MySpendingPlanTM Review

myspendingplanMySpendingPlanTM is a free, online personal finance software application that promises to help you “Plan Better,” “Save More,” and “Live Smart.” Certainly we could all do with little more of each of these.

So how does MySpendingPlanTM stand up to the other online personal finance packages that offer their services (some for free as well)?  This review will walk you through the online budgeting system to help you get a better feel for what MySpendingPlanTM has to offer.

My Experience with MySpendingPlan

The MySpendingPlan.com website is very clean and professional. Something I certianly hope will carry over into the software. The home page gives you some great insights in to how MySpendingPlanTM can help you accomplish your goals to plan better, save more, and live smarter.

If you’d like, you may want to take a tour of the program by clicking Take a Tour at the top of the screen. While the ‘tour’ doesn’t really show you much of the actual software, it does help you to get a feel for MySpendingPlanTM by highlighting a number of of it’s features.

Setting up MySpendingPlan

Signing up for a free account if fairly painless. A quick click on the Free Sign Up link and you’re on your way. After entering in a few pieces of personal information (not yet sure why they require a zip code, but they do), you’re told that a welcome email will be sent to your shortly.

The email, by the way, ended up in my junk box so you may want to check there and add it to your safe list. Aside from a Sign in link, the email didn’t provide much besides a few special offers that they want you to check out.

You can start immediately however, by clicking on the Go to My Account link at the bottom. Before going to your account, however, you’re given this screen:

sign-up-ad

I’m not even into the actual program yet and I’m already seeing advertisements (this particular one wants me to connect me to a realtor to sell my house). While I expected some ads and/or recommendations (they do, after all, have to make some money somehow to provide the service), the fact that it was so soon and so intrusive surprised me a bit.

Hopefully this is something that won’t be too intrusive in the future. They have a large green button titled Get Started, but don’t get confused. That is the button to continue with their ad’s service. The button to continue with your MySpendingPlanTM account is at the bottom in much smaller letters.

Create a New Spending Plan

When creating a new spending plan you can name it and choose the ‘template.’ Your two options are Home Finances and Life Events. I chose Home Finances since I will be setting up a personal budget rather than planning for a specific event.

This screen also has it’s fair share of ads, both in link and image format: I’m getting the impression that this program might be fairly ad heavy.

To complete the setup of your new spending plan, you’ll go through 7 different steps: Intro, Interview, Accounts, Income Sources, Envelopes & Groups, Bills, Envelope Budgeting, and Assign Money.

setup-steps

Interview

interviewThe first question in the “Interview” asks you when was the last time that you reviewed your insurance needs. Ah, here come the opportunities for them to upsell you to services.

Interestingly enough, the second question asked about checking accounts. After entering that I already have a checking account, it suggests that open a free checking account with Washington Mutual.

For those that don’t know, Washington Mutual no longer exists — it was bought by JP Morgan Chase Bank almost a whole year ago. While not a big deal, this doesn’t exactly instil much confidence in MySpendingPlanTM.

Other questions that it asked were focused on saving acounts, mortgages, selling or buying a home, etc.

Accounts

accountsThe Accounts sections is pretty straight forward.  In a pretty intuitive way, you simply add the bank accounts that you have.

For those who don’t like to have third parties know their financial information (like bank account numbers), you’ll be glad to know that MySpendingPlanTM doesn’t ask for them.

Income Sources

incomeIn the same manner as before, you’ll then enter all the sources of your family’s income.

You must enter the date of the next paycheck, a title, the amount, and then choose the frequency that that paycheck will be coming in (monthly, weekly, etc.). You are also able to add notes if you desire to do so.

Groups & Envelopes

groups-and-envelopesThe next setup step is to create all of your spending groups and envelopes. Groups are major categories of spending (e.g. Food) and Envelopes are more specific categories of spending within the Groups (e.g. Groceries).

I actually like this section quite a bit. It allows you to create your own custom envelopes that work best for you. This is a key part to any effective budgeting software — the ability to create and manage spending categories that are tailored to your personal spending habits.

MySpendingPlanTM offers a good number of existing groups and envelopes for you to work with (which you can edit), but you can also add your own by clicking New Group or New Envelope at the bottom of the screen if needed.

I received an error (see the screenshots below) when adding a new envelope that said I had to have a budget amount for the envelope. I had assumed that the assigning of budget amounts would be in a later step since it didn’t require me to set a budget amount when I was editing the other envelopes. Perhaps a small glich?

A Note About Speed – When you click just about anything within MySpendingPlanTM there is about a 2 to 4 second delay before the action is completed. During the delay you see this icon: picture-9. I grew to hate that icon.This delay became very painful as I was editing only a few different envelopes. It was slow enough, that I even checked my internet connection to see if I didn’t have a good connection (but the connection was strong).

I don’t know if this delay is going to be standard for every click or if it is only apparent during these setup steps, but if it continues it will be a HUGE let down and probably enough for me to never use the program.

*Update: I noticed throughout the application that not all clicks had such a long delay (but most of them did). The drop down boxes, for example, had no delay at all.

Bills

billsHere you can enter all of your “fixed” bills or expenses that you know that you’ll have each month, week, etc.

While this step is certainly easy and intuitive within the software, I personally found it a bit tedious after a while. Part of this was due to the delay between clicks and the completion of the action (about 2 seconds).

Hopefully, however, this is something that will save a good amount of time once it’s set up properly.

Envelope Budgeting

envelope-budgetingIn this section you set your monthly budget for all your different envelopes or spending categories.

*A Note about Envelope Budgeting – This is certianly something that MySpendingPlanTM has done right. The time-tested budgeting method knows and envelope budgeting is probably the most effective way to manage your finances. The act of putting certain amounts of money into different envelopes (with either physical money or tracking it electronically) and then spending out of those “envelopes” encourages you to 1. plan your budget well and then 2. hold yourself responsible for all spending that occurs. I’ve found that this action alone has the greatest affect on personal spending and the way we manage our finances.

MySpendingPlanTM allows you to enter your budget amounts in two different ways: manually or with their Auto-Assign feature. If you choose to do it manually, you simply type in your budget amounts on the right side of the screen. You can tab between entries, BUT you still have to wait through the “refresh” delay (about 2 to 3 seconds) before moving on the next one. I tried to tab through them quickly while editing the amounts, but once the refresh was over, it changed all the newly edited numbers back to what they were before. This was extremely annoying.

You can avoid this headache by deleting the envelopes you know you wont use. But either way, you’re spending time waiting for the “refresh” delay while deleting envelopes or when entering your budget amounts.

I also chose to try out the Auto-Assign feature. My results were less than stellar, although this may be partly my fault. In the envelope setup section, I didn’t delete all of the envelopes that I don’t use. Had I only included envelopes that I use, the Auto budget may have worked out a bit better. As it stands, it budgeted either $1, $60, or $100 for almost every category (except for Bills since I already set an amount for those).

I don’t, for example, think I need to budget $100 each month on Shoes, but only $60 each month of Auto Fuel. Basically you’re going to need to go over each envelope and set individual amounts anyway.

This is not a bad thing since it wouldn’t really be your budget if you didn’t set it anyway right? The Auto-Assign feature might work better in future months (if it goes off of your past spending habits), but I don’t see why you would use it to start out with.

MySpendingPlanTM does encourage you to use a zero-based budget (allocating each dollar of your income to expense). This is a very effective way to budget, forcing you to have plan for each dollar that comes into and out of your pocket.

Assign Money

assign-moneyThe seventh and final step is to assign the funds from your income to the budgets that you just set for the month.

MySpendingPlanTM explains that the figures you enter in this step will be remembered for a “funding template” that can be used in the future to fund the envelopes more quickly and easily.

Just as before, you can choose to enter the numbers manually or by using the Auto-Assign Money button. The entering of the data in the section, however, is MUCH easier and quicker than in the envelope budgeting section. Here you can tab through the boxes and enter the data without any delay at all.

I again tried the Auto-Assign feature. I found that the system did auto-assign some allocations for certain paychecks correctly, but other’s didn’t make much sense. For example, it said I should use $100 from our first paycheck of the month to pay for my electricity bill (good because it’s due on the 10th). But it also said that I shouldn’t use any money from my first paycheck for groceries for the month (bad because we need to eat food to survive the first 15 days of the month).

I also noticed that when changing the numbers around, the ‘remaining’ number didn’t change accordingly (probably just a small bug).

Fund the Envelopes

After the initial setup steps, you are asked to fund your envelopes.

Again, you can do it manually or have MySpendingPlanTM do it for you using the ‘funding templates’ that you just set up.

A Small Bug – When I tried to have them Auto-Fund the envelopes, I got the following two errors on different pages. When I tried to select which template to use:

error-1

I then went back a page and got this error when I clicked the Auto-Fund button for the second time:

error2

I should note that MySpendingPlanTM is still in Beta, so some errors and bugs like these are to be somewhat expected. After clicking Transactions > Fund Envelopes at the top, I was then able to successfully fund the envelopes.

A Overview of MySpendingPlan.com

The main view in MySpendingPlanTM is something called My Big Picture.  At the top, you have icons for other areas including My Big Picture, Setup Wizard, Envelopes, Accounts, Income Sources, Bills, Tasks, Shopping Lists, Savings Goals, and Reports.

The Setup Wizard, Income Sources, and Bills are essentially the same as when we used them set them up so we wont go over those.  We will, however, briefly go over each of the others to give you an overall view of what MySpendingPlanTM has to offer.

My Big Picture

My Big Picture, as the name suggests is a dashboard of sorts that displays all your information in one place.  Here’s a screenshot:

my-big-picture

Here you can see your envelope balances and your spending for each.  You can also see your bank account balances, upcoming bills, tasks in progress, savings goals, news, a chart (I got an error instead of a chart), and of course, a Save More box (their opportunity to make money through ads) along with a couple other items.

I like that you can edit what shows up to a certain degree.  I thought I read somewhere that you can move these boxes around, but I couldn’t get it to work.  You can, however, minimize or close boxes that you don’t want showing up.  They don’t allow you, however, to close the Save More box.  Not a big surprise.

In general, I’m not too impressed with what I’m seeing here. It provides a couple good pieces of information (mostly your spending), but you really can’t do much from this screen.

Accounts

The Accounts area lets you actually edit your accounts and transactions.  By hovering over an account, you can choose to edit your account or view, edit, or create transactions.  Since this is where you’ll spend a good chunk of your time, let’s take a look at it:

myspendingplan-transactions

Not much to look at yet, but we’ll change that.  It looks like you can change the date range to view as well as how many transactions to show on a page (a nice feature).

What I wasn’t too impressed with, however, was the Kontera add that was embedded in the page.  You know those sites that have those (in my opinion) really annoying advertisement links that pop up as you scroll over them?  It looks like MySpendingPlanTM is using them as a source of income:

myspendingplan-ads

If an ad for “Account Balance” information isn’t helpful, I don’t know what is.  (I hope you can sense my sarcasm.)

Adding Trasactions

Adding and editing transactions in MySpendingPlanTM is very simple.  But again, just because it’s easy to do, doesn’t mean that it’s effective or efficient. On average, each transaction took me about 30 seconds to enter in.  And that was only entering in the minimum requirements (date, payee, amount and envelope).  That information should be able to be entered in about 5 seconds (at least it’s that way with many other effective personal finance software applications).

It takes longer to add a transactions for two main reasons: 1. more clicks than necessary are required to complete a transactions entry and 2. there’s the now all-to-familiar delay between clicks and completion of the action.  For example, here’s a compilation of different screenshots  (of the “delay circle”) that I took while entering only 1 transaction:

transaction-delays

I hope that I’m making my point clear.  Editing transactions in MySpendingPlanTM is simply to tedious and time consuming.

Envelopes

While this is fairly self explanatory, I thought I’d cover it anyway.  The Envelopes area shows your envelopes with their corresponding Budgets, Payments, Deposits, and Balances.  You also have a little bar graph that, I assume, fills up as you spend through the month (although I’ve entered a few transactions for this month and don’t see anything).

myspendingplan-envelopes

Tasks

Next is the Task Planner.  Not much to mention here either, other than it could help you keep track of your tasks if you put them into the system.  While this isn’t a groundbreaking feature, it’s a nice one to have.

myspendingplan-tasks

Shopping Lists

…is Coming Soon!  I’ll be sure to update this section when MySpendingPlanTM has it up and running.

Savings Goals

This is one area that I like.  It allows you to set specific savings goals and tracks your progress towards it.  For example, I put in mine that I want to have $10,000 saved up in my House Down Payment envelope by December 15th.  There’s a Spending Ticker (bar graph) that shows your progress.

Savings goals in this sections should also show up in the My Big Picture area as well.

Reports

The Reports area of MySpendingPlanTM has two main categories for it’s reports:  Income and Spending Reports and Bills and Tasks Reports.  There are a total of 10 different reports.

Here’s some screenshots of the reports.

I couldn’t get the view to change at all, despite my efforts at changing the Change Zoom settings.  As such I had to scroll to see much/any data.  Again, something I’m sure they’ll fix before getting out of Beta (or maybe it just doesn’t like Firefox as a browser).   Also, the reports come in either Report (table) form, a pie graph, or a bar graph.  The bar graphs look like basic Excel-produced graphs.

In short, the Reports section left much to be desired.

MySpendingPlan Price

The main thing that MySpendingPlanTM has going for it is the price.  MySpendingPlanTM is completely free.

MySpendingPlan Ads

After reading this review and seeing all the screenshots, you may not feel that the MySpendingPlanTM ads is that big of deal (and it may not be).  But I should point out that the screenshots throughout this review didn’t include any of the ads.  For that reason I thought it prudent to show you the influence that the advertisements will have when using MySpendingPlanTM.

Here’s a screenshot of a typical page:

myspendingplan-advertisements

The areas in red are advertisement areas (the area on the right is often a picture or motion ad as well).  This may, or may not bother you.  There were also some other areas containing ads:

  • A Save More area at the top of the My Big Picture page.
  • The “interview” when you first setup (this is nothing more than an opportunity to refer you to different services).
  • The large advertisement for connecting to Realtor when you first signed up.
  • The Kontera ads in the text (I only saw this once, so I don’t know how much they’ll use it).

Now, I’m not saying that MySpendingPlanTM shouldn’t offer these advertisements.  If it weren’t for revenue that they made off of these ads, they wouldn’t be able to provide the software for free.

But I personally think that MySpendingPlanTM is too ad heavy for the functionality that you’re getting.  It almost seems as though they’ve focused more on getting the ads in front of you than on creating a truly effective and quick solution to help you manage your finances better.

Conclusion

MySpendingPlanTM offers their online personal finance software for free — but it comes with a price: time and a lot of advertisements.

While the budgeting methodology that MySpendingPlanTM uses (the envelope-based budget), the overall offering of MySpendingPlanTM is inferior to many other solutions on the market.  The main complaint I had about MySpendingPlanTM is the fact that almost every action took considerably longer than it should have.  This longer time is a result of a nasty delay after the click of the mouse (in many instances) and the fact that the way you enter data (transactions for example) is simply takes too many clicks of the mouse to perform.  In short, the user interface needs quite a bit of improvements in order for it to be quick and effective.

The thought did enter my mind a couple times, however, that considering that their revenue comes from advertisments that you see while using the program, it could be possible that they don’t necessarily want you to do your work quickly.  The longer you spend in their program, the more face time their advertisments get.  Just a thought.

As mentioned above, MySpendingPlanTM offers a good deal of ads — too many for my tasts.  And while, for the most part, they weren’t overly intrusive, I got the feeling that MySpendingPlanTM was first an ad generator and second a personal finance tool to help you budget better and more effectively.

They’re still in Beta, so I’m sure many improvements are yet to be made.  I look forward to seeing some of those improvements.  But for now, I’d recommend looking elsewhere.  I see no reason to recommend MySpendingPlanTM over other free services, especially with the latest improvements that Mint‘s made (custom categories, better budget, better graphs, unintrustive ads, etc.)

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