Simplify and consolidate categories

Similar ideas

Split transactions across categories. Not sure this solves the issue as with the current chosen categories it’s not obvious what % belongs where. Plus from a UX perspective I can’t conceive of an elegant, fast and unobtrusive solution.

Custom categories. This I guess would be ideal but it isn’t really enough as the defaults ought not to be left broken. It shouldn’t be hard to come up with a set of categories that are actually unique to each transaction. Users shouldn’t have to do the work themselves either.

The issue

@yen puts it really well:

I too as a Monzo user have had the thought that Categories need improving! Is paying my rent “Finances,” “Bills,” “Expenses,” “Family,” or “General”? I have no idea!

Since Aristotle and Callimachus, the model of categories we use is one where each option needs to be clearly defined, mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive.

More recently, multi-label classification is a well-trodden problem in machine learning that anyone designing such a system would be familiar with.

This way, any entity in the given classification universe belongs unequivocally to one, and only one, of the proposed categories.

This is how databases work. This is how drop-down menus work. This is how bullet choice (as opposed to check boxes) work.
It’s a well trodden design paradigm. It allows us to make useful insights. If the same item can be in one category one day but a different one the next day it destroys the data integrity and makes analyses useless.

Following universally-recognised design standards, when the user has exactly one choice, it’s vital to make sure that the options are both comprehensive and clearly distinct.

Otherwise it wastes time because it effectively requires the user to run a evaluation metrics analysis each time they categorise or, as bad, a lookup of the last use for a similar transaction. The goal should be to make the user’s job as simple as possible.

Current situation

The categories are:

  • Bills
  • Charity
  • Eating Out
  • Entertainment
  • Expenses
  • Family
  • Finances
  • General
  • Groceries
  • Holidays
  • Personal Care
  • Shopping
  • Transport

There is far too much crossover (and therefore probably far too many categories). It complete unfathomable how we ended up with this mess in the first place!

If it’s not obvious to everyone, you have to ask what’s useful to users when using categories to analyse their finances. I’m not really sure what the point of doubling a lot of these up are. e.g. Expenses vs Bills. And what’s Finances for?!

So for example is your train season ticket Expenses, Bills or Transport? This might even depend on how you organise other transactions.
Is a big Tesco shop Groceries or Shopping? What if you also picked up a DVD? Or some kids clothes? Or a EU converter plug? Or some plants and compost? Or a phone top up? Or a bottle of brandy for granny?

Example

Also realise that tags can be used as subcategories. So it could make more sense to reduce it to, say,

  • Entertainment (includes eating out, gigs, festivals, drinks, shows, cinema)
  • Expenses (includes utility bills, tax, etc.)
  • Shopping (includes groceries, clothing, gifts, etc.)
  • Transport (includes flights, car repairs, inner tubes, trains, petrol, etc.)
  • Personal
  • Other

This is obviously not ideal and definitely not a suggestion for the actual categories, but is already a vast improvement.

The very first thing should be making exclusive categories where it’s obvious where each item goes and it can only go in one place.

Market research

Theory is all well and good but how do other company’s group financial transactions? There must be a lot of prior art devising a sensible list?

Sources

https://www.quicken.com/most-recommended-household-budget-items
https://www.mint.com/mint-categories
https://localfirstbank.com/content/personal-budget-categories/

Also worth looking at these for inspiration:

https://www.thebalance.com/best-expense-tracker-apps-4158958

Obviously these aren’t perfect but with a little tweaking a vast improvement on the current shambles is easy. Just start from a well-informed and planned beginning considering the use-cases and the purpose of the feature as well as the relevant technical literature.

I’ve amended the name of this thread as I think the easiest way to say what you mean is that you want there to be fewer, consolidated categories :slightly_smiling_face:

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Not necessary fewer, just eliminate the ambiguity/overlap/decision cost.

I think Summary is getting an overhaul when the new app layout goes live.

I like your idea of simplified categories as long as there are sub categories to the overarching parent. I use the budgeting within the app every month, do would like to differentiate between eating out vs cinema etc.

I guess the complicating factor is that some will argue for fewer categories, some will argue for more (I’ve a pet, so would appreciate a pet category). I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all answer to app budgeting.

There’s a couple of ways Monzo could approach this…

  • Static, pre-defined categories like now
  • Completely custom categories
  • A hybrid of the two (for example, static parent categories with user-defined subcategories)

I personally would like the last option

I do tag a lot of transactions, but can’t see how this can be used for budgeting other than retrospectively see what I’ve spent.

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Thanks for some thoughtful comments. My idea was to use tags for more granular stuff because that makes sense especially given tags are designed to be multi label classification paradigm rather than exclusive. That I think would help with the “eating out vs cinema” and “I’ve a pet, so would appreciate a pet category” issues.

Your “hybrid of the two” sounds exactly like my plan :slight_smile: Proper mutually exclusive/unique categories as categories are designed. Then use the existing tags feature for user-defined granularity.

This seems to satisfy all sides of the debate.

You might find the suggestion of a toggle replacing the Expenses and Holidays categories interesting. A toggle for those categorises would mean you could categorise a train ticket which will be reimbursed by your work as both Expenses and Travel.

You can vote for a toggle replacing the Expenses and Holidays categories here:

Thanks for flagging this. Can you elaborate on the benefits of this over my suggestion because I’m not sure I understand having read through a couple of times? How does it help with the primary issue I want to address?

In the example you used: a work-related train ticket. You could tag the purchase as Transport (since it’s a train ticket) and also use the Expenses toggle to mark the transaction as an expense (ie: you expect it to be reimbursed from your work).

It doesn’t solve your primary issue with the categories currently available, but I think it helps with selecting which category to assign certain transactions.

Just read through this post properly and have a few thoughts:

I think the UX used for Bill Splitting could work here.

For example
Select transaction ==> go to change the category in the same way you currently do ==> select a “Split over multiple categorises” option below all the categorises ==> Bill split UX appears and you select how much should be in each category.

This would fix the issue you describe here:

The big Tesco shop would be split between Groceries, Shopping and maybe Family (for the children’s clothes).



  • It makes sense to split out Eating Out and Groceries into separate categorises since they tend to take up a significant percentage of the average person’s income.

  • Expenses is more things you’re expecting to get reimbursed for rather than regular bills.

  • Not sure what your new Personal category is for - is it basically the current Personal Care category?

  • The Finances category is for transfers to stuff like external savings accounts.

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My view is that there are already too few categories, and honestly that will always be the case until we have custom ones. To cut down even more would be :mask::mask::mask::mask::mask:

Bruno has suggested (possibly full on confirmed?) a few times in the new look thread that custom categories are finally on their way and I cannot wait.

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I was under the impression this was only for Holidays/Expenses? You’d have to be able to use it for almost every category, surely? And how is it different to just getting rid of Expenses and using a tag instead?

I think the last thing people want to do is spend more time itemising every receipt to break every line down into a different category. I still don’t know whether children’s clothes are Shopping or Family or something else. What is a universal converter plug (especially if you use it on holiday and also at home and also for business and also lend it to your mum sometimes)?

I still have no idea what a bunch of categories are for or how to classify many types of transaction.

What’s General for? What about “Personal Care”?!

Is a beer and a gig in Viantiane Holidays/Entertainment/Eating Out/Family? What about my trip to the Hipermercado? Or bowling and food with the nephews and nieces?

That’s fine to have more or less but it’s not fine to have overlap so people end up categorising the same transaction in different ways.

Surely this doesn’t matter? You use the categories how you want to use them as you are the only person making a budget that can make use of them.

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This exactly. The categories can be whatever you want them to be, Monzo are not telling you how it should be at all. I use personal care for sports. I use Family for anything related to my home. For you examples, I would put a gig under entertainment, and a beer there under eating out. A universal converter plug I would put under shopping, same with clothes. It doesn’t really matter what you do though, as long as you pick some rules yourself and follow them, then the categories work fine.

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  1. It is only for Holidays/Expenses (and potnetially Bills/Committed Spend).

  2. Not at all, it’s useful for Holidays/Expenses(/Bills) because transactions which fit in those “categories” also fit in other categorises and it would be useful to have further

  • With a Holiday toggle, you’d be able to budget for specific categorises while on holiday. Maybe you only want to spend a certain amount on Eating Out or Shopping while you’re away.

  • An Expenses toggle would be useful because Expenses are things you’re expecting to be reimbursed for. So an Expenses toggle would let someone easily track things they should be reimbursed for while also categorising their spending.

  • A Bills/Committed Spend toggle would allow people to have an overview of their Committed Spend while also allowing them to categorise stuff like Netflix as Entertainment so they can get a better understanding of how much they’re actually spending on Entertainment instead of Netflix being lumped in with the household bills.

NB: I think the Bills category should be changed to Household along with the introduction of a Committed Spend toggle to help people understand how much they’re spending on stuff like Entertainment subscriptions (eg: Netflix, Spotify etc…).



That’s true, however, I think it’s the only way to currently enable meaningful budgeting. Of course, each person doesn’t have to give the transaction more than one category, but the option should be there for people who do.



Each individual would have to make those decisions themselves, but I think most people would put children’s clothes under Family and the universal plug adapter would probably be categorised using the reason you initially bought it for (eg: if it was initially bought for a Holiday, it would go under Holiday).



[quote=“jph, post:11, topic:75989”]
I still have no idea what a bunch of categories are for or how to classify many types of transaction.

What’s General for? What about “Personal Care”?!
/quote]

  • General’s basically for anything you can’t categorise or want to keep separate and also for assigning income which would decrease another category, but I agree that the General category really shouldn’t exist. An Income category would be much more useful.

  • Personal Care is for stuff like deodorant, shower stuff, make up, medicine, gym membership, supplements etc…

With the Holiday toggle and the ability to split a transaction into multiple categorises, I’d categorise these transactions as:

  • Beer and a gig in Viantiane ==> Holidays toggle + Entertainment. You could probs also split it between Entertainment and Family depending on if you want to split every time you spend on your kids out into the Family category (personally I’d just leave it as Holiday toggle + Entertainment).

  • Trip to the Hipermercado ==> Holidays toggle + Groceries.

  • Bowling and food with the nephews and nieces ==> if the bowling and the food are the same transactions, I’d split this between Entertainment and Eating Out.



To be clear I completely agree with the part I’ve highlighted in bold here:

Custom categorises should definitely be built and would go a long way towards Monzo’s idea of letting people budget in the way that they choose, but I do think there should be a few more default categorises.

I’ll probs do a post of my own describing which of the default categorises should be changed and what new default categorises should exist.

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It feels like neither of you read my explanations.

That’s exactly why it matters!

I explained originally how I have to try and remember what category I used last time for a transaction that is ambiguous. Not only does this waste time and brain cycles, I’m far from 100% efficient so the categories become useless for budgeting/analysis/statistics. Even a very specific type of transaction ends up scattered across multiple categories depending on my precise whim that day.

People say things like gym membership/sports is Personal Care and Family is anything to do with home then what about a hangboard for the garage - it could be Personal Care/Family/Shopping/Entertainment. Man many activity things will straddle these categories and end up all over the place.

Same with a pint at a gig, squat party or byob event. Sometimes it will have been categorised as Groceries when I bought the crate, sometimes as Eating Out and sometimes as Entertainment. Not helpful at all if I want to investigate something simply like how much I’m spending on booze.

The current set of categories, by ignoring all existing research and theory related to classification make it impossible in practice to “pick some rules yourself and [always] follow them”.

The “rules” people have suggested trivially fall apart in dozens of instances in daily life.

:man_shrugging: I understand what you’re saying, just personally it is not an issue for me. I don’t forget where I want things to be categorised and very rarely have to re-categorise things at all. No brain power wasted here. It most certainly is not impossible, and after using Monzo daily for well over 18 months I have never had my rules trivially fall apart.

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I’d put that under Shopping.

I always put any booze as Entertainment, but some like to include it as Eating Out.

I think Booze is one of those things which loads of people would create a Custom Category for since it takes up such a significant amount of some people’s disposable income and they might want to cut down on it. Coffee is another.



Disagree with this, since I’ve picked my own rules and follow them just as @joedmitchell has picked their own rules and followed them.



I feel like I should caveat this with, I do agree with you that the default categorises should be improved, I just don’t agree with the way you’re suggesting. I also think that way you’re currently suggesting greatly limits the budgeting ability of categorises.

For example, knowing that I spend £500 per month on your [new] Shopping category (includes groceries, clothing, gifts, etc.) doesn’t help me as much as knowing that I spend £150 per month on Groceries, which is quite low, but £400 per month on stuff like clothing, which could be considered high. If I want to cut back with the current categorises, I can reduce my Shopping budget, but keep my Groceries budget the same since it’s already quite low. However, with your [new] Shopping category it would be difficult for me to see that I need to cut down on my clothing spend rather than Groceries and then even more difficult to track whether I’m actually cutting down on clothing since clothing is lumped together with Groceries.

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My list of categories were categorically NOT a suggestion! My main suggestion was to make them into actual categories (i.e. mutually exclusive). Someone with better classification qualifications would be far better at making the actual choice than me!

How would you suggest doing this?

Also, what exactly is a classification qualification?

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Don’t see a problem with categories other than there being a couple missing. Need ones for pets and gifts

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