Mint is a free tool that has been around for some time to help folks get a clear view of their financial life. In Mint, after some initial setup, you can see your net worth, transactions, and manage your budget.
One of the first things that you need to do when getting your finances in check is to understand where your money is going. I’ve found that Mint is an easy way to do this with one caveat. The caveat is that you have to use some sort of traceable mechanism to ensure that all transactions are accounted for within Mint. If you’re using cash-only then Mint won’t help you much with tracking.
The following make it easier to track your spending in Mint.
- Checks – If you have your checking account linked then you’ll see checks. The problem here is that you’ll need to categorize each check transaction.
- ATM – With a linked checking account you’ll see ATM withdrawals but you’ll have to categorize these as well.
- Debit/Credit Cards – I’ve found that Mint works best with credit and debit cards. Most of the transactions are correctly categorized making it easier to see a clearer picture of spending and seeing where the money is going.
In other words, Mint has to be able to link to an account somehow for it to be effective with tracking and budgeting. I like the idea of using cash to put your money on lock-down and introduce some discipline. If you’re going cash-only then use an envelope system for tracking.
Mint should make it easy for you to get started and offers guidance but here is an overview of the steps for you to get started from my experience.
Step 1: Add Accounts
Linking your accounts to Mint is easy and secure. I was a little hesitant about giving Mint access at first however Intuit is a reputable company and many others, likely millions, have been linking their accounts without incident.
List out all of your accounts including checking, savings, retirement, credit cards, etc. You'll need the login credentials (username/password) for all of these to link them to Mint. It's important that you get all of them to get a comprehensive overview of your financial standing and Net Worth figure.
Step 2: Determine Net Worth
Your Net Worth is your Assets minus your liabilities or debt. Obviously the higher the better on this value and if you're in the red then it's time to start working into the black.
Once you've linked all of your accounts and entered your liabilities (ex. cars, motorcycle, credit card debt, etc) then Mint will calculate your Net Worth. Tracking this figure will give you a barometer or overall idea of where you are financially.
Step 3: Set up Your Budget
Since all of your accounts are linked to Mint, you can now set up a budget and use Mint to aid you in sticking to the budget. You'll quickly see where you're overspending or need to make some adjustments. Budgeting is not an exact science and is something that takes time to get the hang of.
Step 4: Review and Categorize Transactions
Mint will ensure that you're using a zero balance budget by telling you transactions that don't fall into budgeted categories. As your tracking, make sure that you're assigning those transactions properly so that you can better understand where you are with your budget periodically.
Mint is a great option for getting your finances in order. Having a feel for where you are will build confidence and give you a place to start improving. Remember that Mint is just a tool and it’s ultimately up to you to do better with your money management.