What do we have to keep track of?
- 3 pieces of real estate
- 2 car values
- 2 checking accounts
- 2 savings accounts
- 2 money market accounts
- 2 real estate backed loans
- 2 (now just 1!) car loans
- 2 401K accounts
- 2 IRA accounts
- 1 taxable stock trading account
- 2 rewards credit cards
- 2 emergency credit cards
- 1 personal loan
We still think of ourselves as just starting out on this financial journey, but we’ve already managed to accumulate a pretty diverse set of assets and liabilities (25 in that list!) that look a bit overwhelming when you write them all down.
I have neither the time nor the inclination to try and memorize credit card and mortgage balances at any given time. Still, at any given time, we know the balances on these accounts. How? We use Mint.
Mint is a free personal finance tool that was started in 2007. I (Mrs. PoP) signed up for Mint in the public beta then and have been singing its praises ever since.
What is Mint Good For?
The basics of Mint are pretty simple. After signing up, you enter all your credit card, bank, investment, loan account logins and passwords. (It’s as safe as using any of your banks through their own websites.) So after entering all of that login info, Mint downloads your balances and recent transaction history. It categorizes purchases into categories and uses super super easy pie-graphs and time-line bar charts that make it easy to see your spending habits and analyze how they are changing. You can even pin it down to a single store and see your spending history one place.
Here’s a chart of what we’ve spent at Starbucks since late 2007. It took approximately two seconds to make.
See the big jump in late late 2009? That’s when we got married and combined finances. Before that, most of Mr. PoP’s Starbucks habit was recorded on his old cards. Stuff like this makes it pretty easy to see spending history, not just by individual merchants, but across categories and totals.
One of the other features that we use all the time on Mint is the Budgets. You set how much you want to spend each month in a variety of categories – Mint actually can make initial suggestions based on your transaction history – and then it summarizes where you are for each budget item every time you open up the app and refresh the data.
In the chart above, you can see that Starbucks spending is pretty steady over the past couple of years. We set a budget of $80/month for Starbucks (don’t laugh, the Mr. likes coffee)… so you can see that on average we’ve been pretty good at staying in it.
Mint’s got apps for Android and iPhone that let us check budget balances on the go, helping us know where we stand on spending at any given point in time.
We’ve also got all of our real estate information linked into Mint. Where available, it gives a Zillow “Zestimate” for the value of the property. We think Zillow’s estimates leave something to be desired, but that’s another tale. Our car loans are loaded in, and I manually input our car values, updating their value according to Kelly Blue Book every once in a while. To top it all off, I even was able to add a line item for the personal loan that we have from Mr. PoP’s family.
Admittedly, some of it is a little manual, but for the day-to-day stuff, Mint is tough to beat, especially when it’s free.
What Isn’t Mint Good For?
The main thing is that Mint isn’t so hot at anything without an electronic record. There’s a way to manually enter all those cash transactions into Mint’s register, but that’s going to take way more time if you are a big cash user.
It’s also not so hot a figuring out if you’re not on a monthly payment plan. We pay our car insurance six months at a time (we get a discount for doing so), and every time we pay it, Mint shows a little alert saying how we’re paying 3x more than the average user does on car insurance. Oh yeah, and there’s an ad linked where you can get a car insurance quote. (Mint’s gotta make money somehow, right?)
Occasionally Mint miscategorizes purchases, so we make a point of sitting down every weekend for a few minutes to make sure the purchases are all legit and that they are sorted into their appropriate pigeonholes. It’s also a great check-in together to see if we are on track for the budget and to make sure we’re both aware of any non-trivial purchases that the other person might not know about.
I’m sure there are other tools out there that do all of this, and perhaps more. But Mint is free, easy to use, and can literally be at the tip of your fingers 24/7 if you have a smart phone. There are no excuses for not knowing where you stand financially.
Questions or Comments about Mint? Do you use another type of software or (gasp!) manual system to track your finances?