Right-setting Goals for Variable Expenses

I've spent my entire New Years day preparing for 2019 to be a good year financially in setting up YNAB.  Got my accounts all set up, some reoccurring transactions all configured, and I'm setting up my monthly budget goals.

The one scenario, so far, that I can't figure out is variable expenses.

Here's the exact scenario:

  1. I know that in January 2019 I'll need to pay somewhere between $250 and $350 for my electric bill.  Being cautious, I create a monthly funding goal of $350, which I'll keep around until the summertime when it'll change.
  2. I log in to my electric companies website and I see that they'll be billing me $284.05.  Awesome, so now I know that I need to set this money aside, so I allocate some of my currently available funds ($284.05 instead of $350).
  3. I then set up a scheduled transaction, both with the electric company and within YNAB, that one week from today they can take that $284.05 from my checking account, and my family gets one more month with the lights on.  As my family enjoys electricity, and I enjoy typing things into spreadsheet-like interfaces, this means that everyone is happy! 😁

Here's where I'm missing something.  Because I've set up a goal so that each month I make sure I have this money set aside (until I know, and pay, the exact amount), the line item for the Electric company remains orange with a progress bar, which makes me think some type of action is required.

So, should I:

  1. Delete the goal for January, and if so, will my $350 goal still remain for February?
  2. Modify the goal to match this month's bill, and if so, what will happen next month?
  3. Do nothing because once the transaction clears something magical will happen?
  4. Do something else entirely that I'm missing altogether?


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  • Remove the monthly goal from January and set it up starting in February. 

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  • Thanks for taking the time to reply,  Superbone - will I then do the same thing again in February (delete the goal, and create a new goal the following month), or is there some method where I can have future goals "stick", but still be able to delete the current month?

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      • Superbone
      • YNAB convert since 2008
      • Superbone
      • 5 mths ago
      • 1
      • Reported - view

      Tomato Major If you want to use goals and don't like the orange, I'm afraid you'd have to do this every month. As soon as you remove funds from your monthly goal, it will complain. I personally have a monthly goal for my electricity  that averages out for the year a little more than I need but don't remove funds each month. Occasionally, if the balance gets too high, I will take funds from the category and do the delete goal and start it again next month trick.

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    • Superbone I like that idea . . . if I leave the funds in there, and they keep carrying forward, they'll help out in months where the bill goes high.  Thanks.

      Reply Like 2
  • Because I find this type of behavior from Goals annoying, I don't use them. I would simply budget $350/month for electricity and then when I get the bill, sweep the excess into a category where it is more needed.

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    • jenmas  - Thank you.  I'm going to try them out for January, and then if I feel the same way after trying to setup February, I'll possibly do the same - - at least on variable expenses.

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  • There is a browser extension for chrome and firefox that will tweak some things about ynab, i believe one of the options is to make an unfunded/underfunded goal blue instead of orange so it's less visually intrusive. But otherwise because ynab doesn't differentiate between a goal that's not been fully funded at all and one that was but had an outflow come out you will see this problem except when it's a category that you add money to and don't take it out like funding a savings goal. For the future.

    Could be nice if ynab could recognize it was funded but then spent (perhaps by adding the amount of outflows this month associated with that category to that categories balance to determine if it was fully funded).  There is a form to request a feature but I've never seen anyone get any traction with getting new features added.

    So long story short your options are to delete and reset the goal next month,  ignore it,  or use the extension to make it blue and ignore it, or don't use goals. The final option, if you know any programming, is to write a script that will use the api to delete the goal and readd it for next month for you.

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      • Vibrant
      • May the best of your todays be the worst of your tomorrows
      • vibrant
      • 5 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      Unfortunately, one of the YNAB updates a few months ago made it so that an underfunded scheduled transaction would turn the Available column orange even if you have goals = blue enabled. I really really hate the orange, but not as much as I really really love my scheduled transactions, so I grit my teeth and deal.

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  • Thanks, your entire reply was helpful. 

    Coral Battery said:
    The final option, if you know any programming, is to write a script that will use the api to delete the goal and readd it for next month for you.

     YNAB has an API?  I think I know where I'll be spending my time after I get the actual budgeting part worked out over January and February 😃

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    • Tomato Major yes you can read the documentation at https://api.youneedabudget.com/

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    • Coral Battery I couldn't wait and wrote my first call to download all of my credit card account balances and put them into CSV so that I could easily put them in Excel to play with :-)  Thanks for the heads up!

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  • Hey awesome answers. Im trying to use Ynab for a small business. Do you find a way to fix this by programming a littles bit? 

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    • Hi Mike Hike !

      When you say "fix this" do you mean accounting for goals and scheduled transactions in the same category? Write now, the only way to address this is to adjust the goal entered.

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  • This is not nearly as high-tech as some of the answers, but here's my way of dealing with the annoyances of the Goals feature in YNAB:

    • I only set goals for savings and credit card payoff categories, because it's pretty much going to be on target every month (no surprises, no orange)
    • For categories where I want to set a goal, but not use Goals (and avoid the Annoying Orangeness), I write my goal within the category description (for example, "Verizon @ $95" or "Groceries @$450").

    Thus, I can enter the budgeted amounts without too much fuss, and if there's overspending or $$ leftover, I move accordingly.

    That being said, I've had some weirdness in the CC and savings categories as I rolled over into the new month after already paying into my savings in the last month (and no more paychecks until the end of this month). This might just be my adjustment to YNAB (new user!).  If it doesn't get sorted out over time I'll delete Goals in those categories, too! .......Orange is the new ugh. :/

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    • Hot Pink Yeti - After playing with a few solutions, this is what I ultimately went with.

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  • I don't use goals at all for categories where I have recurring scheduled transactions. Instead, I enable the toolkit function that puts the amount of the upcoming transaction(s) in line with the category on the budget page, and use the "budget for upcoming" quick budget option when allocating my TBB.

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  • I'm thinking i might dump all my goals, i mainly used it fir quick budgeting to the goal but i can also just quick budget to what i budgeted for that category last month.  With how they operate the goals function seems rather useless.

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