By now, you should know that I strongly believe it’s great money management systems, not mental strength, that creates wealth.
In earlier pieces on budgeting, we tackled two important topics:
– Many successful people don’t have create time to create or track a budget spreadsheet, so automating the process is important for success: Forget 5 Steps To Budget Success–How About One.
– Budgeting with a partner is as much about communication asit is about counting pennies. Cheryl and I use this budget to make sure we’re on the same page: The Twenty-Minute-a-Week Budget: A Busy Couple’s Best Friend.
If you’re a busy person who can’t write down every expense on the fly, it’s important to stay on top of data. You’ve heard me mention a tool called Mint which I use to monitor my financial life.
What is Mint? Let’s take a tour.
Mint.com is a free website that tracks your money management. For the most part, it does so seamlessly, handling all the budget spreadsheet tasks and more. I get excited whenever I log into my Mint account, because it puts a wealth of information at my fingertips.
With Mint, I know:
– How much I’ve spent this month
– My net worth at a glance
– My investment status
– Opportunities to improve
Of course, just because it’s free doesn’t mean there isn’t a cost. Mint assails you with partner offers and a myriad of ways that you could do better, using products solicited through the site. Like I mentioned in my review of Upromise, to me this is a small price to pay for a robust tool that saves me from creating a budget spreadsheet and looks for opportunities to save me money.
In many ways, Mint is like another pair of eyes that can point out strengths and weaknesses.
Setting Up the Account
When you first log onto Mint, you’ll enter in information about your financial life. It’s going to ask for your brokerage, home, savings, checking, and credit cards. It’ll be helpful to have login information ready at your fingertips.
If you aren’t sold on Mint, give it a quick tour to see how it’ll affect your money management decisions. Put in only one or two accounts at first. You can always add the rest later if you like it.
Sometimes adding information to your Mint account isn’t easy, even though it seems like it should be. I use a small regional bank. Mint had 22 variations of the name, and it took me about 15 minutes to discover which bank was mine. That was a pain.
Besides this issue, though, I was able to quickly put the bulk of my finances into the system. That’s when the magic began.
You’ll be able to set up custom alerts on Mint, but right out of the gate, it informed me that my house payment was due in three days and I had a credit card payment due now. A budget spreadsheet would have never noticed any of these things.
It’s the focused alerts that keep me coming back for more. Who has time to set 20 individual alerts across the financial universe when I can aggregate this information into one convenient spot.
Mint laid out my expenses clearly in a graph format. I can quickly see if my expenses are where they should be, without having to dig through my expense history.
Better yet, I can place constraints around budget categories and ask Mint to notify me if an area of spending is out of control. This feature is awesome for busy people. You’ll know immediately if an area of the budget is compromised without having to go check your stuff.
We just completed a trip to Austin, Texas for the state swim meet. Mint told me that I’d spent far more on dining out than I normally do. For a quick money management update, this is handy information. Even though I was aware of my overage in this case, the reminder from Mint is always welcome.
When Mint Doesn’t Work
Like any budget, diet or workout schedule, Mint only works if you use it. You have to visit the site frequently or set up alerts to make sure that the information is useable.
I like Mint in combination with our weekly family planning meeting specifically for this reason. By reviewing our Mint budget spreadsheet at every meeting, we make sure that the data we’re collecting helps us make good decisions in the future.
I’m not a security expert, and it worries me that I’m trusting Mint with my entire money management financial life. Here’s how I justify it: Mint is aligned with nearly every financial institution in the country. Their security experts have to be satisfied that Mint is a safe place for customer information before agreeing to be a part of the network.
Is this a valid argument? Probably not. That said, for me time is money. Mint is a time-proven entity that saves me a ton of hassle and has saved my financial bacon on more than one occasion. There are threats to my financial security all around. I have to trust some sites or I’ll end up at home with my abacus, getting nothing done.
What do you use to automate your budget? Do you manually create a budget spreadsheet or have you found a quicker way? If you use Mint, is there an area you like that I didn’t mention? Are there parts of Mint you find frustrating?
(assembly line image credit: Paul Esson, Flickr)
Interested in trying Mint? This will take you to the home page: Mint.com
Emily @ evolvingPF says
When I was single I used Excel exclusively, and I enjoyed the total control that gave me. However, my husband used Mint and when we got married he made me convert. (I recognized it was going to be like pulling teeth to get him to write down his transactions!) Now I love it. There are occasional annoying glitches, but it’s a great aggregator – we have several checking accounts, a few credit cards, and many savings accounts – and its analytical tools are obviously much easier to use than Excel’s. In a few clicks I can get a set of information out that would take me several to tens of minutes in Excel. I now recommend Mint to anyone who inquires, particularly married couples. It’s a great communication tool.
Average Joe says
Wow, Emily! You hit it. I’m a spreadsheet dude at heart, but I hate the “ten minutes” to get there, too. Because I’m married w/ 16 year olds, I’m all about cutting to the results. Your comment on communication is the heart of a budget (I think) if you’re working with a partner. Thanks for sharing the story of your conversion!
It sounds like we’re all budget/excel nerds!
I will say that I’ve reviewed Mint.com but I don’t use it. I am an excel guy and I have some pretty awesome spreadsheets that keeps track of everything (yes, I have to manually enter it but it doesn’t take much time).
My wife and I have two budget meetings each month that last about 10-15 minutes. Throughout the month I may update our budgets once or twice and spend 5 minutes each time, so I don’t find that it’s too cumbersome.
All-in-all my problem with Mint is that it is a reactive way of budgeting. It shows you where you spent your money (past tense) instead of you telling your money where it’s going. I’m a big believer in the latter.
With that said, I do think Mint.com is VERY GOOD for people that have no clue where they’re spending money and for people that simply don’t want to take a proactive approach to managing their finances.
I will also grant that I’m stubborn and just don’t like fixing something that isn’t broke…so maybe that has something to do with my hesitation to change my methods. 🙂
Average Joe says
Shocker, huh? People who enjoy finance blogs would be spreadsheet geeks? Weird. 🙂
Your problem with Mint is my problem with budgets in general. I don’t care where we spent money last week…the past doesn’t equal the future. Let’s get it right next week.
That’s why my favorite part of Mint is the budget parameter settings. Even though I’m a spreadsheet fan, my wife isn’t. By setting the automatic parameter alerts, she knows when we’ve gone overboard in a budget category.
And, as a bonus, I don’t have to be a “nag” about it. Mint is the jerk, not me….
Interesting. I didn’t realize they had that. It’s nice for you not to have to be the jerk.
We just use the old-school, Dave Ramsey style, cash envelopes. We’ve done it for 4 years and it’s just engrained in us. We see the limits, we see the cash dwindle down…and when it’s gone, well there really isn’t much conversation about it.
Dr Dean says
My problem with Mint is it doesn’t interact with my small town financial institutions. If you can’t see all your data it is frustrating.
Average Joe says
That is reason number one not to do Mint. There’s no point if it isn’t automatic. I have a friend who also had that problem. He went to Mint and requested his bank. Within a week it was added.
Aloysa @ My Broken Coin says
Maybe I was doing something wrong with Mint, but it was way too time consuming for me. I eventually gave up on it. I am planning on going back to it because I really loved its budgeting feature.
Average Joe says
I think you must have been doing something wrong, because the whole point is to save time, not create hassles. I’ve found my ability to cut through all the charting, graphing, penny-counting and budget constraining hugely improved. Actually, I’ll admit now that my budget is better because of Mint because it points out areas that I would have never thought to look for on my own.
Dave @ Gen Y Finances says
Like Dr. Dean pointed out, my biggest complaint about Mint is that it doesn’t support all financial institutions. I have a few that it doesn’t support, so I used both excel and Mint to track things.
Average Joe says
I’d have a hard time using it if it didn’t support my whole life. I rely on it too much. For me, it’s so quick that I can skip the spreadsheet and info gathering portions of my plan.
Have you tried requesting that they add an institution? As I remarked below, often they add places quickly.
I do like Mint, though there are so many features I find myself exhausted by the time I’m done setting and analyzing my budget, haha!
Average Joe says
Daisy, I don’t know if that’s good or bad! I love that you get into all the features, but the goal (at least for me) is to save time. I don’t think budgets should require a nap 😉
Kari@Small Budget Big Dreams says
I’m an excel user myself, but am thinking about trying out mint. I’ve read a lot of positive reviews about it, but always think to myself, “The excel spreadsheet isn’t broke, don’t fix it”. I suspect when the bf and I get married I’ll probably want to know more about how he’s spending money (I already have a good idea, but he has his own spreadsheet). Good to know that mint can make the process more streamlined.
Drew @ Epicfinances.com says
I’ve never been a big fan of mint. It just never seemed to be worth the hassle, but so many people swear by it. I think this post has inspired me to give it a second look.