By Kelly Hodges
It’s clear that for a person to have a good grasp on their personal finances, they must understand where exactly their money is going. Unfortunately, as anyone who has attempted to accurately track their spending can attest, it’s a task much easier said than done. I myself have attempted using excel spreadsheets, computer software, and even good old fashioned pen and paper, but was never able to come up with a system that wasn’t so cumbersome that I eventually gave up altogether.
That all changed the day I discovered Mint.com, and my money tracking troubles disappeared! This website (and app) makes tracking spending so easy, and has many other great features as well.
Here’s how it works. Once you create a free account with Mint.com you can then link all your financial accounts to it. Checking accounts, savings accounts, credit cards, retirement accounts, brokerage accounts, mortgage, auto payments, college savings; any financial account can be linked to the site so you have all your information aggregated in one place. Worried about security? The site employs the same protection as online banks, and because it’s read only no transactions can be made through it if someone were to breach your account. Then all you need to do is log on and Mint.com updates the information from all your various financial institutions and gives you real time data from your accounts. Sound easy? It is! If you haven’t used Mint.com before, here are some of the top features that make it worth looking into.
1. Track spending. This was the feature that initially drew me to the site, as I was looking for a way to accurately track where I was spending my money. The site keeps track of all transactions that occur, whether it be from a checking account, credit card, or any other account such as an online bank. If you pay for something in cash you can add that into the transaction log manually as well. Each transaction is automatically grouped into a broad category such as food & dining, bills & utilities, home, or auto & transportation. You can then subcategorize each transaction even further (for example food & dining is broken down into restaurant, grocery store, coffee shop, etc.). Categories can be added and customized as well, for instance you could create a category for “work lunch” if you wanted to see how much you were spending on buying lunch at work. You can then visualize, through the help of colorful pie charts or bar graphs, exactly how much you’re spending on each category each month. This is a painless, accurate way to track spending, watch spending patterns over time, and identify areas that could be scaled back.
2. Big picture financial overview. Because all your financial accounts are linked together through Mint.com, you can easily get a big picture overview of your assets and liabilities. People have so many different accounts with different financial institutions that it’s often hard to keep track of what money is where, but here all accounts are aggregated to give an overall net worth. You can track how this number changes over time to make sure that things are headed in the right direction, and if not go back and evaluate what changes need to be made to get your net worth where you want it to be.
3. Make a budget. We all know that we should create (and stick to) a budget, but it’s hard to do so often we don’t. Mint.com helps you create a budget by looking at past spending patterns so you can create a monthly budget that is realistic. If you’ve been typically spending $300 a month on entertainment expenses then making a budget of $20 is setting yourself up for failure. Better to try $250 instead. Once you have a budget created, then Mint.com will track your progress throughout the month. If you’re getting close to going over you will get an alert warning you. It takes some time and thought to set up the budget initially, but once you have it in place Mint.com does its best to make sure you stick to it!
4. Bill reminder. Because Mint.com is linked to your financial accounts, it knows when your credit card payment, mortgage payment, car payment, or other financial obligations are coming due. It keeps a running list and then sends you reminders as the date draws near. If you’re not using automatic payments then this can be a great tool to help avoid the dreaded late fee.
5. The mobile app. No financial tool would be relevant in today’s world without a mobile version, and the Mint.com app definitely delivers. It’s easy to use on the go, and great to track cash purchases as they happen. Quickly enter in that $3 coffee or the cash you threw in for a present at work. You can also check account balances or how your investments are faring while on the move. This is really a user friendly app, and of course it’s free as well.
Although other financial aggregator sites exist, Mint.com has emerged as the stand out in the field. With over 8 million users and accolades from TIME Magazine, The New York Times, and Kiplinger’s, odds are you’ll love it too.
Any opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author, and do not in any way represent the views or opinions of her employer or any other person or entity.