Mint.com: An Easier Way to Track Household Expenses

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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.

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?

Comments

  1. Sandi says

    I've been looking for something to help me out, I'm hoping this may be it. Lets see if I can stick to it.

  2. Haila says

    We've started using it. It's pretty neat — I don't think we've explored all the options yet.

    Though most of the info is pulled in automatically, it requires some manual updating of transactions that aren't automatically sorted into its little categories. And since many of the features are preset, it's not as flexible as a DIY Excel setup.

    However, given that it's free, easy to use, and useful – I'd say it's a no-brainer to try. One thing to note: in order for this to work, you will need to be able to access all the accounts you want to link through their own respective websites – so if you're not signed up for that, do that first.

  3. Mike says

    My wife and I have been using mint for over a year, and it has been a Godsend! It was soooo much work to enter every transaction previously (I used a program called GnuCash, which is an open source counterpart to quicken).

    My only complaint with Mint is that it makes it a little to easy-button-ish. It makes it really easy to just forget about it. But that my fault not theirs!

  4. says

    I track our expenses in excel. Works fine for me . Keeps me on budget and no chance to see products for sale and buy something I really do not need. I use cash only. It is harder to part with my cash than my debit card out of my checking account. This keeps me on track and wanting to save and pay off debt has become a priority for our family.

  5. Christina says

    I recently started using Mint.com and so far I really like it. It's also much easier to use than Microsoft Money which is what I was using previously. I only wish they would add an option to import microsoft money files so I could see my history in mint.

  6. Gina says

    I've been using Mint since the summer of 2008. It is a part of my daily routine, just like checking my bank account. It is fabulous for tracking trends, seeing where changes can and need to be made and figuring out how much one can save by not buying a morning coffee or a new pair of shoes. They continually add new features and it has improved since I began using it.

    I have reviewed spending for months past in a particular category and then decided not to make that purchase for one month and move the money I would have spent on that into savings or used it towards debt.

    I still have a ways to go with paying off debt, but at least I know where my money is going.

  7. Mary says

    We have been using Mint for a couple months now and we really like it. I use our debit card quite a bit and most things automatically go into their correct budget.

    Walgreens and CVS by default go into pharmacy, but Mint.com allowed me to change CVS and Walgreens to automatically go into my grocery budget not pharmacy. We also use American Express and a VISA card. Everything goes into Mint.com and most things go right into their correct budget catagory.

    Super easy, and it has made it clear just how much we are spending on our kids activities!

  8. JH says

    We've been using Mint daily for about 6 months. It really is fantastic and it's recent enhancements to allow cash tracking, goal setting, etc… is great. There are some small gaps, but the fact that it is so quick to use and requires little work is why we use it. It allows us to keep it simple (KISS) and both my wife and I are on the same page.

  9. Anne says

    can you use mint with only cash transactions? I don't have a bank account and don't see how to set it up without a bank account.

  10. Linda says

    I've used Mint for six months or so. I used to enter everything into Quicken but that got tedious. Then I used my bank's spending tracker which is okay but not personal enough. I like Mint because I can add my own subcategories so I can see how much I spend on pet medical costs vs. pet supplies (for example). I also like that I can exclude transactions (like when I transfer money from account to account for a large planned purchase – that way it doesn't look like I'm spending double the amount.) And since I get Mint updates on my iPod Touch, I'm able to monitor what's going on in my accounts more often, including my 401K, which I rarely checked outside of my quarterly statements before. The spending alerts help me keep my spending in check and the deposit alerts are helpful so that I know when my company has paid my expense report by direct deposit. It also gives me a total on all my student loan accounts which will help with tracking once I finish school and start paying them down. For me, Mint makes everything more "real" since my deposits and bill-paying is electronic and I use debit cards for almost everything. I love the ease of seeing all my accounts in one place.

  11. Joy says

    I just can't bring myself to put all my personal info on the web. No matter how safe things are today, there are always hackers and crooks out there trying to ruin it for us. Even if I close out an online account there is still all my info in backups. Hee, hee – I'd much rather have a (data removed) copy of your Excel file and do it the hard way. At least I'd have control of all copies. ;-)

  12. Stacy says

    I tried Mvelopes for three months and I ended up canceling it because I felt it was difficult to use and I even used their training videos to help but still thought it was hard to use. I am interested in exploring Mint.com and see if it is easier to use plus it is free which is even better. Thanks for the tip!!

  13. Kirsten says

    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!

  14. Heidi says

    The only problem with mint is you can't balance your checkbook with it. So what are people who use mint using to balance their checkbook? If you can't balance your checkbook with mint it seems like you are doing double the work.

  15. Julie says

    I would love to use Mint but my credit union upgraded their security and Mint can't seem to get past it. (yay for me and boo hoo for me) I am hoping to find something else that works well or for Mint to find a way to work with my credit union. The site looks marvelous!

    • says

      Julie – I am just going to start a trial with MVelopes, which is a system you have to pay for. After I have used it a few months I'll review it and if I think it is worth the money, then maybe it will work better with your credit union.

    • says

      I use the mother of all Excel worksheets :) No, I keep a checkbook register in Excel with columns for Category, Month (01-Jan, 02-Feb, etc.), date of expense, year of expense, pending, cleared and notes. Then I use Pivot Tables in Excel to make nifty charts that tell me how much I spend per month by account.

  16. MommyGio says

    Carrie,

    Do you budget monthly using a 4 week month or do you divide your annual income by 12? I am trying to figure out the best way to do this.

    Thanks!

  17. says

    I have been using mint.com for sometime now and although it works ok, I never feel like I truly have a good picture. I mean it is pretty simple, track what you spend versus what you make, but it seems so hard on mint.com to do just that. I am a developer and I am considering writing an add-in to excel to enable you to bring in your transactions into excel so you dont have to manually type them, then use the power of excel for everything else. I am trying to see if there is enough interest for me to embark on this. Would you guys find this more useful that using mint.com or any other tool?

    email me at: rogsmith [at] gmail [dot] com

  18. Devin says

    I would love to know the answer to this question, too! I am currently using Quicken to balance my checkbook and have considered switching to Mint but haven't made the switch for this exact reason!

  19. Erika says

    Carrie, Since you've been tracking your expenses for so long I'm interested to know where and how you track tax. Do you have a separate category for it or do you add it into other categories as a part of the overall cost?

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  21. Cheri A says

    I have been looking for a spreadsheet/envelope tracker for a cash-based system that I can manually do myself and doesn't link to my account. Mint sounds great, but I'm still not interested in giving them total access to all of my financial accounts. I'd love to see what spreadsheets others are using because this is not something that I am smart enough to craft on my own. LOL.

  22. Amanda says

    I have found that Mint cannot log into accounts I would like to track, like my credit union that requires me to log in with two log-ins, and it can't log into my retirement accounts at a few places no matter how many times I re-enter passwords. It sees accounts still open with balances that I have closed. it also bogs down my computer when I log into Mint so that I have to leave for a while and come back while it chugs along and possibly opens. I can't balance my checkbook, I can't print anything, and I can't see my present and true balances of all of my finances to get a picture of my present finances. I do have to say I use Quicken to track my expenses, an old version. It works best for me. i had to recategorize frequently on Mint, and again and again, and i didn't think it was worth my time so I could track expenses.

  23. Deanna says

    @Cheri, you could give https://www.inexfinance.com a try. It doesn't link to your bank accounts and allows you to manually record your transactions. My husband and I have been using this online tool for a while and we really like their budget planning capability.

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