The “envelope system” of budgeting is a physical method of parceling out money, using cash and envelopes, allows users to keep close track of their money. Today, technology has made it possible to create a digital envelope system.

With spreadsheets and apps, you too can create a detailed budget for your daily, weekly, monthly, and annual expenses. While it can be time-consuming, people who use the digital envelope system love how easy it is to keep an eye on their finances. Whether you’re organizing your personal or business finances, you’ll quickly learn exactly where your money is going. It’s also easier to spot errors and get a clearer picture of your financial health. Read on to learn more about how the digital envelope system works and why it’s worth using.

Why use a virtual envelope system?

The biggest reason to use a digital envelope system is to figure out where your money is going. Using an envelope system forces you to pay attention to your finances. You might be surprised at just how much you’re spending in certain categories. Fortunately, it’s easy to make adjustments.

Digital envelope systems make it easier to save your money, too. Once you’ve sorted out your finances, you can set savings goals. It’ll also teach you discipline, and help keep you from spending money you don’t have. Credit cards make it easy to splurge, but digital envelope budgeting systems force you to acknowledge whether you can afford the charges. If you’re forced to review your finances every time you want a treat, that $5 coffee might not be quite so tempting. Best of all, you’re less likely to pay overdraft fees or credit card interest.

Using a digital envelope system for your home or business

Now that you know why we love envelope budgeting, you might wonder where to start. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you create your own virtual envelope system:

  1. Review expenses to create categories: First, make a list of all your home or business expenses. If you’re creating a digital envelope system for both home and business, keep these two categories separate. After you’ve listed your expenses, divide them into categories. For example, rent or mortgage, tuition, transportation, food, supplies and services are common categories.
  2. Set limits for each category: You’ll probably have a good idea of how much you spend—or at least how much you want to spend each month. Major expenses, like mortgage payments, are usually consistent. Smaller expenses, like utilities, food and entertainment budgets, often fluctuate monthly. Set realistic limits for each category, based on historic budgets and actual costs. Don’t forget to build in a little extra to cover emergencies. If you’re budgeting for a business, remember that the goal is to spend only what’s necessary. The rest is your profit.
  3. Find the right app: Next, find the right software to manage your digital envelope system. NorthOne lets you set up unlimited digital envelopes for your business. For home budgets, you may wish to try services like Mvelopes or Goodbudget.
  4. Separate your funds into digital envelopes: Now, separate your funds into digital envelopes—whether that’s through NorthOne or separate bank account categories. NorthOne’s envelope system also lets you automatically fund your envelopes on a monthly basis, so you don’t have to spend time manually managing your money.
  5. Spend from envelopes: Each time you spend money, take it out of the appropriate envelope. As you go through the month, you’ll be able to track how quickly you’re going through each category’s budget.
  6. Review and adjust: Finally, don’t forget to review how you’re spending your money. You’ll probably have a good idea, thanks to the envelopes themselves, but it’s important to sit down at the end of the month and get a clear picture of how you did. You might find that your food and entertainment budget is insufficient, but you’re also not paying as much for transportation as you thought you would. Whether you decide to cut back in one area and bank the savings, or adjust your budget amounts, your envelope system will likely require a few months to get the balance just right.

In practice, this might look like separate digital envelopes for rent or mortgage, services, supplies and taxes. For example, imagine you budget $500 per month for services. When it comes time to pay the twice-monthly cleaning crew, you take $300 out of the services envelope. Because you have to review that envelope’s contents, you’ll know that you have $200 left for the month, which should cover your bookkeeper’s services. If they raise their prices suddenly, however, you’ll know that you need to increase the funds in that category for next month.

Every business and personal budget will look different—but many people who use this system tend to rave about how easy it is to track their finances.

Important considerations with digital cash envelopes

Using digital cash envelopes is eye-opening and effective, but it can also be time-consuming. Keeping track of every expense and transferring money out of your digital envelopes can be frustrating. Fortunately, NorthOne’s Envelopes feature makes it faster than going to the ATM to get cash every time you need to make a purchase.

Users should also keep in mind that when you use the envelope system, your credit card usage will probably decline significantly. That’s a good way to avoid overspending, but if you’re relying on rewards points, you might want to consider a different system. Some people only use digital envelopes for categories they want to closely monitor, like subscription-based services, eating out or office supplies. This helps them keep track of where they’re most likely to overspend, and saves them the trouble of making separate envelopes for consistent expenses, like rent.

Finally, remember that you’ll likely deal with cash more often. Some people feel vulnerable carrying large sums of money around. Credit and debit cards offer protection against theft, whereas cash is easily stolen. If this is a concern for you, you may wish to find a way to work credit or debit purchases into your system.

Take control of your finances with NorthOne

The digital envelope budgeting system helps users track their finances like never before. If you want to cut down on splurges, identify unnecessary expenses or simply get a better idea of how much you’re spending, you can benefit from creating your own system.

NorthOne’s unlimited digital envelope feature makes your budgeting easier than ever. Simply use our website or app to transfer funds between envelopes and set up automatic funding. You’ll be amazed at how a digital envelope system can help you refine your budget, save for the future and manage your business—especially when used alongside NorthOne’s other small business banking services.