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My wife and I are having trouble with the daily task of entering payments into our budget tracking system. Furthermore, we are never able to verify how well we're going against our actual bank accounts. To me this could all be solved rather easily... granted there is some bank that had nice enough options to cater for it.

My idea is to have a different debit and/or credit card for each budget category. When I buy lunch I could get out my food budget card and pay with that. When I buy a new garden hose I could get out my home maintenance card and pay with that. Perhaps I could even set up scheduled transfers within my "bank accounts" to deal out the budget to the particular categories. Or maybe if it was all one account, the online banking could simply have an extra column for the category that could be reported on, according to which card I had used to purchase with.

The problem is, this basically means making new accounts with the bank, or getting new credit cards, which either cost money for each card, or come with rules and stipulations. Bank accounts often are required to have a certain minimum deposit or I/O.

So I guess my question comes down to... Are there any banks out there that could cater for this? I live in Australia, but I am interested more as a curiosity, whether anyone anywhere has heard of this being a thing. Is there a reason this is not done? Obviously it's an initial cost to the bank to add features to their website, but a feature like that would certainly attract me as a customer, and I think it would attract others as well.

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    Potential caveats: How would you handle going over budget on a category? With a single account, you'll have some wiggle room (oops, didn't plan on that meal, guess I'll hold off on the new hose), but with separate accounts it's faster to go into the red. If you use credit cards, it could take a while to open all the accounts you want since it dings your credit score each time. – user40002 Apr 5 '17 at 14:21
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    BTW this question is a few years old, but one of the answers suggests ING Direct allows you to make "sub-accounts", which may be what you want. Searching this site for "sub accounts" or "envelope system" should give you some other relevant results. – user40002 Apr 5 '17 at 15:17
  • There are some services which will scan your purchase history (bank account, credit cards) and categorize your purchases for you. It still requires a fair amount of maintenance and works better for reporting than budgeting, but it would free you from having to add each expense – Nosrac Apr 7 '17 at 15:43
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More moving parts will make your budget harder to keep track of, not simpler. Budget systems like You Need a Budget recommend simplifying your accounts, even if the various accounts give you specialized bonuses like rewards for restaurants or gasoline or travel. The effort of keeping track of all the options and accounts can outweigh the value you get from them.

Instead, I recommend using a simple and structured budget system (like YNAB) that walks you through all of the steps toward building good habits and keeping them simple so that you can maintain the habit.

  • I think you've missed the point of my question. I want to know if there are any banks that provide you with tools of managing your budget. I feel like this would be preferable than trusting third parties with your finances, or having systems that don't integrate with your bank account. – Nacht - Reinstate Monica Apr 5 '17 at 5:12
  • I find it a little counter intuitive that someone looking to save money would as their first step spend $50 on a subscription to website. But actually that's probably an amazing business model. We'll target the lazy rich! – Michael Apr 5 '17 at 13:06
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    @Michael You can try it free for a little over a month. Well worth it, in my opinion. It also has a bank rec feature, which helps you make sure you're not missing transactions. – Jacob Jones Apr 6 '17 at 0:33
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    @JacobJones I don't think you understood my comment at all. I wasn't suggesting reusing the free trial every month. – Michael Apr 6 '17 at 15:56
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    (In short, they are not a high-pressure sales organization, they’re a small developer devoted to helping people learn how to budget, and making living by doing that. It comes through pretty clearly in all of their educational and promotional material.) – Bradd Szonye Apr 6 '17 at 23:30
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At least in the US, many credit card companies offer statements that categorize your spending on that card and break it down by different categories depending on the merchant category code.

Having different cards for each budget category can be a good idea if different cards have different rewards bonuses depending on categories: e.g. this card gives a high percentage back at gas stations, that one at grocery stores, another at restaurants, etc.

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