Wisdom for Wives

"Be diligent to know the state of your flocks …"

Review: Mint Budget Software

Mint logoBack in September, I shared how excited I was that my husband and I had had a nitty-gritty money chat.  (The chat itself was actually not very exciting all, but I was very glad once we completed it.  🙂 )  We also agreed to try out Mint for keeping track of our spending. Since it’s been 3 months, you could say that this review is long overdue. Or, you could say that, I’ve had sufficient time to adequately evaluate the product, and this review just in time for a new year and a fresh start with finances. Yes. That is what I will say.

So! First of all, how does Mint work? It links to your financial accounts—bank, credit card, loans, etc.—and downloads your balance and transaction information into one place. (You cannot make any account changes [e.g., withdrawals, transfers] from Mint; you can only view the data.) Then Mint compares your spending, based on the transaction data, to the budget that you enter. There are several pre-programmed budget categories, and you can also create your own, as shown below:

Creating a Budget Category in Mint

Creating a Budget Category in Mint

My husband set up an account at Mint.com, entered all of our account information, and then I entered the budget.  Usually I accessed Mint from my desktop computer, but I also installed the app on my phone. After using the program for several weeks, here are my thoughts:

Pros:

  • Centralized account access: Mint allows you to see all of your balances and transactions all in one place. I don’t see the word “unlimited” anywhere (maybe I missed it?), but we entered six accounts and we could have entered more. (For comparison, the free version of Mvelopes allows you to enter 4 accounts). Mint even adds everything up to give you a total “net worth” (in quotes because our worth does not come from our possessions, as I wrote in the Where Does It All Go? post). But it’s very helpful to be able to see all of our financial information without having to log in to each account individually. And if you are working on paying off debt, the “net worth” provides an easy way to see your progress.
  • Weekly summaries: Mint emails a weekly summary that breaks down your spending by category, in a lovely pie chart. 🙂 It also tells you—both in numbers and color-coded bars—how much you’ve gone over budget, or how close you are to exceeding your budget in any category.
Sample Weekly Summary Email from Mint

Sample Weekly Summary Email (image credit:  mint.com)

Sample Budget Bar Chart (image credit: mint.com)

Sample Budget Bar Chart (image credit: mint.com)

  • Transaction categorization: Mint was able to automatically assign most transactions to the proper categories.  Wegmans purchases went to the Groceries category, Exxon/Mobil went to Gas & Fuel, and it even has a Coffee Shops category. 🙂 If a merchant is not recognized, you can select a category and Mint will assign future transactions accordingly. You can also change a transaction category that Mint has assigned.
  • Price: Mint is free, which is my favorite price of all! Other programs charge one-time or recurring fees, so Mint is very competitive considering everything that it offers. It does show ads, mostly for financial products and services.
  • Interface:  I really like all the options Mint gives you for summarizing and analyzing your finances.  You can view your spending by category or merchant, or create custom tags for your transactions.  In some cases you have the option to view the data as either a bar or pie chart.
Spending Over Time in Mint

Spending Trends Over Time in Mint (Modified Image)

You can even export the data to a csv file (which you can open in Excel) for all kinds of additional data slicing and dicing.  There are several other features that we did not use, like the free credit monitoring (we are already signed up for a program) and notification of upcoming bills (we have them memorized!). You can read more about the features here and here.  And now, for the

Cons:

  • Cumbersome budget entry: It takes three to four clicks to enter each budget item. Including monthly bills and discretionary expenses, I had over 40 items to enter. This got tedious after a while. Granted, now that everything’s entered, I won’t have to do it again. But I feel like the process could have been more streamlined.
  • Untimely alerts: You can select to receive text message or email alerts when balances fall below a certain level or when you deviate significantly from your usual spending pattern.
Mint Alert Options

Mint Alert Options

Unfortunately, we usually received such alerts five days after the event.  I was not necessarily depending on the low-balance alerts, as we already receive them from our bank.  But if the irregular spending had been due to fraudulent charges, for example, the alert would not have been very helpful.  And Mint does not alert you when you are close to exceeding a budget category (though you do get that information in the weekly summary).

I am still using Mint because I like its layout and organization so much, but I am on the lookout for a program that is more proactive with the budget alerts. Yes, there is something to be said for having your own self-control, but I need all the help I can get!

Thanks for stopping by,
Susan

6 Comments »

Thank God for Laundry, Heartache, and Fleas

Female prisoners gathered when the Red Cross arrive at Ravensbrück in April 1945. The white paint marks show they are prisoners.

Female prisoners at Ravensbrük. Image credit: wikipedia.org

My youngest child has long outgrown his crib, but it’s still in my room serving as a giant laundry basket.  After the clothes come out of the dryer, I heap them by the armful into my son’s former bed.  There, the clothes wait for days, occasionally weeks (OK, usually.  Who am I kidding?), to be folded, hung, or picked up by the older kids to be put way in their rooms.  One afternoon the pile was especially high, but right before a groan came to my lips, I resolved that I was not going to complain about having so many clothes to fold. SO MANY clean clothes, for my whole family, as well as clean towels and clean sheets. Isn’t that a nice problem to have?  Realizing that it is indeed very nice, I turned on HGTV and set to folding.

Actually, I think that was kind of an easy test. Laundry is a chore, but it doesn’t hurt.  It’s a little harder to be thankful for things that hurt, like marital problems, or not being able to pay your bills.

When my husband and I look back on the financial setbacks we faced early in our marriage, we are glad that those challenges knocked down our pride a few notches. Our lifestyle had centered largely on earning and consuming.  But after our income shrunk dramatically, our mixed up priorities were rearranged, and we’re grateful for it.  Now.

And it’s when our relationship has been the most strained that I’ve clung to Jesus as if my life—from moment to the very next moment—depended on Him. It always depends on him, but I tend to forget that when things are rosy and cozy. So, in retrospect, I’m thankful for those days that made me intensely aware of my need for God, and intimately aware of his mercy and faithfulness.  But do I thank God for the heartache at the time?

James 1:2 exhorts us to count it all joy when we face all kinds of trials.  The “when” catches my eye, because it doesn’t say “after.” It doesn’t say “five years later,” or “after the sting fades.”  But while it’s happening!  Why should we rejoice? Because the testing of our faith produces patience.  And why did Paul delight in weakness and hardship? Because he had learned that Christ’s power was made perfect in his human weakness.  “For when I am weak,” Paul confessed, “then I am strong.”

One woman who appeared to have mastered joy “while it’s happening” was Betsie ten Boom. Her sister Corrie wrote about it in The Hiding Place.  I read this book in high school (Junior high maybe??  Both were a long time ago.), so I had to refresh myself on the details. But to this day I still remember, “Thank God for the fleas.”

The “fleas” incident took place at the Ravensbrük concentration camp in Germany.  The sisters’ long journey there began in the Netherlands, where the Nazis had arrested their family for hiding Jews in their home.  Corrie and Betsie had been transferred to a barracks that was swarming fleas, and Corrie cried, “How can we live in such a place!”  Betsie’s response was to pray.  Then, remembering what they’d read that morning, Betsie asked Corrie to read it again.

In the feeble light I turned the pages. “Here it is: Comfort the frightened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all…” It seemed written expressly to Ravensbrük.

“Go on,” said Betsie. “That wasn’t all.”

“Oh yes: …Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.”

“That’s it, Corrie! That’s His answer. Give thanks in all circumstances! That’s what we can do. We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks!” I stared at her; then around me at the dark, foul-aired room.

“Such as?” I said.

“Such as being assigned here together.”

I bit my lip. “Oh yes, Lord Jesus!”

“Such as what you’re holding in your hands.” I looked down at the Bible.

“Yes! Thank You, dear Lord, that there was no inspection when we entered here! Thank You for all these women, here in this room, who will meet You in these pages.”

“Yes,” said Betsie, “Thank You for the very crowding here. Since we’re packed so close, that many more will hear!”

She looked at me expectantly. “Corrie!” she prodded.

“Oh, all right. Thank You for the jammed, crammed, stuffed, packed suffocating crowds.”

“Thank You,” Betsie went on serenely, “for the fleas and for–”

The fleas! This was too much. “Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.”

“Give thanks in all circumstances,” she quoted.It doesn’t say, ‘in pleasant circumstances.’ Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.”

And so we stood between tiers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas. But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong.

Days later, the sisters learned how they had been blessed by the fleas.

There on the Lagerstrasse we were under rigid surveillance, guards in their warm wool capes marching constantly up and down. It was the same in the center room of the barracks: half a dozen guards or camp police always present. Yet in the large dormitory room there was almost no supervision at all. We did not understand it.

One evening I got back to the barracks late from a wood-gathering foray outside the walls. A light snow lay on the ground and it was hard to find the sticks and twigs with which a small stove was kept going in each room. Betsie was waiting for me, as always, so that we could wait through the food line together. Her eyes were twinkling.

“You’re looking extraordinarily pleased with yourself,” I told her.

“You know, we’ve never understood why we had so much freedom in the big room,” she said. “Well–I’ve found out.”

That afternoon, she said, there’d been confusion in her knitting group about sock sizes and they’d asked the supervisor to come and settle it.

“But she wouldn’t,” said Betsie. “She wouldn’t step through the door and neither would the guards. And you know why?”

Betsie could not keep the triumph from her voice: “Because of the fleas! That’s what she said, ‘That place is crawling with fleas!’”

My mind rushed back to our first hour in this place. I remembered Betsie’s bowed head, remembered her thanks to God for creatures I could see no use for.

Thank You for the fleas!  It’s practically beyond my imagination how Betsie was so grateful in the midst of their hellish circumstances, or how Paul wrote letters from jail about rejoicing always and giving thanks at all times.  But surely if God commands us, it’s possible.  And I can start by thanking God for my own trials, however big or small.

Thanks for stopping by,

Susan

12 Comments »

Where is Your Treasure (Re-post)

[On this last day of the blogiversary month, let’s take one more stroll down memory lane and search the depths of our hearts.]

Map:  X marks the spot

image credit: happilyeverafterinvesting.com

Last week, I suggested keeping track of your spending as a possible first step to becoming more involved in managing the family’s finances. And I am taking this step myself, since I know I need to be more conscious of my spending, especially on food, which is what I buy most. Sure, food is important. Food is essential. It is a blessing from God to be enjoyed. But it’s a little embarrassing to see how many times some purveyor or another of French fries appears on my bank statement. What does that say about me? I have heard more than one pastor say that you can tell a person’s priorities by looking at his or her checkbook. This seems to be supported by Scripture.

~~But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21-22, NASB)~~

Maybe that’s why it can be so difficult to discuss finances with our spouses. Maybe these conversations reveal the true conditions of our hearts, and who wants to talk about the true condition of our hearts?? It’s quite possible that when there are unresolved heart issues, money arguments aren’t really about money. One spouse wants to discuss a budget, the other one fears being controlled. Four little words like, “We’re short this month,” can really mean:

You don’t make enough.
You spend too much.
You shouldn’t have taken (or quit) that job.
It’s because you wanted to buy this house that we can’t afford.

Even if the speaker is not (knowingly) holding a secret grudge, the hearer could be filtering the words through insecurities about his/her earning potential, or lingering regret or shame over a financial mistake for which the family is still paying. Rather than churn up all these issues, it is easier (in the short-term) to avoid talking about money, or to just ignore it altogether.

My husband and I have both had to admit money-related mistakes, and confess resentment we’ve held for the other’s actions or inaction. Some things were acknowledged long ago and now we laugh about them, others have been revealed only in recent months. These feelings were not easy to admit. But even after we have received the Lord’s forgiveness, sometimes we need to “confess [our] sins to one another, and pray for one another so that [we] may be healed” (James 5:16a, NASB).

Then again, if money is a difficult topic, maybe it’s not because of unconfessed bitterness against our spouses. The conflict and tension could reveal an even deeper issue. Just between us and God.

If we sought the Lord for comfort, would we call out to Him instead of trying to eat or spend our way out of sadness?
If we truly trusted God as our source, would we be less tempted to try to control our spouse’s behavior?
If we were content with what He’s already given us, would we put less pressure on our spouses or ourselves to earn more?

May the Lord help us see what is truly at the heart of these issues, and may the Psalmist’s prayer be ours:

~~Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way. (Psalm 139:23-24, NASB)~~

3 Comments »

Worth More Than Money (Re-post)

[Since a blogiversary month is a great time for reminiscing, today is a re-post! And it’s about R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Find out what it means!]
Judge Judy

When one spouse bears all of the financial concern alone, money can be a source of great marital strain.  I learned this firsthand during the first few years of my own marriage.  These days, my husband and I discuss the bills on a regular basis, and he’s expressed more than once how grateful he is for this change. But ever since I began to understand how important it is for spouses to be partners in money, I’ve had it on my heart to encourage other wives to become more involved in their families’ finances.  Not only would I like to share why it is important to understand financial issues, I plan to give some practical suggestions for how to go about that.  Taking those steps will probably lead to some conversations with your husband about money, so before I get to the helpful hints, now is probably a good time to address that most famous of demands:  Respect.

~~However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. (Ephesians 5:33, NIV)~~

My husband and I are probably like most couples in that we do not always agree on how much money to spend.  For example, he is usually more willing than I am to make a bigger investment in quality up front, which has sometimes saved us money on repairs or replacement later.  But some of those purchases were initially met by snark, a stinky face, or seething silence.  None of these responses is particularly helpful, or respectful.

One of the blessings of being informed about our financial situation is that I can offer input, support, and encouragement on money issues.  We can make decisions together.  But I know that it’s not just what I say; it’s how I say it.  My husband deserves my respect—not judgment, criticism, or stinky face—even when we do not agree.   Instead, I should “speak the truth in love,” and pray for us to be wise and united in our financial decisions.

Besides, nagging and scowling just don’t work, at least not with my husband! When he sees those “wheels of judgment” turning in my head (that’s our cute little name for it), I can see our communication shutting down.  Besides, I have found that the Holy Spirit is much more effective at changing hearts and minds than I am. It also turns out that sometimes I am the one whose heart and mind need to be changed, when I was sure that my husband was “wrong.”

As I said before, I’ve had it on my heart for years to encourage women in this area.  One reason for my hesitation all this time (ten years, give or take):  I often do not get it right myself.  That includes the Respect department.  But lately I have been reminded, and will likely have to keep remembering, that I don’t have to be perfect to share what God has been teaching me (sometimes over, and over, and over again).  I’m excited to finally open up about what He’s shown me so far, and to keep growing because the learning never stops!

Thank you for stopping by,

Susan
[P.S. Are we called to love our husbands, too? Of course! And aren’t husbands called to honor us? Absolutely!  God’s word has a lot to say about how husbands and wives should relate to one another.  By His grace and power, we can do it.]

8 Comments »

We Have a Winner!

I want to say a heartfelt, “THANK YOU!” to everyone who stopped by Wisdom for Wives to celebrate the one-year blogiversary.  I was actually moved by the prayers you shared and will continue to pray for God’s blessings on your marriages and finances.  And now, without further ado, the winner!

A new copy of The Power of a Praying Wife is going to Kathy, who shared a prayer to be a good wife, a good steward, debt free, and successful in her business.  Congratulations, Kathy!

The Power of a Praying Wife, (c) 1997, 2014, Harvest House Publishers

The Power of a Praying Wife, (c) 1997, 2014, Harvest House Publishers

Thank you again to everyone who continues to bless this blog.  Please pray with me that the truth will always be spoken here in love.

Susan

4 Comments »

%d bloggers like this: