A while back someone asked me to write a post on how to use Mint to check your net worth, and I said, ‘yes, of course’. Well, approximately one year later, here we are.
Coincidentally, I was browsing the personal finance forums on Reddit the other day, when I noticed a pattern emerging with the people who were posting for help with their money:
The ones who needed the most help never listed out their monthly budgets.
That’s because they didn’t know how much money they were actually spending. Which is problem numero uno. There were whole buckets of money that seemed to disappear into the ether. Like, ‘$1,500 in a miscellaneous category’ level. That’s a lot of money that’s unaccounted for.
I’m not trying to shame anyone, because I know what it feels like to avoid seeing the cold, harsh numbers all in one place. I’m currently refusing to update to iOS 12 on my iPhone, because I don’t wan that feature that shows how much time I’ve wasted on screen time. But it’s something that I will have to do or else I’m going to continue having trouble getting things done.
So knowing how much you actually spend is half the battle of being good with money. Really! If you aren’t tracking your money in any way it’s going to be near impossible to come up with a realistic plan for how to improve with money. You have to know the difference between your income and how much you actually spend to make progress. Then you can come up with a realistic, actionable plan to save more money. Otherwise, you’re just making up numbers.
This is where budgeting apps can help you.
The first thing to know about budgeting apps is that there’s no money tool that’s 100% perfect. And what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another, because we’re all motivated in different ways. For instance, you’d have to pay me to manually enter transactions into a spreadsheet.
For most of the time I’ve cared about money, I’ve used Mint to track my spending, because it was the only tool around. With Mint you hook up all your accounts to it, and the software automatically tallies everything up, but you still have to do work sometimes to categorize transactions. This is the part that really bugs people, but honestly? It’s an opportunity to review transactions line by line, especially as Mint is pretty passive. It tracks your spending in the background, but doesn’t stop you from making purchases.
For the most part, it gets the job done for my husband and me: we aren’t in debt and aren’t hardcore about meeting budgets every month. We skim savings off the top and don’t micro-manage the rest. I’m not into super granular tracking–I just like having an overview.
Mint is for you if your natural spending is less than your take-home pay.
AGAIN, MINT DOES NOT STOP YOU FROM SPENDING.
If you find it difficult to save then you might want to try something more hands-on, like You Need a Budget.
Here are my favorite ways to use Mint, plus a few tips and tricks you might not know about.
1. Tracking Net Worth
I basically live in the Trends section of Mint, because that’s where you see all the neat reports done up in colorful bar graphs and pie charts. These days I’m most motivated by watching my net worth grow, so that’s the #1 reason why I’m logging into Mint–to fuel my own vanity.
To track my net worth, I’ve added every single one of my accounts to Mint (credit cards, bank accounts, investment accounts, etc.). You can even add your house and cars as “accounts,” because those count as part of your net worth, too.
To see your net worth on desktop, you click on Trends in the gray navigation bar, click on Net Worth on the left side bar, and then set your time frame in the duration dropdown. Sadly, the net worth feature isn’t available on the app.
2. Checking Total Spend by Dates
I like comparing total spend from different years to see how I’ve progressed. For this info, go to Trends –> Spending –> Over Time. Then I can set whichever timeframe I want in the duration dropdown, and the chart will update automatically.
3. Monitoring Category Spending
Sometimes I need to drill down further than just how much I’ve spent in a certain amount of time. That’s where the ‘By Category’ report comes in handy. I can filter spending by any category, merchant or tag. For example, I’m constantly using these charts to check how much I’ve spent on clothes and travel.
4. Creating a Budget
I’ve always created budgets in Mint…but I’d never actually follow them. I’ll be honest and say that I’ve used budgets to create a savings plan, not to actually limit my spending. Sounds counterintuitive, but I see budgets as a tool I use to get what I want, which is to set aside more money. Now my husband and I use budgets in our shared Mint account to inform purchasing decisions. Like, if we see our food spending looks under budget, and the month is almost over, we’ll feel OK about splashing out a little at a restaurant.
5. Setting and Tracking Goals
For a while I used the Goals feature, so I could track my progress as I saved for certain milestones, like my wedding, buying a home, and retirement. I’d estimate how much money I’d need, when I wanted to complete the goal, and figure out how much I’d move to my savings accounts each month.
6. Creating Categories and Tags
Sometimes Mint’s built-in categories aren’t detailed enough or don’t apply to your life. For me, ‘Gas & Fuel’ barely has any relevance, because I don’t have a car. But then I was getting married, and those costs didn’t fit in neatly with any of Mint’s pre-existing categories. So I created my own ‘wedding’ category and manually categorized transactions as they happened. Another use case: I also wanted to segment dry-cleaning costs from regular laundry, so I created that new category, too. You can get as granular as you want!
Instead of making brand-new categories, you can create your own tags and choose to segment transactions that way. I created several categories to track each vacation, which got unwieldy, so I wish I had used tags instead. Instead of creating four categories for our Southeast Asia trip, I could have just used one tag.
I also used tags to distinguish between my husband’s clothing spend and mine.
Don’t Delete Any Accounts!
My one super important tip is to never delete any accounts. Ever. I made this huge mistake of deleting one of my earlier bank accounts, which erased every single transaction. For those dates when I held the bank account I no longer have an accurate picture of my money. I was planning an article around my spending in 2011, but I had to axe it, because I don’t have all the numbers due to deleting that bank account. Instead of doing what I did, mark accounts as ‘active’ or ‘closed’ on the Edit page. That way, Mint won’t track that account anymore, and you won’t lose your past data.
Are you a fan of Mint? If so, which are your favorite features? If Mint doesn’t work for you, what are your favorite apps or methods for tracking spending?
Feature Image: Unsplash