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They had the internet back then?
Way back in 2007 I decided to trust some new startup with usernames and passwords for all of my financial sites: web banking, student loans… well that’s all I had at the time. It was kind of terrifying, but I really wanted to get a handle on where my meager part-time earnings were going each month. Who has time or energy to hang on to receipts and manually track each and every swipe of the debit card? Expecially when you’re working twelve-ish hours a week and taking a full load of advanced coursework. Why not use a free tool that can suck in a ton of transactional data and make sense of it?
Mint.com became my go to source for determining the dollar churn of my bank account. The hard-working developers made it really easy to categorize purchases for reviewing at the end of each month. It didn’t take long to figure out how quickly those on campus lunches added up. Of course I already sort of knew that buying lunch each day costs more. Seeing that number really showed me what percentage of my miniscule wages I was wasting on quesadillas (pro tip: quesadillas are delicious).
After a while, I convinced Mrs. TYMP (well Ms. TYMP at the time I guess) to give me her logins and we were really able to see the whole picture (we sort of do everything together, lame I know, but cohabitation is awesome for many reasons). Once we got those very expensive pieces of paper and became real adults (hah!) with real jobs, we added more accounts. Things like credit cards, a car loan, and retirement accounts really helped to increase visibility into where the dollars were flowing.
For us, the best feature besides tagging individual transactions is Trends. This section has some canned reports with fancy graphs that can show you things like net income over time. By setting the time frame to the last six or twelve months, you can see how good or bad you’ve been doing month-to-month (is December a high spending month for you? It shouldn’t be). Each trend lets you drill down into a categorized list of transactions, which is how I was able to take the first step in addressing my quesadilla problem.
Do you have large quarterly or annual payments that you need to pay all at once like water bills or HOA payments? Mint lets you split transactions and change dates to match when the money is really being spent. I know this type of time shifting sorcery doesn’t actually affect anything, but it’s great to be able to see what an average month costs.
Another great feature is Budgets. Initially trying to make a budget without any hard data was tricky, how much could we really spend eating out ‘every now and then’? A couple of months in we were better able to predict things and really got the hang of using Budgets. After using Mint for a few years, we definitely got a better idea of how much we were spending and saving, so setting defined budgets wasn’t really necessary. It’s is a great tool if you really want to stick to a specific dollar amount for spending, and overall adhering to a budget is a great way to get your feet wet with finances.
Mint is not perfect however. They sometimes read in duplicates from our accounts. It’s pretty easy to login and mark those transactions as dupes and move on with life. They also don’t support all of the accounts out there. My current retirement account is actually not supported, even though I’ve requested they add it numerous times.
Knowledge is power. Building a database of money in and money out is the first step to grabbing hold of your financial future. Mint is a great tool for gaining the knowledge and insight necessary to become fiscally sound.