As I mentioned in my post about what I want to find in a personal finance app for my Android phone and/or tablet, I’m basically looking for how the app and I “get along.” Like I wrote earlier, I’m not looking to “interface” with an app. I don’t want to have to go through even a 5-minute tutorial but want instead something that’s very intuitive. That said, what’s intuitive to me may not be to someone else, and vice-versa.
The first app I’ve been trying to get along with over the past couple of weeks is called, Mvelopes.
Here’s my review based on my previously-established criteria:
- Account Connectivity (x5): If the app can’t connect to my bank, credit union, lender or broker, there’s no point in the app taking up space on my mobile devices.
Mvelopes connected to all of my bank and credit union accounts… even my small credit union. Kudos! Some of the better known apps STILL can’t get it right. 5 out of 5.
- Stability (x5): Equally frustrating is an app that crashes regularly or predictably. If the app closes unexpectedly at some point during my mobile experience, it will receive a 2. If it crashes my phone or tablet, it’s a zero.
In my book, one crash every 10 or 11 sessions is understandable (especially with my equipment). However, if it crashes more than that – and Mvelopes did – it’s going to take a big hit in my book. 2 out of 5.
- Mobility (x5): This is, after all, a review of mobile apps, right? If the app is not fully mobile (i.e. it requires desktop activity to add account, adjust budgets, identify expenses, etc.), it’s going to get less than a 5 on my scale.
I can understand needing a desktop in order to do intensive typing, but I’d much prefer an app that allows me to add funding accounts right from my phone or tablet. If you want to add checking or savings accounts to Mvelopes, you’re going to spend some time on your desktop/laptop. Additionally, I had trouble getting my accounts updating on my mobile devices (see #2 above). Finally, entering transactions (tracking expenses) was cumbersome on my phone. 2 out of 5.
- Multiplicity of Accounts (x4): If the app only connects with my bank or credit union checking and/or savings accounts, it will get a 2 or 3. I want an app that connects to my mortgage account as well as my small credit union checking account; that connects to my IRA account as easily as my bank’s saving account.
Mvelopes connected to all the accounts I wanted to add. 5 out of 5.
- Budgeting Tool (x4): As a budget and credit counselor, I can’t NOT require this in a mobile app I recommend. If the app doesn’t easily help me create a forecast of my income and expenses, it’s going to get a 3 or less. If the app requires that I input the budget, it’s going to definitely get a 2 if not a 1. I can enter expenses and income in a spreadsheet, but I want the app to do this for me.
Being an “Envelope Budgeting” app, it’s no surprise that this app delivers. However, since I’m reviewing it as a mobile app, it’s important to understand that transactions are all entered by hand. This is pretty easily done on a desktop, but not on a phone or even a tablet. 3 out of 5.
- Security (x4): I’m not going to rate the level of technology (that’s beyond my expertise), I do want to rate the security’s intrusiveness and my level of comfort with it. If I have to enter a 15-digit pass code into my smart phone every time I want to use the app, well, let’s just say I’m not going to use the app. On the other extreme, if there’s not at least a four-number pass code to punch in, I’m going to be uncomfortable having my financial information on my mobile devices.
Mvelopes requires a 4-digit PIN in order to grant you access on your phone or tablet. That’s great, except that it does so even if I’ve switched windows for just a few seconds. It would be nice to have a minimum 30-second period that allows me to look at another program and re-enter Mvelopes without having to punch in the PIN again. Still, it’s better to be safe than sorry. 4 out of 5.
- Intuitiveness (x3): This is a mobile device, for goodness sake. If the app requires either a Ph.D. in computer programming or that I refer even ONCE to its help page or online manual, it’s getting a 1 or less at best from me.
Here’s probably the biggest challenge for most first-time users. Unless you’ve been a long-time envelope budgeter (with actual paper envelopes), the set up is more complex that I would want. I’ve used the envelope system (paper) several times before, but the concept of “funding” an envelope was at first a bit unclear.
In the end, though, while considering a 2, I opted for a 3, since anyone really ready to commit to the envelope system will have the motivation to work this out. Mvelopes also has a few brief introductory videos that are good places to start. 3 out of 5.
- Expense Tracking (x3): Not to be confused with the budgeting tool, an expense tracking feature should tell me where I’m spending my money and how much I’m spending in general categories. To receive a 5, the app would have to determine automatically from my connected accounts how much I’m spending at restaurants and fast food joints, on entertainment and recreation, on utilities, on loans and credit, etc. If I have to enter the transactions myself and, gasp! categorize them myself as well, the app is getting a 1 or 0 in this category.
This is a manual entry program. It’s hard to fault it for that, since budgets are more forward-looking rather than being stuck on the past. Still, although connecting to my accounts was initially a thrill, I felt it a disappointment when I couldn’t automatically download my expenses. 1 out of 5
- Extra (x1): At this time, anything beyond the above criteria is a bonus. And while I love bonuses, they are not the main course. If it comes with a free credit score, a breakdown of my investment portfolio, or an analysis of my daughter’s driving habits, that’s great, but not necessary. Still, I’ll give a few bonus points for any nice add-ons the app might have.
Mvelopes has a few nifty extras worth mentioning. First, it allows the mobile user to check out local establishments that other Mvelopes users have rated (yes, essentially it’s a built-in Yelp or Google Maps). Also, Mvelopes does have a very nice reports center that provides some great information. Sadly, though, the reports center is not available on mobile devices. 3 out of 5
Overall, in spite of my belief that envelope systems are great tools for short-term financial stability and long-term financial success, and, especially since I’m rating “mobile” apps, I can only give Mvelopes a so-so rating.
That said, if you still use your desktop or laptop regularly, then by all means, please try it out. The concept is solid, and this is the answer to those who want to use the envelope system but also want to go cashless. It’s also a natural choice for envelope system devotees. Just don’t expect much use from the current version out of your mobile devices.