In a crowded field of money-management products, Mint stands out for popularity, with some 20 million users using the free tool to track spending and account balances, pay bills, set and monitor a budget, and more.
To see how the use of Mint might affect my spending and budgeting, I signed up and began tracking everything that my checking, savings, credit, investment and even Venmo accounts would spit out.
Based on my six months of Mint experience, here are three improvements the tool helped me make to my money management; any or all may help you get a better handle on your financial life, too.
1. It Optimized How I Paid For Recurring Charges
Mint allows you to monitor and categorize every transaction you make on every account you have. That feature allowed me to better realize that I was paying for two repeating expenditures — my monthly cable bill and monthly gym membership dues — in a less-than-optimal way.
Each was coming directly out of my checking account. The Mint summary helped me realize I’d be better off if those recurring expenses were instead charged to my credit card, where they’d allow me to earn rewards. In my case, my credit limits were ample to accommodate the monthly fees from both TimeWarner and the YMCA. And because I pay off my card in full each month, I wouldn’t incur interest charges by shifting the payments from debit to credit.
Upshot: It probably makes sense to tie pay-as-you-go services, such as ride-sharing apps or a refillable subway card, to a credit card account.
2. It Highlighted Some Surprising, and Excessive, Spending
Mint helpfully takes records from your credit card and bank accounts and assigns each expenditure to a spending category.
I found Mint’s categorization to be reliably accurate, if not foolproof, and its results to be eye-opening. When budgeting, a certain amount of money to will be pegged to each category, whether it’s “Pets”, “Personal Care” or something else. Of course, you’ll want to rejigger these amounts because you know your spending habits better than an algorithm's.
Mint’s “Trends” page allowed me to analyze my spending by category and over time. The resulting pie chart alerted me to my apparent overspending on clothing. I responded by using Mint’s budgeting tools to set spending goals by category. I began by cutting my clothing budget (under the category of “Shopping”) and other categories, such as “Entertainment,” where I felt I could trim.
Upshot: By paring back spending through budgets, I was able to cut about 13% in overall spending per month.
To achieve the goal of spending less, I then updated my monthly budget for these categories. In your case, this might mean spending $30 at coffee shops (“Food & Dining”) as opposed to $60, or $100 at on gas and fuel (“Auto & Transport”) instead of $150. Unless you’re already extremely tightfisted, taking a hard look at micro budgets — and making hard decisions — could save you a significant amount of money.
3. It Helped Me Set Achievable Short- and Long-term Savings Goals
Just as Mint shows you spending by category, it also allows you to plan how much you save, and for what. You can set savings goals to pay off college loans, finance retirement or for seven other typical aims that require saving.
In my case, I was planning a vacation to Kyoto, Japan that would require a significant savings effort. The “Take a Trip” tool assigns default costs to items such as flights, hotels, transportation, and food. I researched the likely actual figures, which were higher than the Mint’s defaults, since Japan is an unusually pricey destination. Once I had the projected total cost of my far east adventure, I selected an account (my checking) to rack up the required savings; set a due date for the full sum; and Mint pumped out the suggested monthly savings for the trip.
Upshot: Mint can make it easier to budget for a big expense by breaking down a single daunting total into a monthly contribution towards the goal. That planning help would be even more useful when budgeting for even-bigger spends, such as buying a car or coming up with the downpayment on a home. Make sure to set goals that you have the income to actually achieve. And remember that it’s OK to start small. Setting aside money is the initial means to an end, no matter what it is.