Money at 30: Goodbudget Review — Digitizing the Envelopes Method
Last week, I shared how my brother-in-law and his wife seemed to be ahead of me on some trends, leading us to book an Airbnb for our family visit this Thanksgiving. Considering that he’s younger and hipper than me, that made a lot of sense. However, seeing as I’ve been writing about personal finance for more than two years now and penned dozens of reviews in that time, I certainly was not expecting him to introduce me to a budgeting app I hadn’t heard of as well.
It all started as I sat in the living room and watched as my brother-in-law pulled a receipt from his pocket, handed it to his wife, and asked if they’d entered it into Goodbudget yet. Normally I’d be a bit hesitant to admit my eavesdropping (especially since finances were involved) but hey, they’re family. Thus, I inquired about the app they spoke of and they shared how much they enjoyed using Goodbuget to manage their, well, budget. As they went on, I was intrigued by the premise of the app and decided to test it out for myself.
So what did I discover about Goodbudget and what were my thoughts overall? Let’s take a closer look at the app, including some of the pros and cons.
Getting Started with Goodbudget
What is Goodbudget?
Surely if you know anything about budgeting, you’ve heard about the envelopes method. The idea behind this age-old, Ramsey-endorsed concept is that you create a collection of envelopes meant to represent your different spending categories — food, entertainment, gas, etc — each with its own spending limit. Then, when you get paid, you fill these envelopes to match your budget and utilize the cash inside of them as designated. The idea is that having this physical representation of your budget will help you to fully understand your spending and where you can make changes.
Goodbudget takes this simple-enough concept and digitizes it, allowing you to create both classic and custom “envelopes” for various categories. From there, you can “fill” these envelopes as you get paid and add transactions that will begin to deplete them. As a result, you can easily keep track of how much you’re spending, how much you’re saving, and how well you’re sticking to your budget overall.
Off the bat, there’s something that makes Goodbudget stand out from several other apps I’ve reviewed: you don’t link any bank accounts in order for the app to function. In fact, if you don’t want to take advantage of some of the app’s syncing features or web version, you don’t even really need to make an account. That said, Goodbudget does offer a free plan, only requiring an e-mail address and a password you create in order to join.
Free Goodbudget vs. Goodbuget Plus
As I just mentioned, the basic version of Goodbudget is free to use. However there are some limitations to the free version. For example, free users are only able to create 10 envelopes and set-up only one financial account. Additionally, you’ll only be able to sync your info between two devices with transaction data being stored for one.
If that doesn’t meet your needs, they also offer Goodbudget Plus. Not only does this paid version allow you to create an unlimited number of envelopes and accounts but also lets you sync across five devices. It also retains transaction history for up to five years instead of just one. All this comes at a price of $5.99 a month or $49.99 a year if you pay upfront.
Navigating the Goodbudget app
While the premise of Goodbudget is pretty straightforward, the app can take a surprising amount of time to get used to. For example, one of the aspects that annoyed me was that the icon in the upper right corner of the app is always used to add transactions regardless of what tab you’re on. Maybe it’s just me but I couldn’t help but think that, when I was on the Accounts page, this button should instead be utilized to add an account and not a transaction. Ditto the Envelopes tab. Instead, you’ll need to hit “Edit” in the opposite corner before being taken to a screen where you can create new envelopes. Like I said, this just took a little getting used to on my part but was, admittedly, a bit frustrating at first.
Joining the aforementioned Accounts and Envelopes tabs, there’s also a handy Transaction tab that puts all of your money moves in one place. There’s also a Reports tab that provides some visual representations of your spending and savings. Finally the More tab is where you can add money, transfer envelopes, and more. It will also link you to the website if you want to “manage your household” — AKA change your password, preferences, etc.
The Goodbudget app and website
For the first few days that I started using Goodbudget, I didn’t even really notice that there was also a web component to the app. But, as it turns out, some of the service’s best features reside on the web. You’ll even need to use the website in order to manage some aspects of your account, such as passwords and devices used.
Another extremely helpful aspect of the Goodbudget web version is that you can upload transaction data from your bank. Instead of logging into your bank account using an API like many finance apps, Goodbudget allows you to upload files you export manually from your bank. I had never actually done this before, but I found that Wells Fargo enabled me to export transaction data to a Quickbooks format, which I could then upload to Goodbudget. From there, I could drag and drop different transactions into the appropriate envelopes. Mind you, I still needed to do this all manually instead of the majority of transactions being automatically filed, but it did make things a bit easier.
In the event that you don’t feel like going through these steps or even using the website at all, you can still add income and transactions manually using the app.
Final Thoughts on Goodbudget
Here’s the thing about Goodbudget: while it attempts to co-opt the envelope method’s basic idea, it kind of spoils the effectiveness of said method in the process. To me, part of what makes the envelopes work for budgeting was that you’re dealing in actual cash, not just digital numbers. Furthermore, since Goodbudget doesn’t link to your bank account(s) and credit card(s), there’s really not much accountability to be found, leading me to suspect that many won’t have the same visceral reaction to spending money and watching funds deplete as if they’d been using real cash envelopes.
At the same time, I definitely see the appeal of Goodbudget for those who are skeptical of mobile banking and especially third-party finance apps. As I mention in oh so many of my reviews, it does take a certain level of trust to sign up for all of the apps that I do because you are, to a certain degree, putting your banking and financial data at risk — regardless of how secure these apps are supposed to be. Therefore I totally understand why some (my brother-in-law included) would prefer a tool like Goodbudget that doesn’t require that data.
Lastly, I do wonder about the paid pricepoint for Goodbudget. To me it seems a bit high when more powerful apps like Mint are free. Of course, that brings us right back into the whole “connected bank accounts” thing. While 10 envelopes is probably pretty reasonable for most folks, only being able to set-up one financial account in the app does feel limiting. Then again, since it’s not like it’s pulling actual data, combining the balances from your different accounts might not be a big deal.
Ultimately, while Goodbudget might not be my top choice for a budgeting app, I can see why my brother-in-law and his wife swear by it. With helpful features like syncing between multiple devices, the ability to create custom envelopes, and — of course — no requirement to link bank accounts, there are definitely things to like about the app. Because of this, Goodbudget seems like a solid in-between option for those who want a more high-tech solution than using the real cash envelopes method but are still a bit wary of the FinTech revolution on the whole.