My husband and I firmly believe that expense tracking was a key component in our getting out of $50,000+ in debt in 2 ½ years. We used a (modern, since it is on the computer) old-fashioned system where I physically keyed in every expense into an Excel worksheet, much like old-timers would track expenses in a notebook.
Now, Mint.com makes expense tracking so much easier. Where were you Mint.com when I started expense tracking in 2004? (Yes, I have tracked every penny the Rocha family has spent for the last 8 years and tracked expenses while we were in debt, which means it alone is not enough to change your financial situation.) In 2006, when we decided to get out of debt I didn’t want to spend money on Quicken or some other software, which is why I opted to set-up my own system in Excel.
How Mint.com Works
Mint.com has since come on the scene as a slick and easy way to do most everything I have been doing manually. Here’s how it works:
— You create a free Mint.com account
— You enter your username and password for all your banking and financial institutions, like credit cards, loans, etc. You might feel nervous like, “seriously, is this a sham and really going to result in identity theft??” No, this is a legit site and they use the same type of online security that your bank does. So if you trust online banking, then you can trust Mint.com.
— Mint.com pulls in every transaction that hits your accounts and does its best to categorize them. See, it’s smart enough to know that Starbucks is a restaurant and Valvoline is an oil change place, so it is car maintenance. You can easily modify any category, tell it to automatically make your kid’s school go into a Tuition category, and can easily split a transaction between categories (i.e. a trip to Target might $40 on groceries and $30 on clothes).
Tips & Tricks for Using Mint.com
— You can also enter in your budget so Mint.com can tell you whether you are over or under in any category (see screen shot below from a made up family that is 100% within their budget). The best part of this: it will email you when you go over budget. I think you should have the emails sent to your spouse’s blackberry so in the middle of the day he/she will know if you went out to eat one too many times. Can you say accountability?
— One cool thing you can do with your budget is set categories to “roll” to the next month. If you under-spend in car repair, for instance, then it will “carry forward” the money you didn’t spend into the next month’s budget balance. In essence, it helps you think about all the non-routine expenses that we often leave out. (You can hear my opinion about that in my post on When Your Budget Deceives You.)
When you have it set up and are using it, then you can track your spending across categories by month or see a trend line, like this:
You can also track your spending by merchant, like this report for Target.
They have about a bazillion reports that are all based on the transaction info from your bank accounts. If you spend cash, you can easily enter those expenses too. They also have mobile apps for the iPhone and Android. I have neither of those, but if you do, you can get your financial info on the go.
Mint.com remains a free service because they occasionally offer you better or different financial products based on what they see you paying. If you do indeed purchase any of those, you will be providing a commission back to Mint.com.
I firmly believe every family should be using this or something like it to keep their finances organized. Trust me, knowing where your money went this month makes a huuuuuge difference in where you’ll spend it next month.
What Do Readers Think?
Here are some comments from Pocket Your Dollars’ readers that have used Mint.com:
Therese: “I use Mint.com’s budget feature. You can enter in your monthly bills that you know you have each month (mortage, utilities, etc.) and then plug in other monthly bills that fluctuate each month such as gasoline, groceries, etc. This will give you a great start to know what your monthly expenses are and what you can expect for ‘extra money.'”
Brittany: “Have you checked out Mint.com? I started using it about a year ago and it’s really helpful and easy. You can link it to your checking account and it automatically puts things into categories for you, i.e. SuperAmerica automatically comes up as ‘fuel,’ etc. You do need to do some work with it if you want to keep the budget, as some things don’t automatically categorize themselves, and some things end up in weird categories, but if you take about an hour a week to clean it up, I’ve found it works very well. And best of all, free! :)”
Dave: “I wholeheartedly second the recommendation for Mint.com. For me, money was too often out of sight, out of mind. Been using it since 2008 and it’s really helped us keep our money in front of us. When we save, we see the savings. When we charge things, they’re there. In front of us. It’s easy, customizable to a lot of needs and robust in terms of the info it offers you.”
Kirsten: “I logged onto Mint.com after reading Carrie’s article about it. I was impressed and amazed within minutes! Mint.com is a fabulous website! The tools found here are fantastic. I’ve tried numerous other programs and websites and software thingies and this is by far the best. I am not easy to impress. My husband is ‘the computer guy’ and even he was impressed. This is what i’ve been looking for for years. Thank you for the info, Carrie!”
This post was first published in May 2010.
Your turn: What do you think of Mint.com? If you’re new to Mint.com, what questions do you have for seasoned veterans?