Some questions R/E features / how I use YNAB

I'm not sure if these are feature requests or whether there's an existing way to do this in the current YNAB framework.

Here are some things that I would like to do (but don't know how to):

  1. A means to prioritise the auto assign.  For example, if auto assign identifies 5 categories that can be updated (e.g. let's say we have 5 categories that are due on the 1st of the month) it it appears to assign based on the order that they appear in the budget.  I would like to have more control without having to change the order, such that I can say that "Groceries" gets allocated before "Entertainment" but still keep them in alphabetical order.

    Because I'm not fully one-month-ahead yet, I either manually allocate, or I auto-allocate and then manually adjust.
     
  2. I really like the preview for Auto assign on Android.  I would really like something similar on Web. or a message / feedback to see what has just been automatically assigned.
     
  3. A way to be able to link categories and category groups to an Account so that I can make sure I have the right money available in that account.  Something like a "balance after allocation"

    For example:
    • I plan to spend specific categories from specific accounts - e.g. a shared account where most of our day-to-day spending comes from, and a personal account where some direct debits (e.g. loans / regular savings) are taken from.

      I want to make sure that each account has the right amount of money to cover the allocated spending for that category.

      Currently the only way I can manage this is to create two category groups - one for "Immediate Expenses from Any Account" and one for "Immediate Expenses from Direct Debit Account" and then manually check the allocation against the relevant account.
       
    • Another use case would be: we have a bonded savings account that matures in November with enough money to cover all our Christmas spending.  I have a Christmas Category Group and a account in YNAB (not an Asset) for the bond so that I can allocate against the many Christmas categories, and I manually check that the allocations in the Christmas group add up to the balance of the savings account.

      We also have additional Christmas budgets in other accounts - e.g. some things that are difficult to source are better off purchased before the bond matures, so again we have the additional Christmas spending in a separate category group just so that we can make sure we don't accidentally allocate the money that's in the bonded account (otherwise we'd be overdrawn on our current accounts).

      The problem with this is that we lose all the reporting - i.e. it's difficult to get a feel for the true cost of Christmas because the Category Groups are separated.

      Is this where I would think about a "Future Christmas Spending" category with the bond value in it?  How would I make sure I'm saving enough - e.g. with targets on the individual categories YNAB can quickly give me a monthly figure that I need to save to cover all our Christmas spending. I'm guessing with a Future category this would have to be manually calculated / impossible?

Any thoughts?

Thanks

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  • Welcome Slate Gray Piranha ! You aren't missing anything - these are all feature requests! The best way to submit those is via our Feature Request form, which goes straight to our product team, and whom you'll hear from in response. 😊

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    • Marisa Thanks - I've put that feature request in!

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  • You *could* have a Future Christmas category and sync that category to an on-budget bond. I would categorize any growth to the category before it matures so that it doesn't get lost in RTA. 

    However, there is a technique to ensure you won't overdraft your checking/current account. Using it requires understanding of the fungible nature of money, explained in more detail here: 

    https://www.youneedabudget.com/the-relationship-between-your-budget-your-accounts-its-complicated/

    And here's the technique:

    https://support.youneedabudget.com/t/y4hllkz/using-scheduled-transactions-for-cash-flow-projection-in-ynab

    Using that technique will allow you to have the bond account on budget without worrying about overdrafting or spending that money prematurely. It will also take away the need to sync the category with the bond account.

    As (I think, it's been revised since I read it) stated in the first link, for every purchase you'll check 1) the category, and 2) the account.

    Alternatively, if you want to keep two separate Christmas categories, at the end of the Christmas spending season, you can delete one of the Christmas categories, which will give you the option to automatically recategorize all assigned money and transactions to the consolidated Christmas category. Saves a ton of clicks. Then it's easy to just make a new, separate category, if you still want one.

    I'm all for feature requests, but I think this one would result in about the same user manipulations within a new UI to get your desired effects. Instead, you could just learn how to use the currently available aspects of the program to do what you need. 

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  • Thanks for the guidance and useful links - good advice all round.

    YNAB does appear to be easier when there are less accounts, and perfect where there is just one account, so we are working towards a simpler setup with just one shared account where almost all of our spending happens.   Unfortunately some transactions must come from individual accounts, which is where this proposal comes in handy. 

    If we don't keep on top of this we'll end up in one of two situations:  either we'll run out of money for irregular spending in our shared account, or we'll find ourselves overdrawn (or worse, failing DD commitments) in our personal accounts.

    Scenario 1 - multiple accounts

    The technique in the second link you provided Move Light Sound Life really helps where fixed value transactions are scheduled - e.g. Direct Debits / Standing Orders etc.  For other non-scheduled spending there's a technique shared to me by the YNAB team (in response to the Feature Request I logged above):

    https://docs.youneedabudget.com/article/1537-handling-your-account-balances

    This is fine, and it works, and I don't have any issues with it at all, but it would be great to have a tool or an easier means of saying "We know that Loan and Groceries and Petrol always come from my personal account, but there isn't enough money to cover it in that account" at which point we can transfer some funds from somewhere else.

    Currently (as per the articles above) this is the simplest way I've found of doing this:

    1. Click into the latest budgeted month (e.g. next month if budgeting ahead)
       
    2. Either:
      1. Select all the categories that I want, or
         
      2. Create a Category Group that represents spending from that account so that I can quickly select all the relevant categories at once
    3. Get the "Assigned This Month" value, and subtract it from the account value to calculate the remaining amount

    It would be nice if there was something in the Inspector (similar to the "Stealing from the future alert" that would make this easier.

    Scenario 2 - bonds and Regular Savers

    This would be really useful for Regular Savings accounts or Savings Bonds, because at the moment I have given up and recreated it as an asset so that it doesn't appear in the budget (effectively pretending that I don't have the money available) so that I can keep my categories properly organised.

    This has several drawbacks:

    • There's a lump sum of money that hasn't got a job, because assets aren't assigned to categories
    • Any transfers to it get a "Savings" category, which has no real meaning
    • These transactions interfere with the reporting
    • When the bond matures, my income for that month will be exaggerated by transferring the fund in (it's not really income, as it's really just money sitting in an account)
    • I have to manually work out whether I have enough in the bond for the categories that I do eventually want to use it for, which is exactly the problem that I'm using YNAB to fix

    The only other options I can see are:

    1. Creating a lump sump savings category, which has many of the same problems, or
       
    2. Use the technique in Scenario 1 of creating a Category Group (e.g. "Bond Account Spending" and then shuffling the categories around to make sure that I've got enough in the bond). 

      This technique is much less useful here because regular savers reset to zero each year and can only grow by a small amount (e.g. £50/£100), so each year I'll have to move all the categories out of the "Bond Account Spending" category group and then every month I'd have to select a handful and move them back in. 

    Thanks

    Dave

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    • Slate Gray Piranha 

      ETA: sorry, read the other comment first

      Regarding your bond thoughts, if you must keep them off budget, and you're trying to give them jobs anyways, you can always make your monthly contribution a split transaction from the categories you're saving towards/from. When the money comes back to the budget, inflow to the correct savings categories.

      However, I don't see the point of keeping it off budget. 

      If you're really running things so close to the line in your current/checking accounts that you risk overdrafting through normal spending, you likely need a larger cushion built up before you utilize savings vehicles with higher earned interest.

      Like
  • Slate Gray Piranha said:
    If we don't keep on top of this

     How do you keep on top of this now?

     

    Slate Gray Piranha said:
    saying "We know that Loan and Groceries and Petrol always come from my personal account, but there isn't enough money to cover it in that account" at which point we can transfer some funds from somewhere else.

     Why not keep your nominal monthly amount + a largish cushion in the account you use for variable spending? If you're worried about overdrafting, make the cushion larger until you get a comfortable workflow. I have a scheduled transaction in each account that repeats monthly, amount of 0, with what I want to be the minimum (or maximum) in that account. When it fires, that's my cue to insert the appropriate number and make the transfer in real life. If you're going for the minimum, give yourself wiggle room with both the amount (make it higher than you think you'll need) and date (set it earlier in case you forget to look).

    That cushion is unrelated to any other category, and is likely made up of money in various longer term savings categories. Money is fungible, so it doesn't matter. 

    Like 1
  • Slate Gray Piranha said:
    I plan to spend specific categories from specific accounts - e.g. a shared account where most of our day-to-day spending comes from, and a personal account where some direct debits (e.g. loans / regular savings) are taken from. I want to make sure that each account has the right amount of money to cover the allocated spending for that category. Currently the only way I can manage this is to create two category groups - one for "Immediate Expenses from Any Account" and one for "Immediate Expenses from Direct Debit Account" and then manually check the allocation against the relevant account.  

     I would avoid mixing personal spending and joint spending in the one budget. If you have a personal account, use it ONLY for personal spending and create your own personal budget for it (YNAB will let you have as many budgets as you like, and if you are on the web app you can have them all open at the same time).

    Slate Gray Piranha said:
    A means to prioritise the auto assign.  For example, if auto assign identifies 5 categories that can be updated (e.g. let's say we have 5 categories that are due on the 1st of the month) it it appears to assign based on the order that they appear in the budget.  I would like to have more control without having to change the order, such that I can say that "Groceries" gets allocated before "Entertainment" but still keep them in alphabetical order.

     For this, I would first question if you actually need to prioritise them. If they are truly due on the first of the month, then they all need to be funded on the first of the month and they all have equal priority. If you can't fund them all on the first, then you have a problem.

    That said, you can create a priority order by dating them 1st, 2nd, 3rd etc and then auto-assign will fill the earliest one first. Basically, the date you put in the target doesn't need to be when the bill is actually due, you can massage the dates so that they create the priority order you want.

    Slate Gray Piranha said:
    YNAB does appear to be easier when there are less accounts, and perfect where there is just one account, so we are working towards a simpler setup with just one shared account where almost all of our spending happens.   Unfortunately some transactions must come from individual accounts, which is where this proposal comes in handy. 

     It's not so much that YNAB works better when there are less accounts, it's that YNAB works better when you don't try and match categories to accounts. I have about 10 actual bank accounts in YNAB and another 15 or so "fake" accounts that I use to track various things like reimbursements. It all works fine because I'm not tied to spending a particular category from a particular account.

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  • DexterCat said:
     I would avoid mixing personal spending and joint spending in the one budget. If you have a personal account, use it ONLY for personal spending and create your own personal budget for it (YNAB will let you have as many budgets as you like, and if you are on the web app you can have them all open at the same time).

    This is a shared budget for shared spending that includes a mix of personal accounts and shared accounts.  It's not mixing in a personal budget, as all spending from all accounts is considered "shared", but some types of transaction have to come from the personal accounts.

    E.g. an individual savings account, an individual current account where loan payments are from, a shared joint account where most other stuff comes from

    What's lacking here is the ability to easily see if the bits of your budget that can't be scheduled transactions (e.g. Groceries, or petrol) are going to take you into your overdraft unless you transfer some money.

    The other scenario is where you can't take money out of your savings account for several months, so technically it can't be spent (at least not without penalty) - and you want to make sure that there's enough in there to cover whatever it is you're saving for. 

    For example, we have created some 30+ categories that represent our Christmas spending plus some big payments that are due in December; we need to make sure that there is enough going into that account to cover the planned spending - e.g. by saying "the sum of categories X, Y and Z should be less than or equal to the balance of account A", but also to ring-fence the money to prevent it being auto-allocated to any other  category (e.g. don't auto-allocate it to Groceries because we can't access it yet).

    All the ways to do this that I have seen are either very manual and don't really solve the problem:

    1. Selecting individual categories and manually doing the maths
    2. Creating one or more Category Group just to represent the savings account

    Or overly complicated:

    1. Creating another budget just for the savings account
    2. Taking the Savings account out of the budget by tracking it as a liability
    DexterCat said:
     For this, I would first question if you actually need to prioritise them. If they are truly due on the first of the month, then they all need to be funded on the first of the month and they all have equal priority. If you can't fund them all on the first, then you have a problem.

    Yes we do need to prioritise them, and no we can't always fund them straight away.  I don't think it's helpful to say things like "then you have a problem", and "just save up a buffer" or "make sure there's a enough to cover your spending in that account" because that's not always possible to do that and it doesn't address the issue today.

    For example, there are 9 categories all due on 1st September.   3 are essential, 3 are "should have" and 3 are "nice to have".  Over the course of several paychecks we must have the essential categories fully funded first, then the "should have" categories after that, and if there's any money left over we'll put it in the "nice to have" categories.

    I appreciate that we can set the essential target for the 30th Aug, the "should have" on the 31st Aug and the "nice to have" on the 1st Sept, but  this won't give me what I want, because it will allocate a bit of money to each - I want the essential fully funded before I put any money towards the "should have" and so on.

    DexterCat said:
     It's not so much that YNAB works better when there are less accounts, it's that YNAB works better when you don't try and match categories to accounts. I have about 10 actual bank accounts in YNAB and another 15 or so "fake" accounts that I use to track various things like reimbursements. It all works fine because I'm not tied to spending a particular category from a particular account.

    It's nice to hear that you have something that works for you.  For us, we have 3 bank accounts with 100+ categories, and we're finding that not being able to match categories to accounts is making it more difficult for us to manage the distribution of the money that we have across our accounts.

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    Slate Gray Piranha said:
    For us, we have 3 bank accounts with 100+ categories, and we're finding that not being able to match categories to accounts is making it more difficult for us to manage the distribution of the money that we have across our accounts.

     Why not just do all of your spending out of one account instead of multiple accounts? You haven't really given a compelling reason why the separate spending accounts are even necessary.

    Slate Gray Piranha said:
    I don't think it's helpful to say things like "then you have a problem", and "just save up a buffer" or "make sure there's a enough to cover your spending in that account" because that's not always possible to do that

     It's actually quite possible if you aren't unnecessarily requiring money to be in certain accounts. This is a cash flow issue and not a budget issue. The easiest way to solve cash flow is to reduce the number of unnecessary accounts. You can have as many savings account-type vehicles as you like, but when you limit to one "spending" account (checking/current/whatever you call it), it's an easy job to keep that cushion by just having a bit less in the one savings account.

    Our household has one checking account and all money flows through that account. We then have savings accounts at multiple banks plus I Bonds and CDs, all on budget. We maintain a certain amount of cash between checking and savings so as not to touch the other accounts except in case of emergency due to withdrawal penalties. Out of that cash in checking and savings, we make sure there's enough in checking for upcoming spending based on future outflows and income, and the rest sits in savings.

    It sounds complicated but it's actually simple and requires little effort to maintain.

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  • Slate Gray Piranha said:
    What's lacking here is the ability to easily see if the bits of your budget that can't be scheduled transactions (e.g. Groceries, or petrol) are going to take you into your overdraft unless you transfer some money.

     What I did for those kinds of transactions was to set up the average weekly amount as a scheduled transaction, then go in and edit it when spending occurred. I ended up only needing to do that for a few months before I figured out the cash flow that would keep it covered, but it was a good short term solution.

    To better understand your situation: You have multiple accounts, which include a mix of personal and spending accounts. You have transactions automatically set up to come out of certain accounts, e.g., rent is from personal 1, utilities from joint, groceries from personal 2, eating out from personal 1, subscription for the family tv from personal 2, home goods/repairs from joint, etc. So what's coming out of any given account could be joint, or personal, regardless of whether the account is joint or personal? If that's not the case, and only personal can come out of personal accounts and only joint can come out of joint accounts, then just separate them into different budgets. Because otherwise you're inventing headaches by  trying to match accounts and categories.

    My family has joint and individual accounts on one budget, but we also have a mix of transactions coming out of the accounts. My husband's account has basically no transactions, my account covers any personal spending plus a lot of the joint spending like groceries, etc., and the joint account covers the regular housing bills (rent, internet, electricity, etc.).  Sometimes, for cash flow reasons, the joint will cover personal spending, either for myself or for my husband. Since we have the housing stuff on auto-pay, it's not been necessary to cover those charges with  a personal account, although sometimes a transfer from a personal account is needed if we had a high electric bill or what not. But there is no way I could make this work without giving up on matching the categories to the accounts. Even when the spending matches, where money is being saved up doesn't, because I need to WAM and sometimes the lower priority thing is in the other account. Having to constantly transfer money for non-spending just to keep my categories in line was too much work, for me.

    As to the auto-assign allocation, the way it works is it funds "needed for spending" by date  in order - so something that needs to be spent on Oct 1 gets fully funded before something on Oct 2, etc. I forget how target savings by date fits in there, but again, something on the 1st gets fully funded before something on the second. The only place this breaks down is with weekly spend, where it will fund week1, then whatever in other categories needs to be funded before week 2, then week 2, then whatever else needs to be funded before week 3, then week 3, etc.

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  • nolesrule said:
     Why not just do all of your spending out of one account instead of multiple accounts? You haven't really given a compelling reason why the separate spending accounts are even necessary

    Because the payments for loans / credit cards must be taken from an individual's account and cannot  be moved to the shared account, and for visibility of our true financial situation it makes sense to have it in the budget so that we can have realistic conversations about our finances.

    nolesrule said:
    It's actually quite possible if you aren't unnecessarily requiring money to be in certain accounts

     That's an assumption that we have the money at all.  It's not realistic (or fair) to assume that everyone has a big enough savings pot to just top up the current account ad-hoc, or that they have immediate access to the savings that they do have.  Yes, in an ideal world, it would be easy to transfer a bit out here and there, but the question in this thread is about a) easily finding out how much should be transferred in the first place, and b) when it is needed, or c) if we're at risk of running into overdraft.  Otherwise the implication is that YNAB is just for users with good cashflow, sufficient savings and simple account setups, which I think is incorrect.

    Fuzzball Meows Thanks for the insight - this is sort of where we have ended up.  There's a shared budget, and we've moved all our direct debits and as much of our spending as we can there, but also my own personal budget that has my personal account in it.  Spending in the shared budget is categorised, and moving the cash from personal account to shared account is an uncategorised "Other Spending" transaction, which means I'm losing a lot of the benefit that YNAB brings for the individual account, but if I don't do this then I will end up creating massive amounts of effort and double entry to keep everything organised.  Logically it's all one big budget, as the only reason for having two budgets is so that I can easily see if I'm going to go overdrawn, so this feels like a hack that generates more work (and more potential headaches) for something that should be fairly simple.

    R/E the auto-assign; thanks, that matches my understanding.  The challenge here is when there are many categories due on the same date, where we don't necessarily have all the cash to fully assign them.  Prioritisation would be a mechanism for us to say "category A should be fulfilled first, before category B".  

    To go back to the original post, it would be much easier if we had everything in one account, but that's not possible, and the current setup (whether one budget or multiple budgets) where there isn't a great deal of spare cash creates a lot of extra work and fiddling about just to see if there's enough money in the right bank account.

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      • nolesrule
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      Slate Gray Piranha 

      Slate Gray Piranha said:
      Because the payments for loans / credit cards must be taken from an individual's account and cannot  be moved to the shared account, and for visibility of our true financial situation it makes sense to have it in the budget so that we can have realistic conversations about our finances.

       I've never heard of not being able to change the account that payments come from That's a new one for me. The true financial situation isn't dependent on having individual accounts. It's dependent on knowing WHERE the money is going and that's what categories do.

       

      Slate Gray Piranha said:
      That's an assumption that we have the money at all. It's not realistic (or fair) to assume that everyone has a big enough savings pot to just top up the current account ad-hoc, or that they have immediate access to the savings that they do have.

      I think you have it backward here. The separate accounts is what is making things more difficult if you don't have the money to maintain a cushion, because multiple accounts means each account needs a cushion in an aggregate amount  that exceeds the cushion needed if things were handled with a single account. if things are really that tight then you need to find a way to sit on more cash that you readily have access to. Trying to squeeze an extra sliver of interest through account optimization by locking it away isn't worth the stress.

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      • Yes I can
      • yesican2020
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      Slate Gray Piranha   I have a similar set up with the a loan that direct debits from the account with another bank (this bank is also the lender).  My solution is to transfer the funds from my main account at the time I budget the funds for the purchase.  My focus then becomes on cash flow for just one main account.

      What the other people posting are suggesting is that the simpler your set up is the easier it is to budget and get the visibility and gains that YNAB can offer if you let it.    This might mean challenging and changing some of what you've always done - even if some of it can't be changed immediately.

      For me, it took a few months to shift accounts around and I still have three 'chequing accounts' and two savings accounts (with two banks), but I really only use one of each for about 95% of my activity. 

      YNAB is a methodology as much as a piece of software.  And one thing the methodology does is make it easier for to manage cash flow and actually see what is going on and what your priorities are - separate from the noise and busy work of day-to-day cash management. 

      If you can start slowly saving for non-monthly expenses and let some of these funds stay in your main account you will slowly see a buffer start to appear.  When your main account has 2/3 (ie.two months) of the water bill for the bill due in three months and four months (4/5) of the big bill due in five months, cash flow does get easier.

       Of course, it is your budget. 

      Like 1
  • There are situations where having separate accounts for spending has a reason.  For example, I live in a state where there is community property and separate property.  If I want to maintain separate property cash as separate property it needs to be in its own account and not commingled with community property.  In order to do this easily I do certain things:

    1.  Our joint checking account has no minimum balanced requirement (due to automatic deposits that cause the fee to be waived).  Our joint savings and my separate property checking account do have minimum balance requirements.  I have a budget category called Minimums Reserve where I have budgeted an amount equal to those minimums.  That way I know not to spend down to where I would have to pay a monthly fee.  Of course, if I didn't have enough cash on hand and there was a situation where I needed to spend into the minimum balance amount I could do that but I would want to do that knowingly.

    Theoretically I could even set my own minimum reserve for my joint checking where I added another, say, $1000 to the minimum reserves to create more of a cushion.

    2.  Of course, none of that guarantees that money is coming out of the specific accounts.  I really handle that part in three ways.  First, I limit severely what is paid from the separate property account.  That way I know that the vast majority of our spending is coming from the joint account (I also have more than 100 categories).  In your case, it sounds like you have some loan payments or credit card payments that come from the individual accounts.  FWIW, DH and I both have credit cards that we had before marriage and that are individual to each of us.  However, those cards are paid each month from our joint checking account.  The credit card company really doesn't care that cards are paid from a joint checking account.  If you say that the payee requires that the loans and payments come from an individual account and may not come from a joint account that seems really odd.  I have never heard of a payee who cares whether a payment comes from a joint or individual account.  Therefore, I assume it is not a requirement of the payee but is a preference between you and your spouse.  There are certainly reasons to have that.  For example, a couple of years ago I was doing some spending that I wanted to be paid directly from the separate property account.  Unless it is your preference to have those payments coming from individual rather than joint accounts the easiest solution is to pay from the joint account. 

    There are times that I use money from the separate property account to pay for expenses that I do not mind coming from the joint account.  In those instances I simply transfer the money from the separate property account to the joint account.  I was puzzled by your statement that this type of transfer requires a category.  When I transfer from my separate property individual account to the joint account that does not require a category at all!  So, if I need to spend $1000 from the joint account and I want to fund it from my separate account, I transfer $1000 from the separate account to the joint account (no category necessary) and then spend the money from the joint account.

    If, by the way, I transfer money to the joint account from my off budget account that does require a category.  In that case I categorize the money as Ready to Assign.

    3.  OK, if despite all of that you still have payments that you choose to make from individual accounts, then I will tell you how I handled it for my separate account.  Basically if you essentially know how much that is going to be each month I just kept that amount in my house and knew that I was going to be paying $x from that account that month and I shouldn't let the account go below $x.  Because I rarely spend from that account I could easily do that in my head.

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  • Slate Gray Piranha said:
    This is a shared budget for shared spending that includes a mix of personal accounts and shared accounts.  It's not mixing in a personal budget, as all spending from all accounts is considered "shared", but some types of transaction have to come from the personal accounts.
    E.g. an individual savings account, an individual current account where loan payments are from, a shared joint account where most other stuff comes from

     Sure, you have to do what you have to do and if you have no other choice then so be it. In my own finances we have done away with having anything coming out of personal accounts unless it is for our own personal spending. If we had loan payments, we would change them to all come out of the joint account. I gather you can't do that though.

    Slate Gray Piranha said:
    What's lacking here is the ability to easily see if the bits of your budget that can't be scheduled transactions (e.g. Groceries, or petrol) are going to take you into your overdraft unless you transfer some money.

     Ideally you would have a reasonable buffer in each account so that getting overdrawn isn't an issue. For example, our check account has all of our spending come out of it. Our spending is less than our income. Therefore the account balance gradually increases over time and every now and then I will move some funds out of that account to a savings account where it can earn some interest. I never let it get low enough that I have to wonder if it will be overdrawn.

    If I had to have funds come out of a personal account as well, I would do something similar, I would make sure that regular inflow was more than regular outflow and then on top of that have a few thousand dollars as a buffer so I wasn't worried about being overdrawn. They might mean I couldn't have funds sitting in a savings account, but they are much more useful acting as a cash buffer to ensure I don't accidentally overdraw an account than they are earning the pitiful interest that's available at the moment.

     

    Slate Gray Piranha said:
    For example, we have created some 30+ categories that represent our Christmas spending plus some big payments that are due in December; we need to make sure that there is enough going into that account to cover the planned spending - e.g. by saying "the sum of categories X, Y and Z should be less than or equal to the balance of account A", but also to ring-fence the money to prevent it being auto-allocated to any other  category (e.g. don't auto-allocate it to Groceries because we can't access it yet)

    Well, you can't auto-assign funds that are already assigned to a category but If you are worried about accidentally assigning the funds yourself, that's what targets are for, to let you know that each category has the appropriate funding. In general I would let YNAB do its job, which is to maintain control of what your money is for, and just put however much in to a savings account that I thought I could spare (whatever is left over after ensuring my spending accounts have a safe buffer). If you take away the desire to match X, Y, and Z categories with account A then you relieve yourself of all the hassle trying to keep tabs on everything.

    If you have restrictions on when and how you can withdraw funds from your savings account, you can do an approximate guess as to how much you can afford to have locked away by looking at categories. You might look at your December categories and say, well that's around $3000 (or whatever) so I can put $3000 into a savings account with restrictions. But the important thing is this, it doesn't have to actually match those categories, it doesn't matter if your Christmas spending categories are $3200 and you've put $3000 into the savings account. You can still use categories to guide your ability to stash money away without trying to maintain an exact match between the account and the categories.

    When it comes time to do that Christmas spending, you may find you don't even need to take the money out of the savings account. Come December, the amount in your savings account might be GUIDED (not dictated) by expected spending midway through 2022, and then when June 2022 comes you find you still don't need those dollars, because now it represents expected spending even later in the year.  When you are putting money away for True Expenses, you end up with a steady lump of cash that is perpetually available for future spending. The beauty of not trying to tie a savings account to savings categories, is that the funds can just sit there earning interest for as long as you like.
     

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