Managing subscriptions

I've been working with the new version of YNAB for over a year now, and I'm noticing that annual subscriptions are sneaking up on me in my business. There are several things that I pay for once a year (like YNAB and website domains) that have been difficult to budget for because they only happen once a year. I am thinking that it would be helpful to know how much I spend each year on subscriptions, and create a category to spread that amount out across the year.

Is it possible to go backward and find those transactions and create a category so I can look back over the year and get a better handle on these situations?

Any other ideas or suggestions for managing this situation would be helpful.

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  • This is the heart of Rule 2 in YNAB. Save monthly for your non-monthly expenses.

    If it's something annual, you should be budgeting 1/12 of the amount to a category every month, so that when it comes time to make the payment, the money is all there. Other frequencies use other denominators to determine the monthly amount, based on the number of months per cycle.

    As you get started, you're probably better off having one category per subscription. Otherwise to combine them you need to do the math to figure out how to fund it correctly so that the lone category never goes negative (it's more complicated, but the required monthly budgeting amount in total is a little less this way).

    Like 5
    • nolesrule I use a separate category for each subscription.  On some I just did the math like you but I have one that is so small and is a 5 year subscription that I just used the category balance by date goal.  Either way works great but I do like having a separate category for each one as that makes it simple.  

      Like 2
  • How interesting. This is timely for us, as well. My husband and I just decided to make a category for Annual Memberships/Subscriptions, with a subcategory for each expense, with its own goal and timeline.

    When it comes time to pay, we plan to enter the transaction in the logical category (software/entertainment/professional) and move the money from the saving category. 

    We had been doing the math when they were part of other categories, but it just wasn't working with the surprises. Hopefully we've got it down now.

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  • In terms of going back and cleaning up the budget (recategorizing some early transactions), I wish it were easier.

    I really want to do it, but my attempts so far have resulted in weird changes (SFTF related) that made me undo really quickly. I think I've figured out both the logic and procedures to stay safe, but i haven't taken the time to try. 

    I anticipate needing hyper awareness and follow through throughout these past category changes (because you have to move the money in the budget to follow the category ... And there's nothing to help you check if it's right). I can't recommend it unless you've really thought through the possible consequences and feel comfortable circumventing them. 

    I'll let you know what works if I try soon. :)

    Like 1
    • Move Light Sound Life Just fyi to anyone who's interested.  Changing a category  in a past month's transaction is ok if it's cash-based and you're super vigilant about moving budgeted money from the old category to the new category in the same month.  If there are other concerns, I seem to have evaded them.

      Don't even try it if credit cards are involved.  At all.  The weirdest numbers went the most unexpected places, and other unrelated categories were impacted.  Worth the "undos," not worth trying to fight and mess up the rest of nice, well-oiled budget.

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      • monkeyhanger
      • No animals were harmed
      • monkeyhanger.1
      • 1 yr ago
      • Reported - view

      Move Light Sound Life I've never had any problems doing this for cash or credit spending provided you go back to the first month there was a transaction in that category to start moving the money around.

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    • monkeyhanger 

      Oh, please tell.  I have some refunds that I erroneously categorized as TBB before I knew not to.  I want them out!

      What I tried doing was this:

      1. Go to transaction, change category from Inflow:TBB to Clothing.  Note month (Jan) and amount ($44).

      2. Go to budget month (Jan).  Notice the Toolkit's SFTF warning says ($44) overspent in June.  OK

      3. Go to Jan's clothing category, and subtract $44 from the budgeted field, because that same amount was inflowed directly to its activity.  Should be 0-sum.  

      The problem I've run into was that there were other purchases on a different credit card in that category, and those were supposedly overspent after all this, which affected that CC's debt.  Even though the clothing category was not overspent.  There was this weird cascading effect, and none of the numbers were directly related to the changes being made (or the differences in the categories, if we want to involve addition/subtraction fact families).

      Like 1
      • monkeyhanger
      • No animals were harmed
      • monkeyhanger.1
      • 1 yr ago
      • Reported - view

      Move Light Sound Life I just did everything step by step making sure each month was right before I moved forward. None of my changes involved TBB though which might be what is messing things up.

      Don't know if it affects things but I also never leave any categories overspent at the end of a month as a matter of habit. An example would be I saved up for a recent holiday in its own budget category but then once it was completed I moved everything to a generic Vacation category. If I remember correctly, it did mess up a little when I did a mass change of category so I recategorised Jan's transactions and then went into Jan's budget and moved the money between categories. Rinse and repeat for Feb and March. 

      I'm not saying it was pretty or that there shouldn't be an easier solution but your issues might indicate that it's not as easy as I'd suppose. 

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    • monkeyhanger You're right, it's probably because of the TBB interaction. I've been able to simply move transactions from category to category before - just have to be really thorough about moving the correct amount from the budgeted in each category, as well.

      I also leave nothing overspent. 

      I'm going to try changing the dates of these inflows to the first of their pertinent month (with the real date in the memo, because I'm like that). There could be a possible problem with paying the 2nd Cc before the refund adjustment would have come in. That's the only logical thing I can think of, and of course that granularity is not shown in the budgeted column (which is fine, that would be overkill).

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      • monkeyhanger
      • No animals were harmed
      • monkeyhanger.1
      • 1 yr ago
      • 1
      • Reported - view

      Move Light Sound Life I'd be tempted to just let the historical transactions be unless they will massively impact on decision-making going forward.

      I only bother when I want to delete a category. I dislike using hidden categories because they don't appear in reports and can cause other gremlins. 

      Like 1
    • monkeyhanger Move Light Sound Life  I've had issues with doing things like this before, and when I had a credit card "go positive" due to an issue with a balance transfer and payment "crossing", and it took me a LOT to sort that out. Stuff went weird all over my budget, and it was really frustrating and involved getting tech support in on it, and frankly I still had to delete a lot of transactions and re enter stuff to get it straitened out. Not fun!!
      Thanks for the warnings!

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      • monkeyhanger
      • No animals were harmed
      • monkeyhanger.1
      • 1 yr ago
      • Reported - view

      farfromtheusual yep, that's the other thing I forgot to mention. My credit card never goes positive.

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  • I have 16 categories in my "Subscriptions" master category. It helps me stay on top of them and not have any surprises.

    Like 1
  • I have a category "Current Yr Annual and Semi-Annual Bills" and a "Next Yr Annual and Semi-Annual Bills". I keep the latter minimized/hidden. These are  set up as rolling 6 months buckets. So, my "Current Yr" one, has all the once/twice yearly bills that will be upcoming in the next 6 months: June 2019 - Nov 2019 with  due date reflected in the title. ex. "YNAB subscription - June 2019'". Once I pay it this month I will rename it "YNAB subscription - June 2020" and move it to the "Next Yr" category. This way I can budget 6 months in advance and don't look at a lot of clutter (I also don't like budgeting little amounts every month like $7 for YNAB each month...instead I start funding once it gets pulled into the "Current" category..but that's just personal preference).

    Like 1
  • I've got three categories with subscriptions in them.

    1. Better life - news and magazines (includes a mixture of annual and monthly payments for, well, news sites and periodicals)

    2. Fitness including apps - because as well as buying running shoes I also pay for some apps (I had a ton of weight to lose and I did, and kept it off, so these are an investment in my view and well worth it.

    3. Subscriptions (which is a mixture of annual and monthly amounts on stuff like a VPN, storage, YNAB, whatever else)

     

    As nolesrule has pointed out, it does mean I had to do the Maths, but it wasn't hard. I looked up (not all at once, over time) the cost and - if annual - date of the payment. I note it in the Notes. And then I do whatever Maths is needed to set a monthly goal.

    It's the sort of thing you might sit and work out one evening while you were fiddling around with the budget anyway, making cancellation choices and so on.

    The note in Fitness including apps reads thusly:

    PIIT Pocket $99 = £76 pa, renews 23 Aug. DOWN DOG $20 = £15 pa. Renews 8 May. Zombies Run. £26 pa. March. MyFitnessPal. $50 = £38 pa, renews Jan 16. Clothes & kit = £80 pa (trainers and stuff).

    And it all shakes out at a monthly goal of £20. If I cancel anything or add a new one I can rejig it in a couple of minutes. The clothes and kit number is low because I bought a ton of new stuff just before starting YNAB, so I'll have to change that at some stage. And as you can see, most of the costs are in dollars and I've converted them, so none of it's to the penny, but hey, whatever! :)

    Like 1
  • I keep them all in separate categories not for the easier math, but the more in-your-face awareness, which informs my decision making process on a subscription by subscription basis.

    Like 5
  • For the annual subscriptions they're in their own category group but monthlies are mostly in a an entertainment category for which i budget a certain amount each month.  The others come out of the appropriate category they're grouped in with.  I.e. the icloud storage fee comes out of the Backup/Storage Maintenance/Replacement Category.  The monthly HVAC repair and maintenance contract comes out of Home Repair.

    I leave the entertainment ones lumped because I hand enter every transaction and reconcile the credit cards and accounts manually.  So I am aware of each monthly charge.  

    Like 1
  • Thanks for everybody's thoughts!
    I can see how going backward would make a mess of things, which is unfortunate because I would love to be able to see what was happening over time. I think I'll just have to go through and find the transactions and figure out what I need to put in there monthly so that I can begin to work with it moving forward.

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    • farfromtheusual 

      If you want, as you go through transactions, you could put an identifier in the memo (like #subs), then if you ever need to easily find them all again, just go to all accounts and filter by #subs.

      Good luck! You can do it!

      Like 1
    • Move Light Sound Life Oh that's a helpful tip. Thanks for the suggestion! I think that will probably be the easiest way to back track, and get myself organized moving forward.

      Some of them are easy to find because I only make a subscription purchase from them (like ynab and website domains), but others are buried in other transactions or something like that. This will help!

      Like 1
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