The Digital Envelope Budget with Kaiku

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We created a digital envelope system for one month using Kaiku. Did it help?

Six different color choices!

Prepaid cards get a bad rap.  With good reason.  Most of them come with crazy fees, and can be inconvenient to use.

I was recently given a chance to review Kaiku Visa® Prepaid Card, and I’m happy to report that I found it to be different.  There aren’t any activation fees, and the monthly maintenance fee is lower than that of most checking accounts: $3.  

I want to take a minute to review why you might want to use a prepaid card.  For a lot of people a checking account will bear more interest.  But that interest is so infinitesimal that there’s a lot of other contributing factors that may make a prepaid card like Kaiku the way to go.

Why You’d Want to Use the Kaiku Prepaid Card

  • You can’t get a bank account.  Life happens.  Unfortunately.  If your credit takes a hard enough hit and your income is sufficiently low, banks won’t take you on as a client.  Even for a basic checking account.  This makes it extremely hard to access any funds that are coming your way.  The number one group of people I’ve seen with this issue is those who are disabled.  You don’t have to be old for this to happen to you.  Most of the people I’ve known dealing with disability have had it come on at a young age.  And then you’re unexpectedly out of work.  Your income is gone.  Eventually you start receiving assistance or social security, but when those checks come in, you don’t have anywhere to deposit them.  Cashing them is expensive.  Instead, you can have them direct deposited onto your Kaiku Card.  For $0.
  • Your kid is out of your house, but not out of your wallet.  If you’re providing a monthly budget/allowance to a child while they’re away at college, doing so can be quite the task.  Giving them your credit card is nine times out of ten going to be a very, very bad idea.  If they’re far away, odds are that they have a different bank, so co-signing on an account to have access in order to deposit funds is not all that convenient.  (Though this is getting a little easier with the internet.)  Kaiku could make the whole process really simple.  You get the account in your name so you can transfer money from your own bank account, then get an additional card (no extra fee—it’s still just $3/month!) so they can access the money in the account wherever they are.  The beauty of a prepaid card is that when the money is gone, it’s gone.  There’s no overdraft fees.  There’s no overspending on a credit card with astronomical interest rates.  When the money runs out, it simply won’t let you use it anymore.
  • You want to use the envelope system, but aren’t so analog.  I’ve thought about using the envelope system before, but I don’t run into cash that often.  So  using a digital envelope system really appeals to me.  That’s actually what I did in the process of this review.  Let’s get to it.

Using The Digital Envelope Budget With Kaiku

We ended up using the Kaiku card for our grocery budget.  We rarely overspend in any area of our budget, but I wanted to see if this envelope theory worked.  I wanted to see if it could keep me from spending as much as I usually do.

It worked!  I typically have somewhere around $60 leftover in my grocery budget at the end of the month (which I then apply to the next month.)  In April, I had $178 leftover at the end of the month.  That’s a huge difference.  While I couldn’t feel the money or physically see it going away, I could log into the Kaiku app and see those numbers going down.  It made me want to keep them as high as possible every time I was in the grocery store.  If I kept it up for another couple months, there’s a “Funds-ometer” that would tell me how my spending compared to the past 60 days.  It’s super user-friendly and the graphics are well done, making looking at your money anything but boring.

If we do continue, I think we’ll need to get another card for the same account.  It’s free, plus the husband and I wouldn’t be juggling the “grocery shopping card” every time the other one is going to the store.

You could only use this for one budget area, though.  If you wanted to digitally envelope everything, it would be $3/month for each “envelope” or budget area, as you can’t split the funds within one account.

Putting Money on and Taking Money Off

Using the card is super easy.  I transferred money onto the card from my bank account.  You can also do direct deposit for paychecks (or things like Social Security/Disability as outlined above.)

There is a simple picture upload feature for depositing paper checks within the app, but I ended up not using it.  It costs a minimum of $5/check, or 1% for printed checks and 4% for handwritten checks.  I don’t get a lot of paper checks anymore, but the few I happened upon while I was doing the review were so small they weren’t worth the fee.

You can deposit cash at ReadyLink or Moneygram locations.  The app brings up all of the ones close to you.  There were several close to me, but I didn’t have any cash to deposit!  I’m turning into quite the digital girl.  You may be able to deposit the cash for free, especially if you’re using ReadyLink, but some retailers do charge a fee.  If you do see a lot of cash in your day-to-day, I’d check out the cash loading locator, and call the locations convenient to you before deciding for sure to open up a card.  I doubt the fees would be inhibiting, but if you’re working a job where you get paid in tips it might add up.

If you’re super digital, like I apparently am, getting money onto the card should be no issue and end up costing you nothing.  If you run into a lot of paper, run the numbers first.

Getting money off the card is a breeze.  You just establish a pin and use it like a debit card.  It is through Visa, so I think you’d have a hard time finding a place that doesn’t accept it.

If you do need cash, there’s 55,000+ surcharge free ATMs within their network.  Those can be brought up on the app or using this locator, too.  There’s one literally two blocks from my house, so that was a non-issue.  Convenient, even!

Another cool feature is that you can send money to friends who also have a Kaiku card directly within the app.  I am Kaiku-friendless at the moment, but I have a feeling that’s going to change as people start hearing about them.  When you go out for dinner, instead of splitting the tab you can just send your half to your friend through the app.  Instantly.


Overall, I had a really positive experience.  The visual and always having the app with me made me more conscious about my food spending decisions.  Getting money off the card was always free and simple. If you’re in a position where you get paid with a lot of paper checks, or all of the ReadyLink/Moneygrams in your area charge too-high fees to deposit cash, this may not be the best option for you.  But if you’re trying to get one area of your budget under control, keep a college student’s spending in line, or just flat out can’t get a bank account, I found this to be a great system to use if you’re using direct deposit or doing everything on the deposit end through digital transfers.



*I received compensation for my time and the writing of this post.  Regardless, opinions are 100% mine and 100% honest.*

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3 thoughts on “The Digital Envelope Budget with Kaiku

  1. Kaiku

    Hi folks! Team Kaiku here. Thanks for the great review. Just wanted to point out some exciting news: thanks to our dedication to simple fees and transparency, the Kaiku Card is now Visa Clear Prepaid certified. Being Visa Clear Prepaid guarantees what you see is what you get with Kaiku — you’ll never be hit with any hidden fees from us! For more information, please visit our website at

  2. Christopher Graham

    Curious if your still using the card(s)? I love the concept for my wife as she doesn’t want to do cash for safety and convenience reasons and I want to have the “limited” spending that I don’t feel with credit or debit cards. Would love to see more screenshots of the interface to see if we couldn’t combine a few envelopes onto one card

    1. femmefrugality Post author

      Hi, Christopher! Thank you for your question. I do not currently use Kaiku as I’ve been doing a good bit of travel hacking and putting my spending on credit cards (which I then pay off by or before the statement due date.)
      I did like using them, though. The only thing is that you’re going to have to open a separate account for each envelope. You will be charged a $3 maintenance fee for each “envelope” that doesn’t have a deposit of $750+ in any given month. We were only trying to improve one area of our budget, so it was no big deal, but if you’re working on multiple areas…you have to be the judge of if the adjustment to behavior causes more savings than the costs you’ll incur with maintenance fees.
      As far as screen shots go, I’d highly encourage you to visit Kaiku’s website listed in the comment above. Their videos helped me understand a lot more about how the actual app works before I used it.


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