Mint is an internet-based budget program from Intuit, the same company that makes Turbotax. The premise is simple: link all of your accounts (checking, savings, investing, credit/other debt accounts, information about any vehicles you own, and real estate). Once everything is linked, click the budget tab, and set up your categories and their budgeted amounts. Then you just need to place the transactions that are automatically pulled from your financial institutions into the categories you made. Voila.
Why We Like Mint
- It remembers, so we don’t have to. Our budget is pretty much down to a science at this point, with almost every category set to a rollover/sinking fund in which we allot money each month. Mint tracks the amounts in the sinking funds, auto-populates each month’s new budget with last month’s data, and grabs transactions from your accounts without you even having to push a button. It also automatically categorizes vendors you frequent into the appropriate category. Mint makes it so that we spend only an hour a month thinking about our budget and categorizing transactions. This can be a double-edged sword; needing to categorize transactions helps to make you more mindful of your spending.
- It calculates your net worth. In a lot of ways, your net worth is the number that really matters most when measuring financial health and progress. By having all of your data in one place, Mint offers a constantly-updated snapshot of your net worth.
- It’s free. Like most free things on the internet, it uses advertising to pay for the site. The ads are mostly hidden behind tabs, though, and are very easy to overlook.
- It’s accessible anywhere with internet or cell service. There are apps for all types of devices, allowing you to check and update your budget on-the-go. That said, each device has slightly different functionality, so Mint is still best used with a computer to do the heavy lifting and the phone to check or slightly alter things on the fly.
- It offers some bells and whistles. Mint can give you estimates on what your home and cars are currently worth by drawing from Kelly Blue Book and Zillow. Every three months, Mint can also update your credit score with the most recent data. There is also a goal tracker, bill reminder feature, and all sorts of charts generated based on any criteria you choose.
Potential Pitfalls of Mint
- It only does monthly budgets. The month starts and ends with the calendar, and there is neither any altering of that time scale, nor modification of budgets in the past or future. For those who want to budget on a different time scale (or in advance), Mint will be a difficult interface.
- Its flexibility could be problematic for people who are not yet financially established. We have wiggle room in our budget, so if we go over in a budget category one month, we can simply spend less the next month to make up for it. That works for us because we have enough awareness of our spending to not go irreparably overboard, and because we have extra money in our checking account to cover such overages. For individuals who don’t have much saved and who really need to time their bills relative to when income arrives, there are better tools.
- It can’t access some account types. Mint’s ability to maintain account connections is still the best that I’ve seen, but accounts still drop or need their passwords put in again sometimes. Additionally, really small web portals (such my employer-specific HSA) will likely not be supported.
If those pitfalls are problematic for you, my second choice would be the financial blog darling You Need a Budget, which I will review soon.
In the meantime, tell me: Do you use financial software to stay on top of things? Have you tried Mint? Did you like it?