If you read my recent blog posts, you know that I recently decided to begin using mint.com to manage my finances and plan my budget. Mint.com is a free, online financial tool that allows people to connect their online bank accounts and credit cards to one site so they can easily view their overall finances, set budgets, and keep track of their expenses. The site pulls information on transactions from each account and then tracks and categorizes the transactions so people can easily see the areas in which they’re on budget and the areas in which they’re overspending.
Initially, I was not interested in setting up an account with mint.com. In order to utilize its services, you first have to have online banking accounts, and I am just a little behind the times when it comes to financial management. Finally, though, after hearing from several people the benefits and ease of using mint.com, I decided the brief hassle of creating online accounts would be worth having my transactions automatically tracked and categorized into a personalized budget.
When setting up my online accounts, I discovered that most financial institutions require signing up for estatements in exchange for allowing you to manage your account online. This seems little to ask, and most people who are willing to bank online are going to be willing to receive estatements. However, I would caution anyone opening up an online account to carefully review all aspects of the account. Many institutions will offer things like BillPayer, which allows you to pay your bills online, but they will charge a fee if you use the service, say, fewer than 3 times per month. Be careful what you sign up for, and ensure you can meet the requirements so you don’t get feed.
Although I easily found Premier Members Federal Credit Union, I spent a long time searching for Colorado’s 1STBANK. After trying several variations, the site finally told me that I should try finding my bank by entering the bank’s web address. Using the web address, I quickly found the correct bank. If you’re having trouble finding your financial institution, I would recommend trying this.
After you’ve found your financial institutions, the site asks you to enter your user ID and passwords for the institutions and connects to your accounts. As soon as the site connects to your accounts, you’re able to view transactions from your accounts and a summary of your expenses.
Tracking Your Spending
The great thing about mint.com is the fact that it pulls all of your financial information (bank accounts, credit cards, loans, investments) into one site. With all of your information compiled together, mint.com is able to organize your information into categories like “Food & Dining”, “Auto & Transport”, “Entertainment”, and so on. As you set up your account, you can adjust which transactions are placed in which categories and create new categories to more accurately reflect your expenditures.
You can track your spending in a couple of ways on mint.com. You can look at Transactions, which shows you each individual transaction and how it has been categorized. If you need to adjust a transaction to a different category, this is the place to do it.
You can also view your Budget, which you create to reflect your expenses. This area lets you see how much you’ve spent in each category relative to how much you budgeted for that category. (For instance, if you budgeted $80 for fuel and spent $100 instead, mint.com will show you’ve gone over budget in that category.)
Finally, you can look at Trends, which shows you a graph of your spending in each category. I like this feature of mint.com because it shows me the areas in which I’m spending the most money. If I see that, say, “Shopping”, is taking up a large portion of the graph, I can click on that area, review the specific transactions I made in “Shopping” over the last month, and judge whether it’s time to cut back the budget in that area.
One really neat feature in mint.com is the ability to set up a “Goal”. Goals can be for everything from saving up for a vacation to setting aside money for future emergencies. You type in your overall goal amount (say, $1,000), when you want to have that amount (say, 6 months from now), and mint.com shows you how much you need to save each month to get to your goal ($166.67). The annoying thing about this feature is that you need to have a separate account for each goal you have; you can’t just put all of your goals into one account.
Another benefit to mint.com is its accessibility. You can sign up for the free mobile app for the iPhone or Android and oversee your account from your phone at all times. Mint.com will also send you email or text alerts to warn you about upcoming bills.
I was wary about submitting my online banking information to an outside website, so I did a background check on mint.com. Mint.com uses bank-level security (128-bit encryption for its online security and physical security, too). They’re monitored by TRUSTe, VeriSign, and Hackersafe, and they’re supported by RSA security. Mint.com is also a read-only service, which means the site can’t be used to move the money in your accounts. At the same time, mint.com will send you emails and text alerts to let you know about any unusual activity in your accounts, giving you a heads up if you’ve become a victim to fraud.
Here are a couple of other blogs that give some good information on mint.com and how to use it: