Since we’ve been married, TJ and I have been using a variation of the old Cash Envelope System to budget and handle our family finances. I say variation because we don’t actually use cash (who does these days anyway?), but we were tracking everything through a spreadsheet that TJ had created. I was actually pretty reluctant to start this as it seemed to require a lot of work, and when there are two people with several bank accounts and cards, just what would happen if we lost a receipt or two? But TJ felt very uneasy with my “bachelor” method of financial tracking, which was don’t spend more than X amount in a certain month and leave everything else in the bank, so I jumped on board for her sake.
I will admit that the idea of going on a budget felt pretty restricting- like I was going to be giving up certain purchasing freedoms that I once had. But truth be told, I actually found more financial freedom by being on budget which, as Dave Ramsey says, is just telling your money what to do. It also helped me be less wasteful of what God has given me and to be more aware of the foundational principle of biblical stewardship: God owns it all, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” (Psalm 24:1). The fascinating thing is that by being on a budget, I’ve been able to save more but also give more.
Let that sink in for a minute.
By not spending every dollar that comes into my hand, I’m able to save more for big purchases and give more for God’s work. By being on a budget, TJ and I are able to set and reach our financial goals and to really just do the things that we enjoy. But the manual tracking on a spreadsheet did not last for very long. TJ did an excellent job of keeping track of everything but occasionally, there would be a forgotten expense that would unbalance our checkbook.
Enter Mvelopes, an online financial software tool that creates virtual envelopes for us in this card and electronic age. We’ve been using this for the past 7 months and it is the budgeting software that we both recommend very highly.
Overview: Mvelopes is a personal finance and spending management tool that is entirely web based. In other words, there’s no software to download or install. You just need a web browser and an internet connection. Mvelopes links all your financial accounts into one location so that with one click, you can see an overview of all your monies. (This includes bank accounts, credit cards, mortgages, investment accounts and even PayPal!) You will create virtual envelopes (or categories) and fund each envelope with a certain amount of money. Every day, Mvelopes will download transactions from your accounts and you just need to categorize each transaction accordingly (which can be done simply by dragging and dropping). Because we have anytime access to our budget (we can even use it on our phones), we are able to make informed spending decisions and take control of your finances.
Mvelopes has three payment plans available:
- 2 Year – $189.60 ($7.90/month)
- 1 Year – $129.60 ($10.80/month)
- Quarterly – $39.60 ($13.20/month)
This is Mvelopes biggest negative and that it is one of the most priciest options out there. The upside of course is that nobody else has the same functionality and ease of use as Mvelopes (I tried several other online programs before landing on Mvelopes).
There is a 14 day trial, which we took advantage of to see if this was the right system for us. I would’ve been very hesitant if this wasn’t in place. I would’ve preferred a 30 day trial, that way most people can see two paychecks come in and get a feel for how the program works from a month to month basis but 14 days is good enough.
Setup: Somewhat difficult.
Do take that with a grain of salt. Mvelopes does provide online coaches who will help you with the initial set up, which I neglected to use. Because we were hoping that Mvelopes would be our one stop shop for our finances, we tried getting everything set up and up to date from the get go.
So the first thing you’ll want to do is create the virtual envelopes.
This is a screen shot of what ours looks like. As you can see, you can create several envelopes inside different categories (i.e. Auto & Insurance), just to keep things a bit more organized. I blacked out some but left a few balances open so that you can see what it would look like. This gives us a great overview as to how much we have left in each envelope to spend. So when TJ visits the grocery store, all she needs to do is pull out her phone, check the website and she will see that she has $124.04 left to spend for groceries.
Next they will ask is for the name of your financial institution. In our case, we typed in “ING Direct” and it promptly pulled up the bank, entered our login information, answered our security question and then it pulled up our Checking and Savings account onto the screen. It will then proceed to download every transaction from that account dating back as far as you would like. We did this for every account that we had, so in the end we can now see everything that we have that has any funds in it all in one place. You can see all your “Spending Accounts” in the bottom left. On my screen shot you can see that I have $730.04 in my Chase Checking Account and my a balance (shown in negative red) of $2,623.59* on my Discover Card. (*This does seem abnormally high but I’ve been putting our travel expenses from the summer on my card for cash back bonuses. This will be paid in full when it is due. We don’t carry credit card balances.)
You will then proceed to create a budget by setting up how much to fund each envelope and the frequency of it. As you can see under “Envelopes Quick Overview”, we have $120/month going towards fuel for the car. So whenever we get a paycheck, a certain amount of it will go towards the Auto:Fuel envelope automatically.
Getting Mvelopes up and running was pretty difficult. We were starting from scratch and we were redoing our entire budget as well, which didn’t make it easier.They did have suggested envelopes from the start, which was incredibly helpful just to have a template. But as you can see, you are free to create and organize it however you want.
This is where Mvelopes really shines.
Here’s an example of what our “Entertainment” envelope looks like. Mvelopes pulled these transactions from our Discover cards (one from TJ and two from me). With each transaction, it will either bring the balance up or down depending on the transaction type. Here you can see we funded the envelope twice (7/10 & 7/24) with $100 each, bringing our account to a healthier $202.96. We then went out to eat twice, bringing it back down to $161.74. Mvelopes will download these transactions as you would see them on your bank statement. So there is no manual entry here.
The great thing here is that Mvelopes will tell you which account payment or deposits were made from. As you can see, we used TJ’s card at Gyukaku and mine at the others. You’ll notice that money is taken out immediately and placed into a different envelope, even though credit cards don’t collect until the end of the month. This is to ensure that you really just spend what you have not and that you’re working out of real-time.
One of the best perks about Mvelopes is that it’s all online. It makes budgeting for two a lot simpler when we both can access the file from our computer or even our phone. One downside we’ve noticed is that if we’re both logged in at the same time, any updates that I do will not show up automatically on TJ’s end and vice versa. So make sure you’re the only one accessing it or else the budget starts looking a little screwy. =)
As I mentioned earlier, Mvelopes has a mobile version which you can access using your phone (with a mobile browser and data plan) and you can check the balances of your envelopes. This has been one of the best things for us as a family as we are able to not only see how much we have left while we are away from our computers, but we are actually also able to assign transactions while we’re out. I check my phone once or twice a day while I’m waiting in line somewhere just to keep the budget updated.
Aside from just creating electronic envelopes for yourself, Mvelopes also has several helpful features all in one place. These features don’t really enhance Mvelopes, but they sure are nice to have.
Bill Pay – You can use Mvelopes to take care of all your bills, making mvelopes.com almost the only place you need to go to do all your financial work. (We actually don’t use this because we already had everything on automatic payment, so doing it again was unnecessary.)
Reports – This function will give put together a report for your envelopes, accounts and even your spending plan. This can give you a nice overview of how much has gone in and how much has gone out.
Net Worth – This is probably my favorite feature that I like to look at once a month. Mvelopes will take all your assets (bank accounts and investment accounts) add them all together, then subtract that total from your liabilities (credit cards, loans and mortgages) and give you your current net worth. This isn’t necessary with my budgeting but it’s kind of fun to see what kind of progress we’re making.
Mvelopes just rolled out a Beta for their Debt Center function. Currently this program allows you to enter in your Credit Card debt so you can see all the information in one place. It has different calculators in place so that you can play out different scenarios on how you’d like to pay your debts off. It also does a nice thing of showing you how much money you will save if you accelerate your payment plans. I haven’t used this but from what I can see, this looks like a great place to implement your debt reduction plan (i.e. Debt Snowball Method). As of today, the Debt Center can only handle credit cards for now. They are looking to add Loans and Mortgages to it soon.
- Easy to use
- Exhaustive list of banks and institutions
- Mobile version
- Helps control spending
- Helps save
- Relatively expensive
TJ and I absolutely love Mvelopes. We tried different budgeting methods, software and online tools for us but none of them did exactly what we wanted. We wish the price was a bit lower, but we can spare $8/month (2 lattes) for peace of mind. We highly recommend this program to everyone we talk to who are looking for a new way to budget.