A Review of Mint for Budgeting and Cash-flow Monitoring

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Gone are the days where Quicken, MS Money, or Excel are your best options for keeping a watch on your cash.  Quicken still exists and Excel is always going to be an exceptionally powerful analysis tool, but for a FREE online tool, it’s hard to beat Mint (I think Intuit saw the writing on the wall when they bought Mint).   Mint is FREE online banking software that will aggregate balances and transactions from all the accounts you add and help you track your budget and spending.    Mint has functionality to track your assets and net worth, but  in my opinion it’s best use is strictly as a tool to watch inflows and outflows of cash.

A few words about Privacy:  For those rightfully concerned with privacy, it’s helpful to understand how software as a service companies like Mint make  money.   There’s a common misconception that they “sell” your private info to other companies.   This simply isn’t true.   They basically allow advertisers to run ads that will be shown to a target demographic, but they never actually hand over your info.  This means you will see ads that might be relevant to you.  For example,  Let’s say a mortgage company wants to run an ad that will be shown to people that currently have a mortgage over $100,000.   They’ll pay Mint, and Mint can show the ad to the people that fit this description.  So to be clear, advertisers pay Mint for the privilege of their user base seeing these targeted ads.

in my opinion Mint’s best use is strictly as a tool to watch inflows and outflows of cash

I can understand the desire to keep your banking records on your personal machine as opposed to the cloud, but if you do this, you’re generally stuck with a paid solution or downloading your transactions directly in your bank and working with spreadsheets.   There’s definitely a segment of the population that would prefer to run their budgeting software in a virtual box within a Linux machine that is disconnected from the internet and perhaps behind lock and key.    For the rest of us, there’s Mint.

Mint sizing you up
Mint tapping into Freudian concerns in an attempt to get a signup. Hmmm.

In my opinion, the best way to use Mint is to add your checking accounts, credit cards, and any loans like a car payment or mortgage.   Mint then acts like your watchdog monitoring inflows and outflows of cash.    You can assign categories to your transactions so you can keep your spending within a desired budget.

 

Don’t bother putting stuff certain fixed cost items into your budget.  Why?  You can’t change them so there’s not much point in tracking.

 

Regarding budgets:

One of this issues with budgets and why people sometimes fail to keep a budget, is because often software tries to create too many categories.   Does it really help me to break up what I eat into several different categories like groceries, fast food, restaurants, coffee, alcohol& bars, etc.   Keep it simple.   Don’t let budgeting software drive your goals.  Instead decide what you want to manage and then customize the software to meet what you need.   I say keep it to just a few broad categories.  Here’s what works ok for me:

You want to track what you have control over and what you can adjust if need be, even if only slightly.   So what I landed on tracking is:

Gas, Groceries, Restaurants, Health related, Shopping, Entertainment, Misc, and Auto.  That’s it.  Simple, easier to conceptualize and thus more likely you can utilize to change behaviors to reduce spending.

 

Here’s WHY.

Don’t bother putting stuff certain fixed cost categories into your budget.  Why?  You can’t change them so there’s not much point in tracking.  The whole point of a budget is to help you know if your meeting spending goals.   So track what you can adjust and let the rest fall into the other category.

 

Mint for Budgeting and Personal Capital for Asset Tracking

There was a time when I thought of Mint as being a competitor of Personal Capital and I’ve read a few people’s thoughts on one vs. the other.   After some experimentation and thinking about it, they actually dovetail together quite well.   To think of it in accounting terms, Personal Capital is like your balance sheet to report on your net worth and how you’ve have allocated your savings and investments.   And Mint is like your Cash Flow statement where you can analyze what’s coming in and what’s going out.   They actually work well together if you keep these functions separate.

Personal Capital is like your balance sheet to report on your net worth and how you have allocated your savings and investments.   And Mint is like your Cash flow statement where you can analyze what’s coming in and what’s going out

For a review of Personal Capital click here.

 

 

 

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