How to deal with planned small one-time expenses

Each month, when I sit down with my wife to plan budget for the next month, we come up with a bunch of things we want to buy on that specific month. Maybe a toy, maybe clothes, maybe something else. These are small enough that we fit them in our regular budget, so we don't have separate savings categories from them. The problem is at the moment I budget them to any fitting category and use the notes to know what are the thing we have to buy in that category.

And it's easy to guess it's just not working really well. Notes are not displayed in the list anywhere so it's easy to forget about them.

think the best solution would be to create new categories each month, assign the money to those categories, and then either a) add transactions to those categories and clean them up at the end of the month (Collapsing them to universal, more fitting ones) or b) add transactions to the universal categories and move the funds from the temporary one and delete it.


Here's an example: Let's say there is a category Kid's Toys where we monthly assign $100 and when we want to buy our kid a toy, we use money from that category. But one month we know we want to buy him a specific book. I could create a new category Pucio Book and budget $20 that it costs (and either reducing Kid's Toys or pulling the money from somewhere else, doesn't matter). And when I bought the toy here's 

Method A: I add a new transaction and set the category to Pucio Book. At the end of the month when I go through all the one-time categories, delete Pucio Book, reassign its expenses to Kid's Toys and move the amount that was returned to TBB to Kid's Toys.

Method B: I add a new transaction and set the category to Kid's Toys. I then move the paid amount from Pucio Book to Kid's Toys and the rest anywhere I like (because hey, free money!) and also delete the one-time category,


There are two problems though:

  1. I'd need to overhaul the categories I currently have, which for the most part I am fine with, I enjoy doing this.
  2. I have this inexplicable fear of creating new categories. I think part of the reason is it's not great user experience to add transactions on mobile when you have a lot of categories.

Now that I wrote all this... I am pretty sure I'll just to that, create new categories for those one-time purchases and go with Method B. I think I just needed to write it all down and it feels like a waste to have all those words go to waste so I'll ask: what are your thoughts about this approach and do you know a better way?

(also it appears Rubber Duck Debugging works with budgeting too!)

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  • I use B.

    It's the same concept as the wish farm you might see mentioned on the forums but there's no specific need to have a separate master category. 

    https://www.youneedabudget.com/wish-lists/

    Like 3
    • monkeyhanger I've been thinking about the wish farm when I figured out how to solve this best! 

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    • eloquentz
    • Numbers Wizard (Accountant), Acoustic Artist (Musician) and Jill of all Trades (Wife & Mother)
    • eloquentz
    • 1 yr ago
    • Reported - view

    I create temporary categories for things I'd like to save for. Once I use them, I hide them (not delete them).  For example, I had "snow tires and rims for the van" which I purchased last week. I added the transaction and then hid the category. I also have "summer tires for the Kia" and today I am on my way to pick up some tires I found on a local buy & sell. I will post that transaction and then hide that category.

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      • eloquentz
      • Numbers Wizard (Accountant), Acoustic Artist (Musician) and Jill of all Trades (Wife & Mother)
      • eloquentz
      • 1 yr ago
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      The other thing I do for small transactions unlikely to repeat is put it in a category that makes sense and not create a special category for it.

      Like 2
      • rog
      • rog
      • 1 yr ago
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      eloquentz I really like this approach too. I don't find complicating it with many small categories helpful. However, as I read the initial topic starter from Maurycy Zarzycki I hear him saying, he may forget what he intends to spend on. So, I had never read about the wish lists before and again, I don't like that much detail, prefer my categories to be broader, but am still going "hmmmm...."

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      • eloquentz
      • Numbers Wizard (Accountant), Acoustic Artist (Musician) and Jill of all Trades (Wife & Mother)
      • eloquentz
      • 1 yr ago
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      rog I like the notes and comments section on the right for each category to put notes about what the intention is or what month a certain infrequent thing is due (for example, for me, memberships and dues have about $70 due in October and $1100 due in May....this is important to know, so I have notes).

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      • monkeyhanger
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      • monkeyhanger.1
      • 1 yr ago
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      rog Using the wish list concept lets me keep my categories broad whilst also letting me ringfence money for specific items. I never record transactions in these temporary categories, they're simply used to put the money to one side. Once I actually spend the money, the transaction goes into the permanent broader category and I delete the temporary category. 

      I use a similar technique for vacations. I have one permanent category for Vacation but I have temporary categories for each specific vacation e.g. TdF19, Seville, etc.  Historically, I have recorded the transactions in the appropriate vacation category. Once the vacation is over, I put, for example, #TdF19 into the memo category and then block move all transactions to the Vacation category. This method has the disadvantage that, if spending has been over several months, you have to go back and move money into the Vacation category in the budget also so going forward I may use my wish farm technique. Either way, this lets me budget for each vacation separately but avoids having lots of redundant vacation categories going forward. I can still retrospectively work out how much I spent on each vacation by searching for the #.

      I hate hiding categories as it messes with reports and I've seen it cause problems for people re finding overspending. In the past I've used a "Category Graveyard" master category at the bottom of the budget but have had no need for it in the latest budget.

      Like 1
    • eloquentz I also do separate categories for things I save for (though I ultimately delete them and put the expense in a broader, fitting category).

      The point of the thread is expenses which are small enough that they fit into my monthly budget but at the same time I want to "reserve" part of the category money for that specific purchase. Going by the example in the main thread, if I allocate $100 for Kid's Toys knowing that I want/need to buy one specific thing worth $25, I don't want to accidentally buy other toys for $90 and when the time comes to buy that planned thing I am out of money.

      So what I did is what I said in the post - create temporary categories just for that one purchase, put the payment for that thing in the broader category when I finally buy it, move the money from the temporary category and then delete it. 

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    • Maurycy Zarzycki 

      This seems like the same logic I would use. It's a good process for making sure you don't forget in the moment, while also doesn't create weird reports or long-term clutter. 

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  • I have categories for almost anything I want to buy.  If it's a book, it goes under Entertainment.  If it's a kids' toy, I have a category Kid Necessities.  If it's a kitchen appliance or towels, I have a Household Goods category.  I have a software category.  If it's fees for a school activity, I have a Kids' Activities category.  If it's a new rug or couch, I have a Furnishings category.  If it's a new dishwasher, I have an Appliance category.  

    What I will sometimes do for things that are wants and not needs, I make a Wish List category for that item.  When it's funded, I move the money into the appropriate category (sheets in Household Goods, new wreath in Seasonal Decor), make the transaction come out of household goods, then I can delete the wishlist category.  You mess things up if you delete a category that a transaction has gone through and merging Payees is messy.  I'd like to minimize the number of hidden categories; on the other hand, I don't mind having a very granular detailed budget, which is good because I have over 90 categories (kids alone have something like 18 categories in the Kids category group).

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  • Categories protect money from other categories. If your budget is so tight that you need this, then Method B is a good one.

    You also have to recognize that it's a lot of work to micro-manage these expenses. Everyone will have a threshold where the magnitude of the supposed one-off expense is worth that. A different approach is to realize that a series of one-off expenses aren't really one-off expenses. You can budget at the average spending level in Kids Toys. If you don't spend it all, then leave it in there to support a later larger-than-average month's spending. OTOH, if there's not enough for a particular purchase, then either don't make the purchase or reallocate from a lower priority category to allow it.

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