Budget vs Actual

Is there a way to produce a budget vs actual report for a specific time period?

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  • I'm not sure how helpful that is. Your budgeted values can and will change as you go along, especially if you are following Rule 3.

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  • Hey  Green Battery , there's not a report for that. The closest thing would be your Net Worth report, but it sounds like you're wanting to see how far off from your intentions you were each month. Is that right, or was there some other metric you wanted to measure?

    As  nolesrule points out, because the YNAB method is about budgeting the cash you have on hand, we encourage moving money around to cover any overspending in a category, so that you have the clearest sense of what you actually have on hand at any given moment, giving you total control of the next dollar. In other words, we're more interested in allocating actual dollars than we are about projecting intended dollars. 

    If there's something helpful you're trying to gain more clarity on, we'd love to learn, too!

    Like 1
  • Budgeted vs actual has been a helpful metric for me to look at most of my budgeting life. It can give me a slap on the hand for a month overspent in dining out or really start yelling in my face after multiple months of overspending. I feel like nYNAB has become my codependent accountant saying; "Good job! As long as you don't spend more than you make, I don't care how much of a train wreck your categories are, just move funds back and forth!"

    And that's mystifies me in nYNAB, it's focus on the simple first steps of budgeting. For us more "seasoned" budgeters there's no way to get that kind of detailed insight.

    If I set out to spend $50 in dining out and actually spent $100, as long as I covered it from another category, nYNAB is happy. And come next month, I forget all about it because nYNAB happily gives me a "green" dining out category.  So what ends up happening is the "whack a mole" process covering one category's overspending with another's available funds (which is good to a point). What is bad, though, is I completely lose the insight about what I set out to spend vs. what I actually spent. Not to mention having to remember things like "last month I borrowed from the auto maintenance category, so this month I need to re-fund that amount". It just adds unneeded overhead to the budgeting process.

    I had done this budgeting vs. actual process for decades on paper, then in MS Money, then in Quicken, then in YNAB4 . Along comes nYNAB and now tells me it's not important. It is important! Please at least provide a report for it!

    Like 10
      • eloquentz
      • Numbers Wizard (Accountant), Acoustic Artist (Musician) and Jill of all Trades (Wife & Mother)
      • eloquentz
      • 2 yrs ago
      • 1
      • Reported - view

      Big Sky Using a budget template and setting category goals helps remind to refund.  For example, maybe you want $1,500 sitting in car repairs.  But you had to move $200 for some other purpose this month.  If you have a goal in place, next month you have a reminder to refill it.

       

      Also, as you get more familiar with your budget and your motivations (pay off debt?  save for retirement? save for a trip?), you become more intentional with your spending (do I need this new toy or do I want to put that money towards debt/retirement/trip?).  The other thing that happens as you get familiar with your spending habits is you KNOW that each month you realistically spend $X in a certain category (reports help with this), so rather than budget $100 and then spend $150 most months, budget $150 and save less for other things.

      Like 1
      • Big Sky
      • big_sky
      • 2 yrs ago
      • 4
      • Reported - view

      eloquentz Yep I did try a "hack" and use the goals feature to attempt to remind me. It didn't work so well because some goals were reminders and some were legitimate funds tracking towards a deadline.  I need something consistent to implement across all categories.

      I'm familiar with my budget and motivations. Tracking spending over a household of 5 causes categories to constantly shift from month to month due to the way bills and paychecks hit and the pattern of different people spending. Playing whack a mole to get to zero every month is challenging to sort out the next month on what categories need to be what. That's frustrating when the software could provide an intuitive way (via user interface or report) to show me how I'm doing. (Even more frustrating when the previous version of said software and most competitors provide that very feature!)

      I don't feel that negative rollovers or budgeted vs. actual is a big ask. If the worry is misuse by those who don't know what they're doing, just put in a "labs" section and a "here there be dragons" warning and let the power users have access to the additional tools they can wield responsibly (and possibly have to stitch up a few cuts now and then).

      Like 4
    • Big Sky Big Sky  I agree with all you are saying. I like the concept of moving from one category to another to cover a negative as it forces me to think about what I am willing to give up in a positive balance category to cover the negative. However, I don't really want my initial budget target to change. I want to compare in each category how much I overspent/underspent and adjust it for the next month if I choose to. If I moved money to cover a negative balance, I have no way to know the original target I'd made. I agree that a report at a minimum is needed.

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      • dakinemaui
      • dakinemaui
      • 4 mths ago
      • 1
      • Reported - view
      Spring Green Thunder said:
      I want to compare in each category how much I overspent/underspent and adjust it for the next month if I choose to

       Let's say you did know your original target budget amount. (A lot of people put it right in the category name for reference, but that's beside the point I'm attempting to make.) Say it's $100. Then you compare the updated budget entry and find that you overspent your target by $25. So you do the math to find that, assuming spending is comparable, you probably want to budget $125 next month.

      I would simply look at the activity column and directly see that I would probably want to budget $125 next month. No math or reports required. Actually, I'd probably look at the Average quick-budget button to help guide my allocations assuming some variability.

      Like 1
  • Completely agree

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  • I searched for "budget to actual" in YNAB and landed here. As someone who is trying to stick to defined budget categories, I agree that actual to budget is a crucial feature - I need insights into where to trim the fat and how good my discipline actually was previously, so I can track improvements over time, etc.

    Unfortunately, YNAB isn't something I can keep using as a result of that.

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  • Big Sky I agree, I think I am looking for the same functionality you are. I'm not on these forums much, but this is why I was searching here today. I am a CPA and a CFP, so maybe I'm a little more concerned with what I meant to spend than some others. What I want is a column for "Original Budget" and a column for "New Budget" after I overspend and have to cover it from another category (or find out there was school pictures this month that I didn't know about, or soccer fees, or some other amount that I know I will spend when it comes, but I didn't necessarily know it was coming!) I ended up using a simple Excel spreadsheet (image below), but I would like it if this functionality were available within YNAB. My "Added to / (Taken Out of) Budget" category always has to net to zero and shows what changes I made throughout the month. I make a new tab for each month and then can refer to this spreadsheet to see how much I over or under-spent for each month. This also helps to refer to the next year to see what "unexpected" expenses typically pop up each month.

    Like 1
  • Y'all are over-analyzing. Believe me... I over-analyze everything.

    When you're just getting started, I get that you might have overlooked some of your true expenses, but you should probably have a separate category that you can pull from  for the first year to help you while you figure those out.

    But if you are following Rule 2, once you figure out your True Expenses, you'll add categories to them, figure out how much is needed and when, and budget the correct amount toward that every month (and reduce some other category/ies permanently to offset).

    If you find that there are certain categories you already have established where you're always overspending, then either you need to modify your behavior to reign in the spending or admit that you aren't budgeting enough and modify the amount you budget for it going forward.

    Like 3
  • BigSky, I completely agree with you!   I cannot believe how hard it is to find an online quicken alternative.   I tried Mint ... it sucks.   I'm know trying YNAB, but if I have no inside as to how I'm actually doing versus the budget I set up .... what's the point?????

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    • Magenta Disk Yep I am actually using MINT to track if I'm sticking to my budget and YNAB to track the actual state of my accounts. So If I budget 200 for groceries and but spend 250, I'll just add 50 to that category in YNAB from somewhere else but then MINT will show me in the red having spent 50 over budget. So YNAB lets me give every dollar a job and then mint lets me know if I'm actually sticking to the budget I set. It's pretty convoluted but it's the best I got. 

      Like 1
  • I suppose you could just add a note either in the category title or notes section with the budget amount and then compare it at the end of the month to your actual, but if the amount you want to budget changes every month than you would obviously only be able to compare one months budgeted vs actual.

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  • This is a fascinating thread to read, and I think the piece that might be missing is realizing that YNAB is *intentionally* different from other budgeting systems, so expecting it to behave just like other budgeting systems you've used is going to lead to confusion.

    Big Sky said:
    And that's mystifies me in nYNAB, it's focus on the simple first steps of budgeting. For us more "seasoned" budgeters there's no way to get that kind of detailed insight.

    I think most veteran YNABers would argue that the more "seasoned" you become at budgeting through YNAB, the more you're able to "smooth out" the bumps of irregular expenses, allowing your budgeted amounts to become truly consistent month-to-month, regardless of how inconsistent your *payments* might be month-to-month.

    YNAB intentionally focuses your attention on the current month, so that you can measure success based on how well your money is aligned with your current (and future-looking) priorities, rather than dwelling on the past and judging you based on predictions you made a month or longer ago (since you've gained at least a month of wisdom since then!) :)

    Like 3
  • My solution has been to put my budgeted amount in the category name. That allows for a quick comparison in my actual reports. Here are some example category names (yes, I live in an expensive city):

    • Groceries $1000
    • Dining Out and Bars $650
    • Cash Money $200
    Like 2
  • Rule 3 roll with the punches acknowledges that you are not going to be able to exactly stick to every prediction you made, and states that you need to make the adjustments so that you can trust the available amounts in the other categories. 

    So at any point in any month there should be no red budget overspend in any category. 

     

    Because of this, there is no reason to have a budget variance report.  

    Yes, this is different to every other budget system, but it works and the rule 3 is one of the key reasons why it works. 

    It focuses you on what you want the money you have to do. 

    Rather than giving you a stick to beat yourself with because you are not good at guessing. 

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  • Agree!  I need this report too please.

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  • For months my walk away point for a new budget was the Budgeted to Actual report.  I personally find such a metric extremely unhelpful and even very discouraging.

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  • If you seriously think about it, having an extra column (to the left of the "Budgeted" column for example) with the heading "Original Budget" would have ZERO impact on Rule #3.  Similar to the "Age of Money", this column would be for informational purposes only and would serve to remind people that they've overspent in a particular category.  One benefit of this information is that YNAB users would then be able to look back in time to see how often they've misjudged their spending and take a more realistic look at how to budget the current month or even better: take corrective action (by consciously trying to spend less).  It's pretty narrow-minded to "ignore or forget about the past".  How can you possibly know where you're going when you have no clue where you've been?

    From a technical standpoint, adding this feature shouldn't be too hard to do since YNAB developers have all the information they require.

    I like the YNAB platform (overall it's MUCH better than mint) but this lacking feature is a serious shortcoming that becomes really apparent  once you've used YNAB for a few months (me).

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  • Also, forgot to ask, I'm new to the forums and I see the status of this post as "Answered": where is  the  answer  posted?

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      • WordTenor
      • I'm the oldest and the wittiest.
      • WordTenor
      • 1 yr ago
      • Reported - view

      Turquoise Python The Answered icon appears when a YNAB rep either answers the question (Dan, above) or marks a user answer as “Best Answer” which will appear in green next to the answer. 

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    • WordTenor Thanks.

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    • Turquoise Python Just to add on here, a user also has the ability to mark their own question as answered. We've stepped back from using the Answered tag as often so we aren't using it prematurely, but this is an older thread. :)

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  • Turquoise Python said:
    Possibly... but consider the following example.  Someone explicitly budgets $40/month on coffees because they believe that's how much they should be spending... not more.  However, some months, this person goes above the $40 and some times, they go below.  Having the ability to see the original budget vs the actual budget brings in an element of gamification which in turn will help to change a behaviour.

     If they budget $40 every month, at a glance they will be able to see if they are under or over the $40 without having to have additional clutter on the screen. My concern is that people seem to quit budgeting if it makes them feel like they "failed" at budgeting and therefore need to "punish" themselves in the next month. They end up getting frustrated and then walk away. But failure is the wrong way to look at. Sure the original plan was to spend $200 on groceries but then you lost power for 4 days and there was a lot of spoilage so you ended up spending $300. You reallocated from other lower priority categories and kept the total budget for the month out of the red. That's a success story and should be treated as such.

    Like 2
    • Hi jenmas -  I agree that some times overspending in a category has a legitimate reason... but I would argue that it's still useful to know that you've overspent for the reasons stated above.  I know your example is theoretical (as is mine with the coffee); however, in your example, I would categorize the spending to recover from an emergency as an emergency spend... not groceries.  But again, that's not the point of your example and I agree... some overspending is necessary on occasion.

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  • Aee this is the problem i see with ynab the powers that be device they don't need something and therefore nobody needs it.  And it is precisely this that has me seriously considering not purchasing ynab after my trial.

    As far as this request I agrew t bf at the feedback such a report would provide would help me budget better in the current month just because you don't need it doesn't mean others don't. 

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  • Turquoise Python I saw you asked above if this could be a feature, so I wanted to leave a quick link to our Feature Request form. We try never saying never, but I think an Originally Budgeted column could cause trouble. We encourage and suggest moving funds around between your categories and budgeting each time you receive new funds. If the first time you're paid in a month you can only budget half of your rent, does that make the Originally Budgeted amount half of what you actually need, so you're automatically seeing that discrepancy each month? 

    For cases like this, or the coffee example you gave above, you could include that $40 in your category title. It would be available for reference, to the left of the Budgeted column just as you suggested for the Originally Budgeted option, and wouldn't be automatically calculated - so it's easy to adjust. :)

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    • Faness Thanks for the link to the Feature Request form.

       

      Faness said:
      We encourage and suggest moving funds around between your categories and budgeting each time you receive new funds.

      I'm not arguing against that at all.  I actually think this is the way to do things.  All I'm saying is that it would be supremely useful to have a way to see what was actually budgeted vs what was spent or moved around.

       

      Faness said:
      If the first time you're paid in a month you can only budget half of your rent, does that make the Originally Budgeted amount half of what you actually need, so you're automatically seeing that discrepancy each month? 

       Unfortunately, this example makes no sense to me.  Rent is something you have to pay.  So, your budget should be whatever your rent is for the month...  So, if your rent is $100 for the month, you should budget $100 for the month.  If that brings your category into negative territory for the month then that's OK because you know that you'll be throwing more money into it on your next pay.  I guess you're giving a future job to your future dollars (in this case).  Not budgeting the real amount that you'll need for rent is worst than living paycheck to paycheck and ill advised. 

      Faness said:
      you could include that $40 in your category title.

       This will work but you have to admit that it's a hack.  It would be nice to have a solution that was intentional.

       

      Thanks for your input.

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      • WordTenor
      • I'm the oldest and the wittiest.
      • WordTenor
      • 1 yr ago
      • Reported - view

      Turquoise Python You are demonstrating that you don’t yet understand how a YNAB budget works, and how it is different from a regular set and forget budget. 

      I recommend you learn more about the method, use it for a good while, and then decide if this is still a feature which is important to you. In the meantime, in saying that you aren’t using the method and that is why you want this feature, you are making a clear case for why YNAB should not listen to your request. 

      Like
    • WordTenor Thanks for your insight.  Not sure how you've concluded that I don't understand how a YNAB budget works.  If making it explicitly clear, as I have, that the system works (I haven't asked to alter the YNAB philosophy or inner workings in any way) doesn't do it for you, then I'm wondering what value there is in continuing to have a conversation with you.  Especially when you are attributing statements to me (such as "In the meantime, in saying that you aren’t using the method and that is why you want this feature") which I have never posted.

      Clearly you feel that this discussion is above you and for that, you have become the inaugural member on my ignore list.

      Thanks.

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      • WordTenor
      • I'm the oldest and the wittiest.
      • WordTenor
      • 1 yr ago
      • 1
      • Reported - view

      Turquoise Python " If that brings your category into negative territory for the month then that's OK because you know that you'll be throwing more money into it on your next pay." 

      This is not OK; it messes up your budget. In the YNAB method, you don't budget more to your categories than you have. So when you argue that it's okay to overbudget and then say, "I need this feature" presumably, one reason you need the feature is because you are incorrectly overbudgeting. Which does not make a good case for the feature; it makes a good case for you learning the method better. 

      If you'd like help not overbudgeting, we certainly could help you. But I suppose I'm on your ignore list, so I hope you get it figured out! 

      Like 1
  • As others have already answered, if you follow the YNAB method, there is no need to have a budget vs actual reporting. What is important is looking at what you have available today and how you want to prioritize it going forward. What happened in the past is irrelevant. What everyone should try to do is unlearn all the traditional budgeting methods they know and embrace the YNAB method and make a true effort to follow it as intended. It may not be right for you, and that is fine, but give a real try for a couple of months and see if it works for you. 

    This is not to say that there are no faults or other features that would be nice to have, but it is different than a traditional budget, and requires the user to have a different mindset for it to be effective. 

    That being said, has anyone thought about how this feature would work even if they wanted to implement it? You budget money as you receive income, not before. (Emphasis: not a traditional allocation budget where you make a plan for money expected in a given month and then try and stick to it). Users want to see the difference between what the budgeted at the beginning of the month and compare with what that number was at the end to see if they went over.

    For example, you budget $100 for dining out at the beginning of the month, but you end up spending $125 that month. So, you move money from another category to cover that. Your budgeted now reads $125 and that shows your budget vs actual to be over by $25.

    But, what if your intention was to spend $100 in dining out this month and you could only budget $25 to it at the beginning of the month. On the 15th you get paid again and you budget $75 of that money to bring your available to $100. You go out to eat on the 20th and spend $85. You are still within your budget.

    However, if we go with budget vs actual - your month started with $25 budgeted and ended with $100 budgeted. This would show as missing your budget by $75 at the end of the month, which is not what happened. 

    Like 2
    • chahan this is still useful even when following the ynab method,  just because you couldn't use it does NOT mean there is no legit use case, though admittedly that's exactly the thought process of the ynab devs as far as i can tell by the requests that are ignored/ not intended.  I mean at some point you have top consider the time it could take to implement vs value to the userbase as a whole. In this case though this would be trivial to implement, beneficial to a large group of users,  even though you would not be one of them.

      The insight is invaluable really no matter how you budget,  ynabs way or not.  You've heard of data driven businesses,  where a company makes their decisions based on data? Thst same principle applies here,  knowing how you have performed in the past empowers you to make changes in the present. If you dont know how your budget is performing vs a baseline of what you want how can you make adjustments other than relying on rule 2 which is more about putting out fires when unexpected expenses occur not a way to consistently budget every month because you don't really dont know your own spending habits , at that point what's the purpose of budgeting.  You might as well use my old method,  put all your bills in one checking account and put the rest of your money in another to spend as you can't on whatever.  (Yes i actually did this when i was younger.)

      Now as to the technical implementation. For those who follow the old school rule 4 about being a month ahead that's not an issue because i just budget once a month with income earned last month.  Now since not everyone is in that position it's a fair question though.  I see 2 ways to handle it.

      1) Ignore any funds added to a category from tbb and only track money moved from one category to another,  though you could probably point out 100 issues with this method so i wouldn't recommend it.

      2) what i think would work best to implement would be to report end of month budgets amount compared to the goal. Technically you could manually check this but that's true of any thing in a report. A report format just makes this easier and more convenient for the user.

      Like 1
  • Turquoise Python said:
    can YNAB help someone answer the question "How many times did I overspend in category X over the past Y months?"

    You can use the income/expense report and select the single or few categories you are most interested in assessing.  That will put the actual spent on a horizontal line, and presumably you already know how much you "want" or "should" be allocating on a monthly basis to use as a comparison.

    But I have to respectfully submit that I honestly don't see how frequency is helpful.  I've noticed that my spending patterns fluctuate greatly over the course of a year.  I started YNAB in my (unknown to me at the time) most expensive months of the year. That right there set me up for a whole series of "fails". But in retrospect, the amount I was trying to budget to some of those categories actually turned out to be the average spent over the course of a year.

     Initially I just saw that I was failing by overspending.  Budget X, Spend X+Y.  After, say, three months I found the average spent number more useful than the monthly pass/fail.  I'm also rather pleased with myself that it also occurred to me at the time that some of the problems in some categories might be underfunding rather than overspending.  I already knew I was either passing or failing on a monthly basis, but in the end it was the average that proved most helpful in adjusting my budget and my own expectations.

    I still rely on the displayed average spent to identify if either my budget or my behaviour requires a course correction.

    Like 5
    • HappyDance Thanks.  I will look at this report in conjunction with having the total in the categories.

       

      HappyDance said:
      But I have to respectfully submit that I honestly don't see how frequency is helpful.

      Here's a scenario that may be helpful in understanding the value of data and how frequency might help.  Assume that you have an cable bill to pay every month.  Typically, these bills should be set amounts... which is the amount you would budget every month, say $100/month.  Now assume that, in January, February and March, you budgeted and paid $100.  Come April, May and June the bill goes up to $101 and then in July, August it goes up to $105.  Now in September the bill goes up to $110 and doesn't change for the remainder of the year.  In all these cases, you would follow the YNAB method and cover the price increases by shuffling money around (rolling with the punches).  However, if you wanted to take your cable company to task and tell them: "Hey, my bill has gone up X times in the past year... what gives?"; having this information at your disposable or at a glance is very useful.

      Thanks again for the report info.  I'll take a look.

      Like 1
      • HappyDance
      • YNABing consistently since 2014
      • HappyDance
      • 1 yr ago
      • Reported - view

      Turquoise Python 

      We definitely talk the same language.  I hate utility bill creep.  Drives me ab-so-lute-ly  bonkers.  I notice immediately because I keep a super tight budget and I have a recurring monthly transaction with the exact amount that should be billed based on my yearly contracted rate. If a bill comes in higher, I not only have to adjust the transaction entry and maybe move more money in, but I then have to comb through the darn statement for an explanation or schedule time to call and waste an hour with a CSR. I need to know why and if I have to revise my recurring transaction.

      Even though I group my rent and utilities in a single category and one of my utility bills fluctuates monthly making the total spent in that category not quite exactly the same every month, I immediately notice any deviation on any of my monthly bills. I also have reminders entered in the scheduler for next year a month ahead of contract expiry to remind me that I need to renegotiate the next year's contract. That way they can't surprise me with a nasty rate hike in the month after the contract ends.

      I think they all have me on a do-not-increase-the-crazy-lady's-bill list because none of them have done this to me in a very long time. The last time there was an unexpected increase it was due to a newly legislated carbon tax taking effect, and that one was the government's meddling, so out of my or the utility company's control.

      Like
    • HappyDance

       

      HappyDance said:
      I think they all have me on a do-not-increase-the-crazy-lady's-bill list because none of them have done this to me in a very long time.

      Hahahaha - that's awesome!

      I've notice past deviations as well with these Big Telcoms and Big Corps... and I take side notes followed up with an "excuse me, but..." call.  That's where I see the value in flagging these "bill creep" and creeps (lol).

      Like
  • It's unclear how a budget-vs-actual report should be produced when the "budgeted" amount is expected to change throughout the month. And it's not just changing due to Rule-3 adjustments: Paycheck-to-paycheck users typically won't have enough money to budget an entire month of "Groceries" from the 1st of the month. So they adjust their budget each time they're paid during the month.

    Good luck getting YNAB to implement new functionality that conflicts with the paycheck-to-paycheck use case! It's clearly their target market.

    Like
  • Turquoise Python said:
    Here's a scenario that may be helpful in understanding the value of data and how frequency might help.  Assume that you have an cable bill to pay every month.  Typically, these bills should be set amounts... which is the amount you would budget every month, say $100/month.  Now assume that, in January, February and March, you budgeted and paid $100.  Come April, May and June the bill goes up to $101 and then in July, August it goes up to $105.

     I'm not sure I understand this example. Looking at transactions to the cable company in the account register will show me this information at a glance. Looking at the budgeted column as it currently works shows me this information at a glance. What additional insight will having this new column give me? Once the bill goes up to $101, I'm not going to be budgeting $100 anymore, I'll be budgeting $101.

    Like 2
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