Tiller Money Labs Roundup 2/2/21 - Savings Budget Improvements

Our Tiller Money Labs team is working to keep you efficient, inspired, and enabled with financial templates, tools and workflows. In our Tiller Money Labs Roundups, we keep you updated on our latest features and sheets.

Savings Budget

The popular Savings Budget for envelope/rollover budgeting just received a few upgrades.

Use the Tiller Money Labs add-on to update your sheet to the new version 0.72.

New Sparkline Metrics

A new set of row groups in the column header (hidden by default) contain monthly summary sparklines similar to those in the Tiller Money Monthly Budget.

You’ll notice that a dropdown in H5 allows inclusion or exclusion of rollover savings from previous periods in the sparklines.

Category Progress Bars

We have also added sparklines to each category to better more-quickly track progress against your budgets.

Cheers!

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@randy excellent updates, thanks! I didn’t realize how much I missed the category progress bars until I saw them here. And I really appreciate that the sparkline metrics at the top are easy to hide, I don’t think I’ll want them visible all of the time. I like the graphical representation but it takes up a lot of screen space.

Thanks for the feedback, @matt. Glad to hear the implementation meets your needs.

I’m getting closer, but @cculber2 keeps finding issues with my formulas.
I appreciate his discerning :eyes: in getting this right.

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I’m getting closer, but @cculber2 keeps finding issues with my formulas.

Sorry for being such a bummer. :sweat:

It’s not a bummer at all, @cculber2. There are so many ways that people use these tools and I’m primarily only dialed into the narrow ways I use them personally. Significant changes scare me a bit because I worry I will break workflows that are off my radar.

If you have any insights on how to fix the debt implementation you flagged, let me know…

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Will do. I’ll take a closer look as soon as I get a moment. I’m thinking that I’ll need to join the Categories sheet into the queries in Actuals Prior to Period P10 and Actuals in Period S10 in order to check for the Debt flag, and then for debt transactions exclude transactions where Category matches Account. I could probably get away with not checking for the Debt flag, but I can imagine edge cases where that shortcut would backfire.

I’m not sure how the Budgeted Cash flow or others is telling me. I have a balanced expenses and income:

It appears imbalanced, @pixel.dick, since you have so much Savings carrying over from January (inflating your available February budget). If you switch the Metrics dropdown (H5) to “Month Only”, the metrics will not include the January savings.

Thanks. It appears to make more sense, for my purposes, with that selection.

@randy I’m having a hard time conceptualizing the usefulness of the Budgeted Cashflow sparkline metric when using the Month+Savings setting. I would expect the expense savings to be added, rather than subtracted, from that sum. If you have positive expense savings that’s cash you actually have, just like with income savings. Shouldn’t they be treated the same? Or am I missing something?

So far I’ve just been looking at the metrics for the current month so it’s not an issue, I’d just like to better understand the Month+Savings metrics.

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This is a great question, @matt.

My thinking is that the Savings Budget/envelope/rollover approach is designed to level out month-to-month lumpiness by pushing favorability & unfavorability forward. If you have unspent favorability in an expense category, you will have more budget available the following month to fund a postponed purchase (for example).

In the context of a delayed purchase, I think the existing implementation where the previous-periods savings inflates the available expense budget for the current month makes sense. If your budget values are accurate for the year, the favorability is likely shortlived (once the latent expenses come due). Reducing your expense budget based on previous-period favorability doesn’t make sense (to me) in that context. Essentially, you are expected to spend more the month after favorability because something you budgeted for is yet to hit; the result is more expense budget and thereby net cashflow unfavorability.

That said, I’m not expert. I’m open to reworking the implementation (and republishing the master) if you believe there are more intuitive or better ways to display the data.

Best,
Randy

P.S. Curious for your thoughts on this too, @cculber2.

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@randy thanks for the explanation, it all makes sense. I definitely see the rollover approach the same way, leveling out the month-to-month lumpiness.

I think it makes sense specifically because of the option you gave to have it include just the month or the month+savings. If I had to pick just one I’d say that the current month metrics are more useful, but that’s partly based on how I use the budget. If month+savings is selected, I guess I should expect it to be included. Based on your explanation it’s kind of a worst-case-scenario outlook, showing what would happen if all of those postponed purchases come due in the same month (thus clearing out all of the savings). And I do see the value in that, the very negative cashflow just confused me at first. Thanks!

@randy @matt I do agree that the primary goal of savings is to even out over and underspend from month to month. That said, some of the Savings+Month metrics seem a little bit kludgey, and the month-only metrics are more useful, at least with how I use the budgets. The way that the budgeted monthly cashflow and expense budget are being calculated assumes that you will spend all savings and all budget, which is almost never the case. I do realize that this is then offset by month versus budget (to date), but it still strikes me as awkward since savings are available funds with the potential to be used, not the expectation to be used. In my mind, the budgeted figures should reflect expectations, while the actuals reflect reality. It might just be that due to a large number of accumulating savings categories, both delayed expenses and holding categories (emergency savings and liquid savings), I’ve reached a level of overflow savings that makes a more noticeable impact on those metrics.

For example, say my monthly grocery budget is $500, but I only spent $450 in January. My budget (expectation) for February will still be $500 regardless of savings. I won’t expect to spend $550 just because I have that much money available. As we agreed previously, the savings should affect only the overall available dollars, giving a cushion or shortage depending on previous months’ trends, balancing the budget and actuals. It just seems that the way Month+Savings is being framed right now, leftover savings from previous months’ expenses are being shown as a negative impact on future budgets, rather than as a balancing force.

Another aside, Month+Savings does some odd things to budget metrics. I have recently begun leaving my passive income sources (private sales, statement credits, etc) out of my budgeted income, transferring those dollars as savings to discretionary savings and emergency savings categories which can then be redistributed to other categories as needed to offset unbudgeted spending, rather than increasing the budget for income and expenses directly. The goal is again to get a better picture of budget (expectation) versus actuals (reality). A graph of budget and actuals that are identical (cashflow = 0) is not very useful and might as well only show the actuals. Now, when I transfer out the passive income as negative savings, that creates an artificially-low income budget. Perhaps I am not utilizing savings adjustments correctly here, but I do not believe that reallocating unbudgeted income to other savings categories should decrease my budgeted income.

Sorry if this comes off as rambling, but those are my morning thoughts. :sweat_smile:

@cculber2 I think we’re on the same page with the savings+budget metrics. I’m having a hard time coming up with a better solution, though, since the way it is now does make sense logically. It’s just not the most useful for me personally, so I stick with the current month metrics.

I do something similar to your discretionary & emergency savings categories, although I just have one. It more or less represents all of the unallocated money in my bank account. I use it like you do, to redistribute to other categories, or very rarely I’ll just categorize a large purchase to it (like buying a car). But it does do some odd things with metrics and with the group totals.

I’m not sure exactly what the solution might be, but maybe a new Category Type could handle this sort of category? Leave it off of the metrics but still on the budget. Also I haven’t used the Savings & Debt sheet, but maybe this new category type could help those (presumably) large rollover amounts not show up on the Savings Budget metrics? If I’m understanding that sheet correctly. I haven’t spent much time thinking about how exactly that would work though, let me know what you guys think.

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I was thinking maybe we need two different types of “savings” since that seems to be how we are using it. One type is a simple rollover; unspent or overspent dollars for a category from month to month. The other type is true savings; money with no explicit purpose or anticipated spend date. Perhaps even a third type of savings for defined long-term spending goals.

All three of these types contribute to an overall available pool of money, but each has a fundamentally different impact on budgeting.

  • Rollover is a cushion to balance light spending months with heavy spending months.
  • True savings is expected to accumulate unused until a need arises.
  • Long-term spending goals are expected and have a defined purpose and date, but are broken up over a set of periods to facilitate a more even budget (fewer spikes in spending).

@randy made the point that deferred spending needs to be accounted for in the metrics, which I agree with, so maybe making this sort of distinction between savings (available funds) types would allow us to better capture what is going on. Naturally, it complicates any calculations looking for savings today, but if the end result justifies the effort to add that granularity I think it is worth it.

I use the Savings & Debt sheet a bit. Its function is mostly to calculate recommended monthly budget for long-term spending goals and debt payoff based on current savings (or balance) and the number of periods remaining before the target date. Items on the sheet are pulled from the available pool of expense categories with a tracking value of savings (or debt).

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These are great thoughts & discussion, @cculber2 & @matt.

I really like your three types of savings, @cculber2. Would you then assign those to everyday categories? For example, would Dining Out be “true savings” (since there is no need to and Groceries or Utilities be “rollover”?

I also agree with you both that the “Month+Savings” metric needs some work. (Frankly, I only use “Month Only” too.)

I’d like to avoid futzing with the masters until we have a concrete and well-thought-out plan for what comes next— both on the “Month+Savings” metric and on the Track/Savings setting as well. Please continue to share your thoughts and insights and we can try to build a better version once we know what we want.

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@randy taking a handful of categories from my own sheet, here is how I would classify their savings:

Rollover (this supports irregular save and splurge budgeting)

  • Utilities
  • Phone
  • Groceries
  • Restaurants (not based on need, but setting aside a monthly allotment should we want to eat out)
  • Clothing

True Savings (catch-all for income not allocated to budget)

  • Emergency savings
  • Discretionary savings

Long-term One-time Spending Goals

  • New OLED TV
  • Disney Cruise 2021
  • Fifth Anniversary Gift

And a fourth type I thought of that is close to rollover, but could be made distinct:
Recurring Spending Goals (regular non-monthly payment budgeting)

  • Auto Insurance (bi-annual)
  • Credit card membership fee (annual)
  • Water (quarterly)
  • Amazon Prime (annual)
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Guys, what you are talking about is just a classic envelope system.

There is really no difference between any of the savings types you mentioned except for the time period.

By default the categories sheet is built with a time period of 1 month.

For the other types of savings the concept of savings targets and due dates could/should be used. You then setup the categories monthly budget amount to get you to that goal in time. BAsicallyt this become an accrual for future expenses.

Here is how I setup my Envelope sheet to accomodate these. The only difference is the date field. But I created otehr metrics to track my progress to these goals.

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