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.

    Like 2
  • 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. 

    Like 2
  • 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
      • 1 mth 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.

    Like 3
    • nolesrule
    • Stealing From the Future fix is an improvement but is incomplete....
    • nolesrule
    • 1 mth 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.

    Like 3
  • 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.

    Like 2
  • 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
    • 1 mth ago
    • 3
    • 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 3
  • 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.

    Like 1
  • The less categories you have - the better

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      • nolesrule
      • Stealing From the Future fix is an improvement but is incomplete....
      • nolesrule
      • 1 mth ago
      • 5
      • Reported - view

      Anton I don't think that's necessarily true. You should have the right amount of categories to meet your needs for awareness and control.

      Like 5
  • How did you get it off living paycheck to paycheck? Was YNAB a part of that?

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      • DexterCat
      • DexterCat
      • 3 days ago
      • 1
      • Reported - view

       Itpromike to get off living paycheck to paycheck you need to have more income than your monthly budget requires. If this is true, just put the extra money into a "Next Month" category, or directly into next month's budget. After a while you will have enough to fully fund a month before it starts. If you don't have more income than required for your budget, you need to change something, reduce expenses or increase income.

      Like 1
      • Vibrant
      • No more counting dollars, we'll be counting stars
      • vibrant
      • 2 days ago
      • Reported - view

      Itpromike Ditto what DexterCat said.

      In practical terms, I get paid biweekly which means I get two extra paychecks per year, but I plan my budget around 2 paychecks per month and used the extra ones to build up that "next month" category (also bonuses and tax refunds, where applicable. Now I use those extra funds for longer-term savings goals). But I wouldn't have realized I can make ends meet on two paychecks per month without YNAB in the first place. 

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  • Another case for separation here...

    I track each utility separately, because I live in a 100-year-old house.  As we rehab the house (or as new things go wrong), I can more easily track changes in our energy and water consumption this way.

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  • I guess I'm the odd one out. I keep them all together in one category called "keeping the lights on". I pay electric (every other month), gas (every other month), water (technically billed every other month by the municipality and then automatically split into equal payments which are paid with my property taxes - billed annually it paid monthly), and HOA (paid semi-annually).  I put about 750NIS in the category every month and I've never been short.

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