Categorizing vacations?

I'm very happy with my YNAB categories so far: they're (mostly) mutually exclusive and help me to understand where my money is going.

But I'm not sure how to categorize my vacation spending; here's why:

1. When on vacation, I spend money on things that I already have categories for, such as restaurants. But I'm at a restaurant on vacation, so should I categorize as restaurant or as vacation? I'd love to tag a transaction with both, for better insights into spending.

2. Does it make sense to have a category for each separate vacation, so I can track how much I spent on each vacation and save specific amounts of money toward specific vacations, or should I stay at a single vacation category? I'm leaning toward the former, with separate vacations being child categories of a generic Vacation category. Then once each vacation has finished, I'd "hide" that category.

How do you do it?

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  • For me, if it is something that I would normally spend, then I put it in the normal category. Anything that is not normal goes into the vacation spending.

    I base my monthly budget amounts on my average spending in a category, so I want to keep those averages right. If we normally eat out for 3 meals in a week, then I am going to put 3 meals on a weeks vacation in the Dining Out category. Anything above that is going in my Vacation category.

    Like 3
  • If you do spread the costs out based on categories, add a hashtag descriptor in the memo field -- #WestCoast2018, #Cuba2017, #RoadTrip2018 -- and you can do a search for all expenses across the entire budget to see the total spent on each vacation.

    There is no right or wrong way to do this, but there may be a strong personal preference based on how it appears in your budget reports or displays on your category averages.  The gas spent on a roadtrip vacation is going to skew my monthly gas spending for a full 12 months past the road trip.  For that reason alone I might want to leave gas purchases on that vacation assigned to vacation rather than my fuel category.  But if I buy a piece of art or pottery for myself or as a gift while on that road trip, I would proably want to assign that to furnishings or gifts rather than vacations. If the trip is to New York to see a broadway show, it seems logical that the tickets for the show go under vacation rather than entertainment.

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      • lindsay_g
      • Beige_Banjo.3
      • 1 yr ago
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      • Reported - view

      HappyDance But, if you don't log any spending on fuel for the car while on holiday, that also skews your averages. Do you split it to keep the averages on an even keel?

      I'm wondering because my 'normal' life is pretty frugal - I live somewhere where there isn't much to do. But my 'holiday life' is characterised by high spending on all the things I don't get to do at home. Like go to shows, drink wine in pubs and many, many other things! Also, on holidays I travel about a LOT, and that costs a lot.

      I haven't had a holiday since starting to YNAB, but there is the Christmas break coming up soon (already I'm booking train tickets and things) so it's playing on my mind somewhat.

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      • HappyDance
      • YNABing consistently since 2014
      • HappyDance
      • 1 yr ago
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      It really does come down to preference.  How do you look at your data and reports (if you do) and how valuable you find the information.  I can see value in categorizing the fuel spent under fuel but also under vacations.  By adding in the #descriptor in the memo field, that ensures I can see both ways of grouping.  It would be great if YNAB provided the ability to use an optional reporting tag on some expenses.  if it doesn't matter to you where it reports, then it's just a matter of ensuring you've set aside enough fuel money for your pleasure activities when you do all that gadding about.  What I've occasionally done in that situation is save for the vacation expenses in vacation category, then move funds from vacation to fuel at the start of the driving season.  I do something similar with extra food money for Christmas: save it up in Christmas all year, then transfer to grocery category in November for the added food purchases of the holiday season.

      YNAB has turned me into a super nerd.

      Like 1
    • HappyDance Is there any way to export this to Excel, so I can tally up each of the vacations that I go on?

    • Magenta Ink (b04bb2cef5c4) Sure thing! Just click the name of your budget (in the upper-left-hand corner) and then Export Budget. This will export two CSV files: a budget file and a transaction file, and you can bring one or both of them into Excel and analyze them however you like.

      Like 1
    • Matthew When I exported, it came out as categories per month. I'd like to export all "Vacation" and then sort them in Excel by Trip and then get totals. How do I export this level of detail, please? 

    • Magenta Ink (b04bb2cef5c4) Do you have Vacation set up as a Category Group, or are you using the memo field to tag transactions as belonging to a particular trip?

    • Matthew I have it set up as a Category Group. I then use the Memo field to categorize specific trips.

    • Magenta Ink (b04bb2cef5c4) I would use a Pivot table for this (you can do this in Excel or Google Spreadsheets). Add the Memo and Outflow columns, and Excel will automatically total the outflow by tags.

      I think this will only work if the memo field contains a single tag and only the tag (i.e., "#denver Dinner with Family" won't work), so you may need to do some data cleansing on the CSV file or once you pull it into Excel.

      Like 1
  • I don't recommend creating a new vacation category for each specific vacation and then hiding it once you are done.  Hidden categories won't report as vacations in the YNAB reports.  I am imagining that the need to see specific costs for each vacation will be less important over time and getting a sense of how vacation saving/spending fits in with your overall life plan of earning/spending will be more valuable.  If I'm correct, then using the hastag descriptor to facilitate a search that isolates the costs of a specific vacation will serve you if/when you need to see that detail, but leaving it all assigned to a generic vacation category will give you an overview.

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    • HappyDance  I do almost exactly the same thing.  I use #France18 for a trip and it goes against anything that is related to the trip, travel, pet sitting/boarding and dry cleaning upon return.  I would love for the tags to be matched and completed.  Also I would REALLY love to be able to set a travel start and end date so  the system could "suggest" using the tags to match items spent during that time frame in case a spouse or significant other who is well meaning forgets to add them in.

      One other suggestion that I took from the blog about the Wish Farm specifically look at Step 4, I use a specific category for the current trip and then at the end I record under the Vacations category and move the money from the trip budget. Keeps everything clean and the tags remain in case I want to compare.

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  • Thanks a lot, SteveBaker and HappyDance! I learned a lot from this thread and have a good way forward.

    Like 1
  • We do what HappyDance does!

  • From the moment I walk out the door to the moment I arrive home, any spending I do is categorized toward the vacation, not regular spending.

    No matter what you do, it is going to skew your averages, because your spending patterns are going to be different. But I can look at a report to figure out why my categories were down for the month because there will be a big Vacation spend in the report. That's not possible if I categorize them to the regular categories, which means I then have to look at transaction-level data to figure it out.

    Like 7
  • Like nolesrule  I categorize everything to Vacations. To speed entry, and to allow analysis of sub-categories within vacation, I use generic payees within one vacation category. So I have Vacation Food, Vacation Lodging, Vacation Transit, Vacation Diving. I don't tag individual vacations because I don't get to go on vacation so often that I wouldn't be able to sum the totals easily just by looking at the dates. 

    I use the same system for conferences for work. 

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