Utilities: one category or multiple?

This question is primarily for the “living on last month’s income”/"month ahead" people: do you have separate categories for each of your utilities (gas, electric, water, trash etc) or do you just have one Utilities category?

Separate categories were necessary when I was paycheck to paycheck, but now I’m debating whether (and if yes, how) to combine them or if there’s benefit to keeping them separate. Reporting, I suppose, but if I needed to break down, say, gas vs electric I can pull that from the register by payee.

Thoughts?

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  • I have a Utilities budget group and then separate categories for each one. I use scheduled transactions and goals to fund these automatically when budgeting.

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  • I keep them separate. Granted, my utilities are electric, internet, and phone - I don't have gas or water to account for. 

    I keep them separate because I expect phone and internet to change at random intervals, and want to keep track of that. And electric is just plain variable, and I'm currently trying to get a handle on average annual spend. 

    If I had two or more of gas, water, and electric and had a handle on annual spend so I could fund them appropriately, I might combine them. 

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  • I’m a keep-them-separate fan for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I can see at a glance if there are increases in costs for each of them. This has helped in those very rare cases when I’ve had a choice amongst utility providers. I’ve actually been able to negotiate a reduction in cost with one as I’ve compared its costs to another. Also we tend to fund some utilities, like electricity, with a small buffer to account for increasing costs year to year. We take our average over the last year, add 3%, and fund that amount each month for the coming year. But we don’t need to do this with every utility. Separate categories helps with the math. 

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      • MXMOM
      • MXMOM
      • 2 wk ago
      • Reported - view

      Sky Blue Tugboat I do the same for different reasons but just to play the other side - you could get a report by payee to see the total of each. Usually its a one to one relationship between payee and utility. 

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    • MXMOM Unless it's not. Back when I had both gas and electric, they were the same company but two separate bills. On the other hand, you can still set it up as two separate payees - I could have had *company - gas* and *company - electric* or some such.

      Like 2
  • I do like MXMOM . To me, it’s a lot easier to keep track of the amount I owe on each separately. I’d have to do the math if it was one bulk amount. And with scheduled transactions and goals, it’s very easy to handle them separately. I think this is a case where it adds more complexity, not less, to combine them. I’m all about simplicity at this point.

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    • nolesrule
    • Stealing From the Future fix is an improvement but is incomplete....
    • nolesrule
    • 2 wk ago
    • 3
    • Reported - view

    I keep everything separate except gas and electricity. They are on opposite cycles, because the main drivers of the costs are the HVAC, and cooling is electric while heating is gas. I used to keep them separate, but found I was sitting on way too much cash after awhile. I ran some calculations in a spreadsheet and came to the conclusion that combining them would lower the amount of cash I kept in the categories.

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  • Separate.  I feel like I have more control when I can see them individually.  Plus, they’re all on different cycles anyway, so for me it just makes sense to separate.  

    Like 2
  • Separate - due to the variability.

    Water bills are due every 3 months, electric/gas monthly (one bill). I don't really have any other utilities that we have to manage (we have phones and such, but I don't consider that a utility at this point, though I guess it kinda is).

    I use the reports to figure out our averages, and fund the categories based on that. It's also helpful to see the bills as a bar graph which lets me watch trends over any time frame that I'd like to check so I can compare seasonally what's going on with the bill.

    The only things I really combine are subscriptions into a single category, then I use the notes section to indicate how much each subscription is, and the due date. I put the total amount of the group of subscriptions in the name of the group.

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  • I have a Utilities category for electricity, gas, water, and trash, which I assign the total average to each month. Then a separate one for internet and phone, which I assign the actuals to. 

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    • WordTenor
    • Can we agree that goals are dumb and immature? Sure.
    • WordTenor
    • 2 wk ago
    • 2
    • Reported - view

    You know, it so happens that my first experience having to budget fully for everything (vs. an apartment where either everything was included or where I only paid one utility, like electric) has been in a city where one board controls all the utilities. So I budget for it all together because I receive one monthly bill that includes water, gas, and electric. 

    Having now done this for six years, though, I think it's pretty unlikely I'll go back to using separate categories if I move elsewhere. I find it easy enough to fund it at a level amount each month, and to have in my mind a basic idea of what utilities should cost in a given month based on the weather, so I know when to go looking at my bill for an outlier. So nothing gained from multiple categories for me and I doubt I'll use them.

    Like 2
  • farfromtheusual said:
    Separate - due to the variability.

     I think this is key.

    The type of expenses that suit being combined into one category are ones that have a fixed amount. Monthly subscriptions are fine being in one category because you know the amount doesn't vary so there's no risk of a blow out in one bill eating up funds meant for another bill.

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