Mvelopes 4.1 is here! – Product Update

blog post bannerMV4.1 copy

We’re excited to announce that Mvelopes 4.1 is here!

This new release represents quite a few updates and fixes based on the feedback we’ve received from all of you who want to see Mvelopes constantly improve.

We welcome your continued insights so that more and more people can make real financial progress and experience financial freedom through this application.

We’re also excited to let you know that we’ve been hard at work on our mobile apps and will have significant improvements and enhancements coming in Q2, which will include our launch of Mvelopes for your Android, Kindle, or iOS tablet!  Stay tuned for more information in the coming months.

Back to this release…

Apart from refreshing the look and feel of our web app for easier navigation, here is a more detailed list of other improvements we’ve made with this release:

Session Timeout Extend

You’ll receive a prompt 1 minute before the session is about to expire, which will allow you to extend the session without being automatically logged out.

Additional “Save” Feature for Your Funding Plan

In addition to the 30 seconds Auto Save feature, we have added a “Save” button in the Funding Plan so you can save your changes immediately.

“Approve” & “Approve All” Auto Assigned Transactions Feature

You will be able to approve auto assigned transactions. Once transactions are approved, they’ll be removed from the auto assigned transaction register and will appear in respective envelope and account register.

Improved Envelope Dropdown to Make Inline Transaction Assignment Quicker & Easier!

New “Please Select” option in the Envelope field which, once clicked, will allow the transaction to be assigned and removed from the new transaction register.

The **Funded Amount** is now the sum of all FUNDING transactions AND Envelope Transfers in the given month.

This applies to all reports, graphs, Envelope Summary, Envelope Register spending trends and Reports.

Quicker Way to Fund Envelopes

Users who do not live paycheck to paycheck can now fund their envelopes directly using their spending plan instead of having to create a funding plan.

Here’s a list of the general changes to the design:

– New Tabbed View of: New, Pending and Auto Assigned Transactions

– Enhanced Transaction Create/Edit Form Design

– Setup steps Sync Across All Platforms

– Renamed Transactions tab to Inbox

– Added new ticket status updates

We are grateful that you chose to use Mvelopes as your personal finance tool. All of our users have, thus far, paid off $1 billion in debt and have increased their account balances by $200 million! That’s a great reason to celebrate!

Our development team never stops working on improving the product, so stay tuned for more updates and in the meantime we hope you’ll enjoy these updates!
The Mvelopes Team

Save Hundreds a Year On Cleaning Supplies!

cleaning supplies

Have you ever had clogged drains and had to call professionals to solve the problem? It most likely cost you $80 or more per drain to unclog!

How about having to throw away burnt pots and pans that, otherwise, would have still been great to use?

How much are you spending each year on cleaning supplies, including laundry detergent?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans spend over $168 billion each year just on cleaning supplies. That makes for over $650 per year per household.

Would you like to put most of that money back in your pocket or repurpose it for other more pressing issues like increasing your savings, reducing debt, or maybe starting a car replacement fund?

We found a few great solutions that will allow you to do just that by simply making your own cleaning supplies with inexpensive ingredients found at any grocery store!

Let’s start with Vinegar and ways it can help you solve quite a few issues around the house.

From unclogging drains to getting wrinkles out of your clothes to being an all-purpose cleaner, both white and apple cider vinegar will do the trick!

Watch this quick video that explains 10 great household uses for vinegar.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=jO1QOoGnLeA

How about spending $0.20/gallon on a homemade laundry detergent?

Use 3 basic ingredients to make either liquid or powder detergent:

– Box of washing soda (you can find it in the section with all of the laundry detergents)

– Box of Borax (find it in the cleaning supplies aisle of most grocery stores)

– Bar of soap (dove, fels-naptha, etc.)

And voila! You just made 6-8 months worth of detergent! You can find plenty of youtube instructional videos that show you how to make liquid versus powder form from these 3 basic ingredients.

Go ahead and try some of these tricks and let us know how they worked for you!

Mvelopes users: If you have a certain amount of funds budgeted for household cleaning supplies, you can open a savings envelope or a car fund envelope and start easily repurposing those dollars saved with the Sweep feature!

Is Grad School Worth the Investment?

Graduating_masters degree

The end of undergraduate school marks a crossroads for many people, where deciding whether to continue on with graduate school or join the workforce arises. Meanwhile, older workers who wish to stay financially secure often ponder upgrading their knowledge assets by returning to grad school as well. For many, grad school is a great decision, but for others it can have a poor return on your time and monetary investment.

What to Consider Before Committing to Grad School

For some, the opportunity to gain specialized knowledge about something they’re passionate about can’t be passed up. Others just have fun learning or have a desire to accomplish something that requires an advanced degree. If those are your reasons, going to grad school is a clear solution, but most are in a different situation.

The most common trouble with the decision comes from deciding if the investment of grad school will pay off in the future from increased job security and a better salary. While the traditional impression that more schooling will result in better job prospects and rewards, in many industries this isn’t true.

When Grad School Isn’t Worth It

According to data collected, a master’s degree in many non-science and non-business industries is simply not worth it. When analyzed, it was found that there was no benefit in salary or job security from a master’s degree in any of the following:

  • English
  • History
  • Journalism
  • Architecture
  • Social work
  • Education
  • Public administration

Of course, there are exceptions. In general, you’ll be better off financially by entering the workforce immediately after graduating. Most of these industries value experience and accomplishments over specialized knowledge that most likely won’t be useful in daily work.

When Grad School is Worth It

The research also outlined some industries where there were substantial benefits of completing grad school. A master’s degree in business administration provides the most benefit in salary, but also in job security as it provides great versatility throughout industries. There were also some other fields of jobs that were highlighted as good investments for grad school:

  • Engineering (industrial/electrical/chemical)
  • Physics
  • Chemistry
  • Marketing (and other business fields)
  • Economics

The average result from master degree holders in these categories was a 15 percent increase to salary over the span of their career. This isn’t a complete list, but it gives you a picture of the kinds of jobs that grad school makes sense for.

You also need to consider that the demand in many fields will grow in the near future, making a master’s degree even more desirable in a candidate. The main needs of the future will revolve around the rising need for health care. This means that extra medical specialization will only increase in value over time, making advanced nursing degrees a good investment.

Before you decide to go to grad school, consider all the information presented above. Factoring in your job and salary prospects after you complete your advanced degree will help you figure out if grad school is a smart investment.

If you are really hungry for knowledge but cannot afford to pay the graduate degree price tag, consider finding a friend or an acquaintance that possesses the knowledge base and agree to pay him or her for private lessons. This way you can acquire new skill at a low cost and save time in the process!

Image by Vivas M

How Liquid Are You?

assets

No, we’re not talking about your daily water intake, although it’s very important! We’re talking about your current financial position and your ability to easily and quickly access funds (cash) in order to cover your monthly expenses for a period of 3-6 months.

 Asset rich but cash poor? Find out!

A recent study shows that nearly 50% of Americans live in “liquid asset poverty.”  What this means is that, if something were to happen that required a large sum of quick cash, half of us would have to depend on debt in order to cover those unforeseen expenses.

You can conduct a quick survey of your personal liquidity by simply writing down all of your assets, including cash, investments, CDs, real estate, cars, jewelry, etc., and separating those assets into liquid and non-liquid categories–you’ll be able to discover if you are asset rich and cash poor. This knowledge will help you take appropriate steps to be better prepared for the future.

What are liquid assets?

To help you get started, here is a quick list of liquid assets, those that are either cash or could be converted into cash in a short amount of time without losing much value.

–      Cash in your checking and saving accounts

–      Money Market Accounts

–      CDs

–      Stocks & Bonds

–      Mutual Funds

–      Gold / Silver / Jewelry

–      Other Valuables: art, vehicles, collectors’ items, etc.

Assets like real estate and land would be considered less liquid since you may not be able to quickly turn those into cash without them losing value. Keep in mind that any land and real estate that you still owe money on, if sold, would have to be paid off first, and only the remainder after paying your income taxes would be considered as actual assets.

How Liquid Should My Assets Be?

You’re considered “liquid asset poor” if you have less than 3 months of livings expenses easily accessible. If you faced a complete income loss and had to depend on what you have saved, would you be able to “make it” for a minimum of 3 months? If the answer is no, here is a quick, step-by-step plan to work toward. This plan will require having a solid budget where your expenses, especially your wants, are curbed and, in many cases, temporarily sacrificed in order to grow your liquid assets.

–      Save $1000 in cash for immediate emergencies

–      Save 30 days worth of your living expenses

–      Save 60 days worth of your living expenses

–      Save 90 days worth of your living expenses

–      Keep going…

Every time you accomplish each step, set those funds aside and make a commitment not to touch your 30-90 day funds unless income loss occurs. Attempt to manage other emergencies by adjusting your monthly budget or with your $1000 emergency fund.

 Unless you win the lottery, there is really no easy way to accomplish building your liquid assets. It will take commitment, temporary sacrifice, and determination. Are you ready to do this? Make a plan, set deadlines, and work hard. Pretty soon, you’ll be able to say: i’m liquid asset rich!

Image by LendingMemo

How to find the best credit card for YOU?

credit cards

How many credit cards to have & how to find the best one!

The average American carries 3.5 credit cards in his or her wallet. Each of those cards offer different rates, different rewards, and may carry different fee structures.

But do you really need that many cards? Depending on your lifestyle and how and what you spend your money on, it may be to your best interest to focus on carrying and using two credit cards that offer maximum rewards for your particular lifestyle.

But how do you know what’s the best credit card for YOU?

Before we dive deeper into some specifics of how to find that “ideal” credit card, please know that unless you use credit responsibly and pay off the entire balance every month, you won’t get the optimal results from using your credit card, and you may actually end up in more debt than intended.  This post is meant for those of you who understand the dangers of credit who simply want to learn how to use credit to your advantage, instead of letting credit use you!

There are a few really good sites that, within a few minutes, can help you identify the best card out there for your financial lifestyle.

Credit Card Tune-Up

Credit Card Tune Up is one of those sites that will help you determine the best credit card strategy, based on your monthly expenditures.

All you have to do is specify the amount of money you spend in each of their 16 budget categories, and you’ll receive a long list of credit cards with information about the amount of rewards you could potentially receive in a given year, if you used nothing but that particular card. The site has direct links to the credit card application to make it a one-stop shop!

In Mvelopes, the Envelope Spending By Month Report will put this information at your fingertips in just a few clicks!

Nerdwallet

If you’re not ready to answer detailed questions about how much you spend and on what budget category, nerdwallet may be a better option for you. It will compare over 1700 different credit cards and offers to help you find best rewards, cashback, gas points, or miles card.

All you have to do is choose the type of credit card you’re most interested in and specify the monthly amount you’re expecting to charge on the card, and you’ll get a list of best options to choose from.

Creditcards.com

If you love details and want to see a detailed summary of rewards, interest rates, reward limits, and fees, all in one place, then this is a great site for you to browse.

Depending on what type of credit card you’re looking for, creditcards.com will have a list of some rewards cards listed with lots of detailed information as well as a direct link to apply.

So, why would you go from using 3 or 4 cards to just using two? Because this is your best chance for earning maximum rewards instead of getting a few miles here and a few cashback dollars there. Since some of the cards “cap” the rewards, you can create a plan to maximize both of your cards so every dollar you spend earns you additional benefit.

If you have a solid budget, you can decide to charge your regular monthly expenses on your card and pay your charges off, either weekly or daily, by doing a direct payment from your checking or savings account to the credit card. This way, you’ll be sure not to overspend beyond your monthly budget limits and to avoid any potential interest charges.

So be responsible and start earning rewards for what you already spend money on as part of your month-to-month budget!

Looking for Extra Income? Check Out These Freelance Jobs!

work from home

You asked, we’re responding!

After publishing our blog post on generating extra income by working from home, many of you asked about ways to find freelance jobs.
Depending on your skills and how much time you’re willing to put into the “extra” job, there are different sites that help you find “side gigs” – that can eventually turn into full time work!
 
We did some research and found a few good quality sites that connect those who look for freelance jobs with employers who are looking for freelance workers.
Here is a quick overview that will hopefully get you started with generating a few extra dollars for your household budget!

oDesk

This is a great site that allows you to post both job offers, as well as look for work. It has positions that range anywhere from data entry, to virtual assistants, to freelance writers, and even web developers! Go ahead and sign up and browse the opportunities that fit your skillset and experience!
 

Elance

This is another great site with over 126,000 jobs posted just in the last 30 days! Since elance started, it has helped generate $1 billion in additional income to its clients!
 
Set up your profile, look for posted jobs, and submit your bid. If the price is right and the employer likes your profile, you’ll win the bid and be granted the job.
We found a great summary of freelance jobs for both those looking for general work and those who are searching for specialty gigs. Just click this link and you’ll find plenty of other sites that may just be what you need in your search for additional income or even for full time freelance employment!

Keep As Much Money As You Can in Your Paycheck!

Taxes

Our last post, titled The Tax Refund Dilemma, has met with a large interest. We’ve received quite a few questions asking: How do I know how many allowances to claim in order to keep as much money as I can in my paycheck, but not end up owing the IRS?”

After doing some research we found a great summary article by Turbotax that has a great simple formula for helping you keep the most of your hard earned money in your monthly paycheck while still receiving a small refund at the end of the year instead of having to pay taxes.

We’ve included a link to the article, but here is a quick summary for you:

–  The average tax refund in 2012 was over $2800 and would give you additional $240 per month to cover budget gaps, pay off debts, or build your savings.

–  In order to start receiving more money on a monthly basis, simply update your W-4 form with your employer.

–  Your HR department will send you a blank W-4, together with a worksheet you can use to calculate your allowances.

–  There is a withholding calculator published on the IRS website that you can use to calculate how much money you should withhold.

–  Turbotax came up with their own simple formula that will help you estimate how many allowance you could be adding to your W-4 and still end up in the black with the IRS at the end of the year.

Go ahead and use either the IRS calculator or the Turbotax formula. We’d love to hear from you how many additional dollars you will be receiving each month! What would you do with this newly-found income?

Image via Flickr by 401(K) 2013

5 First-time Home Buying Finance Tips

buying a home

Buying a home for the first time is a monumental decision that should not be taken lightly. There are many details, rules, and financial dynamics that need to be carefully analyzed and considered before the first-time home buyer puts pen to paper.
However, all of the financial planning and coordination shouldn’t be considered as a deterrent for first-time buyers, but rather a primer for the amount of due diligence owning a home entails. These five tips for first-time buyers should make navigating the real estate marketplace as smooth as possible.

Know Your Credit Score

Chances are you’re not going to have the money to pay the entire price tag on your new home upfront, and if you do, you probably wouldn’t be reading this article anyway. Most first-time home buyers rely on a mortgage to divide the cost of their home into payments over periods usually exceeding 30 years or more.

Mortgages come with interest payments that are determined by a variety of factors such as how much money you put down and your credit score. Having a score over 720 will generally secure you the best, most affordable interest rates. Before you go looking for a new home, make sure your credit history is up-to-date an accurate.

Resolve Your Finances

Buying and owning a home is a serious financial responsibility and should only be done after you’ve sorted out all other financial obligations and debts. If you can’t afford to pay off large outstanding loans such as education loans or medical bills in full, try to arrange affordable payment plans with your creditors — you’ll need the financial wiggle room to maintain your mortgage payments and also take care of any maintenance needs without incurring additional debt.

Every dollar that you don’t have to spend on past purchases is another you could put toward building your new home into a place you can truly be proud of.

Determine What You Can Afford

One of the biggest mistakes new homeowners make is biting off more than they could chew and letting their new home override all other financial obligations. First, understand how much money you have available at the end of every month after you’ve paid necessary items like car payments, groceries, gas, pet maintenance and anything else you can reasonably predict to occur on a regular basis.

Many financial advisors recommend not paying more than 25 to 30 percent of your monthly household income on mortgage payments, taxes and insurance premiums. If you can’t afford it now, you certainly won’t be able to afford it later—that is, unless you know ahead of time certain changes to your financial situation coming in the near future, like a promotion or inheritance.

Consider Location Carefully

A multitude of factors outside the confines of your new home’s property contribute to its overall value, and should be taken into considering during the home-buying process.

The conditions of neighboring homes, the proximity to goods and services (supermarkets, hospitals, law enforcement), local school quality, and the cost of living in the city itself can all contribute to the price of a home. For example, homes in Houston, Texas benefit from being in one of the few metropolitan areas that have a cost of living lower than the national average.

Explore Your Down Payment and Financing Options

A good rule of thumb to know whether you’re ready to buy a house is if you can save up at least 20 percent of the new home’s value for a down payment. Paying off a fifth of the house upfront will show lenders that you have financial maturity and a reliable income source to make future payments.

Also look into federally backed programs from the Federal Housing Administration. If you’ve served in the military, the Department of Veterans Affairs also has plans that make home buying easier and more affordable.

Buying a new home is a draining experience, both financially and emotionally. But finding the right home, and having the funds to keep it, makes the arduous search all the more worthwhile.

Image via Flickr by 401(K) 2013

Thinking About Leasing a Car? Some Things to Consider First!

leasing a car

The conversation about leasing versus buying has been ongoing for quite some time. Data shows that close to 30% of new car transactions are leases.

So what’s the advantage, if any, of leasing a vehicle versus buying one?

Everyone’s financial reality is different, hence we cannot be prescriptive, but what we can do is name all of the issues you should consider before you opt for leasing a vehicle.

Lower Monthly Payments

In many cases, leasing a vehicle will give you a lower monthly payment than buying the same vehicle. Those who are struggling with living within their means may opt to lease a vehicle simply to offset the monthly payments by a hundred to a few hundred dollars a month. Keep in mind, however, that at the end of your lease, you will have nothing to show for the money that you spent.

Higher Insurance

Even though you may enjoy lower monthly payments on a leased vehicle, you will most likely pay a higher insurance premium, which will wipe out some of the savings you were counting on. Apart from regular coverage, if you lease your vehicle you’ll have to pay what’s called a lease gap rider on your policy to cover the difference between the lease amount and the value of the car, in case something were to happen.

Hefty Penalties

There are two options for leasing a car. A short-term lease will usually be between 6-12 months. Long-term leases will run 24 months or longer. If you decide you no longer want to lease, you’ll be not only liable for paying the remainder of the lease, but also additional penalty fees.

Mileage Limits

Usually, there is a 10,000 or 15,000 mileage limit per year on leased vehicles, so those who commute to work or take frequent long distance trips should pay special attention. Penalties of up to $0.25 per mile will apply for anything over the mileage limit. If you are thinking about leasing a car, consider negotiating appropriate mileage for your needs to avoid paying additional penalties.

Maintenance

Whether you lease or purchase a vehicle, you’ll have to maintain it, meaning you’ll have to perform oil changes, tire rotations, etc.;  so there is no maintenance advantage of having a leased vehicle. Please read your agreement carefully to see what maintenance and repairs are covered by the lease and read the fine print about “additional wear and tear” you will be liable for!

Best Case Scenario

There is no question that the best long-term strategy is to purchase a vehicle that fits your needs and your current budget, and to keep that vehicle for years after the payments are done.  This way you can completely eliminate payments, lower your insurance cost, avoid any additional fees, and have time to save cash for your next car purchase.

So don’t get caught up in the glamour of leasing a vehicle that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford to purchase. Think about the long-term impact on your pocketbook of paying thousands of dollars on an asset that, at the end of the day, is basically a “rental.”

Image by Carleasingmadesimpletm