The envelope budgeting system has been around for a long time, and because it works, it remains popular, despite its “old school” methodology. If you’re not familiar, the concept is simple: Separate your budget into different categories, such as entertainment, groceries, rent, and gasoline. Create an envelope for each category, label it, and withdraw cash from your account to place in each envelope representing the total amount you’ll spend in that category for the month. Use the cash from your envelopes to make your purchases, and when the money’s gone, stop spending in that category until the next month.
The method works because it provides a quick and visual representation of what you’ve spent and how much you have left every time you look in an envelope. However, most people don’t want to spend cash these days. It’s much easier to use credit cards, debit cards, and online financial services such as PayPal to make purchases. But these easy methods of payment also make it easy to overspend.
Mvelopes is the modern equivalent of the old-school envelopes system. It’s a Windows- and Mac-compatible budgeting service that offers corresponding Android, iPhone, and iPad apps. Much like the cash method of envelopes budgeting, Mvelopes enables users to create virtual envelopes and “fill them” with money so they can access and view remaining amounts throughout the month, preventing overspending.
An Mvelopes account can be linked to financial accounts (bank accounts, credit cards, PayPal, and more), which enables automatic tracking. However, it also offers the option to input information manually.
There are three levels of service available to Mvelopes account holders: Mvelopes, Mvelopes Premier, and Money4Life Coaching.
Mvelopes is the standard, free service available to customers. It enables users to connect up to four financial institutions, including PayPal, credit card, and bank accounts, and create 25 spending envelopes to manage financial outflow. It automatically tracks and gathers spending information from the accounts connected, provides users with an overview of spending practices, and monitors net worth. Users also have access to email support services, limited online chat, and an online forum. Emails are typically answered within one to two hours, although sometimes it takes longer for complicated requests.
Basic Mvelopes accounts have access to online chat, but not within the live program – users must access the Mvelopes website and click the “support” tab to access chat, which means user information (such as name and account status) aren’t automatically provided to the customer support representative. If your question is basic, there is a limited FAQ page, as well as a forum. The forum includes categories – such as Reaching Financial Goals, Mvelopes, Money Mistakes, and Getting Started – in which there are multiple topics and posts. It’s a good resource for receiving tips and support from other Mvelopes users.
Mvelopes Premier is available for $9.95 per month, and may be appropriate for those with more complicated finances who are juggling numerous financial accounts. Mvelopes Premier includes all the services offered with the basic Mvelopes account, but enables users to connect unlimited bank accounts and create unlimited spending envelopes. Premier users also have access to live online support integrated within their account so that customer service representatives know who is contacting them and have information about the account and past interactions. This service is available 24/7.
Finally, Premier members have access to the integrated debt-roll down feature. This feature enables you to input your credit cards and other debt information into their system, then “play” with variables to determine the best method for reducing debt quickly. After deciding on the best debt pay-down plan, the information gets integrated into your envelopes and overall budget plan.
Money4Life Coaching takes the Mvelopes system to the next level. All Money4Life Coaching clients receive full access to the Mvelopes Premier services, plus the 9 Step Financial Success and Rapid Debt Elimination Plans, help building a three- to six-month income replacement fund, live phone support with financial experts, and one-on-one coaching to help personalize budgets to make goals more attainable. Pricing varies based on the needs of the individual and can be determined by calling the Money4Life Center representatives at 866-718-0535.
Other features that are available to Mvelopes users include personalized alerts that trigger an email, notifying you that an event has taken place. For instance, if you want to be notified when a transaction from your bank account has downloaded into your Mvelopes account, you can receive an email. You can then go into your Mvelopes account and assign that transaction to one of your envelopes.
- Account Integration. Whether you use one bank account or 15, there are options for integrating all your financial accounts into a single Mvelopes account. This gives you a real-time picture of how much money you have across accounts, and enables you to budget from individual accounts while keeping an eye on your total bottom line.
- App Access. With the use of the Android or iPhone Mvelopes apps, you can access your account anytime, anywhere, giving you the ability to track and manage your spending while out and about.
- Goal Setting. Mvelopes gives you the opportunity to set savings goals that you can work toward overtime, with a focus on emergency fund savings and retirement. These goals are set when you set up your monthly budget in your Mvelopes account, and can be changed as needed if your financial situation changes.
- Debt Roll-Down. Even though the debt roll-down feature isn’t available with the free version of the Mvelopes account, it’s a service worth considering if you’re trying to pay down your debt. It’s fully integrated with your accounts, and it enables you to view all your debts in one place, running “what if” scenarios to examine the effects of putting a certain amount toward paying off your debt each month. Because you must input all of your account information, including details about interest rates and promotion periods, the end result is an accurate picture of your debt and your pay-down possibilities.
- All Accounts In One Place. For those who hold multiple bank accounts, it can be taxing to open account after account to track your funds and spending. Mvelopes’ account integration provides you with a one-stop spot for viewing your account balances and tracking total spending between accounts.
- Personalized Envelope Budgeting. When you set up your account, you have complete control over the types of virtual envelopes you create, and how much money you allot to each envelope. While Mvelopes is not a bill pay system, it’s a way to visually track your spending across multiple accounts. So, for instance, if you regularly pay for your groceries with one credit card, your gas with another credit card, your rent through your savings account, and your online purchases through PayPal, it can be hard to carefully track your total spending. What Mvelopes does is automatically pull all of your account transactions into your Mvelopes account after they’ve cleared through your bank or institution. You can then manually assign each of those payments to one of your envelopes so you can track your spending in each category. If you know you only pay for gasoline from one account, you can set up an auto transfer to reduce spending in that specific envelope when a transaction clears.
- Access Accounts Anywhere. As long as you have an Android or Apple-compatible mobile device, you can access your Mvelopes account on the fly by using the Mvelopes app. Most budgeting programs offer apps, but because of Mvelopes’ unique method of allotting and tracking funds by specific spending type, instant access by app makes it easier to see exactly how much money you have available to spend within a particular category. According to Mvelopes support personnel, users have the ability to set up any number of custom “rules” to receive alerts based on spending thresholds, but doing this in the system is not entirely clear. Under the My Account Preferences section there’s an option to turn on or turn off specific alerts, such as insufficient funds or auto assign, but it’s not clear how you add to or change these alerts.
- Auto Transaction Gathering. Because your Mvelopes account is integrated with your bank accounts, it automatically gathers your spending information and pulls it into your account, providing a real-time summary of how much you’ve spent. This means you don’t have to manually enter in your spending; however, if you make cash payments for good or services, you may choose to enter those items in manually.
- Access to Coaching. For a fee, Mvelopes offers personal financial coaching through its Money4Life service. Many people need help when trying to pay down debts, set and reach goals, and get spending under control, so having access to expert help when needed is a nice feature. If you’d like to learn more about the cost and service, you can call the Money4Life representative at 866-718-0535.
- Time-Consuming Setup. It takes time to set up an Mvelopes account so that it’s fully functional. You need to have all your financial account information, including credit cards and PayPal, so you can sync each account with Mvelopes. Also, you need to have access to your monthly income and expenses so you can set up your budget based on real information. This might be somewhat easier if you already have a budget in place, but it doesn’t speed the set up time because there’s no way to import external documents into the system. Once you’ve completed you income and expense summary, you need to set up envelopes and pigeonhole money for each category.
- Confusing Online System. While the Mvelopes program has a lot of great features (including the account integration and debt roll-down), there’s almost too much going on. It’s fairly simple to follow the setup steps, but managing the envelopes and accounts after the setup is a bit confusing. There aren’t any built-in tutorials that direct you to the next step or notify you if you’ve missed something, and even though the tabs sound fairly self-explanatory (Home, Accounts, Inbox, Budget, Debt Center, and Reports), it’s not immediately clear how they work, or how they work together. For instance, after setting up a budget (which was fairly easy), the next tab, the “Funding Plan,” didn’t make any sense at all – I wasn’t sure what its purpose was, and there wasn’t a tutorial or information tab built into the page to explain its purpose or use.
- Integrated Live Chat Isn’t Available to Free Accounts. Because of the semi-confusing Mvelopes system, it would be nice to have online chat support available to all levels of account holders. And technically, it is. Anyone can access live chat through the main Mvelopes website, but only premium members can access live chat from the “Help” tab within their account. This is an odd differentiation, because the support itself is the same, whether you’re accessing it through your account or through the Mvelopes website Support page – but the customer service rep doesn’t immediately know who you are if you’re accessing the account through the Mvelopes page. It doesn’t seem like it would be that difficult for Mvelopes to integrate live chat into all levels of membership, especially since it’s already technically available.
The envelopes method of budgeting is popular because it works. Mvelopes is the only online budgeting system that uses the envelopes method of budgeting, but brings it into the modern world of online banking.
The Mvelopes system is a great way to get a full picture of your spending and saving habits, allowing you to manage your accounts from a single location. For those willing to spend $10 or more each month to receive greater financial support, the debt roll-down feature and the online expert coaching could help you achieve your goals faster and more effectively.
Do you use online budgeting software? What do you use?