In my last post I said I would talk about my experience with Mint.com. In an even older post I talked about how I was spring cleaning my life to become more organized and utilize my apps. I’m following through with my promises; I created an account with Mint.com and turns out I like it! …or at least for the most part.
If you don’t know what Mint.com is, check it out! It’s a free budgeting app that works on iPhone and Android. It links with your bank accounts and automatically categorizes transactions. You can edit those categories to create your own budgets. You can also set your own goals to save up for emergency money, a house, car, loans, or customize your own goal!
All these features I find extremely helpful. The only hard part was taking the time to decide how I wanted to categorize things. I ended up changing a lot of the categories to combine different transactions in a way that made sense for me. Then I made a note for myself in Evernote (another amazing app I’ll have to write about later) that listed my categories and a description of what it meant. I did this because in the past I would make decisions about how I wanted to plan my budgets, then a few days later I would completely forget what I said. Now I have my thoughts clearly written out and I can access it anywhere.
Creating Your Budgets
To start you will enter how much you make monthly. If your incomes varies I would suggest averaging out your general monthly income but round down. You’ll be better off safe than sorry.
Mint.com will have some budgets set up as suggestions when you first create your account. Feel free to play around to see what works for you. Here’s how I decided to set up my budgets:
- Public Transportation – monthly unlimited subway pass
- Rent & Utilities – I lumped rent, gas, electric and internet together because I usually write one big check to my roommate who pays our bills.
- Mobile Phone – one easy transaction of my monthly phone bill
- Concerts/Events – random events I purchase throughout the month; concerts, Groupon, Living Social and other ticketed events.
- Fees & Charges and Bank Fees – I noticed Mint already categorized some fees, that I never even noticed, so I made a budget off of what Mint suggested (These are two separate budgets, small budgets, but good to have so I can notice when I get hit with a fee and be prepared for it.)
- Envelope System – I created a budget for my envelope system instead of making it a goal. Mint sees the withdrawal as one transaction, it doesn’t know what I do with that cash after. Leaving it together as one lump is much easier.
- Alcohol & Bars – a basic starting budget for how much I should be spending per month
- Coffee Shops – I’m trying to lay off the coffee so this will show me how much I’m actually spending and try to force myself to buy less.
- Groceries – Anything purchases at a grocery store, even if it’s cleaning supplies or hygienic stuff that should technically go under a different category, I’m leaving it here for an easier way of tracking.
- Restaurants – Any time I buy food not for grocery needs, including fast food and buying lunches.
- Charity – I have an automatic payment towards a charity set up so I’m accounting for it here.
- Pharmacy – Any charges made to a pharmacy; Walgreen, CVS, Duane Reede (I never knew Duane Reede existed until I moved to NY), etc.
- Beauty – for purchases like make up, hair cut, eye brow threading, clothing or basically any personal care items that isn’t purchases at a pharmacy or grocery store.
- Bus/Train tickets – when I go home to visit friends and family I charge the tickets here. This is different than public transportation because it is not the subway and I don’t use it every month.
- Rental Car & Taxi – This is also not an every month purchase but sometimes I just need to use a taxi so I can account for it here.
These are just some examples you can use if you’re having a hard time starting out on your own. My best advice is when you do start personalizing your account make sure to look at the transactions first. See how Mint is automatically categorizing transactions. If you can keep your budgets the same as these categories it will save you time from going back and changing all the categories manually. For example, when I have a charge to Sephora I have to go to the “Transactions” tab and manually change that charge to the Beauty category. Or when I buy my lunch at Subway I have to change it from Fast Food to Restaurants.
The rest of the transactions that Mint doesn’t know how to categories or doesn’t have a budget to go under will go to the “Everything Else” budget. It’s a good idea to set a little extra money here for the unplanned or unknown.
I’ve only set one goal so far. I created the goal yesterday and it’s not fully set up yet. If you remember in my Budgeting 101 class I said I was working my way up to having 3 savings accounts; one for emergencies, one for large purchases like a house or car, and one for retirement. I’ve saved up enough for emergencies so now I’m working on my second savings account for large purchases. The way goals are tracked is by being linked to a bank account. I haven’t applied for a second savings account yet, but I was able to set everything else up.
I wanted to make this a goal so I could have a visual that told me how I was doing. I created the goal, said how much I wanted to put towards it each month and Mint calculated how long it would be until I reached my goal. It also gave an option to deposit more money into that account and showed me how much quicker I could achieve my goal. I like this feature because I don’t have to do all the math or risk my own mathematical mistakes. I can decide if I need the money by a certain time or if I can enter the amount I can afford, then Mint will figure out the rest for me.
The there are really only three dislikes I have about Mint.
- If I withdraw cash I don’t know where that money is going to specifically and I have to keep it lumped as a whole when accounting for it. There is an “Add a Transaction” button, but I haven’t played around with it yet.
- If I’m overspending in one budget because I know I’m not going to spend money else where I can’t show that on Mint. For example, if I’m not traveling this month and I have an event I want to go to my Concerts/Events budget will be red, saying that I’m over budget, but my Bus/Train Tickets and Rental Car & Taxi will be empty. I wish I could divide the money between the two accounts.
- In order to keep track of a goal I need a new bank account. If I wanted to make my adventure fund a goal, for example, I couldn’t keep track of it in one of my checking accounts, I’d have to set up a completely new account. Otherwise it would charge the other money in the same account towards that goal. It is for this reason I use envelopes and have that system on a budget instead of a goal.
Overall I like Mint.com because I can look at my finances anywhere at anytime, it does that math automatically, it emails me notifications and gives a good visual on how I’m doing. It is a great way to at least get started and really see where your money goes at any time. For this reason I will continue to stick with Mint.com, but I will also have to do some work myself to properly mange my money on all accounts.