Cash Management Using a Cash Disbursements Journal

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The cash disbursements journal (or cash payments journal) is an accounting form used to record all cash outflows. Some examples of outflows are accounts payable, materials payable, and operating expenses, as well as all cash purchases and disbursements to a petty cash fund

A bookkeeper or accountant will usually record these transactions in the cash disbursements journal on a monthly basis before posting them to the general ledger, accounts payable ledger, or other books. In some businesses, the cash disbursement journal is combined with the cash receipts journal and referred to as simply the cash book.

The cash disbursements journal is an essential tool in financial management. Business owners use it to see how much cash has been disbursed and where it went, and calculating the percentage that went to inventory versus what went to paying other bills. The cash disbursement journal includes the check numbers for all checks that were written during the previous month, which has led many accounting software packages to refer to the journal as a check register. These packages either have preset forms for the cash disbursements journal, or easily customizable forms to accommodate business needs.

Establishing a Cash Disbursements Journal

Columns should be organized to include each of the following transactions: 

  • Date
  • Check number
  • Explanation
  • Cash credit
  • Other credit
  • Account debited
  • Accounts payable debit
  • Other debit

The payment columns may also be more specific to the nature of the business. For example, some businesses may only need one column to record cash amounts, whereas others may rely on additional columns for accounts payable or discounts received on cash purchases. In any case, there should always be an "other" column to record amounts which do not fit into any of the main categories.

Updating Other Ledgers

Regularly, and in some cases on a daily basis, the line items in the cash disbursement journal are used to update a business's subsidiary ledgers. If the business's cash payments are to suppliers for credit purchases, then the subsidiary ledger updated is the accounts payable book.

The general ledger accounts are updated monthly using the totals from the cash disbursements journal. If a business is using subsidiary control accounts to support the general ledger accounts, the postings are part of the double entry bookkeeping system. All books dedicated to recording specific types of accounting transactions rely on the cash disbursements journal for information.

Posting Discounts

The cash disbursement journal will include a "discounts received" column if there are cash payments to suppliers that may enjoy a discount, perhaps for early payment. Thus, the invoice amount is recorded, along with the discount received and the cash payment. Only the discounts receive column total is posted to the general ledger.

Proofs of Posting

Bookkeeping and accounting can make use of two procedures at the end of an accounting period to prove that the information in the cash disbursement journal has been correctly transferred to the subsidiary ledgers.

  1. The total of all the subsidiary ledger balances should be equal to the balance on the subsidiary ledger control account in the general ledger.
  2. The general ledger should be in balance; in other words, the total debits in the general ledger should be equal to the total credits.