Sunday, July 31, 2016

Likes and Dislikes About

I just started using Mint in May after starting my new job. Since I'm at a small company, I have work expenses that often need to be submitted for reimbursement. This was fine, but I wanted to make sure I wasn't missing anything and that I was carefully keeping track of sneaky little charges like foreign transaction fees. Mint seemed like a great solution to the issue and, although I already had a login set-up, I'd never taken the initiative to actually use it. Mint is a spending tracker, but it's great for budgeting and goal tracking as well.

What I love:

Making budgeting categories is super gratifying:
Once I got a few accounts entered into Mint, it was very gratifying to make categories for my budget. I thought doing a budget would be really helpful because in May I'd gone a bit over-the-top on shopping as I was getting ready to start the new job (and was also just generally buying stuff because I was in a good mood).

It's easy to get started on a budget:
We hadn't operated under a real budget since 2009, so I assumed this was going to be a big headache to get started. The cool thing was that Mint imports your last 3 months of spending activity, so it can help you figure out what you typically spend on different categories. It does auto-categorize, so you have to check things out to make sure it's doing that correctly. I saw this crazy exponential increase in "coffee shops" spending and automatically looked at my husband who was studying for an exam during those months. However, it turned out that MY clothing purchases from "Tea" were getting categorized into coffee shops--I could only blame myself!

Instant updates give you real-time tracking:
We use credit cards for most purchases because I've always said "If I have to spend the money, I'd rather get the points." (Don't worry--we fully pay them.) In Mint, those pending credit card charges are deducted from your budget categories. This is so helpful because you always have a real view of your monthly spending and can start curbing yourself when you get close to hitting your budget. You can also add cash purchases, so you don't operate under that "Once I get cash, it's gone" mentality.

What I dislike about Mint
Red, so much red:
Mint tracks your monthly income and monthly expenses, which is awesome. However, if you're like most people who get paid twice a month then you see a lot of red for most of the month. I have large bills for daycare and the mortgage that come out right at the beginning of the month, but my husband and I don't get paid until the 15th and the 30th. This means I have to stare at about two weeks of angry, red deficit until that money comes in. Just when it's back to green, I can enjoy it for only a few days before the mid-month bills. This means I'm in the red for most of the month and start getting neurotic about not spending any money. Since you get an alert anytime you go over budget in one of your categories, it's also tough when you are first figuring out what your budget should look like.

Dealing with being OCD instead of spending money:
Because I spend so much of the month staring at a "deficit" I ended my first two months on Mint with a ton of savings that I could have used on investing, donations, paying down the mortgage, or anything else. By the time I figure out money is left over, it's the end of the month. This will hopefully get better as I continue using the app and our cash flow becomes more predictable. One trick I figured out is that you can change the date on transactions, so you can back-date purchases to adjust for this!

It takes a while to transition to budgeting:
I'm estimating that it will take us about 3 months to fully convert to Mint budgeting and use this in a way that accurately reflects our current spending. One big change was to switch over the credit card being charged for daycare. My husband was paying this on his card. However, since my husband wanted to keep his "secret credit card account" (the card he uses to buy gifts for me--aka his beer-making expenses card), he didn't load this card into Mint. I wanted all daycare expenses on a card we jointly used instead of on his personal credit card. As that transition happened, we had months where Mint double-counted daycare expenses because we were paying for his card while the new charges were real-time tracked on a different card. Confusing? Yes. So until everything sorts itself out, some spending categories are seriously wonky and you can't change the spending amounts in the app or online.
So far I'm really happy with Mint and I think the dislikes about it will become less of a headache as spending gets more predictable and we work through the transition phase. I already set-up some really exciting goals (you have to do this online, not on the app) and I'm looking forward to working on those instead of binge-online shopping (my other favorite pastime). How are you keeping track of your budget, or do you even budget?

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