Snowmint Budget Review

snowmint-budgetBudget, by Snowmint Crealive Solutions, is an envelope based budgeting software program that was originally built for the Mac, but that is now available for both Mac and Windows platforms.

Being that I’m a huge proponent of budgeting using the time-tested envelope method, I’ve been looking forward to checking out Snowmint’s Budget for a little while now.

In general, most personal finance software applications that use envelope budgeting will help you manage your spending better.  But the methodology is just part of it.  The software also needs to be well designed, easy to use, and effective.  How does Budget by Snowmint stack up to the competition?  Let’s find out.

Note: This is a review of one of the 6.2 versions of Budget (Mac). There have since been newer versions released (up to 6.5), which are sure to have some improvements and changes.

Who’s Behind Budget?

The company that created Budget is Snowmint Creative Solutions, LLC.  It looks to be a small operation, with two principles at the head (Ron Hooper and Kyle Hammond) and a few other contractors.  I personally see this as a positive thing.  A small team means centralized responsibility and usually means that they take more ownership in the product.  This is a good thing.

There are a few things that stick out to me about the Snowmint company.  For one, everything that I read (online and on Snowmint’s website) points to the fact that Snowmint provides very good customer service and product support.  If contacted, they strive to respond to your questions within 24 hours.  The FAQ section is large and comprehensive.  Also, their forums provide a great deal of answers and appear to be rather active (with new posts and comments being added regularly).

They also have a great guarantee, but more on that later.

Getting Started with Snowmint Budget

Before I get into the actual set up process with Budget, I’d like to point out that Snowmint provides a good deal of help to get you started with Budget.  On their Budget Information page, they offer numerous helps including instructional pdf files, a visual (and effective) tour of the envelope budgeting concept, a set up tour, and a usage tour.  All of these were very helpful.

Another one of my favorites was this:

budget-snowmint

They even have instructions and guidance on how to use Budget to teach your child or teenager to learn to better manage their finances.  This is something that all of our youth need to learn and I was glad to see that it’s something that Snowmint has thought through.

Setting Up Budget

For this review and walkthrough I’ll be using the Mac version of the software.  When you first download Budget (by clicking the Free to Try button at top right of the website), you’re first presented with a Setup Assistant.  On the Budget Information page Budget provides a pdf file to walk you through setting the program up (that doesn’t use the Setup Assistant) as well as a Setup Tour (that does use the Setup Assistant).  I chose to use the Setup Assistant.

Import

After the introduction, you’re given the option to import a QIF or OFX data file.  Unclear as to what this was talking about (it didn’t already want me to import my transactions did it?), I searched in the help.  It turns out that this step allows you to import data from a previous budgeting software program (for example, Snowmint’s Budget Workbook).  For most, you’ll just want to skip this first step.

Setup Bank Accounts

This step is as simple as it sounds.  Simply give your bank account a name, enter an account balance, and click Create.

Create Envelopes

This is, arguably, the most important step of creating your budget.  Here you’ll create all of the envelopes that you’ll spend money “out of.”  If you’ve used budgeting software that didn’t use envelopes previously, you can consider these envelopes to be your different spending categories.

For example, you would have an envelope for your mortgage, one for groceries, one for entertainment, etc.

Snowmint’s Budget has a long drop down list for you to choose the envelopes from.  Or (and this is important) they allow you to create your own envelopes by simply typing it in the box.  Too many finance apps don’t allow you to create your own custom categories — I’m glad that Snowmint has seen the light.  Also, as you type, Snowmint offers suggestions.  I found this to be faster than using the drop down list.

The more fully you complete this step, trying to think of all your envelopes, the more effective your budget will be.  You may want to have a record of your past spending on hand for this step.

Distribute Funds

In this section you distribute your initial bank account amounts into the envelopes.  This is easily performed by double-clicking on the envelope listing and entering the amount.  I found out after clicking around that you can also use only the keyboard to enter amounts by arrowing down or up to the envelope and hitting the Tab key to edit (this will save you a ton of time).  Naturally, the Amount to Distribute amount is lowered by each distribution that you make.

Budget Setup

Budget tells you here that if you only wish to use the program as an account manager, than you’re now complete with the setup.  If, however, you want to use Budget as a budgeting tool (I hope that all of you would say, Yes!), it has a few more steps for you.

Using this software only as an account manager and not taking advantage of the envelope budgeting system would be like buying a Porsche and never taking it over 35 mph.

Enter Income / Expenses

The Enter Income step is fairly self explanatory, you enter the amounts and frequency of each source of your income.  Budget offers a number of pay frequencies — nice.

When you enter your expenses, it has you enter your budgeted amount for each expense.  These amounts can be anything from weekly to yearly budgets.  You also define which paycheck (in my case, Husbands or Wife’s paycheck) will be used for which envelope.

Setup Complete

There’s a friendly end screen once you’re done with the Setup Assistant.  It reminds you that your complete satisfaction is important to them and gives you their contact email.  It mentions that they try to respond to your email within 24 hours. A nice, reassuring touch.

Snowmint Budget Main Window

After the inital setup you’re then presented with the main window of Snowmint’s Budget:

budget-main-window

The main window of Budget basically consists of four areas: the top toolbar, the left sidebar, the main envelope area, and the bottom “expansion” bar.  We’ll briefly go over each:

The Top Toolbar

Contains buttons that perform actions such as entering transactions, deposits, etc.  You’ll use this toolbar to see a transation history on a bank account basis or an envelope basis.  Also found are buttons for stats and an Info button that is used to view or change information for your envelopes or bank accounts.

top-toolbar

The toolbar has a fairly intuitive interface.  Depending on what item you have selected, it dims or brightens icons that would be clickable for that item.  For example, if I’ve clicked on a bank account, it allows me to click on the Debit icon (brightened), but not on the Envelope History icon (dimmed).

Left Sidebar

sidebar1The left sidebar contains your bank accounts and their balances.  By clicking on the individual bank acounts, you are shown the envelope balances that pertain to that bank account.

Also, with a bank acount seleced, you can click the Info button info1 to edit information on that account such as its name, preferences, next check #, a signature, etc.

By double clicking on an account, you open the Balance window to reconcile your bank accounts.

Envelope Area

All of your envelopes are found in the largest section of the screen.  I like that this clearly puts the emphasis on the balances in your envelopes, rather that simply what you have in your bank account (a reminder that each dollar spent must be accounted for with funds from an pre-planned envelope balance).

Each envelope shows the envelope name as well as the balance of funds in that envelope.  These envelopes are also a little more customizable (more on that later).
envelopes

By clicking an envelope once, you can see the icons in the top toolbar brighten, allowing you to click on them.  This means that you can enter spending transactions (a check, debit, or credit card charge), record a deposit into that envelope, see the envelope transaction history and stats, and more.

Bottom Bar

The bar at the bottom the screen, while it doesn’t take up much space, can actually do quite a bit.

bottom-bar

The leftmost icon opens the Envelope Display View.  This allows you to view envelopes in a customized way.  For example, I could create a Fixed Expense view to see all the envelopes that I consider fixed expenses.

To set up a custom envelope display view, simply right click in the Envelope Display window and then click New Envelope View.  Then click the Settings icon and choose your view preferences.

The Settings icon opens up a settings screen in which you customize the Envelope Display Views that you set up.  Among many other settings, this is where you determine which envelopes will show up in which view.

The Transactions icon opens a sidebar on the right side of the screen that contains transaction information.

The History icon opens a bottom window that shows transaction history for whichever account or envelope you choose.

The Stats icon adds some stats to the history view.

See the following screenshots to see each of these functions:

Customizing Envelopes

If you think the plain gray envelopes are a little bland, you’re right.  But the good news is you can customize them to a certain degree.

By clicking on an envelope and then clicking the Info icon in the top toolbar, the info window for that envelope opens up.  This window provides some good information such as the amount budgeted for the envelope, which pay that budgeted amount is coming from, and more.

custom-envelope1If you click on the Appearance button, you can change the color of the envelope, as well as add a black and white or color icon to it.  With a couple of clicks, I turned my boring gray envelope into this:

After a few minutes, I was able to turn my envelopes into a little more colorful collection:

all-custom-envelopes

*If you wanted, you could color code your envelopes to help you visualize your spending.  For example, all fixed expenses could be lighter hughes of yellows, all your variable regular expenses in hughes of blue, and all your discretionary expenses (that you can control more), in darker hughes of reds.  Just a thought for those who see things more visually.

Here’s some screenshots of the envelope customization process:

Depositing (Adding Funds) into Budget

There are a few of different ways to go about recording your income or paycheck into Snowmint’s Budget.

Into an Envelope

If for example, you get some money that you want to only go into a certain envelope you can click that envelope and then click the Deposit icon deposit.  Fill in the deposit information and click Record and you’ll see your bank account balance and the envelope balance increase by the amount of the transaction.

Manually

In most instances, however, you will be getting a larger paycheck and need to distribute that income into various different envelopes.  If this is the case, you click on the bank account (in the left sidebar) that it is to be deposited into and then click the Deposit icon.  In the Deposit window you input where the income is coming from, how much it is, and then distribute the income into the various envelopes as shown:

deposit-paycheck

Using Pre-allocated Settings

If, however, you set up a budget (income and expenses) in the Setup Assistant when you began, you have another, much quicker option to record your income and distribute it to the envelopes.

Simply click on the Record Pay icon record-pay, select which pay source it is, and click either Record Pay now (to use the set allocations) or Adjust Pay Allocations (to make changes.  Your income is automatically put into the different envelopes for you according to the allocation that you set.

Adding Transactions

There are three basic ways to record transactions.  If the transaction covers only one envelope, the best way to do it is to click on an envelope and then one of the transaction icon (check, debit, or charge) and enter the transaction information (you can also just double click the envelope to open the transaction window).

If the transaction is going to be split across multiple enveloes, you click on a bank account and then click one of the transaction icons.  If you go this route, you’ll also need to set the amounts for each envelope.

You can also choose to use the Transaction Entry window to enter transactions.  As noted before, if you click the Transactions icon at the bottom of the screen, the Transactions Entry window opens.

What I Don’t Like About the Data Entry

It may be a personal preference, but I found that entering transactions into the system was a little too tedious.  The way it’s set up, while simple, requires you to make many clicks of the mouse.  I was longing for a list of sorts for the transactions so that I could just use my keyboard to enter multiple transactions very quickly.  Instead, I was clicking around to different envelopes for each transaction.  On weeks with a lot of transactions, this may get a little annoying.

Import Transactions

Thankfully, you can import your transactions from your bank.  This should save you loads of time.  I couldn’t get it to work with my .QIF file, but that may have been a problem with my institutions downloaded file and not with Snowmint Budget.

Transferring Funds

There will be times when you will need to take money from one envelope to pay for something from another envelope.  This is good in that it reinforces the idea that everything you spend, must be accounted for.

Transferring funds from one account to another is quite simple in >Budget.  All you have to do is click an envelope (that you want to take money out of) and drag your mouse to whichever envelope you want to transfer money into.  In this screenshot I was transferring money from my Restaurant envelope into the Groceries envelope:

transfer-funds

I also noticed that when I tried to enter a transaction that would take my envelope balance negative, I got the following:

available-transfer

A nice touch.

A Few Other Neat Features

Stats

One of the icons in the top toolbar is the Stats icon:  stats-icon It allows you to view various financial data in table, line graph, or bar graph formats. While this is a nice feature, a broader offering of reports would be nice.

stats

Balance

Another Budget feature that may come in handy (especially if you still use monthly bank statements) is the Balance:

balance

This is primarily used to reconcile your bank statements (or online transaction history) with your Budget software.  It’s fairly intuitive and easy to use.

…and More

This is not a complete list of all the features that Budget has to offer.  The documentation for the software goes over a number of others for the more advanced user.

Snowmint Budget Price

The listed price for Budget is $39.95 for a downloaded copy.  At the time of this writing, it was “on sale” at $29.95.  In terms of quality personal finance software this is a very reasonable price — even a little lower than most competitors.  If you want a physical CD, the price is $47.95.

Snowmint’s Free Trial

I’d also like to highlight that Snowmint offers a free trial for Budget.  It’s a great way to try the software out before you buy.  They have a fantastic money back guarantee, but if you want to take it for a test drive before handing over any dough, you can.  The trial allows 250 transactions and 4 balances, so depending on your rate of transactions, it could last up to 4 months.

To download Budget for free and start using the free trial, go to their catalog page, and then click the “TRY” button.

Snowmint’s Guarantee

Another good thing about Snowmint Budget is it’s great guarantee.  In their words: “If you are not 100% satisfied with any of our products for any reason within 60 days of your purchase we will give you a full refund.”  I would think 60 days of consistent use would be plenty of time for you to see if you like the product or not.

They also guarantee great support and privacy.  Be sure to check out their guarantee page to get an idea of how much they stand behind their product.

Conclusion

Budget by Snowmint is a solid personal finance software program that the Mac lovers out there may find to be a useful tool when trying to get a better handle on their spending. It’s also now available for Windows, so the PC users can also benefit.  I don’t believe that I ran across a single bug in the time that I spent in the application, something that hasn’t happened with the other Mac software applications that I’ve reviewed.

I really like that Budget uses the time-tested envelope budgeting methodology.  For those that are dedicated to using this software, it will definitely have a dramatic effect on your money management skills.  It’s hard to not manage your money better when you’re using the envelope method.

Is Snowmint’s Budget the best budget software out there? No.  Is it a strong contender (especially in the Mac environment)? Yes.  I had few complaints about Budget.  Primary among them was that the transaction entry could be designed to be a bit faster.  The reports could also use some work.  But all things considered, if you’re a Mac user and are looking for another alternative to help you manage your money, Budget by Snowmint is one that you should at least take for spin using the free trial.

Try Snowmint

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