NeoBudget Review – Online Virtual Envelope Budgeting System
NeoBudget is an online budgeting system for tracking household income and expenses from one intuitive, user-friendly dashboard. It allows you to quickly enter or import purchases and income transactions from your bank and credit card accounts, showing your entire financial picture at a glance. It also makes it easy to categorize your expenses and set spending limits for each, helping you stay fiscally responsible without having to use spreadsheets, balance a checkbook, or view your bank account balance everyday. This is particularly useful if you live in a multi-person household with several bank accounts and lots of shared expenses.
NeoBudget offers a modern twist on the envelope budgeting system, a popular method that classifies recurring expenses into categories such as transportation costs, groceries, and childcare. In its original form, this system consisted of actual cash-filled envelopes earmarked for specific monthly expense categories. On payday, you’d cash your paycheck or withdraw money from your bank account and fill your envelopes to their specifications – throughout the month, you’d use the cash from each envelope to fund purchases in the corresponding category.
Once an envelope was empty, you were done spending in that category. The result, at least in theory: no overspending.
Cash-only households are a distinct rarity these days, but the allure of setting spending limits for strictly defined budget categories remains. Though NeoBudget uses virtual envelopes to systematize expenses, its basic process is the same, whether you’re a big fan of using credit cards for everyday spending or stick entirely to cash or debit.
Whenever you get a paycheck, you allocate funds to each “envelope” for the month. When you make a purchase in a particular category, you either manually enter it or import it from your bank account, in either case drawing down the balance of the corresponding envelope. Once all the money is gone from a virtual envelope, you’re done in that category until next month.
NeoBudget has two plans:
The Free plan is always free and never expires. However, it’s limited to one individual user, so a couple or family would need separate NeoBudget accounts. It also allows just one bank account and 10 envelopes, or expense categories. All other features are identical to the Standard plan.
The Standard plan costs $4.95 per month for a month-to-month subscription, or $49.95 for an annual subscription. Both options automatically renew at the end of the term.
The Standard plan allows unlimited bank accounts, envelopes, and users, so it’s great for couples and even roommates who share lots of expenses. NeoBudget allows an unlimited number of users to be logged into the same account simultaneously. For instance, you, your spouse, and your teenager can all make changes at the same time from different computers or mobile devices.
Here’s a general overview of Neobudget’s functions and features.
To get started with NeoBudget, you need to add a bank account. To do so, click the New Account tab and name your account (for instance, “Bank of America Checking”). The account isn’t directly linked to NeoBudget, so you don’t have to provide sensitive information, such as account numbers or passwords.
You should add the account that receives the bulk of your income and funds the bulk of your purchases, especially if you’re using the Free plan. If you use more than one account regularly, the Standard plan is going to be a better fit.
Note that NeoBudget doesn’t automatically keep track of your balances, so it’s not a substitute for regularly logging into your bank account online. However, if you use NeoBudget to track the majority of your income and expenses – and commit to manually entering or uploading information from your bank account on a regular basis – the total balance in your NeoBudget account should be roughly equal to your bank accounts.
Envelopes represent the core of the NeoBudget system. If you have more than one bank account in the system, you can specify which envelopes correspond to which account. Each envelope denotes a particular category, appearing as a moveable, color-coded panel in your dashboard. If you want to connect similar expense categories – for instance, “medical care” and “beauty and personal care” – in logical groups, you can move their panels next to each other and assign them the same envelope color.
If you no longer need an envelope but want to preserve the data within it, click the Archive button on the panel. This removes it from your account dashboard but maintains a record of relevant income and expense transactions. This is useful for envelopes denoting seasonal categories, such as holiday gifts or lawn care.
Once you create your envelopes, you need to define a monthly spending limit for each. To arrive at this spending limit, enter a line item for each expense within that category and a corresponding dollar figure. For instance, the holiday gifts category might include “gifts for kid #1,” “gifts for kid #2,” “gifts for mom,” “gifts for dad,” and “gifts for spouse.” NeoBudget automatically adds these up to produce a total budget for the whole category, or for each envelope. If you don’t want this level of detail or don’t have a good idea of what each expense might look like in a particular category, you can estimate your total spending for that category and enter it manually.
Note that these spending limits are just guidelines covering your expected expenses for each month. They don’t mean anything until you actually begin recording or importing income and expenses in the appropriate envelopes. With that information, you can compare your expected expenses with your actual cash flow and adjust your personal budget accordingly.
With your spending limits and itemized expenses set, you need to record actual income and purchase transactions. There are three ways to do this: You can manually create an income transaction for the desired amount (ideal for freelancers), set up a recurring income transaction (ideal for salaried employees earning regular paychecks), or import a record of it from your bank account.
Since NeoBudget allows you to record multiple transactions at once, importing is probably the best way to go. To import income and purchase transactions, log into your bank or credit card account and download your recent transaction history (since the last time you imported your expenses) as either a QIF or OFX file. Then, drag the downloaded file into your NeoBudget window and use the pop-up window to select which transactions you want to import. To speed the process, there’s a “select all” button.
Every time you record or import an income transaction, you need to allocate the money to your spending categories, either by splitting the paycheck evenly among all envelopes or manually allocating dollar amounts to each one. Doing this increases the actual balance of each envelope, which should always be equal to or greater than your preset spending limit. If you want to have a buffer in a particular category in case of an unexpected expense, you should err on the high side with your allocation.
For each purchase transaction, you need to specify the destination envelope – for instance, payment for an oil change at Handy Automotive would probably go into your transportation or automotive envelope. To create new expense entries from scratch, click “New Entry – Expense,” define the transaction size and which envelope it applies to, and specify whether the amount is recurring – likely for rent, car financing, and other fixed expenses. Purchase transactions are the opposite of income allocations – they lower the actual balance of the envelopes they apply to, bringing you closer to your spending limits.
NeoBudget’s system helps you monitor your spending and keep your budget in line by comparing your preset spending limits in each category with what you actually earn and spend. If the value of your purchases in a particular category exceeds that envelope’s budget, your envelope balance turns negative, indicating that you’ve exceeded your limit for the month. You can transfer unused funds from another envelope if you expect to be under-budget in that category for the month.
Since NeoBudget doesn’t control your bank account, there are no real-world consequences to going over-budget in a particular category, as the platform can’t actually stop you from spending. The goal is simply to give you a better picture of your spending and encourage frugality – and, hopefully, regular saving as well.
It’s important to note that NeoBudget doesn’t support automatic transaction importing (as in, you press a button and your envelopes automatically update) for either income or purchase transactions. It also doesn’t sync with your bank account. According to NeoBudget, the system isn’t set up to do these things because banks use archaic software that produces lots of bugs when synced with newer programs.
Regardless, you may find these limitations inconvenient, or worse. Other virtual envelope budgeting systems, including Mvelopes, do have these capabilities.
Speaking of archaic, another notable Neobudget limitation is the decided mobile-unfriendliness of its desktop version. Neobudget’s architecture dates back to the late 2000s, and it shows its age. If you’re comfortable using your desktop computer for basic budgeting functions, Neobudget’s inflexible design won’t be much of a bother. If, on the other hand, you’re used to feature-rich, mobile-friendly budgeting tools like Mint, it may feel inadequate or clunky. You can get around this limitation by downloading the Android or iOS app and using Neobudget exclusively on your smartphone or tablet.
Finally, Neobudget is a very small outfit, seemingly just one principal and his family. That the founder is able to live out his solopreneur dream is inspiring, but his company’s limited resources really show on the customer support side. The sole customer support pillar is a general email address that, presumably, the founder checks himself.
Neobudget has some additional features worth noting.
NeoBudget lets you export any and all financial data stored on the platform, which is useful if you decide to cancel your subscription and use another budgeting tool, create custom budget reports that NeoBudget can’t handle, or send your financial data to a tax preparer or professional accountant.
NeoBudget has a sophisticated, real-time data backup system with two redundant, remote servers in different locations – unusual for such a small company. If one goes offline due to a power outage or technical glitch, the other automatically takes over, making the loss of real-time backup capabilities unlikely. And NeoBudget uses three additional servers, also in separate locations, to perform nightly backups of all user data.
If the automatic renewal of your Standard plan fails for any reason, such as an expired credit card, NeoBudget automatically downgrades you to the free version. Any data uploaded under the terms of the Standard plan remains visible in read-only format and can still be exported, but you cannot make changes outside the limits of the Free plan.
The paid version of NeoBudget is more affordable than many competitors’ paid plans without skimping on what’s offered. It costs less than $5 per month, or less than $50 per year with an annual subscription. There are no features in the Standard plan that aren’t available in the Free plan, though the Standard plan offers unlimited users, bank accounts, and envelopes.
By contrast, Mvelopes Premier (which has the same user and account parameters, envelope capacity, and features as NeoBudget Standard) costs roughly double that. Budget Ease’s paid plans start at $6 per month and may cost significantly more, depending on which features you use.
NeoBudget doesn’t come with a limited-time free trial that forces new customers to enroll in a paid plan after it expires. Instead, you can keep its Free plan as long as you want without ever having to upgrade or lose access to NeoBudget.
By contrast, Budget Ease automatically upgrades you to its paid plan after your 14-day free trial ends – you need to cancel before the trial’s end date to avoid being charged for the first month.
NeoBudget is the creation of the same family-run software company that developed SquirrelMail, a popular open-source email platform. The firm is a strong proponent of open, transparent data access, making a prominent pledge “never to hold your data hostage.” In practice, this means that if you downgrade from the Standard to Free plan, you retain access (in read-only form, so you can download but not edit it) to any information created while you were a Standard customer. If you cancel your NeoBudget account or need to send the information it contains to a tax or wealth management professional, you can export your data at any time. Budget Ease, Mvelopes, and Goodbudget don’t make such guarantees with regards to data.
Though the inability to automatically import transaction data from tied bank accounts is definitely a drawback, there’s a silver lining: You don’t have to share any sensitive financial or personal information to use NeoBudget. If you worry about data security, this could be a big deal.
NeoBudget is visually appealing, intuitive to use, and doesn’t suffer from major bugs or functionality issues. Other virtual envelope budgeting platforms are more problematic. For instance, Mvelopes loads slowly and has compatibility issues with Adobe Shockwave, which can impact its functionality on Chrome and Firefox.
NeoBudget’s Free plan only comes with 10 envelopes. If your financial situation is complex, you might have more than 10 expense categories. The free version of Mvelopes lets you create up to 25 envelopes, while the free version of Goodbudget supports 20 envelopes.
NeoBudget is basically a DIY platform that doesn’t offer a lot of budgeting support, advice, or encouragement. By contrast, Mvelopes’s top-tier plan, Money4Life Coaching, is a comprehensive concierge and advisory service that includes enrollment in two debt reduction programs, live phone support from financial experts, and even a personalized coaching service that keeps clients on a frugal course.
If you want to update your virtual budget with new transactions, NeoBudget requires you to manually download and import transaction registers from each bank, and then manually select the transactions you want to include in your budget. This can be time-consuming. And if you accidentally miss any transactions, you’re left with an incomplete budget. With Mvelopes, the relevant envelope automatically updates whenever you use a linked debit or credit card to make a purchase, allowing for a fuller picture of your spending.
As a family-run program, NeoBudget has a people-first philosophy that may be lacking in larger companies – especially with regards to data. However, NeoBudget may be too small for its own good: It has no capacity for live support, either by phone or online chat. If you have a question or functionality issue, you need to email [email protected] It can take longer than a business day to get a response. By contrast, Goodbudget and Mvelopes have phone and chat support available.
When I worked as a delivery driver at a fast food restaurant, cash tips made up the majority of my income. Because it was so convenient, I used paper money for many of my expenses – gas, groceries, even rent on occasion.
I work in the white-collar world now and receive the bulk of my income via direct deposit. Why would I take the extra step of visiting the bank or ATM each payday and making a cash withdrawal for all the money I plan to spend over the next week or two? Programs like NeoBudget let me organize my income and expenses across multiple accounts and cards as if I were still living the delivery dream. If you yearn for the simplicity of a cash-based budgeting system, virtual envelope budgeting could be the answer to your financial prayers.
Do you use NeoBudget for your day-to-day and month-to-month budgeting needs?
Updated: August 29, 2018
If you have a fairly simple financial situation and don’t mind manually importing transactions from your bank accounts, NeoBudget is probably all you need out of a budgeting tool. It’s also nice that you aren’t forced to upgrade after a free trial, and that the paid version is both comprehensive and affordable.
However, if you have a more complex financial situation or value real-time budget updates, Neobudget may not be powerful enough for your needs. In that case, look into virtual envelope budgeting systems with more features.
Affordability, user-friendliness and data security are big perks for NeoBudget users, but the limitations of the free version and lack of automatic transaction imports are big downsides.
Brian Martucci writes about frugal living, entrepreneurship, and innovative ideas. When he’s not interviewing small business owners or investigating time- and money-saving strategies for Money Crashers readers, he’s probably out exploring a new trail or sampling a novel cuisine. Find him on Twitter @Brian_Martucci.
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NeoBudget Review – Online Virtual Envelope Budgeting System
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