but I wanted to be able to enter expenses, revenues and have PHEM give a total at the end of each month to see if I made or lost any money. I also want to see my total for the whole year. I use this figure to see if I can invest any money or else use it for a vacation, home improvement or whatever... I am going to show all of you how I got PHEM to do this and with my explanations and screen-shots, you also will be able to learn how PHEM was really intended to be used.

The first thing to do is create your accounts and categories. Remember that accounts are where the money is coming from (income in my case) and categories are where the money is going to (expenses). To do this, go to the drop-down menu Lists and click on either Accounts or Categories. Doing this will bring up a box. Just click on Add. You will then be able to type in the account or category name. When finished, click on OK. The name you just typed will then appear in the box. If you ever want to delete or modify any account or category, just highlight the name by doing a single click on it and then click on what you want to do (modify or delete). Once you have all the names typed in, you probably will want them in alphabetical order. To get this done just go under the drop-down menu Special and just click on Reindex.

Now after I typed in all of my accounts and categories, I had to add one name to each list, but first let's take a look at how we enter a transaction.

[Screen-shot: New entry]

As you can see from the screen-shot here, you need to enter both an account and a category. You can get the complete list for both by clicking on the symbol to the right of the account or category name showing. If you are taking money out for an expense, then you highlight Payment, and if you are putting money in, then you highlight Deposit. Notice also that not only can you enter the amount and check number for the transaction, you also can enter a comment for the transaction and also highlight whether or not the check has cleared. When you are satisfied with the entry, click on Add. The number next to Entered will go up 1. This signifies the transaction has successfully been added into the books. The Repeat option in the entry window, is used for those transactions that are performed on a monthly basis like a house payment. Now in my case when I had an expense I had to take it from somewhere and I was not going to take it from my paycheck account or any other income I had for that particular month, so I created an account called "Income Out". Now the same goes when I wanted to add my paycheck or my wife's. I had to have a category to go with any income I had for the month, so I created one called "Income In". Now the "Income In" and "Income Out" entries are just bogus, but do provide me with a total figure for my expenses and incomes on a monthly and yearly basis.

Now we have some transactions entered, we can use the report generator. To bring this up, go to the drop-down menu Report and then click on Generator. You will get a screen that looks like this:

[Screen-shot: Report generator]

Notice that all the accounts and categories have a check mark beside them. This means that, in the display screen (more on this later), they will be shown. This makes it easy to view and keep track of certain areas of your books. The first thing I always change is the date. PHEM, when initially loaded, sets itself to a two-week period. The "To" date is always the present day and the "From" date is always two weeks before. I like to be dealing with the present month so I always first change the date to go from the first day of the present month to the last day. To do this is simple. Just click on either the "From" date or the "To" date and a calendar will appear.

[Screen-shot: Calendar]

To change the day just click on the correct day and then click OK. The same goes for the month and year. After the date is set you can click on Display and you will get a screen that looks like this:

You now see why I wanted the date changed. I wanted the display screen to show all the details for the particular month I am working in. The reason for this is that I wanted the "Grand Total" to be a reflection of the whole month and not part of it. Notice that the amounts in red are expenses (payments) and the amounts in black are income (deposits). If the "Grand Total" appears in black, then you are making money for that particular time period. If it is red, then you have lost that amount. The way the data are presented in the display screen can easily be changed, by adjusting the entries in the Sort area in the report generator. The first and second sort can be either one of four entries (Account, Category, Date, Remark (comment)). I prefer the first sort to be Category and the second to be Account. This groups all of the same expense transactions together and makes it easier for me to see where my money is going. The best way to understand this is to play around with different combinations to see how you would want the data to look.

Probably the next things that should be discussed are the graphic symbols in the display (details) screen. Each of these has its own function. To find out what a particular symbol does, put the mouse pointer on it and a box will appear telling what the symbol is used for. Skipping the first symbol in the upper-left of the screen and going from left to right, the symbol meanings are: New Transaction, Delete Transaction, Modify Transaction, Split Transaction, Combine Transaction, Filing Result (files to disk the text of the display window for use possibly in a word processor), Print and Export. For the most part they are straightforward, but the Combine Transaction option deserves a mention.

You may want to use this option if you have a number of transactions that are basically the same. For example, in my expense book, I draw out money for myself under the category, "Expense (Ed)". Now I may draw out money for myself a number of times in the month. At the end of the month when I am going to print everything out, I will use the Combine Transaction option to combine all of these entries into one entry. Of course if I want to reverse this, I would just use the Split Transaction option.

Now back to the first symbol (which looks like a bar graph) in the upper-left of the display screen. Using this will allow you to graph the result of the display screen in either a bar chart or a pie chart. But in order for this to work, the display screen must consist of either subtotal or summary data. To do this you must choose either Subtotal or Summary in the report generator before you click on the display option. If you have chosen Details and you try to use this graph option, nothing will happen. If you have done things correctly you will get results that look like the following:

[Screen-shot: Bar graph display]

These of course can be printed out. If the names are a bit crunched and cannot be read, just drag one of the corners of the graphic picture and make it larger until things are clearer.

One thing I liked to look at when the year ends is the total dollar figures for each income account and expense category. I also pay particular attention to the end figure that lets me know if the household made or lost money for that particular year. To do this in PHEM is quite simple, but you have to go about it in a certain way. First thing to do is to bring up the budget report to see where things are. To do this, go to the drop-down menu Report and click on Budget. You will get a screen that looks like this:

This report is meant to reflect if you are over or under the budget you have set for yourself. If the total figure amount is red, then you are over budget and if it is in black, then you are within budget. You set your budget by going under the drop-down menu List and then clicking Budget. You will get a list of all the categories and accounts with the budget amounts for each month of that year. To adjust an amount for a particular account or category just click on one of its dollar figures and you will get a window containing all of it's figures for each month of that year. Then click the figure in the month you want to change and type it in. To put the same figure for each month use the All option.

Now for my purpose, I do things a little differently in order to get the results I want. If look at the details screen again, you will notice that the grand total for March is $10 in the black. As far as I am concerned, I would want the Budget Report to give me the same amount for March. If you look at the sample budget screen, it is the same. This means that at the end of year I can use this budget report to look at and see how I did for the whole year and print it out. But originally, the dollar total amount in the budget report for March was not the same. To get both amounts equal I first have to go to the budget list. I then must make the budget list entries of all of my income accounts to be the same as the totals in the details screen. For example, let's say I received a check for $500 from my employer on March 2. I would enter this using the Add Entry screen as usual, but would then have to enter that amount in the Budget List screen under March. Now when I receive another check (let's say) on the 16th for $500, I would still enter that as a separate entry in the Add Entry screen, but I would have to change the Budget List entry for March from $500 to $1,000. By doing so for each income account I put money into, the total amounts for the details screen and the budget screen will be the same. You can see this if you look at the detail screen and budget screen examples.

If you want to adjust how PHEM looks, feels and functions, you would want to bring up the Preferences screen.

[Screen-shot: Program preferences]

This done by going to the drop-down menu Specials and then clicking on Preferences. If you want to use the PHEM desktop just put an "X" in the box next to Desktop. As you can see, you can adjust the color of the PHEM desktop. You can also adjust the date format, the font, the font size, the field size of accounts, categories and comments and adjust the left and top margins. You can also have PHEM number all the pages printed and also print the date.

It is probably a good time to talk about the bugs in the program. When I first decided to use PHEM (December 2002), it was loaded with a lot of them. In the Details screen, if you had a negative number as the grand total, it would appear in black and not red. This made it difficult to see if any money was made or lost. You could change the font so the Details screen would look better, but when it was printed, PHEM would still use the regular system font.

When making an entry, it will not appear in the Details screen if there is nothing in the comment field. This can be worked around if you just put the cursor in the comment field and hit the space bar once. If you are going to add a comment, then you have nothing to worry about. When printing, PHEM would just want to print one page only no matter how many pages were in the file. In order to get my file printed, I had to use the Combine Entry option to make sure everything was on one page. In the help file, it says that PHEM will work under MagiC, but it crashes a lot for me. This may be because William uses a Falcon and I have a Hades. PHEM does run great for me under regular TOS, so I use that. It also runs fine under Geneva and should also run under MiNT.

When I experienced these bugs, I e-mailed William about them. I think he was surprised to get an e-mail about PHEM. He had written the program back in 1996 and had not looked at the code since then. However, just for me, he went back to it, and fixed a lot of the bugs I have mentioned. PHEM now prints in the font you have set, it will print all the pages in your file, it now has margins that can be set, the grand total on the Details screen appears in red if negative, the bar and pie graphs work correctly, plus much more. The last version saw the appearance of a few more bugs and I let William know about it. He told me he would look into it.

I hope this article gave everyone some insight about this wonderful program. I would ask that you please give it a try as it deserves our attention and support. William was great to fix the bugs in PHEM and he did it just for me. I am hoping with more support, he will continue to make PHEM better and better. Please go to the Probe House web site and download PHEM and give it a try. Also look at the other great programs William has written for Atari computers. If you have any questions or comments about PHEM, please e-mail me at

That address will change as ComCast bought out AT&T, so if the e-mail comes back, just go to the ST groups on Usenet and leave a message there. Also, leave William an e-mail from his web site. I am sure he will be more than happy to hear from you. Take care all, until next time.

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MyAtari magazine - Feature #4, May 2003

Copyright 2003 MyAtari magazine