How should I actually use the Savings Budget adjustments?

I’m twisting my brain in knots on how to actually use this. I’ve got it all set up and understand the concept of rollover, but I’m trying to figure out what the reasons will be for me doing a budget or a savings adjustment in a given month. I should also add that I’m attempting to do a zero-based budget. So that Income - Expenses = 0. I include savings as expenses. Here’s a few scenarios that illustrate how I think I’m supposed to be using the savings budget, please let me know if I’m doing it right!

Scenario 1: I’ve got a gas budget of lets say $100 a month. In May I spent 120. So when I’m looking at my savings budget, I’m 20 in the red. Because Gas is a variable expense that I expect to even out over the entire year, AND the 20 dollar overage is within the range of expected monthly gas bills, then no budget or savings adjustments needed here.

Scenario 2: In the same gas category I fluctuate for an entire year, sometimes over, sometimes under. At the end of the year though, I’ve spent 50 dollars more than I’ve budgeted for the entire year. The “Available” Column for December reads -50. Because the year is now up, and I want to start a fresh budget, I will make a budget or savings adjustment. I will add +50 to the December gas budget and do a -50 from another budget, preferably from the Transportation Group. This seems reasonable to me - to do an end of the year settle up, and have all your spending categories “available” column = 0. But does it even matter?

Scenario 3: In this scenario, I have an income or an expense that I truly do not expect to be repeated and did not account for in the original budget. Like lets say I won 5k in the lottery in May. I would increase the income budget by 5k for that month only. Then I would increase the expense budget by 5k as well (just for May). Similarly if I spent 300 in May on gas because I had to take an emergency cross country trip to help with family ,that overage is beyond the normal range of variability. So I might increase the gas savings for May, and decrease the savings in my “slush fund” category.

Scenario 4a: In my budget I save 100 a month for a Trip to Mexico at the end of the year. If I want to do zero based budgeting, I have to actually make a transfer of 100 from my checking to a savings account, and code the transaction of -100 in my checking as an expense for the category “Trip to Mexico.” The transaction of +100 in savings gets marked as transfer. In the savings budget, it will say 0 “Available,” since I budgeted 100, and “spent” 100. When it comes time to buy a plane ticket, say for 300, I’ll have to code that as an expense in a different category. Something like “Trip to Mexico - Expense.” If it was the same category as my savings, then my actuals would be all messed up.

Scenario 4b: I budget 100 a month for a Trip to Mexico at the end of the year. If I make a transfer of the 100 from checking to savings, I code both transactions as transfer. My savings budget will show +100 in the Available column. Through October, I’ll have +1000 in the Available Column. If I buy a 300 ticket, I’ll code that transaction as an expense to the “Trip to Mexico” category, and in November I’ll have 1000 savings+ 100 budget - 300 expense = 800 available. This is ideal, but it totally messes with the zero based budget. For example, lets say budgeted cash flow is 0, and in the Month of may, my actual expenses are exactly the same as my budget expenses… but since I didn’t mark my 100 savings for the Trip to Mexico as an expense, it will show I have a +100 cash flow for the month. I guess I could do a quick calculation and every month take the actual cash flow, and subtract any savings accrued in my “Goal Savings” group that would include things like “Trip to Mexico” or “Apple Watch.”

Scenario 5: Would love feedback on this one. I’m thinking I will have a category “Slush Fund” as a goal category like in the above scenario. I budget 1,000 a month in this category. In general this is the category that I will tap into if I need to increase budget/savings for another category. In the gas example, I would add 100 in savings to gas, and -100 in savings to the slush fund in a given month. This would also be the primary source for balancing out things at the end of the year. What I’m thinking for this one is, I’d love for the “Available” number to equal my actual savings account balance at the end of every month. Is this possible? You’d have to account for interest, and add savings at the first month of the budget to reflect the accounts starting balance.

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Hi @Ngb12347! Some good questions here. I’ll address them individually, but really the best option is to do what makes sense for you. All of my answers will address how I would do things, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only way!

I do feel like you are making things a little bit difficult for yourself with your zero-based budget. For the Savings Budget to work correctly it is important for your Income and Expense Budget to be equal, but I’m not sure how you can carry any Savings and also include that in the zero-budget calculation. I understand that cash flow is the metric you’ve decided to prioritize, but it seems like it would really complicate things…

Scenario 1
That’s exactly what I would do.

Scenario 2
That’s also basically what I do. I don’t always wait for the end of the year to clean things up, however. Lets say I had a couple of months where gas was way more expensive than usual (just hypothetically, of course…), I’d rather do a small transfer to take care of that rather than stay in the red the rest of the year. For me, if the Savings get too far off if this kind of category it stops being useful because I can’t conceptualize how things are trending as easily.

Scenario 3
I used to do the same thing as you, but now I try to avoid adjusting the budget for things like this. For me, the budget is what I predicted would happen this month. If unexpected expenses or income come our way, then I don’t want to retroactively change the budget so that it looked like I was expecting it. In your example (5k lottery win), I would categorize it as income but not budget for it. Once it rolls over to the next month, if I decide I want to move it to a different category I can use the savings adjustment to do so. I have something a little bit like your Slush Fund category mentioned in Scenario 5, which I have confusingly called my “Savings” category.

Scenario 4
I would go with scenario 4b. At least, it’s what makes sense to me.

Scenario 5
Like i mentioned above, I do have a category that does what you’re describing here. One thing to note, though, is that you will drive yourself crazy if you try to get your Available to match your savings account balance exactly. With all of the different dates on transactions and when things are updated in Tiller, it will never match perfectly. I’m ok with that, though, as long as it’s close. As much as I would prefer exact numbers, it’s helpful for me to remember that the budget is just a tool. For me, it serves its purpose by giving me control and visibility over how much I am spending. If my savings account is $100 off from my Available number at the end of the month, ultimately that does not actually affect how I use the tool. The only time it would matter is if I were worried about not having enough cash in my account, but I’m fortunate enough to be in a position where that’s not a concern. I did put together a spreadsheet to compare my bank account to the available amount though, it’s pretty computationally intensive but it can show whether they are tracking more or less the same. You can check it out here if you’re interested: Comparing Savings Budget to Account Balances . I’m not sure how well I explained it though, so if you have any questions about it feel free to ask them on that post.

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So I follow a zero-based envelope-esque budget and really find it is the best way to keep everything on track. One clarification is a zero-based budget means every dollar of income is assigned to do something ( spend or save) its not about the spending. So I would modify your initial equation (income-expenses-savings = 0) The other rule would be, you don’t spend the dollars you have not received yet. Or in my case, I can only spend the amount I have in my envelopes today.
A few thoughts based on your initial scenarios.

Scenario 1: You will absolutely have months that you go over your planned budget and or envelope amount. that’s just the real world. However, instead of just figuring it will work itself out over the year, I find the difference from another envelope or category to cover the amount. Leaving it for future dollars is a way to get your future self in trouble. At the end of the month ( or sooner) just find a other category and move it to gas to get yourself to zero. if you have extra n gas next month, move it to another category ( like savings, vacation fund, or investment)

Scenario 2 - As I said, settling up at the end of the year is too late. you can put yourself in a world of hurt over 12 months.

Scenario 3 - if you have unplanned income or one-time unplanned expenses, you just need to adjust it form somewhere. In my mind it is the same as Scenario 1. I do have an envelope with $1000 assigned for unplanned stuff.

Scenario 4- I agree that the Tiller sheet is a bit confusing when it comes to savings and allocating savings vs true expenses. But at the end of the day if you follow (income-expenses-savings = 0) then it all works out. Think of transfers as just that a transfer from one account to another. They should always zero out and thus should be part of your (income-expenses-savings = 0) equation.

Like I said I find the Tiller Sheet doesn’t work for me in this area. This is why I have build a different sheet for Zero based Envelope that I have posted before on on Tiller. New Envelope Budget v. 2.0 Released for review

Here I have adjusted the sheet to meet a true envelope style zero-based budget. However, it still works with all other Tiller Foundation Sheets.

However, I am about to release brand new version that make everything even better. I will post link below where you can download the sheet for Free. But you can view the past version to see the current release and the documentation.

For Scenario 5 - Think it is smart to have some money for unplanned stuff. however, I think budgeting $1000 each month is a bit excessive. My concern is it will give you the impression that you can just spend more and know you can cover it. This may take away form the whole reason to budget anyways. Instead, I do this. Keep $1000 in an unplanned category. use it if you need to cover unplanned expenses , but… make yourself a deal that your going to take any left over money and save it for Mexico or your apple watch or whatever you want. At least you will have an incentive not to over-spend. Honestly having a reason for not having that Latte is a great way to save.

Like I mentioned earlier, I have rebuilt my Envelope Sheet to meet a true zero-based envelope system. I have posted several version on Tiller and I know that many users still use it as we talk about it regularly I have recently rebuilt the whole system and am excited to do a pre-launch right now. Here is the link to it.
Ultimate Envelopes v2.2 (gumroad.com)

You just need to register with your name and email and the link will be sent to you. 100% free I promise. It will meet your needs for both envelope and zero based budgeting. Here are a few screen shots.



Please take a look and let me know your thoughts.

Rich

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@Matt, thanks so much for the detailed response. I saw your “Comparing Savings to Actual” post and was really hoping you’d reply to this one :slight_smile:

What you say about not actually increasing/decreasing the budget, but changing the savings instead makes sense to me, I like that approach. And I think your approach with the comparing savings budget and actuals is a good way to do a check without making yourself crazy… but how awesome would it be if the “available” savings categories would match your account balances?! (Side note, I played around with Simplifi Money and it seems like they are kind of doing this. They take your actual account balance, and subtract savings goals out of it. Interesting idea.

First of all, I had a good chuckle about your name for this category. Can you explain a little more how you use this category in the Savings Budget? It sounds like I’m thinking about a lot of the same things you’ve already thought through so I’m curious how you do this.

Good point on the difficulties of the zero based budget with the accruing savings. Since you do it differently, how do you track your actual savings? Things like retirement contributions etc.

@richl Thanks so much for the thorough response.
Its interesting to see your approach of settling up every month, I guess thats the envelope budgeting approach. There is a part of me that I think would really enjoy tying up any loose ends at the end of the month. And I guess as long as you just change the savings, and not the budget, you’ll still have the original budget as a target for every month.

I also like the $1000 pot of money you keep to help even things out. Sounds similar to what @matt does too, and I agree with your point that the$1,000 per month is kind of over the top. Question on this though - what makes you decide to use the $1000 pot to even out an over spent category, vs. using savings from another category?

Lastly, thanks for the spreadsheet link, I’m going to check it out. It looks incredible.

So I always zero out my spending accounts ( groceries, gas, electric, shopping). every month. I always use these first. If I need extra funds I dip into the extra funds if needed, if I have extra I put towards investments. Then I start the next month with a fully funded envelope.

Goodluck on the spreadsheet. Since I havent finished up the documentation yet, if you have any questions jus let me know

Hi @richl - Is there something wrong with the gumroad website for 2.2? I’d love to try it out however despite gumroad saying I “purchased” it for $0, and allowing me to click a “Download” button, nothing actually downloads.

@richl I’m having the same problem.

@AlexK @Ngb12347 I would love to say there is something wrong with the Gumroad site, but it is most likely my ignorance. I resent the receipt to your email address and it has the link to the google sheet and should prompt you to make a copy. If not email me at UltimateEnvelopes@thescottland.com and I will send you the link directly.

Sorry about that.

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That worked. Thanks!

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@Ngb12347 glad I found your post! Feel free to tag me in any posts you think I could help with. I haven’t gotten around to investigating Rich’s budget, so it’s definitely possible that it would work better with how you want it set up.

Sure! I started this year with a brand new savings sheet. On January first I looked at my bank accounts and added up the total amount of money in the accounts. Then I added that dollar amount to my Savings category savings using the adjustment feature. So theoretically, if it started out with the right amount, and all of my transactions are captured in my budget, the savings column of the budget will add up to the amount of money in my accounts at the start of each month. To put it another way, my Savings category basically just holds the rest of the money in my accounts that isn’t allocated to any category.

I track things like retirement contributions in a slightly unusual way, I think. I use a completely separate google sheet. In my main budget sheet, I only link my bank accounts and credit cards. So any retirement contribution or mortgage payment just shows as money spent. Then I have a second spreadsheet that I link all of my accounts to (including student loans, retirement, etc.). I don’t categorize any transactions in that sheet, I use it purely for tracking net worth and debt.

I can definitely see how this wouldn’t work for everyone, but it makes sense to me. It keeps the budget spreadsheet a bit simpler and easy-to-use, while still giving me someplace I can track the other accounts.

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@matt, having a separate sheet to just deal with net worth and savings is an interesting concept. I like it. Your explanation about how you use the savings column is also interesting, and is giving me some ideas on how I might want to use it as well…

Alright, so I have an idea about how I would use the savings budget. A side benefit of this approach is that I can use the “available” column to do a check on whether the budget reflects the actual value of my bank accounts. I got the idea from @matt 's post and would love feedback on it. Ok so here goes:

Set Up Two Kinds of Expense Categories
I think the best way is to describe this through an example, so thats’ what I’ll do. I have two kinds of expense categories.

  • True expenses (Things like Gas, Groceries, Taxes, and in my case, Retirement Savings). True expenses are categories that I expect to show 0s in the “Available” Column at the end of December.

  • Goal Categories (Things like Trip to Mexico 2022, Slush Fund, Apple Watch, Minimum Balance). Goal Categories are things that I want to have a positive balance in the “Available” Column, as opposed to a 0 balance. I have one single Category Group that contains all these Goal Categories. The rest of my category groups are considered to be “True Expenses”

    • Within these goal Categories, I have two categories “Minimum Balance” and “Slush Fund” whose monthly budget will be zero. I am not trying to save any money towards these categories, I just want to maintain a certain balance.

Mentally Link Goal Categories to Actual Accounts
I have a checking account (AAA Checking) and a savings account (AAA Savings). I designate each of my Goal Categories to a specific account. Multiple Goal Categories can be linked to the same account. So for example,

  • AAA Checking

    • Category: Minimum Balance (Goal is to always have 10k in my checking account)
    • Category: Slush Fund (Goal is to start the year with 1k in my checking account. Any available balance left at end of year goes towards retirement)
  • AAA Savings

    • Category: Trip to Mexico 2021 (Goal is to end up with 5k by Dec 2021)
    • Category: Apple Watch (Goal is to have 500 by Dec 2021)

At the Start of the Year “Seed” the Goal Categories so that the “Available” Column equals your actual account balance as of Jan 1
This idea came from this post by @cculber2. So for the AAA Checking account, lets say my current actual balance is 11k. In the Savings Budget, I choose how to divide this money amongst the Categories that are “linked” to this account. So I’ll make two adjustments:

  • +10,000 in savings to the “Minimum Balance” Category
  • +1,000 in savings to the “Slush Fund” Category.

Wait to make any Adjustments to Savings Budget until after a month has been completed
For example, you should wait until February 3 before you make any adjustments to the January Savings Budget. Waiting a few days after the end of the month should allow any transactions that occurred in January to post to your actual account, and also be imported by Tiller Feeds.

When adjusting the savings budget every month, follow these principles:

  • If an individual category is plus or minus a reasonable amount, then just leave it. In other words, if the difference in actual vs. budget is something that you think can still end up as 0 at the end of the year, then just let it ride.
  • If you add up all the numbers from the “Available” column for the “True Expense” Categories for the month, it should come out to zero. If it doesn’t, lets say you have a -100 net “Available”, then do a savings adjustment by using slush fund or other category with a significant underspending:
    • -100 from “Slush Fund”
    • +100 to a “True Expense” category of your choice.
  • Do the same for all the “Income” Categories. You want the sum of the numbers in the “available” column for income to equal zero. If not, use the slush fund to balance.

Compare Actual Account Balance to “Available” Column
In my scenario, I budget so that my budgeted income equals my budgeted expenses. In other words every month I expect a cash flow of 0 (I include retirement savings as an expense). So because of this, I just need to make sure that at the end of January my “Available” Income - “Available” Expenses = 0, and then I’ll know I’m balanced.

There’s a catch though, because in my Goal Categories, I am INTENTIONALLY accruing a positive balance in the “available” category. For example, in my “Minimum Balance” Category, I might have 10,000 in “available” funds. As a result, even if the net of all my other expenses and income was 0, when I do the “Available” Income - “Available” Expenses calculation, I would get -10,000. To account for this, the appropriate zero based budget check is to do “Available” Income - “Available” Expenses - “Available” Goal Categories.

So if that is zero, then in theory the sum of the “Available” columns for all “Goal Categories” should should equal the actual ending balance for January in AAA Checking + AAA Savings (without accounting for interest).

Summary
Sorry for writing an extreeeemly long post, but I was trying to be as clear as possible. Would love feedback, or any identifications of flaws in my logic. Also if anyone has any cool ideas on how this might be integrated with the “Savings and Debt” Spreadsheet that would be great to. I’m thinking there might be a neat way to relate the “Available” column for categories that are also in the “Savings and Debt” sheet.

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