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