Like many people this time of year, I'm starting to think about my financial goals and resolutions for the New Year. Last year was the first year I diligently tracked every expense, using a trusty Excel spreadsheet. While I’ve been pretty good at using my system, it’s not a perfect system by any means. So I've been interested to see how Mint.com will work in addition to my spreadsheet. Mint is a FREE online personal finance service similar to Quicken.
I knew I wanted an upgrade; I needed something that tracked my expenses, could help me create a budget and could give me a bird’s-eye view of my financial picture.
I checked out some of the other financial apps and programs out there; I wanted something that would leave no room for my laziness or human error, which is why I settled on Mint.com.
Mint is a premier online budgeting program that can help overhaul your finances. If you want to transform your finances this year, this guide will help you get started with Mint.com.
Step 1: Create a New Account With Mint.com
Mint.com is a web-based financial program that offers all-in-one access to your financial accounts. It helps you create budgets, set goals, track expenses and more.
The program, which is also available as a mobile app, was created by Intuit, the makers of TurboTax and Quicken. Currently it's one of the most popular budgeting systems around and is completely free.Creating an account with Mint is simple. To get started, all you need to do is provide an email and password and list your country and zip code. Within a few minutes, you have access to your account at no charge.
Step 2: Connect and Sync Your Accounts
The next step can be a bit more time intensive, depending on how many financial accounts you want to link, but Mint proves to be quick and efficient.
The first thing Mint will ask you to do is link your bank accounts. To save time on the setup process, have your financial login information handy. Mint syncs with nearly every financial institution, and it’s easy to get started.
Search for the name of your financial institution, click on their logo, and use the same login information to sync accounts. After adding your bank accounts, add your accounts for credit cards, student loans, mortgages, and investments. After linking everything, you'll get a clear picture of your finances, including all of your transactions, as well as your net worth (assets minus debts).
In general, all of your account information is on the left sidebar, and your various tabs such as Overview, Transactions, Budgets, Goals, etc., are in the upper right-hand corner. It's nice to see all your information in one place so you can truly understand where your money is going.
Step 3: Create a Budget
Upon establishing your account, Mint will provide a sample budget for a few categories, based on your spending history. This is a nice preview, but to create a custom budget based on your desired categories and accurate numbers, start by going to the Budgets tab in the upper right-hand corner. Within that tab, you will see a “Create a Budget” button.
Click on the button to begin. You will see the following screen.
To create a budget, first, choose a category. To help you classify your income and expenses, each category has a subcategory. For example, I started with “Income” and added “Online Income” as a category. I suggest starting with your income first, based on your actual take-home pay, before moving on to expenses. After all, a proper budget means you are spending less than you earn, so you will want to begin with what money you are bringing in each month.
Continue creating the rest of your budget for other expenses. After choosing how often each expense occurs, such as monthly, every few months or just once, you can select an amount to allot to that category. Then click “Save.”
Repeat the process until you have categories for each form of income and expense you have or expect to have. Typical budget categories include things like rent/mortgage, groceries, utilities, gas, restaurants, etc. It’s easy to think about our monthly expenses, but try to think of things that occur quarterly or once a year. Go a step further and think about some surprise expenses that may arise. Life can throw you surprises, so it’s best to prepare for them within your budget.
What is nifty about creating a budget for each category is Mint shows your spending versus the U.S. average, which is a really interesting treat. You can gauge where you're at and adjust accordingly.
When I did this, I was amazed to see that my grocery budget, which I thought was extremely high, was normal. So I was able to stop having ridiculous expectations for what I spent at the grocery store. What a relief!
Step 4: Track Income and Expenses
In addition to helping you create a budget and set goals, Mint also tracks all of your income and expenses. I believe tracking your income and expenses is a key part of your financial health. You could stay within your budget each month, but knowing exactly how much you are spending on each item can be eye-opening and also help you catch any errors. Tracking your income is also important to truly understand how much money you are working with.
Using Mint’s Transactions section, you can see every transaction that occurs in your linked financial accounts. This is great to see in one place, as you may have multiple financial accounts, payments, etc.
Each transaction is listed by date, description, category and amount.
Some of the items are “Uncategorized,” but it’s relatively easy to edit them and choose a category. In the transactions, you will see a line item for every purchase, transfer, withdrawal, payment, paycheck or other income.
Your ATM withdrawals will not show up in your transactions, but to ensure you're tracking your spending, you can manually add cash transactions, add a category and provide notes. Because of this, opting for cash requires a little more work, but if you use a debit or credit card, all your transactions are easily laid out for you.
Step 5: Set Financial Goals and Next Steps
Another great thing about Mint is you can set financial goals to help achieve important life events, such as purchasing a home, getting out of debt, building an emergency fund and more.
Start by going to the Goals section in the upper right-hand corner. On the right side, you can learn more about how Goals works.
To begin, choose from their list of goals. If your preferred goal isn’t listed, you can create a custom one. Mint will ask you what amount of money you need to obtain this goal, and if you have an end date in mind.
I’m saving for a vacation in five months, so Mint calculated how much money I need to save each month to reach my goal. Not only does it track this, but it asked me to link to an external account where the money is going to be held. I already have targeted savings accounts through Capital One 360, including a “Spain” fund.
I think this feature is excellent because it can accurately track how much I’m saving for this specific goal. Setting goals with Mint are helpful in maintaining your financial priorities and ensuring you're taking the necessary steps to reach your resolutions and targets this year.
After you set your goals, you'll see a set of “Next Steps,” advice given by Mint to help you reach your goals.
Personally, I think the Goals feature is extremely helpful in keeping yourself financially accountable. Mint also provides actionable steps to keep you going on your journey.
Step 6: Level Up Your Mint.com Account
In addition to being a great budgeting program, there are other perks to using Mint:
- Access to your credit score (for free)
- Alerts when you go over budget
- Reminders of when bills, such as credit card payments, are due
- Easy-to-view pie charts that show percentages of money spent on each category
- Advice on how to improve your financial situation
- Actionable tips on ways to save in each budget category
If you are looking to improve your finances this year, set goals, stick to a budget and more, Mint is a useful tool that can help you efficiently manage your finances this year.
Do you use Mint? What’s one of your favorite features?