Savings Budget - checking that it tracks real-world savings

In the beta Savings Budget sheet, is there an easy way to verify that that the tracked savings matches, or at least does not exceed, my actual account balances?

Almost related, when getting started I decided to go back to January 2020 and use the Savings Budget sheet as if it were that month. Is there some way to easily determine account balances in the past? E.g. if the Balances tab had an option to display balances as of a given date I could use that.

@matta. You can reference the Balance History Sheet for previous months balances for your various accounts. This sheet is sometimes hidden… depending on the template you are using. More about this sheet on the link below.

Regarding your question about the Savings Budget… perhaps @randy can chime in.

Thanks @warren.

I wanted something more user friendly than the Balance History sheet. :wink: I did do some more reading in the forum here and realized that the Balance History data may not be the right thing to use anyway. Apparently the Balance History data and the Transaction sheets are not really expected to match exactly, date for date, since the former reflects cleared transactions only, whereas the Transactions sheet may show transactions that aren’t yet cleared. If the budgeting sheets work off the Transactions sheet only, reconciling them to the Balance History sheet is a fool’s errand, though it may be usable as a sanity check.

I think Envelope Budget (via Tiller Add-on) Comprehensive Guide (the discussion on rollover adjustments) summarizes the kinds of issues I am hoping to catch. I basically don’t want silly data entry errors to persist forever. I make a lot of them, and catching all of them is what computers are for.

I did get up and running with the Savings Budget sheet, with two issues:

  1. I accidentally marked a Transaction category as Track->Savings in the Categories sheet, and there was a transaction that spanned a month boundary. This caused the Savings total shown in the black Expense row in the Savings Budget sheet to not match the sum of individual Savings amounts displayed on the same sheet, permanently, across all subsequent months, since this happened across December->January and I began the budget in Jan.
  2. I attempted to allocate my total net worth (in cash flow accounts) to category savings amounts as of Jan 1 2020 account balances in the Jan 2020 Savings Budget sheet. I’m not confident I have this set correctly, nor am I sure how to determine it stays that way over time.

Perhaps obvious, but I’m trying to do zero-based envelope budgeting here.

All that said, the Savings Budget is much better for my spending patterns than the Monthly/Yearly Budget sheets, since I do a lot of savings across months and my spending is irregular.

Happy to hear if @randy has something to say about this. I watched the recent webinar and it wasn’t quite clear if my concerns were known or on the radar.

We are learning (quickly!) about how this new budget performs with real-world data, so everything you shared is really helpful as we think on how to improve the tool.

  • I have some good news on your question about matching up category-savings to reality: we have something in the works. I’ve been working with @heather & @peter on a Savings-tracker dashboard companion sheet that we hope to share in beta form in the next week or two. Here is a sneak peek…

  • The Net Worth sheet equations could most-easily be retrofit to give balances on a user-selected date. I believe most of that tooling runs on the TODAY() formula, but those are the formulas I would use to pull balances for a different date. I can’t speak to how the numbers would precisely reconcile on a specific-day basis. Perhaps @brasten could help there…
  • To me, the old “Rollover Adjustment” has always been confusing but also a critical input for zero budgeters. We are thinking on how to reimagine those calculations to make them useful and more intuitive in the new Savings Budget context.
  • I don’t understand your gotcha with “a transaction that spanned a month boundary”. Can you elaborate?

This is all great feedback, @matta.

If I’m understanding what you’re looking for here, Income Savings + Expense Savings + Income Actual - Expense Actual should match your balances. As long as your budgeted income and expenses are always balanced there shouldn’t be any risk of this your initial savings assignments and any manual changes are correct unless you have missing transactions.

I believe this refers to a transaction that say occurred on Dec 30 but cleared on Jan 2. I used to go through and try to correct these but I found that with the Envelope Budget (and Savings Budget now) it’s not really necessary (for me). But one occurring on the other side of the actual start of the entire budget would definitely cause a problem. The easiest solution is to just change the date in the Transactions sheet to the date of the actual transaction rather than the cleared date.

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Yes, I should have said “Transfer” instead of “Transaction,” where as @aronos says each of the two Transfers happen in different months. This happened across Dec->Jan in my case, and I started the Savings Budget in Jan. It was in a category of transfer type “Transfer” that I accidentally also marked Track->Savings. The issue wasn’t so much that the system should support this as a useful thing to do, but that it was difficult for me to diagnose the mistake, or even to determine that there was a mistake in the first place.

Yes, I think this is the zero based budget idea.

Example: today, in the Savings Budget sheet I can set “Adjust ± Modifies” to “Savings” and enter +1000000 in any expense category. Wala! I now have a million dollars saved in that category, and the sheet doesn’t flag this as unrealistic.

That example is silly, but it exemplifies the potential for data entry errors (that I tend make by hand often) to persist if not caught somehow. So far, my use of Tiller is successful because at most I assign categories to downloaded transactions. I never add/delete/change amounts on transactions. Savings Budget is the first time I’m doing this, so I’m interested in how I can make it error proof.

A spreadsheet-based system is going to give you a good deal more leash than other things, but nothing is truly error-proof when humans are involved.

If you run that calculation from time to time and compare it to your balance you can see if you’re on track. Making that automatic probably isn’t very usable since we don’t have real-time balances. One great improvement in the Savings Budget over the Envelope Budget is that it tracks those manual changes in the Budget Journal sheet so you have a history of what you did and if you see you made a mistake, it’s a lot easier to find and correct.

We don’t have real time balances in the sense that the Balance History sheet is not guaranteed to be in sync with the Transactions sheet. Agreed. The Balance History data is almost useless for what I am concerned about.

We do have real time balances in the sense that they can be computed from the Transactions sheet.

A possible lower hanging fruit: warnings in the Savings Budget sheet when budgeted income and expenses don’t match, and when pending adjustments put things out of whack.

I acknowledge that most of this is interesting only for zero based budget workflows. If just using the Savings Budget to save up for one or two things I could use it comfortably as it is now.

I asked for that in another thread and am certainly hoping it’ll be in the final product as well. Keep in mind it’s not even really “released” yet.

I think the entire solution is only really interesting to people who do zero-based budgets for the most part. :slight_smile:

Ok… that makes sense regarding split transfers. I agree with @aronos that modifying the date in the Transactions sheet for one side of the transfer is probably the best solution.

The upcoming Savings & Debt dashboard is designed to address the magical savings problem. The idea is that you can assign a (virtual) savings category to a real world savings account— where the money you are virtually saving should actually exist. The dashboard will help flag problems where virtual savings exceed actual savings. Again, my intent is to document and share the new tool this week. I believe @heather is planning for us to demo it in the Tiller Money Live webinar next week.

As for “warnings in the Savings Budget sheet when budgeted income and expenses don’t match”… this can definitely create imagined/virtual savings. In the Envelope Budget, we developed and deployed the “Rollover Adjustment” concept to quantify this issue (especially for zero budgeters). I’d like to update and improve the Rollover Adjustment concept for the Savings Budget, but, because not all categories must be configured for rollovers, the math appears to be more complicated to me. I’m hoping to solicit your all help in the community on sorting through this… new topic coming soon.

Thanks for sharing your thinking on these problems, @aronos and @matta.

I think all we’re looking for here is a flag saying, “hey, the amounts of your Income Budget and Expense Budget don’t match” rather than anything to do with rollovers. Something to match the Envelope Budget’s:

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I hear you, @aronos. I think there are two separate problems to solve…

  1. If my expense budget is greater than my income budget, I will (appear to) accrue rollovers that are imagined/unfunded.
  2. If my rollovers total more than my actual savings— through many possible failure modes—the rollovers are imagined/unfunded.

You’re addressing the first issue and I think some refinements to the Rollover Adjustment concept are our best bet here. I’ve got some preliminary calculations already built into the template. Just unhide the columns on the right and check the Show Rollover Adjustment box in J3. There are still some/many kinks to iron out but I think a more mature version of this calculation will ultimately solve the issue you raise.

The new Savings & Debt dashboard is intended to address the second issue.

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I’ll just chime in to say that I have been using @randy’s recommendation to check the hidden box to Show Rollover Adjustment for a while now to great success. I extended my Categories sheet budget months back to 1/2019 as an arbitrary starting point and zero-summed my budget to date using that field to adjust for any surplus or deficit each month.

Glad to hear it. The existing calculation is ~75% the way there.

There are probably many issues with the calculation but the one I am most acutely aware of is that it will be inaccurate when not all categories are configured to Track Savings. (I think you are tracking all categories, @cculber2.)

I’m working on a new topic in Discussions with my questions. Will share later today.

Here is the new thread about Rollover Adjustment, everyone.

I’d love to hear your input on some of these riddles…

The Savings Budget sheet has advanced quite a bit in the past month, which I really appreciate. I am using it almost daily.

The still hidden “Rollover Adjustment” work has been great and allows me to catch a lot of mistakes. I still have the question I began this thread with, quote above.

I’m also curious about contrary opinions. I’d like to year if you’re using the Savings Budget sheet for zero-based budgeting but don’t care about whether your total “savings” in the budget is close to your cash flow account balances (checking/savings - credit cards). If so, what makes you comfortable with this solution?

On a lark, and to make the point, I gave myself $1,000,000 of savings in my “Miscellaneous” category. There was no warning or indication anything was wrong. That kind of error easily seen, but if instead I make a $500 mistake I’m not so sure…

@matta I will agree that manual savings adjustments aren’t very tolerant of human error at the moment. Rollover savings, or Offset as we are now calling it in the enhanced calculation (budget - savings actuals + all actuals) is policed in the offset error calculations, but savings adjustments, not so much.

I am very careful to make sure my manual savings adjustments are always a balanced set of moves e.x. for every dollar I add as a savings adjustment, I am doing a negative adjustment to another savings category, which I believe is the intention behind having savings adjustments. As you noted, however, there is no error checking in place to keep you honest.

I see two different types of savings adjustments:

  1. Transfer savings adjustments: Moving savings from one category to another, balanced
  2. Seeded savings adjustments: Setting savings already in progress prior to the starting period during initial setup, unbalanced

I believe that the ability to make unbalanced savings adjustments is necessary to achieve that starting state during the initial setup. Perhaps the savings budget script could be updated to handle seeded savings adjustments and transfer savings adjustments differently, or creating a new mechanism for seeded savings altogether and then tighten up the error checking on transfer savings.

Those are my Friday morning musings. :slight_smile: