For those who don't "over track" expenses but have a good system, care to share your Group/Categories?

Right now I have the below 10 Groups and 69 Categories and feel like I could potentially do a better job consolidating. I’ve listed them the below for reference.

For those who feel like they aren’t over-granularizing their expense tracking, would you care to critique mine or better yet share your Groups/Categories?

Note: I own a home, car, pet, no kids

Category Group
Mortgage Home
Yard Home
Garbage Home
Cleaning Service Home
Home Improvement Home
Home Maintenance Home
Home Furnishings Home
Home General Home
Water Utilities
Alarm Utilities
Electricity Utilities
Gas Utilities
Cable Utilities
Internet Utilities
Cell Phone Telecom
Auto + Home Insurance Insurance
Subscriptions Telecom
Car Gas Auto
Car Service + Maintenance Auto
Rideshare Auto
Parking Auto
Car Wash Auto
Tickets Auto
Registration + License Auto
Groceries Food + Drink
Restaurants + Alcohol Food + Drink
Coffee + Tea Food + Drink
Food Misc. Food + Drink
Gym Health
Doctor Health
Dentist Health
Medication Health
Vet Pets
Grooming Pets
Dog Food Pets
Dog Supplies Pets
Boarding + Walking Pets
Pet Insurance Pets
Dog Training Pets
Personal Care Personal
CVS Misc. Personal
Hair + Nails Personal
Massage Personal
Beauty Personal
Dry Cleaners Personal
Tailor + Alterations Personal
Travel Discretionary
Shopping Discretionary
Gifts - Friends Discretionary
Gifts - Family Discretionary
Gifts - Us Discretionary
Amazon Misc. Discretionary
Entertainment Discretionary
Club Memberships Discretionary
Books Discretionary
Education Discretionary
Mail Discretionary
Hobbies Discretionary
Business Services Discretionary
Amex Membership Discretionary
Gaming Discretionary
Discretionary Misc. Discretionary
Dept. of Revenue Tax Taxes
US Treasury Tax Taxes
Income Tax Taxes
Property Tax Taxes
Car Restoration Outlier
Car Purchase Outlier
Charity Donations
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Wow. That is certainly granular! I tend to err the other way myself so looking at your list is fascinating.

My goal is to see how much I pay out to/for various stuff over time. BUT, where I can get that info via payee, I tend to not categorize it at such a granular level.

One ‘rule’ I use is that if a particular category has 1 maybe 2 payees - for instance or electricity or garbage… I consolidate. I know I will be able to easily track how much I pay for electricity by looking at my payouts to Seattle City Light, for instance so I roll up that stuff to Home Maintenance.

Having said that, I think I can do with more grains… I’m off to really study your list. Thanks!

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Thanks for starting this discussion. We are firm believers in budgets. Our budget areas are primarily based on the Fidelity Investments Retirement Planner Budget Tool in which we also identify Essential and Discretionary expenses.

We own a home, the children are all grown up and self-supporting (yay!), no pets at this time.

The Household Expenses category is our catch-all bucket for something that doesn’t easily fall into one of the other categories. The Misc Cash category catches those random we can’t remember where we spent real cash, because we like to capture cash spending in it’s appropriate category.

We use Notes to further help jog our memories on what we actually spent money on at places like Amazon, Costco, Home Depot, etc. We do split transactions where appropriate. We use Tags a lot in Travel and Taxes to identify specific trips or tax years.

We are new to Tiller for 2020, have been using Quicken for years, and Microsoft Money before that.

Here is our current list:

Category Group
Donations Donations
Movies - Theater - Sports Entertainment
Restaurants Entertainment
Wine - Spirits Entertainment
Gifts Gifts
Health Insurance Healthcare
Medical Healthcare
Earthquake Insurance Home
Home Improvements Home
Home Repairs Home
Homeowners Insurance Home
Lawncare Home
Property Taxes Home
Umbrella Insurance Home
Dividends/Interest Income
Paycheck Income
Rebates Income
Investment Transactions Investments
Books-Mags-Papers Miscellaneous
Household Expenses Miscellaneous
Misc Cash Miscellaneous
Account Fees Miscellaneous
Clothing Personal
Groceries Personal
Haircuts Personal
Health - Beauty Aids Personal
Federal Income Tax Taxes
Transfer Transfer Types
Auto Insurance Transportation
Auto Loan Transportation
Auto Maintenance Transportation
Auto Plates Transportation
Gasoline Transportation
Tolls - Parking - Ferries Transportation
Regular Travel Travel
Splurge Travel Travel
Cell Phones Utilities
Gas Utilities
Internet Utilities
Trash Utilities
Water Utilities
Streaming Services Utilities
Electric Utilities
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Thanks for sharing @martha.rudkin. I noticed you record your property taxes as a Home expense vs. putting it in your Taxes group. What is the logic here? I’m asking as I’m considering it.

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Our categories and groups are set to match Fidelity’s Retirement Planner Budget Worksheet, and Property Taxes are part of the Home Group there. Maybe the logic is that this is an expense that would not be present if we did not own a home.

We put a 2020 Taxes tag on tax related transactions when they occur.

We monitor the total annual spending amount instead of trying to worry about even monthly spending. There are some months that just have bigger essential expenses. For instance, most of our annual insurance payments are due in March, property taxes are split between April and October and we make estimated tax payments 4 times a year. However, if we overspend in a discretionary category like Restaurants one month, we tighten up and reduce our spending in the next month or two to put us back on track to our annual goal.

Susan mentioned in her reply that if there are only 1 or 2 payees for a category she will combine them. I could do it with less categories and more notes, but you can see in my home insurance and utilities sections that I have all the individual ones broken out, and that is only because I find it easier to populate the budget with individual numbers.

This is a great topic - thanks for starting it, hbwilliams22! Here are my categories. I’ve tracked with far more granular precision in the past, but for the last several months this has worked great for me. For me, I find less is more when it comes to categories, tracking, and reporting.

I don’t even currently use tags, though I plan on returning to that practice this year.

Also, in the past I worked hard to completely eliminate the “Misc” category, but it keeps coming back.

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On Twitter, Bill Winterberg CFP wrote “I have 15+ years of detailed household financial transaction history available for reporting.” Here are his categories.

Finally, here’s everything you’d want to know about setting up categories with Tiller Money.

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@Edward I noticed you have an “Amazon” category- we have the same.

Further we have a “Costco” category and a “Target” category. I am curious if most people routinely sub-divide their Costco spending. Most of our spending there is on food but typically there is some other household good or clothes that we pick up. In the end, since I have a few years of data, it is good enough for us to track Costco spending as a whole and understand if we are over- or under-spending at Costco for the month compared to other months.

That said if there is a big Costco purchase like a TV or couch I will subcategorize that out, and I try to subcategorize gift spending there too.

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I do the same for Costco. We buy too many items there to try an separate it out, but most of the time it is groceries/household, so I just treat it that way. The only time it might be different is around the holidays because we sometimes buy gifts there.

I have been separating out Amazon though, because it’s relatively easy to do. Also, we buy a very wide variety if things from Amazon, so I can’t accurately treat it all as “household.”

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Here are my categories:

I like to separate dining out between my husband and I - also for Gear & Clothing since one of us enjoys expensive cycling gear…I add granularity to areas that I think we need to monitor and spend less money on. Some categories are created to enable easy auto categories (like IPad)

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I guess we get a bit granular?

Some of the weird ones are:

  • Vacuum Cleaner. The name of this category started as a joke when we were recently married. It “vacuums” money and never lets it go! It is our savings category, and it gets emptied out into investment accounts on a regular basis. It was originally named “Black Hole”, but somehow “Vacuum Cleaner” won out.

  • Medical is where we track HSA reimbursable expenses. We have an extra column in our Transactions tab with a link to the google drive scan of the receipt.

  • We treat “Tech”, “Replacements”, and “Car Depreciation” as depreciation categories. Our monthly budget always puts $$ into those. We use an envelops style when budgeting, so I guess these are not very different from the rest of the categories. We don’t just track where expenses go, but track how much each category has.

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One thing I am struggling with is what to consider “Subscriptions”, like Spotify, Netflix, Hulu, magazines etc. Considering an “Entertainment” category?

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I don’t know if I’d say I have a “good system” but I take a pretty fine-grained approach.

I have one category for Amazon+Costco expenses I intend to split later for better analysis called NEEDS SPLITTING. I have attempted to preface categories that I intend to save for but not yet spend in with “LTS” or “Long-term Savings”. The theory was that money could be budgeted and set aside for larger expenses several months ahead and then converted to an actual budget item with the non-LTS prefix in the month it occurs. I say ‘theory’ because I have not yet been able to build a buffer and keep up with this system.

In the future, I intend to also begin categorizing certain expenses with tags such as ‘HSA’, ‘Hosting’ or trip names to keep special expenses removable from otherwise normal activity. For example, if I take a visiting friend out to dinner, I don’t want that considered in my ‘Eating out’ category.

My categories
Category Group Type
Annual memberships & subscriptions Annual subscriptions Expense
Outdoor gear Camping/Hiking Expense
Monthy Donation Charity Expense
Donation Charity Expense
Movies Entertainment Expense
Event tickets/Cover Entertainment Expense
Digital Purchases Entertainment
Eating out Food & Dining Expense
Work Lunches Food & Dining Expense
Coffee Food & Dining Expense
Groceries Food & Dining Expense
Party/Guest supplies Food & Dining
Drinks Food & Dining Expense
Xmas gifts Gifts Expense
Gifts Gifts Expense
Therapy Health & Wellness Expense
Doctor/Dentist/Tests Health & Wellness Expense
Prescriptions Health & Wellness Expense
Hair/Nails Health & Wellness Expense
Supplements Health & Wellness Expense
Home Improvement Home expenses Expense
House cleaners Home expenses Expense
Laundry/Tailor Home expenses Expense
Home furnishings Home expenses Expense
Househould supplies Home expenses Expense
Toiletries & Makeup Home expenses Expense
Savings interest Investment Income
Misc Misc Expense
Shipping/Mail Misc Expense
Legal Misc Expense
Misc Fees Misc Expense
Alarm bill Monthly Bills Expense
Gas bill Monthly Bills Expense
Gym Monthly Bills Expense
Mortgage Monthly Bills Expense
City Utilities Monthly Bills Expense
B phone bill Monthly Bills Expense
E Car Loan Monthly Bills Expense
Internet Monthly Bills Expense
Student loans Monthly Bills Expense
Spotify bill Monthly Bills Expense
Dropbox bill Monthly Bills Expense
Audible subscription Monthly Bills Expense
Vet visits Pets Expense
Cat food/Misc cat Pets Expense
Cat sitters Pets Expense
Paycheck Primary Income Income
Refunds Refunds Income
Car repair/replacement Fund Savings Goals Expense
Car Insurance Savings Goals Expense
LTS: Flights Savings Goals Expense
LTS: Home Improvement Savings Goals Expense
Clothing Shopping Expense
Electronics Shopping Expense
NEEDS SPLITTING Shopping Expense
Transfer Transfer Types Transfer
CC Payment Transfer Types Transfer
Auto fuel Transportation Expense
Parking Transportation Expense
Tolls Transportation Expense
Taxi/Transit Transportation Expense
Car maintenance Transportation Expense
Flights Travel/Vacation Expense
Park fees & reservations Travel/Vacation Expense
Hotels/Lodging Travel/Vacation Expense

Thanks for sharing. Question: why do you consider Refunds as Income? Shouldn’t the refund just be applied back to the Shopping or Pets category etc.?

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I would say that IS a change I should probably make at some point, but it originally stemmed from me creating very broad rules in AutoCat.

For context, my spouse and I do A LOT of home improvement work on our current home (quite the fixer-upper) and home depot returns are very common and typically noteworthy.

As a related aside, I have created Filter Views for ‘Income’ including refunds in the transaction sheet. If I were to recategorize them towards the category they originated from, then I could still see them that way.

To me, categories are all about understanding how I can better understand where and how I’m spending money and learning how to control that. I also try to align my groups with accounts so that I can easily confirm that balances are correct. The key point is that categories should separate items by how I spend the money, how I think about spending the money, and how the money actually gets spent. It’s about how I interact with it.

I have 4 major groups: Savings, Regular Expenses, Irregular Expenses, and Discretionary. These line up with my savings account and checking account.

The regular expenses are for things like rent, utilities, payments, and any bills that I have set on a regular schedule. Everything I have on auto pilot or things I cannot live without. I have everything in this group roll over into a slush fund. The categories in this group are:

Car Insurance
Dental Insurance
Groceries
Health Insurance
Investments
Monthly Pay In
Student Loans
Subscriptions

The Irregular Expenses group is for things I cannot live without or am obligated to deal with, but that don’t happen regularly. These are things largely out of my control. I set up a savings category called Irregular expenses to put a small amount of money away for these emergencies. Everything I spend gets drawn from that fund and I pay it back when needed over time. Categories in this group are:

Car Repair
Commuter Bikes
Health Misc
Irregular Expenses Fund

Finally I have a discretionary group, with everything that I might buy on a discretionary basis. These can be reoccurring expenses or not, but I tend to put everything that isn’t on auto pilot in here. These are expenses that I can easily minimize by simply spending less. I try to budget some amount for areas in this category to give me an idea of what I can afford each month, but then I try to stay below the target. Some months I’m more successful than others. The categories in this group are:

Bank Fees
Bikes
Clothing
Eating Out
Entertainment
Gas
Personal Care
Projects
Slush
Travel

The TLDR here is that I try to split the group and categories up in such a way that it aligns with the way that I feel about the spending and the way that the spending decision gets made. If I am over spending on regular expenses or money is tight then I review all of the subscriptions and bills I have to see what I can live without. If discretionary spending is getting out of control then I look into the categories to see where that is happening. In the event that the irregular expenses are getting out of control, I might look into how I can better prevent emergencies from happening (ie more frequent car services to prevent breakdowns).

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I’m fairly granular, but I love it. Works for me. I never really have to worry about where I’m going to categorize oddball expenses. It makes the categorization process a breeze.

I’m single. No kids. And a I travel a lot to see my folks, so most expenses are pretty much doubled up in Travel. I feel the need to separate out food bought while I’m traveling from just run of the mill, weekly food. Circumstances are completely different and that’s important to me.

Also, social activities: I found lumping ‘nightlife’ or ‘entertainment’ into just one category wasn’t informational. I wanted to know how I was spending my money when going out (which racks up quickly). I found often I’d cover a drink or two for friends (or a girl I was attempting to court, etc.). So $56 on “drinks” wasn’t fair to me, when really I was buying for others (and they were often buying for me). So generally, I have doubled whether I was buying for 2 or more or just myself, e.g. food.

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This is a good method. Thanks for sharing.

I just call these Subscriptions and have Entertainment separately for events out: shows, sports, etc.

I have 7 years of history in Tiller, so some of these are old holdouts from when I used Mint (dark days). But this covers any potential expense I might have.

The travel categories are key to understand per person costs of travel, so when budgeting our next vacation I can accurately predict food and other costs. I track vacation spending in a separate sheet.

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