Tag Budgets Instead of Categories

I’ve always wanted to try a budgeting system that ditches the traditional “Categories” system in favor of tags. The problem with categories, in my opinion, is that sometimes a transaction can be multiple categories. Gifts are a great example. If I buy my wife an iPad for Christmas, is that a “Gift” or an “Electronics” purchase? Another example I struggle with is when selling things. If I buy a new sofa and sell my old one, is that sold sofa a “Thing Sold” or is it a negative “Furniture” transaction?

In my view it would be better to tag the iPad purchase with “Christmas,Gift,WifeName,Electronics” and my sofa sale as “Furniture,Sold”. That way, I can then build budgets and queries based on the occurrence of tags as I choose.

So for example, if I wanted to find out how much I spent on Christmas gifts this year, I could query the tag “Christmas” and it would show me every Christmas gift, or I could Query “Christmas+WifeName” and it would show how much I spent on her. Same system could work for setting budgets.

I know Tiller offers some Tag support, but I’m not smart enough to program it into a smooth workflow at this point. And I think it would be nice to have a smoother method of tagging line items than manually typing tags separated by unspaced commas (some form of checkboxes would probably be best).

Hi @chrisgp123,
Thanks for the feature request. I built the current Tags sheet and as you might guess, I’m a big fan of tags.

While anyone can use tags any way they want, I think you might be making things more complex and creating new problems with what you proposed. I don’t want discourage you or others from trying the approach you mentioned, but read on and see if I can give you a different perspective.

The Tag column supports multiple tags using commas. But using multiple tags could cause transactions to be double or triple counted depending on your other reports.

If you have a budget and you wanted to use tags to allocate $100 for Christmas and $100 for electronics and $100 for Gifts, that would total $300 of your budget. But, they might all be the same single $100 transactions.

What would the checkboxes be called in your example?

Regarding your examples above, I would categorize my wife’s iPad for Christmas with the Gift category. Then your gift category will accurately reflect the amount you spend on gifts. If you want, you could tag it Electronics if you have a need to track ALL electronics purchases. But other Electronics purchases you make (for yourself) might go to a Tech Purchases category. You could tag those with Electronics as well, or just add your Tech Purchases category and your Electronics tag if you needed to know how much or which purchases were for electronics.

For the new sofa, there are a few ways to go. You could use the Furniture category for both the purchase and the sale. That way, your Furniture category totals would show your net furniture expense.

Or you could keep the Furniture category for the new sofa and put the sale of the old one in a Sold Items category. Then you could see what you bought and what you sold by Category.

There isn’t a right or wrong way to do it.

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You bring up an excellent issue that I am sure every Tiller user experiences. I have dealt with the issue many many times. The issue is what Category to use when a transaction can fall into multiple categories. Only you can answer that question and there is no right or wrong answer. Is it more important for you to see it as Gifts or Electronics?

You might be able to address these issues by getting creative with your Categories. Yes, this means having more categories. If you have Categories called “Gifts” and “Electronics”, you might create a new category called “Gifts - Electronics” or maybe “Electronics - Gifts” depending upon whether Gifts or Electronics is more important to you.

Yes, I am crazy because I have 328 categories. I have a reason for my madness. More categories gives one much more options to slice and dice your data. I like to have options.

I agree with @jonorlin. If you try to use tags to address the issue it will surely be “death by inches”.

@jonorlin You say the following:

“For the new sofa, there are a few ways to go. You could use the Furniture category for both the purchase and the sale. That way, your Furniture category totals would show your net furniture expense.”

Warning - If you create an expense Category and code both negative (expense) and positive (income) transactions to it, then on the Dashboard tab your Expenses in the Cash Flow section will not equal your Expenses in the Expenses By Category Group section. I brought this issue to Tiller’s attention when I was on Feedbot but it has not been fixed. I just replicated the issue in the Foundations template and it still exists. I have a workaround so my Dashboard numbers always equal each other and it involves splitting transactions and using Transfer categories. It is extra work but I need those two numbers to equal each other. To me it is a check to make sure all your formulae, etc. are working correctly.



Thanks @jonorlin and @Blake, I really appreciate the perspectives. And you’re right, I hadn’t really considered the issue of multiple tags mixing in with multiple budgets; that’s a good point. And I think that’s probably because I’m not actually much of a strict “budgeter”, per se, but more of an obsessive “tracker”. But it’s good to know that I’m not the only one trying to wrap my head around items sold vs negative purchases. Thanks again.

@chrisgp123 - I’m glad we could help. Just keep tags away from Budgets. If you want to be an obsessive ‘tracker’ with Tiller, that’s fine. You can use as many tags as you want and have multiple tags per transaction.

Here’s a trick that lets you see what Tags already exist when adding a Tag to a transactions:

Select the Tags column in the Transaction sheet, then Data in the top menu and set a Data validation for the Tags column to be “List from a range” Tags!A9:A (assuming your tags list is in the column A of the Tags sheet. Set the validation to just Show warning rather than Reject input. This is so multiple tags can be used in a cell.

@Blake - Thanks for the feedback. It seems we think a lot alike. But I have less than 328 categories. I’ve cut down recently. For example, I used to have categories for travel including Hotel, Airfare, Car rental, etc. But now I have just 1 category for Travel. I try to only have categories for items I can budget. I didn’t make sense to budget each of those types of travel expenses separately.

I use Hotel, Airfare, Car rental now as Subcategories (a custom column and sheet) but that’s a story for another day. I’m still testing that out myself. They could also be handled by tags I suppose.

I tried to recreate that issue regarding positive income to an expense category in the Foundations budget. Was the error on the Insights sheet? I wasn’t able to recreate it but i want to look into it.


  1. I like your Tags trick. I just made it work.

  2. Like they say, great minds think alike…haha