Mvelopes Review: 2011 Update

Update: For the latest information on Mvelopes, read my 2012 updated review.

My journey into envelope budgeting began shortly after this blog launched in 2009. I had found a tool called Mvelopes, and fell in love with the idea of giving each dollar an assignment before actually spending it.

In 2010, I experimented on and off with other alternatives to Mvelopes, most notably my 4-month venture into YNAB 3, a desktop competitor. In the end, I felt the features and benefits of Mvelopes were worth the extra cost and went back.

It’s been over two years since my original review of Mvelopes, and the core of the program has remained unchanged, though improvements here and there were made. What has changed is how strongly I believe in envelope budgeting and the benefits I draw from using Mvelopes.

This is an updated and more comprehensive review of Mvelopes than I’ve done in the past. I’ll discuss most of the key features, pros and cons of Mvelopes, draw comparisons to other software packages, and walk you through basic use.

What is Mvelopes?

Mvelopes is a personal finance manager that uses the concept of envelope budgeting as its core design. It’s 100% Web-based, which means it can be accessed from anywhere you have an Internet connection. You simply log into Mvelopes.com and launch the program directly from your browser.

It is not a full-featured financial program like Quicken, but we’ve found it comprehensive enough to stop using Quicken more than a year ago.

Launch

How fast is Mvelopes?

One of the problems with many online programs is speed—everything is transmitted through the Web, so it’s not as instantaneous as a desktop program might be. The speed of Mvelopes was a big issue for me when I first starting using the package, but through upgrades on their end and mine, it’s no longer a problem.

Once the initial load is complete (about 5-10 seconds on my machine), everything else comes up pretty smoothly.

Loading

Basic Features

When you first log into Mvelopes, you get the “home screen” which consists of the navigation bar, envelope window, account window, and transaction screen. Let’s look at the nav bar first to see some of the main features of Mvelopes (I’ll discuss each one in detail):

Nav

  • Spend Plan: The “budget” part of Mvelopes, this is where you define how you plan to spend your money in future months before actually funding your envelopes.
  • Bill Pay: Mvelopes offers free bill pay for 15 payments per month.
  • Fund: Whenever you have income available in Mvelopes, you can “fund” your various envelopes based on your spend plan.
  • Reports: See how you’re spending your money over any period of time with customized reports.
  • Debt center: Utilize any number of pre-determined plans for paying down debt, or create your own.
  • Mobile: Set up mobile options to make using Mvelopes on your phone easier.
  • Tutorials: View various training videos designed to introduce you to basic features of the program.
  • Support: Get live chat support, explore the knowledge base, or do account maintenance.

The navigation bar is always visible and gets you to any part of the program you need to use at any time.

The Envelopes

Just like envelopes in real life, every envelope you set up in the program gets an associated balance (you’ll see some of mine blacked out in the remainder of this post—I don’t share everything Winking smile ).

Envelopes

Let’s look at some of the features you see above in more detail:

  • New Transactions: Mvelopes connects directly to your bank and downloads new transactions into the system, which you can then “assign” to individual envelopes. This deducts from the balance of that envelope automatically.
  • Income Cash Pool: All incoming money (paychecks, gifts, dividends, etc.) is first placed in the income cash pool, until you are ready to “fund” your envelopes.
  • “Money for”: An awesome feature of Mvelopes, when you add and use a credit card for your daily spending, you’re actually assigning money from your checking account and transferring it to a “Money for “X” Credit Card” envelope for payment later. If you stay within your envelope balances, you can never spend beyond your means again!
  • Administrative envelopes: Things like credit card payments, finance charges, and account transfers are handled with ease instead of messing up your envelopes by using the special “administrative” envelopes provided for you.
  • Envelope categories: People set up their envelopes in lots of different ways—some have 6 envelopes for everything, I like to get into more detail and have over 50, so putting them in appropriate categories helps with organization.
  • Spending Accounts: This window keeps up-to-date balances based on all entered transactions (including pending), and clicking on a bank account takes you to a detailed transaction screen that also gives you the online balance.

The Spending Plan

The spending plan is what I’d think of as the traditional “budget”—deciding how you’ll split up your money, on average, every month based on your projected income.

Spend-Plan

The spending plan uses the envelopes you’ve set up and asks you to fill in your budgeted amounts, whether by month or year amounts. If you fill in your income, it also gives you the difference between your income and expenses so you know what’s left over to assign.

Funding Envelopes

With envelopes and a spending plan in place, any income you receive can now be funded into the appropriate envelopes:

Fund

The funding window has some very useful features, including the current envelope balance, the monthly funding goal, funded-to-date for the month, and an automatic option to fund up to the remainder of the spending plan “target” for the month. You can also save funding amounts to a “profile” if you expect to use the same ones regularly.

Handling Transactions

Most of the remainder of time spent in Mvelopes has to do with “assigning” automatically imported transactions to whatever envelope they belong to. This can also be programmed to be automatic for certain recurring transactions like bills, though I don’t use this feature because I like assigning everything manually.

I do, however, use one other feature of Mvelopes—the pending transactions window. This comes in especially helpful for expenses that I have to split across multiple envelopes, since I might not remember the exact split when the expense clears my bank a few days later.

If the money in any one of your envelopes is insufficient to cover the transaction you assign to it, Mvelopes asks you if you’d like to let the envelope “go negative” or, more preferably, transfer money from your income pool or another envelope to cover the cost.

Reports

The report feature is pretty self-explanatory: there are three types of reports (envelope, account, and spending plan), and various reports under each type. You can generate reports for all envelopes or specific ones, and export them as HTML, a PDF, or a spreadsheet:

Reports

Bill Pay

There’s a bill pay feature available, if you’re in need of one (though I haven’t even used my bank’s bill pay in over 2 years), and if offers 15 free payments per month:

Bill-pay

Debt Center

If one of your objectives is debt repayment, there’s a debt center built right into the program that allows you to prioritize your debts and create a plan for paying back and accelerating how quickly you get rid of them. It also creates additional envelopes in the program to help you with the process.

Debt-center

Mobile Preferences

One of the nice things about Mvelopes is the ability to access the program on a mobile phone browser in a simplified version. You can set up which envelopes you’ll need access to in order to eliminate scrolling through large amounts of data on a small screen, as well as other options:

Mobile

Training Tutorials

The tutorials tab allows you to view training videos, some as long as 55 minutes, that go through envelope budgeting basics as well as specific program tools to get you started in Mvelopes.

Training

Mvelopes Support

Support

Mvelopes has a detailed knowledge base that can answer most basic questions and solve common problems you run up against. I’ve had to use the system 3-4 times and with the exception of one bank error, I was able to solve the problem without having to contact support.

If you do need the help of live support, the chat is the function I like best and used it on three occasions to solve program issues and perform account maintenance. You can also do the standard email request, which I’ve never used.

Overall, Mvelopes support is responsive and always able to solve any issue I have almost immediately.

Overall Review

As an Mvelopes user since February 2009, I’ve become very familiar with the software and the other major competitors in the space. Proven by the fact that I use Mvelopes for my own family’s budgeting, this software would be my #1 recommendation if you’re considering an enveloping budgeting product.

While on the pricy side, Mvelopes offers an easy-to-use interface, access from anywhere, rich features, and automatic integration with your bank. Best of all, the principles which it makes so easy to apply are themselves priceless and have single-handedly changes our financial lives forever.

Mvelopes vs. Competitors

Currently, the major competitors in the envelope budgeting space are YNAB and Common Cents. Other personal finance managers like Mint or Quicken are also competitors, but they don’t support envelope budgeting in the same sense as the others I mentioned.

You Need a Budget (YNAB) is a desktop-based envelope software that I reviewed here and here (with slightly different results). I used YNAB exclusively for 4 months and found it more difficult to use correctly and lacking several key features which made Mvelopes enjoyable (like auto-import). I would still recommend YNAB if cost or online safety are concerns, or if you simply like the program better (it also offers a free trial).

Common Cents recently underwent an upgrade, and while I haven’t reviewed the software yet (coming soon!), it looks closer in functionality to YNAB than to Mvelopes.

Dangers Going Forward

Above all else, I think the biggest danger for Mvelopes is becoming outdated. Since my first experience with the program 2 years ago, small improvements and feature adds were made, but there’s no sign of a major upgrade coming anytime soon.

With innovation in the space progressing at a rapid pace, Mvelopes could become a fossil if leadership doesn’t take development seriously.

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9 thoughts on “Mvelopes Review: 2011 Update

  1. I agree, you need a budget. I have been using yodlee.com for close to 10 years now. I hear its similar to mint (never tried mint.com) in that it aggregates all of your finances. You can create budgets there and track actual expenses against it. It has a pretty good expense identification feature. The only thing you really have to worry about is separating expenses for places like costco, where you may buy groceries, electronics, household items, etc….

    My favorite feature is net worth chart: it keeps track of your net worth which is the first sign of whether your spending is in check with your income.

    Highly recommend and it’s free.

  2. I’ve been having trouble with Mint.com, which inaccurately categorizes my finances and doesn’t have a method for dealing with the fact that my partner and I have a joint credit card but seperate bank accounts. And yes, it’s also hard to categorize spending at places like CostCo where you’ll get groceries, household goods, a new camera, etc.

  3. I want an easy-to-learn household budgeting program. I will give Mvelopes a try, but I am not very optimistic. I looked first at CommonCents, and was very hopeful until I tried to get started with it. I didn’t catch on, or at least haven’t yet, because, I’m guessing, person would need an accounting or bookkeeping background to get a “feel for” some of the terms used. So then I started looking at ynab, and I definitely got the impression that I would not have a better experience. So now I’ll have a closer look at Mvelopes . . .

  4. Thank you for your reviews of this an YNAB. I was actually a long time mvelopes user (2005-2010) and even tried them before they went online as a loaded app (pre 2005). I liked it a lot including the mobile site. And now it even has an iphone app. I hadn’t used the debt center yet. And the credit envelope didn’t work well for me. The only reason I stopped for now is that I had a yearly pay option and I had to get a new debit card number. I didn’t remeber when charged so after some emails they closed the account and deleted 5+ years of transactions with NO ability to recover. They email a spam account I have. I wish there was a better customer interface (phone, snail mail) for something that was avoidable! Certainly I should have remembered to update, but 5 yrs was much
    My other reason for comment is that in my search, I’ve found another envelope online package called MyJibe. Have you heard of it. It seems to have some contemporary functionality that improves on mvelopes in some ways. I may become a real competitor to mvelopes. I too find that they are scarce. It doesn’t yet have a mobile site or app, but they said a mobile site is a near term priority. Let me know if you decide to review it. I’ve not read your blog before. Thanks.

    1. Sorry to hear about all that lost data, Walter. It’s definitely something that I would have overlooked, too.

      I’ll definitely check out MyJibe and see if it’s worth doing a review. Thanks for the heads-up!

  5. I wouldn’t use mvelopes as they don’t have very good business practices. They don’t warn you about your “auto-renewal” or even send a receipt. I thought I had cancelled and got charged twice on my CC. Secondly, it is impossible to get anyone one the phone. My bank has tools just as good. Save the $ and use whats out there for free.

    1. David, I’m interested to hear about what bank. I haven’t seen anything remotely envelope-based on any bank platform.

  6. I have been using Mvelopes for about 3-4 months now, and although I love the theory behind it, the technical difficulties are driving me to my breaking point. I spend quite a lot of time every single day having to contact customer support through their chat system (since they don’t offer any other interactive support like a telephone service). Their programming has so many bugs that my accounts consistently do not update. The only thing that isn’t consistent, is which account specifically doesn’t update on a certain day. All of my accounts are on some sort of “manual update” list their technicians are supposed to fix each day, but they often perform those updates late in the day and I can only check in the morning. One of my biggest headaches are the online chat support people that I get every so often that try to insist I just wait a few days and see if things fix themselves when it’s already clear that the issue on the Mvelopes and not my banking system (I have Bank of America and they post their transaction like clockwork). Mvelopes also has programming issues with my paycheck in the funding/spending plan where not all my check show up. It has been over 2 months since I have brought this to their attention and they now say they are coming out with a new version before the end of the year that is supposed to fix these issues.

    Unfortunately, as I mentioned, I love the theory behind their product and if their software didn’t have so many bugs in it, I would be singing their praises. I will be anxiously awaiting this update and praying that it fixes their many, many programming issues. But I appreciate your reviews and I hope that you let us know if there is another program who achieves the theory of Mvelopes with better software. If so, I will be switching in a heartbeat!

    1. That’s really odd that you would have update issues with a big bank like BofA–I too hope they can fix those soon. Thanks for the feedback!

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