Planning my Christmas Gifts spending (or really, any category)
I have a problem that can be abstracted to nearly any category, but let's talk about a specific one - Christmas Gifts.
After running out of money in the "Gifts" category last year, my wife and I decided to create a separate category just for Christmas Gifts. We fund $200 a month (don't judge), giving us $2400/year to spend. I have 1 sibling; my wife has 9, and she's the penultimate child. We're in our 40s and we have a fair number of godchildren, nieces, nephews, great-nieces, great-nephews, 4 living parents, and umpteen friends... oh, and 2 children of our own.
Spending that Christmas budget is complicated and filled with tension. "Why did you spend $200 on your parents, but only $20 on mine?", "Does he really need the XBox Series S (yes, he does.)?", etc.
We're both good(-ish) at knowing/checking a category balance before spending; but we have no way of planning that spending. I need a way to map out how a category balance will be spent. Without that plan, we will wind up spending all $2400 and suddenly remember 10 more people that to whom we should give gifts, but have no money to spend on it.
Obvious solution: more categories. Except... I don't want to have even more hidden categories and broken reports. I want the spending to just show as Christmas Gifts. I'm also at the mental breaking point of categories. Despite all the grouping and prioritizing. I just can't handle the load of scanning & swiping (or scrolling) through an even longer list.
I've got a Feature Request in mind, but the product manager in me thinks it best to describe the problem and let others innovate the solution.
So, 'NABbers, what say you?
How are you planning your category spending? How should I plan mine? Is this also problem for you? How impactful would a solution be (1-Nice To Have ... 5-Shut Up & Take My Money)?
The reverse of my flex spending approach! Create holding categories for each person you're budgeting gift spending for. When you buy a gift for a specific person, assign that spend to your general "Christmas Gifts" category (which you don't budget into), and then move money from the category whom the gift is for. That way, you end up with all your gift spending in your Christmas Gifts category while tracking your spend down against the budget for each individual.
I know this goes against your "no more categories" goal, but this method should make sense, and once you set the savings goals for each personal gift category, you can put them all in a single category group and collapse it, just being sure to budget towards them each month.
Categories exist to protect money from accidental spending. If you want to ensure $X is available for wife, $Y is available for you, $Z is available for Child 1, etc., then using dedicated categories will certainly get the job done. I would put this under a Christmas group so you can at least collapse/hide it. Put the intended amount in the category name for reference. I would also have a "Funding" category into which you would budget $200 every month. (Don't forget to put yourself "on-track" if you're starting this now.) When you buy someone a gift (anytime throughout the year), reallocate that person's ENTIRE allotment from Funding to their category. (Perhaps tack on a * to the category name to signify they've been "funded".)
Green Sound said:
I want the spending to just show as Christmas Gifts.
Yeah, that's a little difficult to reconcile with the desire to track remaining throughout the year. I think I would just leave it as is, with the "consolidated" spending at the Group level. (Christmas Gifts is the Group name.) It's certainly easy.
One (messy) alternative is in January, buik-recategorize all those transactions as Christmas Gifts for historic reporting. (Christmas Gifts is a normal category.) Take the 5 minutes to move the various budget entries from each individual's category to Christmas Gifts in the 12 previous months' budgets.
Option 1) Make a separate spreadsheet in like October, to list who you need to buy for and then break down the costs individually in there. Make sure the total adds up to your Christmas Gifts category in YNAB.
Option 2) Make a Christmas Gifts *category group*, and then subdivide into categories from there (DW's nieces category, Auntie Jane category, Grandpa Bob category, etc. etc.)
Oh and agree beforehand how much you're going to spend on each group of people. e.g. $100 on each set of parents, max, etc. Write this out so there's no questioning drama later.
Also this may fall on deaf ears, but don't take things personally. It's just material goods. If you agree ahead of time on how much to spend on whom, overspending shouldn't happen, but if it does, then just roll with the punches and get a different relative a cheaper gift that year.
You could do categories by groups of people, like : Christmas gifts for siblings; christmas gifts for kids; etc. To break it down a bit but still keep it manageable. I think with a $2400 budget I would want a category group for presents and then have at least some categories instead of lumping it all together. Especially something like christmas for a LOT of people, where , since it's not just one purchase, I can easily imagine things going wildly out of control :)
Personally, I have one gifts category for myself & my immediate family and one for all others. I like to buy gifts early and then not have to stress around shopping during the fall, so i can just enjoy decorating the house and fall/winter activities without stress. A risk, though, is I forget that I already bought something for someone (last year, my kid ended up with too many presents because in October I forgot about stuff I'd bought him in May). So, I started using the memo field. I'm using the memo field a lot. I write present ideas, and then if I buy something, I write down what I bought all in the memo. I also write it in the memo of the transaction. Then I can easily filter my transactions and see what's been purchased.
I am also appreciating the memo field for keeping track of purchases that I'll break up/distribute. For instance, I bought a big set of used calico critters (in nice condition). Now, I can use a few as stocking stuffers for my son, keep some for his Easter basket, then use the rest as stocking stuffers/presents for neighbor kids. Or, I'll buy a big set of molding clay in many colors, and break it up into smaller sets and put it in pretty envelopes I make and then give it out. It is a nice way to give gifts to large groups of people and keep the cost reasonable. I keep track of all that in the memos field.
Easter baskets too -- I keep track of ideas, plus what has been purchased, in the memos.
this is my first year with ynab so we'll see if it helps. I do feel much more organized this year as I can easily see what I already purchased, what I'm planning to purchase, etc. It definitely reduces stress to have a bit of a system.
I only buy for my four children and partner and I have a limit of $200 per child and $300 for my partner. My category is set to save $1,400, slightly over my target amount because I will usually pick up a few bottles of wine or chocolates to stash away for unexpected guests.
So the first step for me is working out how many people, how much per person and go from there. I do find that setting the limit early means I have to get creative when it comes time to buy gifts. I will say that I made the decision many years ago to not buy for people outside my own children and I don't feel guilty about it. I cannot abide by the kind of spending that is encouraged for Christmas and find most gifts unnecessary and/or a waste of resources. That said, my method works for me because it aligns with my values.
I also have a Christmas Food and a Christmas Decorating category as well as a Birthday category and a more general Gifts category so my Christmas gifting category has a very specific purpose. If there's any leftover it usually gets absorbed by the food or activities that occur more frequently at that time of the year.
Christmas spending all gets put through the category. Because I know what the budget is for each person and I don't care enough to extrapolate more data out of it, by the end of December I know exactly what I've spent on Christmas gifts and can adjust for the following year if needs be.