AutoCat is a part of the Tiller add-on for Google Sheets. AutoCat allows you to quickly categorize transactions based on a configurable ruleset. It’s great for automatically categorizing recurring transactions, those from the same merchants, and anytime you need to quickly categorize historical data.
Turn on the Automatic Run feature to have matching transactions automatically categorized for you as they’re added to your Tiller-powered Google Sheet.
Review the getting started video or read the guide below
Note: this video has not yet been updated to reflect that the add-on name has changed from "AutoCat" to "Tiller"
Build Simple Rules for Recurring Transactions
AutoCat is great for having your recurring transactions automatically categorized as they come in and for helping you categorize those recurring transactions when you’re first getting started with Tiller.
At a minimum all rules should include criteria for “Category” and “Description.” The rest of the rule criteria can be left blank if it's not necessary.
- Review your Transactions sheet to identify recurring transactions. Sorting by the Description column in the transactions sheet is an easy way to spot recurring transactions.
- Open the AutoCat Sheet. It's a new tab along the bottom. If you don't see it, be sure you've installed AutoCat using the steps included in the help article linked above.
- Type or select a category in the Category column (column A) in the ruleset table.
- Type or paste in a unique aspect of the description for a recurring transaction.
- Do this for all recurring transactions that you’ve identified in your transaction list. Some common recurring transactions include rent, mortgage, or loan payments as well as utilities.
If the description is Withdrawal-ach-a-att Att (payment) for my cell phone bill every month I can type or paste this into the “Description Contains” column in the ruleset list. I could even use only ATT in the description criteria and I’d still get a match.
Building Simple Rules to Categorize Purchases from the Same Merchant
If you often categorize money spent at one store the same way every time, like Starbucks is always categorized as “Dining Out,” then you can auto categorize these transactions with AutoCat too.
- Identify transactions where the same category is always used for the same merchant. Again, sorting the Transactions sheet by description works well for identifying these purchases.
- Type or select a category in the Category column (column A) in the ruleset table.
- Type or paste in a unique aspect of the description for the transactions.
Building Complex Rules
AutoCat is incredibly powerful, and you can read all about the ins and outs of building complex rule sets here, but this section is meant to be a simple beginner’s guide. We’ll explore a few scenarios to get you started.
Rules for when you categorize purchases from the same merchant using multiple categories.
Perhaps you shop at a big box store for items that span multiple categories. Sometimes these purchases are for household items and other times they’re for groceries or other items. One way to help auto categorize these is to use the Amount column to add additional criteria. Maybe you have two rules and they might look like this:
The first one will categorize everything with a description that contains “Fred Myer” that’s more than $30 (or -$30) as “Groceries.” The second one will categorize everything that’s less than $30 (or -$30) as household. The second one might capture things like aluminum foil, paper towels, etc.
We could further narrow this down by adding an amount range to the first rule to make sure we’re not marking furniture expensive purchases at Fred Myer as groceries.
Now the rule will only categorize transactions that are greater than $30 but less than $400 as “Groceries.” If I were to go to Fred Myer and make a purchase for something other than groceries that falls within that price range, it will still categorize it as groceries. I can further narrow the rule to try and increase its accuracy.
Let’s say I only purchase groceries at Fred Myer using my credit card because I get cash back rewards on groceries.
Now the rule will only categorize purchases between $30 and $400 where the description contains “Fred Myer” that were purchased using my Amazon Prime Visa card as “Groceries.” So now if I go and buy a $399 TV at Fred Myer and don’t use my Amazon Prime Visa, that transaction won’t be mistakenly categorized.
A few important notes on building rules that use multiple criteria:
- The transaction must match all criteria in the rule for it to categorize it.
- The more complex rules should go at the top of your list and the more generic rules should be lower down.
Rules for when the description isn’t unique.
In cases where the description for the transaction isn’t super helpful, like when someone cashes a check you wrote, it’s a little more challenging to build a rule, but usually the amount criteria can help.
Let’s say that I write a check for my rent every month for $500. The transaction for my rent looks like this:
I can build a rule that looks at the description and the amount to apply the right category.
I don’t use the full description here because I want the rule to hit every month when this transaction comes in and since the check number is included in the description, and that’s unique month to month, I make the rule more generic by including only a partial description. I’ve set the amount criteria to $500 so it’s only going to categorize transactions that match on the description and are exactly $500.
Rules for when you need to be specific about the sign on amounts.
By default, AutoCat amount criteria ignores the sign, meaning it doesn’t care whether it’s a debit (negative value) or credit (positive value). In cases where this might matter, like your paycheck or return purchases, you can tell the Amount criteria to look for the sign.
Let’s say I work freelance and have multiple sources of income so the description for those transactions is not always unique. I can leave the description out of the rule entirely and build a rule that’s just looking for credits going into a specific account to identify which are my paychecks.
This rule will only categorize transactions for positive amounts between $400 and $1000 that are deposited into my primary checking account as “Paycheck.”
Using AutoCat to Automatically Categorize Transactions
Now that you’ve got a ruleset built, it’s time to run this thing! At the top of the AutoCat sheet you’ll see two options in columns E and F.
Configuring the Apply to Settings
The Apply To setting tells AutoCat whether it should look at ALL your transactions or only your uncategorized ones. You only need to change this to “All” if you’ve already categorized a bunch of data and you want to re-categorize it. A couple cases where you might want to re-categorize a) you decided to start new with Groups and Categories or b) you’ve migrated existing categorized data to a new template and want to re-categorize.
To run AutoCat and have your transactions automatically categorized using your rule set use the “Run AutoCat” dropdown and choose “Run.”
AutoCat will indicate that it’s running and then will let you know when it’s finished and how many transactions were categorized. You can watch AutoCat categorize transactions on your Transactions sheet while it's working.
When it's finished you can check your Transactions sheet to see which transactions were categorized. AutoCat will add a date and time stamp to your Transactions sheet in the “Categorized Date” column (scroll to the far right) to let you know which transactions were automatically categorized by AutoCat.
Turning on the Automatic Run Feature
AutoCat will automatically categorize transactions that match any of your rules as they’re added to your Google Sheet when using the automatic run feature.
- Open the Add-ons menu at the top of the Google Sheet
- Select AutoCat
- Click “Run Automatically” to turn on the automatic run feature.
You can turn this feature off by going through the steps above and choosing “Don’t Run Automatically” from the AutoCat menu.
Understanding the limitations of AutoCat
We built AutoCat to make categorizing transactions more efficient. However, AutoCat will likely not be able to catch every single transaction that Tiller pulls into your sheet.
- Keep it simple when getting started. Build rules based on descriptions only for transactions where it’s always the same.
- Refine your AutoCat ruleset over time to make it more accurate and catch more transactions.
- Review the How AutoCat Works article for understanding how to build accurate amount criteria in rules.
- Always review the transactions that AutoCat categorized to make sure they’re accurately categorized.
Confused? Need help?
Let us know if you have any trouble or suggestions. We are always here to help and love getting feedback from customers so we can improve our tools.