my favorite budgeting programs, part 1: mint.com

Speaking personally, I can’t imagine what budgeting was like in the Pre-Computing Dark Ages. As it is, though, we now have plenty of tools to help keep us on track (though how well we use them is another matter entirely). For this week and next, I’m going to talk about my two favorite budgeting programs: mint.com and YNAB. (Yes, I’m quite familiar with Quicken, but it didn’t make the cut. If I ever get a reason to upgrade to the latest version, I may do a review on it; in the meantime, though, I’ll take a pass.)

So, what’s this mint.com thing? Mint.com is a completely online, free budgeting program. You visit the site through your web browser, give it your bank and credit card access information, and it automatically sucks in your transactions and balance information and presents it all to you in a very pretty format. You can then use it to track your spending, set goals, and otherwise get a handle on your finances.

The key word with mint.com is “automatic”. It was designed from the ground up to make personal finance as easy as possible: it automatically keeps up-to-date with your spending, auto-categorizes transactions as best as it can, sends you e-mails if your spending in a certain category goes over a specified amount, etc. etc. If you hate with a fiery passion the busywork of dealing with personal finances, you’re mint.com’s target audience.

It’s pretty awesome. The aforementioned good design and automation can make personal finance almost enjoyable; when I first got started with mint.com, I would pull it up just to look at the pretties. Automatically downloading transactions makes it less of a chore to actually track your spending, and the automated warnings you can set up can go a long way towards keeping you on your chosen path.

That said, every rose has its thorns. Automation comes with a price: the lack of mindfulness can keep you from really paying attention to where your money is going. All of your bank account information is stored on mint.com’s servers; while mint.com is extremely secure (like, a hacker would have to pull off a Mission Impossible or Sneakers-style break-in to get access), I understand if it makes you nervous for someone else to have that sort of info. Finally, mint.com is (now) owned by Intuit, makers of Quicken; this can be good or bad, depending on your opinion of Intuit, but the general consensus (and my personal experience) is that customer service isn’t quite at the level it was before the acquisition. So if a transaction goes missing or something else goes wrong…good luck. (That said, they’ve got tons of experience in dealing with extremely sensitive data, so there’s that.)

Bottom line? It’s a great program, especially if you’re in a good place financially and just want a program to do the dirty work of monitoring things. Plus, it’s free! However, if you need or want to pay closer attention to where your money goes, and are willing to be a bit more type-A about it, I’ll be talking about another program next week called YNAB (You Need A Budget).

How about you? Have you used mint.com, and if so, what has your experience been with it?

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One thought on “my favorite budgeting programs, part 1: mint.com

  1. I’ve used it for a few years now. It becomes more useful over time because you can view spending trends. This is especially helpful for expenses which are irregular (food, gas, electricity) because you can average out your expenses to make your estimated budget more accurate. The same can be said about income for those who are self-employed or otherwise have an irregular income.

    I have small quibbles of course. For example, my house insurance and car insurance are auto-drafted on the same bill. You can set Mint.com to automatically categorize a certain recurring expense, OR you can split an expense across more than one category. You can’t do both.

    There are other small annoyances, but overall it is very useful (and free!).

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