How I Use Mint

I don’t use Mint to keep a budget. Or to track my spending.

I don’t like their budgeting software. I prefer budgeting software that requires you to enter transactions manually because then it’s easier to know what you spent something on and what categories it should be assigned to.

I like Mint for not needing to log in to every single one of my accounts to verify what transactions posted. One of my credit cards (the Fidelity American Express) doesn’t show transactions on a mobile app, so this is where Mint comes in.

I don’t use Mint to track my net worth. It knows about my checking, savings, credit card, condo value, car value and mortgage accounts. It does’t know about my 401(k), Roth IRA, taxable investment accounts, or ESPP. This has the side effect of my ESPP looking like income when I sell it and transfer it into my savings account rather than when I contribute to it, which is perfectly fine with me.

I don’t want to see my investment values every day, which is why Mint doesn’t know about them.

I don’t want to check in on my asset allocation either day let alone every month either, which is why I only update my Outside Investments at Vanguard a few times a year. (My 401(k) is no longer at Vanguard, so I enter it manually to check up on my allocations.) Why don’t I want to check up on my asset allocation that often? My plan specifically calls for putting all of my fixed income for the year in with my pre-tax 401(k) contributions, as well as most of my international and then my US stocks will go in with my Roth IRA and after-tax 401(k) contributions, which happen later. So my asset allocation will look off for the next couple of months and then it’ll be fine again. So I simply shouldn’t check on it.

I have a bit of an obsessive personality with checking on things and tracking everything. In order to be okay with the stock market’s fluctuations, I shouldn’t check on things every day. It’s simply unnecessary. Besides, my contributions at this point are worth so much more than my investment returns that it’s silly to watch them like a hawk.

I use Mint on my phone mostly. It uses touch ID for login, which not all of my banking apps do (cough credit unions). Since I use LastPass as a password manager, it’s far more annoying to login with a password than with touch ID.

I don’t like Mint’s “Cash Flow” feature as when I’m frontloading my 401(k), it looks like I am spending way beyond my income.

I don’t like their Advice section aka advertising. Most of it is terrible. It suggests you should open a Traditional IRA without even considering your income. It suggests 0% balance transfers when I have no credit card debt. It suggests robo-advisors to invest my cash savings that I specifically want to be risk free. It also suggests peer-to-peer lending for low, fixed rate personal loans when again, I have no credit card debt. And these things constantly appear.

I like how it reminds me of bills like credit card and mortgage payments and other things I manually added (HOA dues and property taxes), but it has no way of knowing if you’ve already made the payment or if you’re in the grace period and haven’t made the payment yet (e.g. the mortgage) and it clutters up the view by showing a $0 payment is required for every credit card you have no payment required for or even showing a payment is required when you had a credit on the account at the statement date!

Their budgeting drives me crazy with how annoying it is to get things to not be red and how non-monthly bills are always green and then often red when they come due if they were more expensive than you had thought.

I don’t like that it doesn’t show the transactions on my mortgage account (it just shows the current balance), nor does it have charts for the mortgage balance (or any other balance over time) in the mobile app.

It seems to suggest that it automatically updates my car’s value from KBB, but it doesn’t! Oh I went in and changed the mileage and now it seems to have auto-updated it. It looks like my car is now worth under $10,000. It’s about 5.5 years old now and my plan is to hold on to it for another 5 years, minimum. Once the mortgage is paid off, then I’ll consider a plan for when I’ll replace the car.

I don’t like that I can’t track my Series I Savings Bonds in Mint. I understand not being able to do it automatically, but if you enter the purchase date, type of i-bond, and amount, it’s pretty easy to figure it out.

Readers, what do you love/hate about Mint? How do you use it?

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26 thoughts on “How I Use Mint

  1. Like you, I don’t like paying too much attention to my investments. How do I use mint? Because I’m a little bit OCD I check in there from time to time to categorize transactions. When someone asks me a question about how much I’ve spent on say, groceries, the only way for me to know is to go to MINT. Whenever I’m curious about my net worth, Mint has some of those assets in it so I don’t have to log into all of the accounts to know (not that I ever do get my entire net worth given that I’m not entirely sure what the passwords are on several of my accounts, but they tend to send quarterly or annual statements so I have point in time estimates). I’m also hopeful that Mint’s logging into my accounts keeps states from escheating the investments I’m not paying attention to. ( https://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2014/03/17/escheatment/ )

    I used it a little bit more when we were down to one income. Also it’s been helpful in the past when one of our providers has made a mistake and charged us a fee they shouldn’t have (*cough* wells fargo *cough)– mint will alert us when that happens so we notice it earlier than we otherwise would have.

    • I definitely appreciated it when Mint told me that my automatic credit card payment hadn’t gone through last month by way of the service charges. I wouldn’t have caught that as quickly otherwise.

  2. Leigh, you can avoid the 401 K thing you mentioned (where it looks like you’re spending a lot when you’re front loading) by reclassifying those transactions as Transfers (which is really what they are tbh). I find that once I’ve reclassified a handful of transactions, it can be a pretty useful tool to monitor trends and cash flow.

    • I think you missed the part where I said that Mint doesn’t have my 401(k) at all. That means that it looks like I’m spending a lot compared to my income because it doesn’t see the 401(k) contributions as income.

      • Oh ok. Yes I did miss that part. You could still categorize it as a transfer so that it doesn’t show up as an expense or even hide it from budgets and trends, but if you don’t really need the cash flow or trends feature than I guess there’s no point in doing that (I *think* their AI occasionally learns what categories certain unusual transactions should be put into so you don’t have to keep on doing it, but I’m not 100% sure of that).

        • It’s not showing up as an expense either. The money just never appears. While frontloading, my paychecks are < $400 for the month. Mint just sees $400 in income and then say $3,000 in spending and shows my cash flow as negative, which is inaccurate in my opinion. I can't fix that without adding my 401(k) to Mint and I don't want to do that.

  3. Sounds like mint is not very useful to you, except for making sure transactions do what you intended!

    I feel the same way. The biggest hangup, in my opinion, is the adherence to monthly budgeting. Similarly, cash flow isn’t something that matters monthly to me. The whole software is built around monthly budgeting, and that creates a lot of problems once you have longer term budgeting plans and irregular expenses

    • My budget simply isn’t monthly. Other than the mortgage and the HOA dues and that my monthly average is relatively consistent from year to year, really nothing is consistent from month to month. Property taxes are paid twice a year, charitable donations and gifts are randomly throughout the year with a bit heavier weighted to the end, clothing and entertainment are super variable, education has to do with how many credits I take not the month of the year, condo maintenance is random, driver’s license and NEXUS card are every 5 years, passport is every 10 years, umbrella and condo insurance once a year, auto insurance twice a year (but sometimes once a year or monthly, depends on the insurance company), medical is all randomly distributed, and so on. My spending is not on a monthly pattern at all. I’m not even sure whose is really, to be honest.

      • My budget was much closer to monthly as a renter… but yeah, it is not a very useful tool.

        Do you use your own Excel spreadsheets, or do you use any actual software for budgeting and planning?

        • I use a combination of homegrown software for tracking and historical info and spreadsheets for planning and forecasting. I’m trying to not budget though and see how this goes.

  4. Mint is good to keep an overall eye on everything… and monitor activity.. BUT.. the software is often suggesting things to me or barking at me for really dumb things because I can’t tell mint that it’s ok I like to Front Load my 401K.. or I want to have $40K in cash… It just tells me I need to change that… It should give the user the ability to adjust limits and so forth for planning reasons.

  5. I tried out Mint probably soon after it first started. Half of my accounts couldn’t be accessed, so it wasn’t useful to me. I think my credit union wasn’t even on it. If it’s not really aggregating everything, why would I use it? Then since I wasn’t comfortable with having all of my passwords stored on a site, I deleted my account. The end!

    • Good plan! I did the same a while back, but I deactivated it when one of my credit cards had no way of showing me its data on my phone otherwise. That’s mostly why I like Mint.

  6. I use LearnVest for aggregating my expenses and PersonalCapital for my investments. I don’t look at the PersonalCapital as often.

    I would not want to manually enter each transaction, I’m okay with re-classifying the errors in LearnVest, but I don’t like that it doesn’t remember when I correct it the first time. I like the simplistic two main sections of the budget (fixed expenses and flexible expenses) it’s emotionally satisfying when I spend less than I have ‘budgeted”, whereas before I kind of just spent whatever and didn’t really pay attention.

      • If that’s what you’re into, there’s nothing wrong with that, I’d ask you why though. You recently mentioned how you only need a 15% savings rate or whatever to retire when you want to retire. You’ve been well above that. Is it going to make much of a difference if you’re over or under in some category? Something tells me you’re not going to just become more consumerist minded just because you stopped being rigid about tracking expenses. That doesn’t seem like your personality. You might save more with the tracking method, but you probably don’t need to invest the time to do that. and if you like it, that probably helps too. I didn’t find the tracking of each expense to be an enjoyable activity for me.

        • Tracking expenses doesn’t mean budgeting. It means recording what you spent on something. It doesn’t mean comparing what you actually spent to what you expected to spend. Life is chaotic and I find tracking and organizing my finances to be calming. I will never stop tracking my expenses. It’s really nice to have the historical data too. I only enter my spending once or twice a month – it’s not a daily or weekly thing.

        • That definitely makes sense with regards to the historical data in particular. That would easily allow you to see how often X, Y, or Z oddball expense comes up that rigid budgeters may not necessarily know.

          When i was doing my tracking, I would do it every day as I didn’t like having receipts pile up (or I’d forget cash transactions)…I’d also note if somebody reimbursed me for part of a credit card bill, but nowadays I just don’t pay as much attention. I seem to have more of a surplus available, but I don’t really know if I’m being more frugal or earning more etc.

  7. I agree. I tried budgeting with Mint but they never seemed to categorize the transactions correctly, so it took more time to manually change everything than it does just entering it into a spreadsheet. It’s nice for having all accounts in one location and logging in to check all of them at once. Tried PersonalCapital but they just want to sell you their advisory services.

    • I love Mint for not having to log into every site separately and staying on top of accounts I use less often. I tried Personal Capital but I didn’t like that it didn’t show transactions at all until they posted and them trying to sell me things.

  8. I do not use Mint. I use Quicken. I really do not have a budget, I just know how much I spend. I only buy what is needed, no frivolous things. Often, i ask myself, “would I rather retire X days/weeks/months earlier, or have this item”. That solves any excess expenses.

    • That’s a good process! I’m trying to work towards that a bit more as being too specific in my budget wasn’t working for me. It’s going well so far. Sometimes the decision is I’d rather X thing than investing more though.

  9. I routinely update our spending in Quicken. It really helps with taxes, and helps keep track of investment properties.

    As far as budgeting, I am the nerd, so each month I update our spending in Quicken, enter the relevant categories into Everydollar and then I put together a preliminary budget. Then my wife and I sit down, and she has to agree to the budget, and our rule is no matter what I have put together, she has to make at least one change (she can make as many as she wants) to the budget I put together.

    Then we both have to agree to it, and we ideally get together mid month if we are really far over.

    Its more or less the Dave Ramsey plan. We have enough cash flow that we get a little sloppy with our mid month budget meetings.

    One thing we have done is to annualized almost all (if not all) of our non monthly expenses. So for instance, we pay life insurance quarterly, auto insurance annually, annual license/title etc for our autos etc. each of those expenses we take and divide by 12 and that is the entry put into our monthly budget. In addition we budget monthly a few hundred dollars for a car/car repairs and a little each month for Christmas.

    Lastly, In the book “the Millionaire Next Door”, Tom Stanley talks about how those who are successful with money do one of two things. They either are diligent about budgeting (the Dave Ramsey method), or they have their savings pulled from their accounts first and then they can spend what is left. (Leigh, I am pretty sure you and say Paula Pant from Afford Anything) fall into this second category.

    I think either work well, I sort of believe that the strict budget works best for those who are trying to get out of debt/or who are on a really tight budget), I think the savings method might work best for those who have a pretty decent income above their fixed expenses.

    • Back when I was budgeting more closely, I annualized all of the non-monthly expenses as well. It was a really good system. This year, I’m putting 1/12th of 2015’s spending in my checking account each month and not budgeting beyond that. That accounts for irregular expenses perfectly fine.

      I don’t pull my savings from my accounts first – what I’m actually doing is direct depositing everything to my primary savings account and then I have an autowithdrawal for the last day of the month set up from my savings to checking for the month’s spending. So in a way, I save everything except for the amount I allot myself to spend that month.

      I agree that the strict budget works best for those who are trying to get out of debt / their spending is closer to their income. It matters a lot less what you do when your income is more separated from your expenses.

  10. I use mint primarily for tracking spending. I previously used Yodlee + custom spreadsheet and switched to Mint in the beginning of 2015. I had originally planned to use Mint + custom spreadsheet (made a nice one to display by month category and subcategory using sumproduct all on one page that takes mint export as input), but turns out, I am quite happy with Mint for expense tracking and I do not end up using custom spreadsheet (though I still track the monthly and annual totals in a spreadsheet). I also really like how you can hide tagged items from Trends.

    I find the budget feature irrelevant, and until I figured out how to make it so no items show up on log on page it annoyed me.

    For net worth, while I have added all my accounts to Mint and update the manual ones monthly, I still use a custom spreadsheet that I update monthly as my primary tracking mechanism. Net worth from feeds is pretty much impossible to do perfectly as things will get incorrect when transfers happen and that will stick in the history – Personal Capital has the same problem (even worse actually) and I think it is an extremely difficult problem to solve (don’t expect it ever will). I also like the continuity of my net worth tracking in spreadsheets. In addition, I don’t like seeing the changes during downturns and kind of have to avoid looking (I wish you could hide it from log on page). Unsurprisingly, I don’t mind seeing it when market is going up.

    Negatives:
    For my 401k, while the feed works and updates NW, I cannot seem to categorize my 401k transactions in such a way so they show up as Income – I want to do this to make the trend feature more meaningful. To make this work, I create cash transactions for my 401k self and employer contributions so it shows up in trends. This is mainly my OCD to make Income feature work, as ultimately I barely look at that component anyway.
    Not nearly as slick as personal capital in appearance, but that’s okay as PC functionality for tracking spending is terrible. I think if PC fixed its spending side it could get a lot of people to move from mint.
    Has a advice/ads – not a real big deal though.

    Basically, I have everything set up so things are accurate most of the time, but mainly use it for expense tracking.

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