Per Diem and work expenses
I just started with YNAB a few days ago. In trying to set up my budget, I’ve come across something I’m not sure about.
My pay for work is a little irregular. I get an hourly per Diem for every hour I’m away from home, and that amount varies month to month. Also, per Diem gets payed in the following month. For example, any per Diem accrued in April will be paid out in May.
I use my per Diem for an occasional meal out, but I normally pack my food on work trips in order to pocket the per Diem. In any case, I always spend less than half of my per Diem money on food; I never come close to spending all of my per Diem.
What would be the best way to reflect this in my budget? Originally, I thought I should just categorize any work trip meals as “eating out” so that I can work on keeping costs down in general, but my wife suggested I create a separate category for any work trip spending so I can track how much of the “eating out” budget is truly eating out with friends and family and how much is spent while working.
I'd probably go with you wife's suggestion. If you have the money to fund the category up front, I would go that route and then just treat the per diem payment as income. So work meals (and other potential work expenses) are just another part of your budget, and the per diem payment is just income, though it isn't regular steady income.
I'm in the same situation and I've decided to make separate categories for "Eating out - work" and "Eating out - friends and family". Additionally, I split my income in two transactions, one for the regular monthly salary I receive every month at the same amount, and one for the per diem, which can fluctuate wildly from month to month.
I'm not there yet, but I also plan to fill a separate budget category with a "buffer for months without per diem, because unfortunately my expenses are a little higher than my fixed monthly salary (without bonuses and the like).
I also get perdiem and mileage when I travel for work, and I eat cheaply and drive a Prius, so I pocket a lot of it. What I do, is I have a category out of which all of my work dining comes, and then I categorize the Per diem right back to it. When I first started, I seeded this category with some money that was otherwise saved for another purpose, but over time, I've been able to build up a surplus in this category, so that it doesn't matter if I'm waiting for reimbursement.