Multiple Goals for Multiple Annual Expenses

I'm really struggling with the idea of tracking and budgeting for annual or irregular recurring expenses using YNAB's philosophies in combination with its own software. And in my constant forum searching and Googling, it seems to be a recurring problem with no official solution. 

The two most frequently toted solutions are:

1. Have a master grouping for annual expenses, and a category for each expense under that grouping with a goal for each one.

2. Have single category for annual expenses, and manually add up the total of each subscription or expense, and divide by 12, and have a goal for that amount. 

Neither one of these seems ideal, or simple. Especially for the inexperienced budgeter that YNAB tries to encourage to jump onboard. 

Here's some specific examples that I believe highlight some common pitfalls. Bare with me, if it gets wordy. I just feel in some of the other posts I've seen, people share my frustration but can't word that frustration properly, and as a result YNAB Support offers no solutions or hope of change.

As a video gamer, I have a gaming category that I love to throw in let's say $20 a month to continually save towards the next exciting game I want, or to replace hardware like controllers. However, on top of purchasing games and hardware, I have two gaming subscriptions. PlayStation Plus, and PlayStation Now. 

If I wanted to keep all of gaming related purchases categorized together for reporting, to see how much I spend on my hobby, Option 1 isn't actually an option. My gaming subscriptions would be in another master grouping entirely (Annual Expenses). Option 2, in this instance, would be difficult to maintain. I could, in theory, having a gaming category that I dump 20$ a month into for games, and then a separate gaming subscription category where I add both subscription totals together, and divide by 12.  But it still seems especially unnecessary to have 2 separate categories in my budget for one incredibly similar expense. 

Alternatively, one might add the subscriptions to the same gaming category, add it up, divide by 12, and then add an extra $20 a month for the gaming funding, but now things get dicey if a new game comes out, and I want to fund an extra amount to "roll with the punches." 

Outside of gaming, as a personal trainer, I have certifications to maintain. A yearly training license, a yearly CPR certificate, a 4-year first aid certificate, and then extra savings I want to build for additional certifications that come up that I want to add to my portfolio. Very similar to the gaming dilemma. And if I have an annual expense category, it now has business certifications, and gaming in one grouping. Not ideal for reporting.  Especially when I combine my YNAB yearly subscription, Netflix, and other software.

I find it strange that YNAB doesn't have an effective option for budgeting for the very type of subscription payment they encourage, in a way that uses their philosophies and reporting tools to make sense of. 

I envision an option to have a category, i.e. Gaming, and have the option to select "Goal 1: Fund 20$ a month. Goal 2: Fund for 80$ due November 8" and have the budget show me how much to fund that category. Either that, or have scheduled yearly transactions show up in the monthly budget similar to monthly transactions.

With the price increase, and what I imagine to be the vast number of monthly users hopefully switching to a yearly subscription, I feel this is desperately needed for the exact situation YNAB is encouraging. 

Sorry for the length, hopefully the message hits.

26replies Oldest first
  • Oldest first
  • Newest first
  • Active threads
  • Popular
  • Why not having a Gaming group. Under that, you have New Games, which gets $20 a month. You also have Gaming Subscriptions which, if you want to combine the two, gets (A+B)/12 a month. Then you set goals for each of the categories. 
     

    New games and subscriptions aren’t really incredibly similar, imo, just because they’re both for gaming, any more than Electricity and Water and incredibly  similar just because they’re both utilities.

     

    Being able to roll with the punches and bump up the New Games category without worrying about the impact or the tracking on Subscriptions would be a really good reason to treat them separately, imo.  

    Like 1
    • Sure, that makes some sense if that's the only scenario A person might have. I'm trying to discuss beyond my one specific scenario, using it as an example.

      In addition to my gaming, I have subscriptions to Netflix, Crave TV, Disney Plus (all which would be great to monitor under one "Streaming Subscriptions" Category, computer software subscriptions like Canva (an image creation Software similar ish to photoshop), PT Distinction (personal training software), and OnboardMe (a client emailing software), all of which I'd love to have just under one Business Computer Software Category.

      I'm sure peoppe can see how if you pay annually for these things in an effort to save money, thats a TON of individual categories to scroll through, or to add and subtract if you try to group them in one category. It's also a substantial amount of master categories if we take on the approach you're suggesting.

      Like 1
    • Habanero Salsa and if we want to refer specifically to my gaming example, I could also specifically refer to the Category as PlayStation, instead of gaming. They're similar in the sense that I want to to know how much I'm spending on just my PlayStation. First, I purchase games. Second, one subscription allows me to play those games online. Thats the sole purpose of the subscription. Without it, I dont play the games I enjoy playing. Third, the other subscription is like a netflix subscription, where I play games that I dont actually own. All 3 "categories" have one end result. I played my PlayStation. I shouldn't have to have 3 categories to tell me how much I spend on one hobby because YNAB doesn't allow for more than one goal.

      Like
      • Habanero Salsa
      • Second generation user
      • Aquamarine_Pony.8
      • 2 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      Aquamarine Disk Yeah, I have the same. It’s a group called Cordcutting with each subscription set up there to be funded to pay annually upon renewal. It works fine. 

      Why not have a Business Computer Software group?

      It’s not a ton of master categories and, even if it is, they’re collapsible so you only have to open the relevant ones to work on them.  
       

      It seems to me that if you want to look at these things in the aggregate, you need neither distinct categories nor goals. If you can’t look at them in the aggregate, they need to be treated distinctly.  If they’re worthy of distinct goals, why aren’t they worthy of distinct categories?

      Like
    • Habanero Salsa I think that's great that that works for you. And ultimately, if it were just one case, I could see it working well enough. I just envision a scenario where this builds up to too much visual clutter, regardless of collapsibility (?).

      Things like Passport Renewals, driver's license Renewals, and firearms license renewals all renew within different lengths of time, yet could all fall easily under one Government Licenses category. Streaming Subscriptions are different than Software subscriptions are different than mailing subscriptions.

      If we want to ultimately stick to the bare YNAB master Categories (immediate obligations, True expenses, Fun Money), it seems crazy to me to have to have a fun money category with my Buying movies category, but have to monitor my streaming services in an entirely different master Category.

      Really ultimately what I dont understand is that the idea is suggested to create a category and add (A+B/12 as you suggested), yet the functionality cannot be implemented to do it in the software, when summation already exists for scheduled monthly transactions.

      Like
      • Habanero Salsa
      • Second generation user
      • Aquamarine_Pony.8
      • 2 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      Aquamarine Disk Obviously, there are pros and cons to doing it either way. If you aggregate Government Licenses, what happens when passport renewals go up, for example?

       

      In your gaming example, let’s say you pay your $80 subscriptions on 11/8. Then you put in $20 a month for December, January, February, and March. You’re on track with your Goal 1 of $20 a month. You’re on track with your Goal 2 of $80 by next 11/8. Everything seems lovely. Can you look at your Goals and know whether you can afford a new game?

       

      Let’s say you buy a game and now you have $15 in the category. Do you WAM the $65? Are you still on track? I mean, $20 a month will definitely get you to $80 by November. But can you afford another game? 
       

      What would  the goal status look like to tell you that you need to stop buying games if you want $80 in the category by 11/8?

      Like
    • Habanero Salsa 

      I will point out again that the gaming example was purely a situational example, and in this instance I can see your point in regards to saving for a subscription(s), in addition to funding a Category for additional spending, and not being able to identify your current, let's call it wealth, for that particular category.

      However, outside of that specific instance, I think that recurring expenses should still be able to be grouped.  Currently, you can set a goal: Need for Specific Date. The Software tells you to save $X.XX/month to reach goal by date. 

      I still think visually, and simplistically, under one Fun Money category, I should be able to have:

      Streaming Services > Goal 1: Netflix - save by date $A, save $X.XX/Month. Goal 2: Disney - Save by Date $B, save $Y.YY/Month. Budget (X.XX + Y.Y.Y).

      Then if a price changes, a subscription cancels, or a subscription is purchased, a goal is entered or altered, as opposed to a new category created, or having to readd for every category.

      I really dont see the value in a Fun Money group, a Gaming group, a Streaming Services group, a Business Software group, a Personal Software group, etc.

      Like
      • Habanero Salsa
      • Second generation user
      • Aquamarine_Pony.8
      • 2 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      Aquamarine Disk Yes. My dad taught me to use YNAB. I used to subscribe to fashion boxes or candy boxes back in the day and have it as part of Fun. He asked me what was going to happen when I spent Fun down below what the upcoming subscription would cost but my category was still green (at the time). Lesson learned.

      The problem, unless I’m just not understanding what you want, is that with aggregates goals there’s always the risk that the goal that needs to be paid next will always (as long as there’s money in there even for it) look golden and the later ones might not be. 
       

      Say you Streaming Services goals aggregate to $100 a month. You put in your $100. Does all of that get counted toward the next upcoming goal? Is Netflix now way ahead? Are the others now behind? Does it get allocated proportionately? Some kind of date-weighted allocation? After the first month of $100, what would you want each goal status to be?

      Like
      • Habanero Salsa
      • Second generation user
      • Aquamarine_Pony.8
      • 2 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      Aquamarine Disk The more I think about it, the more it’s an interesting problem. What if you need $100 per month over the year, but the next subscription payment is due next month and costs $120? Your initial goal would have to be $120, but after that the goal would be lower. 
       

      I should get back to work. :)

      Like
    • Habanero Salsa 

      Ill preface by saying recently I've just come into new work that allows me to transition to annual payments instead of monthly for most of these subscriptions. So it's onky recently when setting up new payments has this issue occured to me.

      Currently, I have all monthly transactions scheduled. And a simple Monthly Subscriptions category. I dont use a goal, as simply scheduling those transactions for the entire month tells me exactly what I need for the month. If all my scheduled transactions tally 150$ hypothetically, each month, my budget tells me to fund that 150. Rollover doesnt matter as after each payment is removed, I'm effectively at 0 for the month.

      I just picture this exact system, just with annual transactions. 120$ due 1 year from now, I need to budget  10$ this month. Next month i add a new subscription for 120$, that charges in december, YNAB tells me the sum of my annual payments divided by 12 is now 20$/month. So I fund 20$. By the time November rolls around, I should have enough to cover the first subscription, I pay it, and the funds are removed leaving me with 110$ (enough to cover December's subscription, minus the 10$ I'd be adding the following month). Rinse and repeat. If a new subscription is added in June, I add a new transaction, or goal if you will, and now im saving 30 a month without having to go bwck and recalculate. It doesn't matter what the sum of the allocated funds are, as the amount available should match the amount due, plus extra, each time a payment comes around. 

      The system already does this with scheduled monthly transactions, as in, it will tally everything due for that month.  It just needs to do this with the Need for Date goal as well 

      Like 1
  • Aquamarine Disk said:
    I envision an option to have a category, i.e. Gaming, and have the option to select "Goal 1: Fund 20$ a month. Goal 2: Fund for 80$ due November 8" and have the budget show me how much to fund that category. Either that, or have scheduled yearly transactions show up in the monthly budget similar to monthly transactions.

     

    Aquamarine Disk  Thanks for articulating what your needs are!

    To clarify, any scheduled transactions—no matter if they're annual or on a different schedule—will show up in your budget as a reminder in the month they're upcoming.

    You're right that currently we recommend planning for true expenses like this by adding up the annual cost of all of your subscriptions then dividing by 12 to create a monthly target for which to save. And, creating as many (or as few) categories as you'd like to track these to the level of granularity you'd like. It sounds like what you're seeking is to be able to set multiple targets in a single category so you can more clearly see and keep better track of your subscriptions. If you’d like to send this idea over to our Product team for consideration, please submit a Feature Request.

    For now, I wonder if other tools would be helpful for you to both simplify your budget categories and track your spending. As you consider your Playstation example, would it make sense to have all the costs combined in a single category, and instead use payee name or a hashtag in the memo line to detail the type of transaction it is that's been categorized there? That would enable you to search and isolate transactions for analysis in All Accounts.

    Like
  • For me, I'd say to separate budgeting for recurring bills (no matter the frequency) from "on-the-whim" spending. So a subscription is a recurring bill, a new game, a new training equipment etc is "on-the-whim" spending. After the number of categories you need for subscriptions depend on what you are interested to know. Personally, I distinguish the bills that can only change if I put the effort to shop around (insurances, phone, some software, government charges, ...) to those that are totally optional (streaming services, some software, ...). I've almost all of the ones in the first category together. I've only put aside categories about the house as I want to know how much owning the house costs us. The optional bills are together under the fun master category.

    For the first category of bills, I have a spreadsheet on the side with all the bills in columns and the months for several years in rows, then columns for budgeted, available before bills, available after bills. I put all the recurring amounts in and see how much I need to budget per month to avoid ever going negative. I need to adjust rarely. Maybe every 18 months I open the spreadsheet and update the numbers. I don't overspend the category either and I'm never late paying the bills.

    I know some people prefer to have everything in separate categories mainly to use as a visual reminder of how much everything is costing them. I don't think it would spur me into shopping around more than I do or changing the way I live so I don't see the point of that reminder for myself.

    If I ever need to have some details for how much we spend on cars for example (must have happened twice in 7 years of YNABing), I just use the search in All Accounts to get the insurance total and add other categories. Again, some prefer to have this info at their fingertips and so organise their categories in that way. At the end of the day, you are encourage to organise your categories the way you like them. The initial one are just to avoid the blank page panic when starting out!

    I know some people have put feature requests to have a goal type that can handle several recurring expenses. You could add your voice to it via the Feature Request form.

    Like 2
  • Aquamarine Disk said:
    I envision an option to have a category, i.e. Gaming, and have the option to select "Goal 1: Fund 20$ a month. Goal 2: Fund for 80$ due November 8" and have the budget show me how much to fund that category. Either that, or have scheduled yearly transactions show up in the monthly budget similar to monthly transactions.

    Hello there fellow Budgeteers! This is exactly what I am looking for myself. As Jesse always stresses out less categories are more, I am finding myself in the same situation with kitchen related stuff.
    We buy filters (for water) bulk in March, because then they are on offer. We receive sponges/towels in June, because I set up an amazon delivery subscription for some extra saving. Now every 3 months we need dish washing liquid and every 6 month we will receive an order of dishwasher detergents. The coffee machine / tea cooker wants to get delimed every two months, but as we buy in bulk, we receive two shipments over the year.

    Now I am not fond of having a category group named "kitchen utilities", with all those different sub-categories and their little individual spending targets. I would love to have a "kitchen utilities" category in my True Expenses category group, where I can set multiple (different) targets to.

    This would really save me some time and energy (=money 🙂) to not use a spreadsheet on the side (which is where Jesse comes from, right?) to figure out the total amount and "by date"-fraction I need to put aside. Especially if something else "joins the shopping-cart-band", but this time it would be quarterly, beginning in February ... you get my point! And I am truly sorry for the head-spin, I feel the same 😉

    To sum things up like Aquamarine Disk emphasized in this thread: We would love to have more than one target per category ❤️ Did anyone already submit a feature request as Dela suggested? If not I am happy to do so, just let me know.

    Everyone stay healthy and have a great 2022!

    Like
    • Eckhard I don't use targets at all and have one category called "Household & Cleaning".  Included in this category are Subscribe and Save (Amazon) products, filter subscriptions and dish soap, sponges and light bulbs purchased ad hoc, etc. I have no interest in keeping track of (budgeting for) each month's Subscribe and Save orders, depending on whether parchment paper and AAA batteries were scheduled to be delivered in a particular month or not, when my filters will arrive, etc.

      This is where the "average spent" figure became my budgeting best friend. I pre-funded the account with the maximum I thought I would spend in a month and eventually reduced this as, over time, I got a better picture of my actual expenses per month (and letting available balances roll over month to month). For the past 3 years I have been able to budget the same amount per month - regardless of which items ship in which month. I use this approach with several of my categories and it has really helped me simplify my budgeting.

      Like 2
    • Eckhard I really love how clear your use case is, and how you've laid it out! I know this request has been seen, but it's always great to have an idea of how many YNABers are looking for any given feature. This form is still the best way to get your thoughts into the hands of our product team 😊

      Like 1
  • Hi there Periwinkle Flute, the average spent function is a very good idea! Thank you for the reminder, as this will most likely give you a real good estimate over the years, including automated correction for inflation! Thanks and Hi from Germany by the way 📈😅

    (Un)fortunately, we just joined Jesse in his yearly "making a fresh start" quest, so our transaction history is lost and therefore won't help me out at this time of the budget, as the spent history is zero. What I do know is when which transaction with their respective amounts are due. This could be easily assessed within a mutli-target-category (which we want!). Right now I am doing exactly this in a spreadsheet. But on the other hand it is not dynamic, so when a new item gets added or another year has passed, I have to shift a few things manually, which is quite cumbersome and my whole point in this thread 😃👍

    The most easy - and currently our most difficult - solution would be to just fund for everything a the 1st of January and then let this category be drained as needed. But right now we are using YNAB as a razor blade to do some "cutting edge budgeting" (pun intended), because of the past two globally and financially interesting years we all are having and onwards. So we need to budget up to the cent and this has been keeping us over water 👍 So far for good and once again: multi-targets would be so handy.

    Thank you very much Rachel! Then I will gladly refine my wording and create a request via the form you have provided 😊

    Happy budgeting everyone!

    Like 1
      • nolesrule
      • Stealing From the Future fix is an improvement but is incomplete....
      • nolesrule
      • 2 wk ago
      • 4
      • Reported - view

      Eckhard Jesse is wrong about yearly fresh starts. Personally I think it's a terrible idea. But that's just my opinion. There is no actual concrete reason to do a Fresh Start 99% of the time.

      Like 4
    • nolesrule I just did a fresh start Jan. 1. My partner died toward the end of December, so the changes in spending and priorities seem like they're big enough to warrant redoing my categories and not relying on past data.

      I posted about the things I learned doing it over in journals, but it seems relevant here as well, and I know not everyone reads journals.

      Thinking about my Fresh Start, there were a couple things that I think were advantageous and might be worth evaluating on a somewhat regular basis, that I could do with a Fresh Start and wouldn't with a current budget.

      • It zeroed out all my accumulated amounts, so forced me to really think about the sinking funds/savings (subscriptions, in particular). For a number of them, I ended up right back where I started (by which I mean, I copied the number from my original budget). For others, I ended up funding more or less than I had according to the previous budget. I would not have been able to remember what all I had before for the ones I wanted to keep the same, so it was helpful to be able to flip between budgets.
      • It gave me a chance to mess around with my categories without invalidating previous spending. For instance, I broke paper goods into a separate category. I didn't do this previously, because that would have meant going back through a great many transactions and re-categorizing things to keep them accurate. I also combined a few categories, despite them having different funding needs/cycles. Granted, if you don't care about the historical data, the Fresh Start is irrelevant to this.

      For the first point, I think I'd do an annual (or periodic) Fresh Start, set the funding up the way I want it, and then update my original budget to match. Keeping the historical data/averages is important to me, as it helps with decision making going forward, but redistributing the lump sum definitely resulted in some changes I hadn't realized I wanted to make.

      Like 1
      • Budget Conquistador
      • Ready for the next big adventure
      • Khaki_Screwdiver.8
      • 2 wk ago
      • Reported - view

      Eckhard Your transaction history isn't lost, you just have to open last year's budget right?  I did a fresh start this Jan 1st and have had to open last year's budget a few times to look at some history.  It's easy to do.

      Like
  • You could create a "Subscriptions" budget category with a monthly goal that is the sum of all the annual subscriptions divided by 12.     That way you only have to fund one category every month. 

    My approach would be to also have budget categories for each of the annual subscriptions, with the cost of each and dates due in the name, and then when a subscription bill comes in, assign the bill under it's own budget category, and pay for it by transferring money from the "Subscriptions" budget to the appropriate one.  

    Like
  • Fuzzball Meows said:
    I just did a fresh start Jan. 1. My partner died toward the end of December, so the changes in spending and priorities seem like they're big enough to warrant redoing my categories and not relying on past data.

     First off, I am sorry for your loss. I knew this was coming from your other posts but had not realized it happened. My their memory be as a blessing.

    Secondly, that is a perfectly reasonable reason for a Fresh Start and falls within that 1%.

    Like 1
  • Fuzzball Meows I can't even begin to imagine... we are truly sorry for your loss and all our love and thoughts for you ❤️

    Thank you for your input, I would like to comment on that, even though this thread is about multi-targets! Correct, a fresh start forces you - well - to start fresh. Putting you back in the mindset of "having to do it all over again" which is annoying and by doing so cutting off branches and leaves that have been growing on your budget for many a reason, which don't fit/belong there anymore (for practical and sometimes sad reasons). For us it would be that my wife is on maternity leave, we sold our car and have some income-cut-offs due to the pandemic situation. So it is much easier at the same time to clean the slate, focus on the important, and don't delve in the past, trying to adjust/fix the old data so that it can fit your new situation.

    Hey Budget Conquistador, thank you for your comments! Yes, you are right, I have kept the copy for archiving purposes, but switching budgets to get the "3 month average" for a less accurate estimate than switching to my spreadsheet where I do it all manually but more precise is kind of the same to me.

    So back to multi-targets, please do correct me if my reasoning is flawed, just dividing by 12 doesn't work for me, as their due dates are all over the place. Dividing my 60€ march payment will get me to 15€ maybe a 3.60€ for another "divided by 12 payment" and a 17.50 for something different (making these figures up). So that would have get me to 15+17.5+3.6 = 36.10€ which is 23.90€ short of my intended 60€ (just for this one case) where as all others would then be zero if I claim it all an roll with the punches. My spreadsheet would go for "oh you have only 3 month to cover those 60€? Here you have to budget in packets of 20€ to be on track" ✅

    As mentioned before and in other discussion threads, "upcoming payments" will do the trick, but only for the month they are due. That would say "Jan? You are fine, no need. Feb? You are fine, no need as well. Mar? 🚨 Where are those 60 I need right now which you haven't budgeted for in doable chunks of 20 over the past months?!" 😆

    Sure I could roll with the punches, until long enough time has passed to have a really good estimate, but money is scarce these days and as I mentioned above, therefore need to budget to the cent. There isn't much punch left at the end of the month to roll with it if you like 😉

    Hence multi-targets is the way to go, as I not only have a "subscription" and "car" and "household" category group (and there are more) with their many "single target subcategories" which is a lot of scrolling if all expanded. So a "you have a target for dishwater detergent which is due in Mar and repeats every 6 months for 60€. Would you like to set up another target in this category?" They are treated as if we kept them separate, but reduce the clutter. I guess this is how I will suggest it to the feature request form.

    Thank you for bearing with my long texts, but this helped to organize my thoughts for the YNAB Team 😊

    Like 1
  • First of all, I don’t use the YNAB preset category groups. I generally recommend people start a blank slate that makes sense to them. For me, this meant grouping things by major group eg. house, transportation, gifts, etc. Some people like to group by date eg. week 1 week 2. So many options. 

    Second, scheduled transactions are awesome. Set it and forget it. The budget is populated by upcoming scheduled transactions.

    An “extreme” way of handling multiple annualized costs would be to do an actual physical transfer of money to an off budget (tracking) account. Set up the transaction as a recurring transaction in YNAB and in the bank. This forces you to use a category so you can budget based on the monthly portion.

    So for annual certifications (for example) assume the annual fee is $1200 (I like easy math). I would set up a business category group (which I would do regardless to separate business spending from personal expenses) with a category called certifications. Create a recurring transfer to tracking account transaction for $100. Create a $100 transfer from account 1 to account 2 at the bank. The budget would fund this category $100 per month based on the scheduled transaction. The account would show the accumulated amount ($1200 after 12 months). When the certification payment is due, assume I am going to pay on credit card. Record credit card transaction (on budget account) and transfer from tracking account to credit card account for payment with the same category as the certification. This creates a net $0 transaction for the payment but a monthly expense for $100 x 12. 

    I realize it looks complicated when written out but it takes a lot of words to describe something that is essentially very easy to set up and then automatic.

    Like
Like2 Follow
  • 2 Likes
  • 2 wk agoLast active
  • 26Replies
  • 194Views
  • 12 Following