Emoji in YNAB Text Fields
A fun feature available in the web-based version of You Need a Budget [YNAB] is the ability to incorporate emoji just about anywhere you can enter text. These expressive little icons can be used in your Account names, Category titles — even the Memo field.
While decorating with emoji can be entertaining, the power they wield in the memo field will blow your mind. This tutorial will walk you through how to use emoji to power up your search functionality.
Emoji + YNAB Search Functionality
To a casual user, YNAB’s search function is handy. Search for any dollar amount to look for a mis-filed transaction when reconciling. Or type in the name of a category to see your entire transaction history for that category. Then use the date filter to narrow those results further. Very useful indeed.
But with a little planning and discipline, the search function can effectively double or triple the value proposition of budgeting with YNAB. Tapping into that power requires a clearly-defined tagging system and diligence in using it.
I advocate a KISS approach to categories; the same goes for memo field tags. The simpler the system, the easier it is implement and maintain.
To be clear, YNAB doesn’t currently support “tags” in the traditional sense. But that doesn’t mean you can’t create your own tagging system. Lately I’ve been experimenting with a new type of “tag”: emoji. When used in the memo field, emoji are fun and functional, efficient and powerful.
A real-world example
For the purposes of this tutorial, I’m going to demonstrate using data from my own personal budget.
Last year, instead of buying a second car, I decided to try utility cycling. I don’t have a regular daily work commute; instead I run errands, go shopping, get to appointments and meetings, etc., on my fat-tire electric-assist bicycle. In short, my bike is my car.
Planning ≠ Tracking
Bringing this lifestyle change into my budget required a little trial and error. While a single category — Big Shiny Things — was a great way to save up for the initial purchase of the bike, a single FattE Bike category turned out to be a really bad way to plan for and organize the wide range of bike-related expenses that have cropped up over the past 10 months.
After a few false starts, I reminded myself that the key to success in YNAB is to use categories to plan and use the memo field and search function to view and sort my historical data.
In the end, I needed only one new category — FattE bike & RTD. I added it to my Transportation category group. I’ll use this new category to budget for my alternative travel costs. This includes bus or light rail passes as well as the on-going operational costs of utility cycling — things like new tires, tune-ups, repairs, etc. The rest of my bike-related expenses were assigned to existing budget categories.
But if my bike and accessories and other start-up costs were absorbed into existing categories, how will I know how much this experiment cost me? What were my up-front costs? What about secondary costs? What are my cycling costs amortized over time?
Ensuring the ability to look back in time to answer these questions is as simple as including the 🚴♀️ bike emoji in the memo field of any transaction related to my bike.
Let me demonstrate.
Big Shiny Things – Major Infrastructure Costs
Some expenses were directly related and 100% limited to cycling. The bike itself, for example. On the front end (category) it was a Big Shiny Thing. The memo field contains a 🚴♀️ bike emoji, of course.
Doohickies & Widgets – Accessories and Supporting Equipment
Then there were the Ortlieb Back Roller panniers, the Green Guru grocery pannier, and the back rack insulated cooler (good for transporting Fang’s ice cream and other cold items in warm weather). Oh, and let’s not forget the bungee nets good for tying down mega packs of Bounty from Costco or a case of Boulder Canyon potato chips from the local Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage.
These items could be used on any bike but wouldn’t be used if I switched to power walking, for example. On the front end (category), these types of items are Doohickies & Widgets but each transaction has a 🚴♀️ bike emoji in the memo field that allows me to filter them out from other Doohickies & Widgets, e.g. chargers, cables, memory cards, and other accessories.
Fitness & Well-Being – Accessories and Supporting Equipment, Part II
Along with specialized equipment for the bicycle, there’s also specialized equipment for the bicyclist.
A new helmet seemed prudent. [I’d thrown out my helmet after my accident and was wearing an old one that must have belonged to one of my kids.] When cycling in sub-freezing temperatures, a face mask and quality sunglasses are must-haves. I also bought a bright safety vest and a set of rechargeable LED lights. These items can be worn while cycling but they could also be used while riding my Me-Mover or for other active endeavors.
This type of multi-purpose item gets put in my Fitness & Well-Being category (front-end) but, as I purchased them originally for cycling, they each have a 🚴♀️ bike emoji in the memo field.
Clothing – Accessories and Supporting Equipment, Part III
The line between Fitness & Well-Being garments (face mask, cycling tights, safety vest) and Clothing is a personal decision.
After buying my ebike, I discovered quickly that underwear is either conducive to cycling — or not. And uncomfortable undies are like the proverbial horseshoe nail (as in, “for want of comfortable underwear…”). So I bought cycling-friendly undies that I now wear whether I’m cycling or not. Thus, they were categorized as Clothing and got the 🚴♀️ bike emoji in the memo field. Same goes for the cycling shorts I bought this summer. Yes they’re MTB-style shorts in a hideous Safety Orange color and most self-respecting women wouldn’t be caught dead in them even when riding but I wear them even when I’m not riding so they’re Clothing with a 🚴♀️ bike emoji.
Live & Learn – Interesting Tangents
None of the expenses so far were huge surprises but utility cycling expenses can go surprisingly far afield — which is the beauty of the Memo Field tagging system.
What happens when a bee traveling north at a bazillion mph collides with the neck of a cyclist traveling west at 25mph? A painful, swollen neck and itchy rash. And a bill in the Medical – Deductibles category — tagged, of course, with the 🚴♀️ bike emoji.
Bringing it all Together
So, after 10 months of utility cycling and commuting, I’ve racked up nearly 2,000 miles on my ebike. As you can see in the screenshots below, over those 10 months I’ve made a total of 19 purchases relating to my 🚴♀️ across 5 separate categories. And I spent a total of $3,860.46.
Extracting this data, even across multiple categories, was simply a matter of using the 🚴♀️ as my search “term” and narrowing the search to only the memo field. Further, clicking in the checkbox (select) in the header row yielded a transaction count and the sum of all my selected transactions.
My categories make sense to me. They make the process of allocating new funds easy — to the extent that any tug-of-war between competing priorities for limited resources can be considered “easy.” My categories are optimized for planning; their purpose is not muddled by the conflicting purposes of planning and tracking.
YNAB’s Reports show me how much of a percentage each category is in relation to the entire budget. The inspector pane displays category averages, balance information, and goal status. A category search yields a list of all transactions within the specified category. These views are all interesting, informative, or useful in their own ways but they all stay within narrowly defined lines programmed by YNAB developers.
A search for an emoji or any other user-defined memo field “tag” yields results that cut across the lines. This little hack let’s you draw your own lines! Combined with additional parameters — date filters, additional search parameters, additional tags, etc. — memo field tags let you experience your data in any number of new, exciting, personalized ways.
I am new to YNAB and trying to figure out how to categorize purchases that may have many different categories they could go into so this is awesome! I am going to use your system. Thank you for sharing. <3
I’m glad you found my article useful. Refining your categories can take time and experimentation. Don’t be afraid to play around a bit to see what works for you. My categories and category structure have changed quite a bit over the years. I’m working on an article about budget category misconceptions right now – be sure to check back. You might find it useful.
Used to its full potential, YNAB is even more powerful and flexible than it first appears (which is really saying something, I know). The emoji tags are just one element of a Memo Field Hack I’ve developed. I use the memo field liberally; not just for sophisticated search abilities but effectively as a life journal.
Keep learning and exploring YNAB. No matter what your financial situation, it’s an incredible tool.