Do I want to keep the books?
April 28, 2012 9:13 AM   Subscribe

Bookkeeping: is it a decent gig?

I'm looking for a job that is quiet, straightforward, in-demand(ish), and doesn't require a lot of investment of time or schooling to get started. I've seen bookkeeping mentioned here in similar threads and am wondering if it fits into any/all of my categories.

I have some misgivings because I've searched job boards in my area and many, if not most, of the bookkeeping jobs seem to pay at or near minimum wage. I'm wondering if the higher-paying jobs might not be reserved for those with bachelor's degrees in accounting or what-have-you (my plan was to get a bookkeeping certificate at the local community college).

And, I'm almost too embarrassed to admit this, but math was my worst subject in school (right after science, sadly). I wasn't terrible at it, but not great, either. I do like playing around with my own budget, but that may be due more to the various fanta$y $cenario$ I like to envision. Is this a factor I should be considering more seriously?

Thanks for any insight you may have on these questions or anything else pertaining to bookkeeping!
posted by indognito to Work & Money (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Bookkkeeping is the kind of thing that can easily be outsourced or offshored, so wages are commensurately low.

As for math skills required, the vast, vast majority of bookkeeping requires nothing more than addition and subtraction.
posted by dfriedman at 9:40 AM on April 28, 2012

I would recommend not a bookkeeping job but a low-level accounting job. I've had one and it paid well (40-45k) and was relatively low-key, considering that I didn't have any significant college education at the time. I left because there was no room for advancement in the company OR the field, unless I finished my BA in a related field which I wasn't interested in doing. As far as math is concerned, I never had to do much mental math and always used excel or a calculator for what was essentially arithmetic.

I'd start looking at smaller companies, maybe utility companies. Even customer billing can pay well. Unfortunately, maybe of these type of jobs include a bit of customer service.
posted by two lights above the sea at 9:54 AM on April 28, 2012

Seconding the idea of looking for a small company that needs an overall bookkeeping/accountant-type person. A lot of small businesses rely on one person to handle their accounts payable and receivable as well as the general ledger and other bookkeeping/accounting tasks through trial balance. I ended up in such a job only because I had 12 years previous experience in the steel industry (although I'd worked in the purchasing/sales end of the business). The owner of a small brokerage offered me a job as "controller", the job description being as I detailed above. My math skills were and are meh, and I didn't have an accounting degree, but he was more impressed by my industry knowledge and persisted. I ended up taking the job because it actually offered better health care benefits than I'd had in a while. And, as it turned out, the job was a lot of "number crunching" (thank the Gods for Excel and its math magic) but it did utilize my steel experience as far as approving invoices (matching up materials and weights and scrap allowances and such), so it wasn't as boring as I'd thought it would be. And it paid pretty well. Very well, after a year or two. Another benefit of working for a small company is not having a huge corporate hierarchy/salary structure in place....the boss thinks you're doing a good job? He'll give you a raise. Bada boom, bada bing, no need to go through performance reviews or fill out endless paperwork with the "higher ups" and make sure that your salary is within some pre-set guidelines for that position, etc etc.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:43 AM on April 28, 2012

I did bookkeeping for about 5 years for three different companies. I made 14-30/hour depending on the client. I had no degree, no certificate, and in fact, I was self taught.

You can do it but getting clients isn't easy.
posted by magnetsphere at 1:36 PM on April 28, 2012

I have been a bookkeeper for years, mostly in Australia before moving to the US. Bookkeeping was much better paid in Australia and the position seemed a bit more respected than it does over here.

I was mostly self taught, working my way up from an Accounts Payable/Receivable position to the head of the Accounts Department (reporting whatever Accountant they had hired that week Accountant) at a couple of major hotel resorts before moving to the US. Math was always my weakest subject, what skills are needed are a systematic and logical mind, practice using an accounting calculator, and being good at spreadsheets and data entry. Learn a few basic bookkeeping software packages, which you can find courses for all over the place and you'll be set.

Temp bookkeeping is fun and usually pays a better hourly rate but temping isn't everyones cup of tea. If you can work your way up to be in charge of the books for a small company you can get a pretty good rate of pay after a few years. Bookkeeping is harder to outsource overseas than people thing and usually not worth all the effort, if you are handling all the day to day banking, reconciling tills, doing a bit of payroll or get into medical accounting it's not a bad income not OMG I have a major college degree good, but for the training investment I've always been happy as a Bookkeeper and have had no trouble finding work.

I'd never met a Bookkeeper with anything other than vocational training or self education until I moved to the US, you guys take college way more seriously over here, so if you don't have experience and are wanting to walk into a job I'd suggest at least picking up some night classes at a community college or similar. It's a good job and if you decide you don't like doing the work the training is a very good foundation for running your own business or any other office type of work you might want to head into, the skills will not be wasted.
posted by wwax at 10:01 PM on April 28, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks, all, for your answers.
magnetsphere, if you're still reading this care to share how you got clients? :)
Thanks again.
posted by indognito at 10:26 AM on April 29, 2012

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