Tracking costs of individual vacations
I'm trying to figure out the best way to set this up: Currently, I have a general budget category for "Vacation and Travel." All of the vacation expenses go here. I'd like to get better granularity on how much any given vacation costs for future planning purposes (e.g., a weekend at the lake tends to cost this much, heli-skiing in the Swiss alps costs about this much). Since expenses don't all necessarily fall in the month of the vacation (e.g., buying airfare in advance), I can't just go look at the month in question. I used to track this in a spreadsheet, but that got tedious.
I saw a suggestion somewhere to create a new category for each vacation (e.g., "August trip to the Lake"), put all the expenses there, and then hide the category once the vacation is over and all expenses have been entered, to avoid budget clutter. But if I understand correctly, when I run a report, the hidden categories don't show up on the master "Vacation and Travel" category group, they instead show up under a "hidden" category group. It seems like this would make it harder for me to figure out average vacation spending so I can set monthly targets. Do I understand this right?
The only other alternative I can think of is to manually create a series of "tags" that I enter manually into the "memo" field (e.g., "@August trip to the Lake"). So, I'd enter the vacation expense under a general "vacation" category, then manually type the tag into the "memo" field when entering the expense. Then, I presumably could search for this tag, manually sum up the costs, and make a note of that somewhere. The problem is that this seems needlessly tedious.
Am I missing anything? Any other ways that people have figured out how to track this?
Most people suggest using tags to do this just as you have proposed.
Personally, I am never on more than one vacation at a time and also am usually not on vacation while also dining out and grocery shopping at home, so delimiting my vacation category by date is more than sufficient. If you posses a TARDIS, you may find this technique ineffective, but it works for most people.
I use the tag idea. For instance we did a quick day/overnight trip to do a ropes course in a cave down in Kentucky. It was one hotel, one dinner at a restaurant, and the tickets to the activity. (Oh yeah, and a stop for ice cream on the way back home.) Those all got #Kentucky2021.
Earlier last month, we went to Maine for a week. We drove, so there was gas and hotels on the way, and eating out, so That one included MANY MORE expenses, and they all got the tag #Maine2021.
If we went to Maine more than once in a year, I'd probably get more specific in the name, but that should suffice for this year.
So if I want to see how much we spent on the Maine trip, I just go to "All Accounts" do a search for that tag, and select them all, it will tell me how much we spent.
It's not too tedious. You can either put in the tag as you enter the expenses, or just edit them all one at a time to add the tag once you've returned from your trip. The second way might be easier/quicker, and you can just copy/paste, whereas if you did it each time you entered the transaction, you'd have to remember what tag you were using. Which may or may not be a problem, but just something to think about.
I also use the memo field. Part of my budgeting routine is "closing out" the vacation by adding memos to anything that doesn't have it already and moving budgeted amounts and expenses to the generic "Vacation" category. For as infrequently as I need to go back and look at individual vacations, that workflow is fine for me.
I'm in the memo camp, as well! That said, I wanted to mention that your understanding of hidden categories is accurate, as well.
If you prefer the category method, though, you can use the search function in All Accounts to pull up specific trip categories and use the "selected total" feature to get more insight into the spending on that trip without unhiding the categories. Whether that is more or less tedious than entering a memo is certainly up for debate, but I wanted to be sure that bit of your initial post was addressed! 😆
Let us know what you land on!
I do a combination. Every year I take a trip to the same destination in Texas to see my bestie. So, Texas has its own category so that I can very easily compare year-to-year expenses on that. Also, I often take a roadtrip to get there. For that roadtrip, some of its expenses I charge to the destination category (gas, or a roof rack bought for the trip) but some of them I charge to ordinary budget category (like if I stop and pick up some camping gear and a book, I put that under the ordinary expense categories). But all expenses incurred on the road receive a specific roadtrip hashtag. This lets me understand how much I normally spend on the road versus other ways of getting there , or compare different routes.
For other trips and small excursions, I have a general vacation category and then I use the memo strategy to track the specific trip. In my case those are small daytrips, overnights with friends.
I also have a camping category.
If you want to compare different types of vacation (ski, lake weekends, etc.) I actually would consider having separate categories for each vacation *type*. To me that would provide a better structure for easily comparing, say, the average cost of a 'lake weekend' trip or the average cost of an international voyage (or whatever your vacations are.)
In a way that's what I have set up with my Texas category and my camping category and then 'vacation' for everything else.
I too use a combination method. Christmas (which includes out of state travel) is a separate budget category with a fair amount of detail in the individual categories, but as a yearly event, it's helpful to see the breakdown and adjust year to year. For other kinds of travel, I have some specific savings categories (weekend away vs. international trip) and I move the savings into generic travel categories when I spend it (flight, food, etc). I then use a hashtag #Italy '23, to mark the expenditure on each trip. This has been a more recent evolution, but as someone earlier posted, when I reconcile, I can copy/paste the hashtag, and it hasn't taken much brainpower to maintain this so far.
I use a combination method with a permanent vacation category and temporary categories for each individual vacation. There are often overlapping trips so I prefer a separate category for each, however unless it's a much bigger than average vacation I don't separate out flights, hotels, etc. For each trip I use one category to budget and report all costs associated with that vacation in that category.
Once all the costs associated with that trip are in, I don't hide the category. Instead I go into the All Accounts view and filter by that trip to ensure that every transaction has the same 'tag' for that trip in the memo e.g. #Paris21*. I then go back into the budget view and delete the Paris21 category and select the Vacation category to transfer all the past activity into. In the past you used to have to do that manually but now it's a couple of clicks.
This method means that you don't get category bloat, you don't need to hide any categories and all your past vacation costs are included in reports. It's still easy to find out you spent on each specific trip just by filtering in All Accounts by the 'tag' you set up in the previous step.
* There is no benefit in YNAB to using a # as far as I can see as you can search by any word and YNAB doesn't offer true tags, hence the ''. I use a # just to remind myself it's intended as a tag and to make them consistent for each trip.