Back 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
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:
- 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 (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 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
- 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
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,