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?
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.
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.
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.
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 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.