Bundle.com launched way back in January of this year and for a long time you couldn’t do much other than compare a wealth of spending data across virtually every location in the county. While very cool and interesting to see how you compare to your neighbors and other places in the country, there was only so much you could do with the data. Thanks to their new update a few weeks ago that has all changed. Not only has Bundle introduced savings and debt data, but you can now create an account and import your own financial accounts so that you can use Bundle as your new favorite expense tracking and budgeting tool.
To be fair, I have been working with Bundle since their launch as a community editor so I’m of course a little excited to see the new features roll out, but I was still leery of the new expense tracking and budgeting features. Honestly, I’ve just never been big on budgeting and aside from setting up my accounts in Quicken or Mint for testing, it usually never goes beyond that. Usually the process is too cumbersome or there are issues with importing accounts that turn me off after just a few uses. So, that’s why I was eager to try out the new Bundle features so I could see if there were any improvements over the existing platforms. Here’s what I’ve found.
At the heart of Bundle is the data. If you want to know what the average 26-36 year old married household without kids earning $75-$100k per year is spending on groceries, you can see that data in a matter of seconds. If you want to compare those families in your hometown with the national average or another city in the country you can do that too. Thinking about having kids? Stack up the no kids data with families that do have kids and see how that might affect your budget. If you’re thinking about moving for a job you can compare the spending categories and see what changes there might be in your cost of living. The possibilities are endless and it is interesting to see what kind of trends emerge and measure yourself against others to see how you’re doing financially.
That’s pretty cool, right? No boring pie charts here. Instead, you get an interactive collection of bubbles that easily show you how the data is organized. Bundle does a good job in organizing the data so you can quickly understand what you’re looking for. No boring pie charts here. But it gets even more interesting if you want to dig deeper. Not only can you see some broad spending data, but you can dig right down and see what stores and restaurants people are spending the most money at.
I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise that people in Detroit are spending less than those in New York, and doing most of their spending at lower end stores. Want to see where everybody is eating in your neighborhood? Punch in your zip code and dig into the food bubble and see. You might find a new place to eat you’ve never tried before.
Tracking Your Own Spending and Creating Budgets
Most of the features above were already in place, so now we get to the really fun new items. Now you can link up your financial accounts in Bundle and it will automatically import your account balances, transaction data, and organize it all in the fancy bubbles you’ve grown to love.
I know the biggest issue people usually have with sites that utilize your financial data is security. Are these sites really secure, and how does it access your data? Well, sites like Bundle and Mint have gone a long way to ensure that using their sites is just as safe as visiting your bank’s site online by itself. This is one area I was curious about as well, so I put it through the paces when setting up my account. What I was happy to see is that it looks like the logins are routed directly to your financial institution and will use any security measures they already have in place before connecting to your account.
For example, if you use Chase bank you are probably familiar with the fact that if you try to access your account from a new computer or even your own computer if cookies are cleared you’ll be prompted with a message saying they must email or text you an authorization code to one of the contact methods you have on file with them. I was really surprised when entering my Chase account in Bundle that I received this same prompt and I had to verify my account by getting an authorization code first. That’s great. My other accounts exhibited the same security features and I had to answer security questions or whatever information the bank usually uses to verify you. That made me feel good about accessing my data on the site.
The last thing I was wondering about was what accounts it would work with. I know in the past with Mint and Quicken I’ve had issues with some accounts not being able sync up or I’d have to manually download account data, which was a real pain. So, while I didn’t import everything into Bundle at this time, I did try a few different banks, a mortgage, and even an investment account. I was shocked to see that they all worked flawlessly. Chase, Bank of America, Fifth Third Bank, Fidelity, they all worked fine and I had them showing up in my account in a matter of minutes.
Here’s what you see after you get your accounts linked up and you login. This is your My Money dashboard. You have your money represented with the bubbles on the left as expected, but then you also have your most recent transactions on the right. This is kind of nice as it is a very quick snapshot of your finances and you can easily move your mouse over any of the accounts and get a balance. But the real data comes after clicking the “go to my money” button.
Just like the bubbles represent spending elsewhere on the site, your money is displayed in the same way. You get a nice visual representation of how much money is going where and at any time you can hover the mouse over a category for more details and then click through to go deeper and see even more details about that category. In this example, let’s take a look at my “Getting Around” spending and see why that seems so high.
Here you’ll see a detailed breakdown of what makes up this spending category and you’ll also see a list of all transactions for the category. In addition, on the right you’ll see it will calculate your average and allow you to instantly compare this data to others to see how you stack up. Obviously, with only a little over one month of data so far the average isn’t accurate, but this should become a valuable measuring gauge over time. After seeing this data I now remember why we spent so much in this category in August. I forgot my wife had to attend a few conferences all the way on the other side of the state so we used a lot more gas than usual. Thanks for clearing this up, Bundle!
The other interesting thing is the ability to move away from the bubble data and look at your monthly spending on a daily basis. This allows you to get a quick glance as to what days you spend the most money and where you spend it.
Notice a trend here? I did, and never realized it. We rarely spend any money on weekends, at least if we do it’s probably with cash on hand instead of a credit or debit purchase. Not that it matters when we spend, but I found that interesting. What’s really cool about this page is you can assign a category to your uncategorized expenses simply by dragging the bubbles into the appropriate category list on the right. When you first start out you’ll have to do some categorizing because Bundle doesn’t always know what a transaction is so this makes it easy to find the uncategorized transactions marked with an asterisk and drag them to their appropriate category. You can even set up rules so that Bundle knows to always apply a category to certain types of transactions.
Being able to visually track your spending is really great, but where Bundle can help even further is in creating budgets and spending goals. Like I mentioned at the beginning, I’ve never been much of a hard budgeter myself, but the way Bundle does it makes it incredibly simple and even I can see some value in creating a few high level budgets for our spending.
The first time you go to the budget screen you’re presented with some basic categories so it’s easy to set some numbers. Even better, based on your history and information you’ve already entered it gives you some good baseline numbers to start with if you aren’t sure. You can easily remove categories you don’t want to budget for or add custom categories, it’s up to you.
After you’ve saved your budgets you’ll see something like the page above. Your budget categories will be listed and you’ll see clear pie charts illustrating what you’ve spent so far and how much you have left for the rest of the month. It’s simple, yet very effective, especially if you’re prone to blowing your budget each month. If you check this page at least once a week you’ll be quickly reminded as to what you’ve spent so far and how much left you have to spend and it can help keep spending in-check.
Add a Goal
Bundle excels when it comes to tracking spending, categorizing it, and allowing you to compare yourself with others, but what about helping you save save money for a specific goal? I think I want to take a trip in the fall of 2012, so I’m going to create a goal for it.
A nice feature with this is that if you already have a dollar amount in mind it will calculate the end date for you. If you already have a deadline in mind it will determine how much money you need to save. Once you’ve put in your goal data you’ll see all of your goals displayed on a timeline and with progress bars. This is a great way to quickly visualize where you stand, how much time and money you have to go before reaching a goal, and it also allows you to edit each goal if you need to.
Bundle has come a long way in the eight months since its initial launch. What started as a simple collection of financial data and personal finance commentary has turned into a full-blown free personal finance application that can stand toe-to-toe with any of the other applications out there. What surprised me is that even though it’s still in beta, I haven’t encountered any major issues. I had one bank account give me trouble when trying to add it, but after waiting again until the following day it worked just fine.
Overall it was incredibly easy to import accounts and for the most part it accurately categorized most of my transactions. There were a handful of transactions that were uncategorized and a couple that I wanted to change, but after spending about ten minutes making those changes everything was displaying as it should.
Being someone who has never tracked a budget much in the past it will take some time for me to get into the habit of logging into Bundle on a regular basis so I can see where I stand, but aside from that I don’t see any reason not to now that I already have much of the data in place. I know there are even more updates in store for Bundle down the road so I’m curious to see what else they can bring to the table.
At the very least, I’d encourage you to hop on over to bundle and create your free account. I write a few things a week over there and there are other prominent personal finance writers such as Sheryl Garrett, Kate Ashford contributing to the site as well. In fact, it’s an open platform and anyone can post content there! If you find some data that’s interesting and you want to comment on it or even write an opinion piece about something financial all you have to do is connect via Facebook Connect and you’re allowed to write your own content.
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About the Author: Jeremy Vohwinkle is a Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor® and spent a few years working as a financial planner. Today, he helps people make the most of their money by writing about personal finance here and elsewhere on the web. Jeremy is also Coach at Adaptu and a regular contributor for other publications such as Intuit, and American Express. Be sure to follow Jeremy on Twitter or Google+.