Seeing Budget Patterns: Mastering YNAB Reports

You Need a Budget (YNAB) is an excellent zero-based budgeting tool that makes it easy in planning your spending.

I’ve reviewed YNAB in the past, and I wanted to take a closer look at the reporting features available in the software. This article is meant to go through all of the reporting options in YNAB.

If you aren’t using YNAB, or are thinking about switching to a robust budgeting tool, I suggest reading my YNAB review.

Spending Report

Clicking on the reports link in the top left of the screen after you log in will take you to the YNAB spending report.

This report has two sub-reports: Totals and Trends. The Totals spending report will be what shows up by default.

The YNAB Spending Totals Report looks like this:

YNAB Spending Report Totals

The Totals report is useful if you want to see how much you’ve spent in specific categories and accounts, over a specified period. For me, it defaulted to selecting last year.

On the right (not included in the image above), you can see the following for your selected timeline:

  • The total amount you’ve spent
  • Average spending per month
  • Total spending for each category

The YNAB Spending Trends report is a similar view, but you can see the breakdown by month.

YNAB Spending Report Trends
YNAB Spending Trends Report

Notice that in October 2018 there is a positive balance in the “Bills” category. I was curious at what that meant, so I clicked that bar, and it took me to this page:

YNAB Spending Trends Report
YNAB Spending Trends Report Drill Down

Clicking the large yellow bar (which is represented by going under the $0 spending Y-axis), I could tell this was from a payment from our insurance company that covered damage to our roof.

The spending reports allow you to see how your spending looks across different categories. If you used different categories throughout the time period, they would appear in the report when you started spending from those buckets. If you used what are now hidden categories, they will show up under the “Hidden Categories” group.

I found it very interesting to see the totals and a break down in how we spent money over the years. This report is challenging me on how we should categorize our different expenses + savings, to give us more insight into how we spend money. I will dive deeper into this in a future post!

Net Worth YNAB Report

Clicking the “Net Worth” tab at the top will take you to a screen that looks like this:

YNAB Net Worth Report
YNAB Net Worth Report

The YNAB Net Worth report displays your assets and your debts. As we can see in the image above, in March, we were able to see our net worth go up as we made progress on filling up our emergency fund. Unfortunately, next month that is going way down as we are dealing with a massive tax bill from last year. 🙁

To the right of the YNAB Net Worth report, you can see how your net worth has changed in the specified time frame.

This report doesn’t have a way to drill down into each item in the graph. But the export function allows you to see the positive and negative cash flow amounts for each account.

With the Net Worth YNAB report, you can drill down by time period and account.

Income vs. Expenses

The YNAB Income vs. Expenses report displays a table that shows your cash flow, separated by category and month.

I found this YNAB report to be valuable in drilling down into exact income and expense transactions. I noticed that some of the monthly numbers were strange, depending on which month those transactions landed on.

For example, we make a monthly deposit from our business into our personal checking account. Sometimes this transaction would come through at the end of the previous month, and others would fall at the beginning of the next month when they were budgeted. So from YNAB’s perspective, this income came in from the previous month.

I’ll talk about how we are going to address this weirdness below.

Exporting YNAB Reports

For all YNAB reports, you will notice an “Export” link in the top right of YNAB. If you want to dig deeper into your spending using Google Docs or Excel, having access to this data is valuable.

For example, exporting the Spending Report will have you download a CSV that breaks up the spending in each month. The months are the columns, and each budget category is a row. I found viewing the data this way to be easier to comprehend when I wanted to see specific numbers in how are spending changed in each category over time.

Exporting the Net Worth report allows you to see the negative and positive amounts from each account.

Take Away After Diving Into YNAB Reports

It is a shame that I am only now taking a look at the reporting feature in You Need a Budget. After using their system for a while, you can extract valuable data on your spending, assuming you use their software to track your personal budget.

There are a few main changes I want to implement soon:

  1. Make changes to our budget categories
  2. Become more consistent in where all of our income and expense transactions fall in the month

After going through the different YNAB reports, it became apparent that ironing out your budget categories, and being consistent in how you enter transactions, will make it easier to track how things change over time.

This isn’t to say you have to spend the same amount every month from each budget category. But if you can iron out which budget categories you use, it will be easier to extract and view patterns from the reports.

I don’t think the way we have the budget categories organized now, is as efficient and clear as it could be.

Also, looking at the data, I haven’t been consistent in when our business income deposits into our account. I think I am going to shoot for making this deposit every month before the first. If it ends up coming in after the 1st, I can change the transaction date to be the end of the previous month. That way the income vs. expense report will be more accurate, and we will have a clear perspective of our monthly cash flow.

Overall, I think if you can spend time ironing out your budget categories in YNAB, it will make these reports more useful over time.

Avoid Hiding Categories in YNAB

I also noticed something that bothers me in how I handled some of our budget categories from last year.

In November, we went on an extended family vacation that we saved for over a year. We wanted to make sure to pay for the trip with cash, and we were saving for the vacation in a specific category for that trip.

The issue is that since this budget category was specific to that vacation after the trip ended, I ended up hiding this budget category.

Hiding a category is fine after you are done using it, but I found that all hidden categories get dumped into the “Hidden Categories” group in YNAB reports. Again, this comes back to ironing out how you organize your YNAB categories, as it makes more sense to define general categories that will always be around, as opposed to creating temporary categories that get hidden later (or that is my theory at this point). I want to think about this further, and include my thoughts in a future post, but I thought it was worth mentioning this briefly here.

Are YNAB Reports Useful?

I’m very detail oriented as far as our monthly budget is concerned. I track every dollar that comes in and plan for upcoming expenses. This plan has worked out well in tackling our debt and creating a plan for our future.

When looking at YNAB reports from last year, some of the numbers looked odd. The Net Worth report was useful because I could see how our debt “generally” was going down each month:

YNAB Net Worth Paying off Debt
YNAB Net Worth Paying off Debt

To fully utilize YNAB reports, you have to be cognitive in the timing of transactions (specifically income transactions), and also be very intentional in how you categorize transactions. If you are not consistent, the reports can be hard to interpret and make it appear like there are problems, when everything is fine.

YNAB Accounts

For YNAB to give you an accurate picture of your personal finances, you need to make sure to connect all of your personal savings and spending accounts. Every dollar that comes in needs to assigned to a budget category.

Since we are just starting to iron out our emergency fund, this is the first time we are connecting a savings account that is part of our budget.

With spending accounts, and handling debt, YNAB has been very simple to set up. But I’m finding it a little confusing in how to manage savings accounts. The reason is, we spend all of our cash out of our primary checking account. Credit cards are paid off from this main account, and these transfer transactions are easily identified in YNAB.

YNAB and Savings Accounts

But with savings accounts, this cash shows up like everything else in our budget. We need to make sure if we spend money that is in a savings account we don’t accidentally spend this cash out of our checking account without first transferring the money out of the savings account. Or we need to make sure this money comes straight out of that savings account.

Once we fully fund our emergency account, this should become easier, as we know that budget item 100% sits in our savings account. Hopefully, we will never need to touch that YNAB budget category again. It was confusing when we didn’t have 100% of our emergency fund in that savings account and were hit with a hefty tax bill. I had to figure out how much of the cash for that budget category was in our checking account vs. savings account. It wasn’t hard to do, but this is when I realized I wasn’t sure how to best handle savings accounts in YNAB.

I found it slightly annoying that YNAB’s documentation on how to use savings accounts, doesn’t emphasize that if you mainly spend cash out of your checking account, you need to make sure to do this transfer from your savings account FIRST. Otherwise, you risk over drafting your checking account.

In any case, as long you are aware of how YNAB budget categories don’t tell you where the cash is located and primarily use one account to use cash, it isn’t hard to track.

I’m excited to spend more time in YNAB reports to identify trends and patterns in our spending and budget going forward.

If you use YNAB, have you spent time in the reports section? Have you used the data to change your spending habits?

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