Mvelopes : The Digital Version of the Envelope Budgeting System

03 November, 2016

We’ve all heard about the envelope budgeting system. For each spending category in your budget, you determine your spending limit and place that cash into a labeled envelope. Once the envelope is empty, you are done spending in that category. Sounds simple, right?

The theory behind the envelope system is that people are less likely to overspend if they are dealing in cash transactions versus debit or credit card transactions because the cash is more tangible. However, in this day and age, carrying around envelopes full of cash does not align with how we typically manage our cash flow. Everything is done online –from completing banking needs, receiving our paychecks, to making online deposits.

Mvelopes is a budgeting app inspired by the envelope system and can help you stay on track with your student budget! Here’s how it works:
Mvelopes connects to your bank account to keep track of income and expenses. You can use the app to set a monthly budget for all of your expenses, plus set up individualized savings goals. 

If you want to try Mvelopes to manage your budget, here’s the nitty gritty:

1. Sign up online at
Or you can download the app for iOS or Android.

2. Add your accounts.
You may link Mvelopes to as many accounts as you’d like. Including checking, savings or even investment accounts. You’ll need your online banking username, password and possibly an answer to a security question.

3. Define your income.
Add the date and amount of any fixed paychecks, or if you are unsure of your income every month, you have the option to add variable income month by month if your income isn’t consistent.

4. Create a budget.
Creating your budget in Mvelopes is similar to creating any other budget. You’ll create envelopes for what you spend money on and assign a monthly limit to each. You should create envelopes for fixed monthly expenses, like rent, car insurance, car payment, utilities or cell phone bill. Then, separate the leftover funds into your variable expenses envelope, like gas, groceries, shopping and other personal expenses.
Mvelopes also reminds you to budget for larger periodic expenses, like car registration, holiday gifts, buying a new car and vacations. This helps you set aside a little for each every month, so you’re prepared when they come up. 

5. Fund your envelopes.
Next you’ll fund your envelopes, which means assigning part of your balance to cover each expense. You’ll do this with each paycheck to distribute your income as needed across your anticipated expenses.
When you “fund” the envelopes, no money is actually being moved around, or in or out of your bank account. Mvelopes just works with your balance to help you keep track of your digital money the way you’d do with hard cash.

6. Get an easy snapshot of your budget.
When you want to know what you have left to spend, you can check the Mvelopes app on your phone or your account online.

This should help you keep your spending in check, but the app won’t do all the work for you. You will have to “maintain” the budgets by making sure each transaction is assigned properly and that you’re watching the spending limit for each envelope.

If you’ve already used the envelope budgeting system to keep track of your cash, and you’re looking for a digital companion, this is a great alternative. Give it a try today!

How to choose the right bank for you

15 September, 2016

Whether you are new to the Iowa State community, or just looking for a more convenient option, finding the right financial institution to fit your needs can be one of the biggest transitions a student makes while in college. Here are some things to consider before opening that new checking or savings account:

Location. Does the bank have multiple branches in the area where you live and work?

ATMs. The ATMs owned by your bank won’t charge you to withdraw cash, but other banks will. ATM fees are a huge budget breaker! Be sure to avoid those by choosing a bank with nearby and convenient ATM options. You may consider getting cash out at the gas station or grocery store instead, as an alternative to paying a fee to withdraw your own money. 

Hours. Sometimes just getting to the bank can be a hassle in itself! Choose a bank or credit union that offers extended hours that are flexible to fit your needs. 

Customer service. Do some research online to find customer reviews, or visit the bank to get an idea on how you are treated personally as a customer.

Online banking. The internet has made it very convenient to keep track of your finances online. If online banking is very important to you, make sure you are easily able to make transfers, check your transactions, and complete other banking tasks without needing to be physically at the bank.

Fees. Be careful to consider any hidden costs associated with opening a new account. The bank may charge fees for writing a check, online wires, overdraws, and even balance inquiries. The charges may be generally small, but can add up in a hurry.

Credit Unions vs. Banks. If you are considering switching from a bank to a credit union, they are different in several ways. Credit unions are controlled by its members and are not for profit, whereas banks are run by a group of investors with capital, and are for profit. You may find that credit unions offer higher interest rates on their savings account options, but a bank might have a wider range of services.

Whether you choose a credit union or a bank, make sure to keep good records on all your accounts. Each month you will receive a statement of the transactions you made, as well as every deposit and transfer. This will come in handy when you are creating your budgets or preparing for tax season. If you need additional resources, a lot of banks and credit unions will also offer online services, like budgeting calculators, loan repayment tips and savings help.

Not ready to let go of your old bank? Switching banks is not always a necessity for students, depending on your bank’s online capabilities, and personal needs. Good luck, Cyclones! As always, give us a call with any personal finance inquiry - 515-294-0677 or 


Scholarship Opportunity! Win Up to $1,500 with CashCourse!

30 August, 2016

Setting and reaching financial goals is one of the most important parts of effectively managing your money. Tell CashCourse about your goals, and you could win $1,500 for college, courtesy of the National Endowment for Financial Education!

All you have to do is write an essay about the following topic : "What is your biggest financial goal? Why is it important to you, and what will you do to reach this goal?" Please limit your essay to 750 words.

Visit to submit your response today!

Six prizes will be given out!

  • 1st grand prize winner- $1,500
  • 2nd place - $750
  • 4 runners up $250 each 

The deadline to submit your entry is October 31, 2016. Winners will be notified by December 15, 2016. Contact with any questions.

Source :

The fastest way to pay off credit card debt

25 July, 2016

Just like creating a budget, the key to paying off any debt is to make a plan, and stick to it! Here are some helpful hints to get started on your own credit card debt management plan.

1) Start by creating a list of every outstanding debt, and include details like the amount owed, interest rate, payment due date, and so forth. If you don’t know this information off the top of your head, log onto each account and view your statements to find specific interest rates and balances. By creating this list, you are acknowledging each debt and seeing everything in one spot should help keep you organized.

2) Once you have your list, think about targeting one debt at a time. Specifically, target the debt that has the highest interest rate, and concentrate on paying that debt off first. After that, you may choose to pay off the card with the smallest balance next.

3) Remember to pay more than the minimum when it comes time to make your payment. This is a crucial step in all debt management strategies, and is often the most ignored. While it may seem nice having a small minimum payment due each month, you’re only costing yourself more money in interest! If you make several payments throughout the month, that can help keep your interest accumulation at bay.

4) Another popular idea is to consider debt consolidation. Sometimes transferring balances to a different credit card that has 0% APR for the first year can be an effective strategy, but you want to make sure that you pay off that balance transfer within the year. However, be careful to read the fine print because there are often transfer fees hidden in the fine print. Make sure the savings from switching to the lower rate are greater than the transfer fee itself.

5) Continue to follow a budget to make sure you’re allowing enough money to go towards the debt payments, budget the discretionary expenses, and save optimally each month. Paying down debt shouldn’t mean that you’re now neglecting to put money into savings, it means that you should strive for a happy balance between the two. Pay yourself first, (and your creditors), while watching your spending on those purchases that aren’t necessary. If cutting out two meals at a restaurant each month can save you $40, those savings could essentially go towards paying off the credit card debt. Yes, we know it’s summer and tacos and margs are just calling your name! But cutting back on the dining out budget is a great way to save money!

6) Once the debt is paid off, don’t charge another penny until you have the financial control to pay off the balance each month. That is the key to "credit card" happiness. 

If you find yourself still needing that extra nudge to get started on your own debt management plan, don't hesitate to make an appointment with us today and we can discuss your options!

515-294-0677 or 

Summer Savings 101

23 June, 2016

This past Monday marked the first day of summer! But with the extraordinary hot temperatures lately, it’s been feeling a lot like summer for the past month and a half! With this season being deemed the busiest and hottest season of all, our pocket books tend to feel the heat as well. Here are some affordable ways to enjoy the summer months and all its’ bustle, without going broke.

Take CyRide or carpool                                                                                                                                                                   

If you’re a student working during the summer months and commuting to your job, a great way to save on gas would be carpooling or taking the CyRide bus. CyRide is free for all students, and can get you anywhere you need to be within the city of Ames. If your job is outside of Ames, buddy up with a few coworkers and take turns driving to work. This means extra money in your pocket and keeps miles off that ole Honda Civic so you can keep driving it for a few more years. 

Borrow (or buy cheap!) clothing for special events

One of the biggest budget breakers seem to be those frequent stops at the mall or department stores. I know we all love a good TJ Maxx find, but those purchases can really add up! And no, you do not need another pair Birkenstocks! If you’re looking for something to wear to an event, like a wedding, graduation, or summer concert, consider borrowing clothes from a close friend or sibling. This not only makes your life easier, but gives you a new outfit without having to fork over your hard earned cash. An alternative to borrowing would be buying cheaper clothing by sifting through second hand stores like Plato’s Closet, or Goodwill and The Salvation Army. You’d be surprised what you can find –maybe a new pair of jeans that fits you like a glove! But for a quarter of the price. Now that’s savvy shopping!

Price check before booking summer travel

Nowadays, sites like Trivago and KAYAK help make booking summer vacations easy by letting you compare prices on different travel sites to find the cheapest airfare and hotels. However, if you wait around to find the best deal, you might have already missed out on some savings. If you see a good rate, snag it because the same deal will most likely hike in price the following week. Frequent travelers should consider becoming a member of the various hotel and airline rewards programs. The more you stay, you’ll be earning points to receive free nights at that hotel. The same thing goes with being loyal to a certain airline. Those discounts can really rack up and knock off a significant chunk of change on your next vacation! Airbnb and other renting services have also become popular because the prices tend to be cheaper than hotel rooms, plus more square footage = more bang for your buck!

Be a cheap date

Who says dates have to be extravagant ordeals that require a ton of money? Certainly not during college! Some of the best dates are picnics by Ada Hayden, watching a red box, and cooking hamburger helper together, am I right?! The expensive date nights to The Café, and trips to the movie theater can really add up. It's usually more enjoyable if you brainstorm date ideas together that are easy on the bank, rather than doing the traditional “dinner and a movie.” For example, Frisbee golf, an arcade night (all you need are quarters!) or watch the sunset at Ledges State Park. [Awww] Get creative! Even JLo said it herself, “Love don’t cost a thing!” 

Do you have an emergency fund? If not, you need to read this!

08 June, 2016

Life has a tendency to hit us with a lot of "unexpected expenses," whether it's a new part for your car, or a hefty doctor bill. According to a recent study, only 38% of Americans said they could cover an unexpected emergency visit, or even a car repair with cash on hand in a checking or savings account. Yikes. That’s not a very good statistic.

The key to keeping a solid budget is ensuring you’re not spending more than you’re taking in. Sounds simple, right? However, living within your means is easier said than done. If you let your discretionary spending habits run amuck with little to no control, you might find yourself dipping into that savings account or emergency fund to cover the blow. Before you know it, your entire emergency fund is drained and when that unexpected expense pops up, you’re unfortunately left with nothing to cover the bill.

Most students ignore the advice of saving for an emergency fund, either because they have their parent’s financial support to fall back on, or they don’t see the incentive of saving money. Consider looking at your emergency fund the same way you look at health insurance, or car insurance. You may not use it every day, but boy does it help you sleep at night, knowing that you’re covered in case of an accident.

In college, you’re typically just making enough money to get by, but we urge students to get in the habit of saving now, no matter the amount. If you can afford to put away as little as $40 a month into an emergency fund or savings account, imagine how much money you’ll have saved at the end of your college career! ($40/month for 4 years = $1,920!) This money can be used for a last minute plane ticket for that job interview, a security deposit at the new apartment, and obviously for any unexpected expense that arises along the way!

After college, emergency savings become even more crucial. Maybe you landed your first job after graduation and things are going great, until you find out the company is closing your department and you’ll be losing your job. Sounds scary to me! You know what’s even scarier? Not having enough back up income to live off of because you didn’t save enough in your emergency fund. A general rule of thumb is to have at least 3 – 6 months’ worth of your normal expenses (rent, utilities, payments, food, etc.) saved up in the event you are between jobs, or need those extra funds.

At first glance, this may sound like a lot of money up front, but gives you time to prepare and work towards this goal. Another popular guideline includes dedicating 20% of your income to savings, like 401(k)/retirement contributions, your emergency fund, and extra savings. Remember to always pay yourself first! You are going to be glad you did it in the long run.

Bottom-line: If you haven’t started saving for your emergency fund, start today! Your future self will thank you :)

As always, our trusted advisers are available to help you build savings options into your budget. Give us a call to schedule an appointment today! 515-294-0677

Source : Claes Bell, CFA.

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