76 comments

Watching your ‘Stash… with Mint

Way back in our working and saving days (which peaked between 2000-2005), the Mrs. and I started to become more interested in watching the progress of our early retirement savings project. So every weekend, we’d log into our separate Vanguard accounts and compare notes.

As this simple thrill wore off, we started a spreadsheet called “Net Worth” that automatically tracked the stock holdings in Vanguard and other accounts, as well as any cash in the bank and the value of our primary and rental houses. The spreadsheet grew fancier over time, adding graphs, goals, and historical snapshots.

It became quite exciting when we noticed that the ‘stash itself would often produce more income than we did with our work. Dividends and appreciation on stocks and real estate are usually small percentages, but when multiplied across large numbers, they start to surprise you.

We also started to have a look at our spending. We felt pretty frugal overall and thus had never used a budget of any sort. My feeling on the matter was, “Well, since I am spending much less than I earn, what’s the point of using a budget – I already know there will be no shortage!” The thing I was missing is that you should still know how much you are spending, because that tells you how much income your investments will need to start providing once you start your early retirement.

And as soon as you start tracking your spending, even the most hardcore frugalist will suddenly gain extra motivation to optimize it. “Hmm.. maybe I don’t really NEED to throw this extra bottle of wine into the grocery cart – I’ll save a few bucks and go on an alcohol-free health kick this week, and go for a new record in low spending this month”. Stuff like that.

When you’re shooting for financial independence, I really like the “track your spending” method better than the “budgeting” method. With a budget, you allow yourself certain quantities of waste and try to stay within them. With tracking, your goal is NO waste, so you challenge yourself to cut every category, except eating, to zero. In reality it does not happen, of course, but the mindset of relentlessly thinking over every single purchase and trying to optimize it away is the thing that lets you develop your Frugality Muscle over time.

So the years passed and the lines on the spreadsheet went up, and when they were high enough to pay for expenses with passive income, we quit our jobs and declared ourselves retired. (Of course, we’ve started little businesses and done smaller side work since then, but that was for reasons other than earning an income to live on).

Since then, we’ve gone into a slack period in the “thinking about money” department. The income to pay for our modest lifestyle is just automatically there. I buy everything with a cash back credit card, which automatically gets paid at the end of each month, from a bank account which automatically gets filled up each month from the rental income and investment returns.  A few times per year we might review the portfolio just for fun, but there’s really nothing interesting going on in there right now, it’s on auto-pilot until I eventually start doing some more real estate deals in the next few years.

So when I started hearing everyone raving about this new financial tracking site called Mint.com, the Mrs. and I thought “that’s cool for the young Mustachians who are saving hard, or for people with spending problems who have to watch their budgets to avoid going deep into debt.. but it’s not for us.”*

But the raving continued and the screenshots looked very enticing. So we finally decided to set up an account with them and see what all the hype is about.

Synopsis: Mint is a website which can help you gather all of your financial information in one place, then analyze and track it for you very easily with some very beautiful graphs, charts, and reminders.

The service is free for users, as it makes its money by displaying ads for credit cards and other services which would be advantageous to someone with your spending patterns. Some of the affiliated companies pay a large commission to anyone who refers a new customer (something like $20-$100), so Mint surely makes a mint even without charging you a cent.**

As a lifelong technology addict, I can appreciate a really good user interface, and Mint definitely has it. It’s fun to use, and it seems to draw you in to set things up in quite an organic and natural way.

Once configured, it can automatically do things like watching your credit card balance for you, and sending you alerts (email, text, whatever) to let you know certain thresholds have been met.

Mr. Money Mustache! You’ve spent too much on Beer this week! You must cut out that category for the rest of the month!

Mustache! It’s Mint again! Do you realize you only have $500 in your bank account, yet your credit card is about to auto-withdraw $600 next week!? Get on it, sucka!”

Mint will also automatically gather the balances from all of your various accounts (investment, bank, credit card, and any loans) and present you with an instantaneous net worth summary.

If you enter your house address, it will automatically estimate the value using Zillow (which you can fine-tune as needed), and balance the home value against the mortgage balance to show your equity in the home.

Mint is also surprisingly good at digesting your credit card statement and sorting out everything you bought into categories.  It knows that “The Pumphouse” is actually a restaurant here in Longmont, and that Monsterbrew is beer and wine supplies.

There are many other whiz-bang features including smartphone apps that let you access your data from anywhere, but the real thing you might be starting to notice is this: Mint has finally provided a way for a normal person to be able to track every bit of his spending, and even keep up with a budget, with virtually zero effort.

Most of us aren’t going to save all of our receipts and type them into Quicken, and indeed, I only briefly look at my credit card statement at the end of each month, just to make sure every transaction is something I distinctly remember buying. So detailed spending tracking is something that is often started but abandoned due to lack of fun. Therefore, if it’s going to happen, it must be automatic, and that’s why I like Mint. Whether you use a spreadsheet, another software package, or an online service like Mint doesn’t matter, but you should definitely be watching over your ‘stash in one way or another.

What do YOU use? Has anyone found anything equivalent to or better than Mint in their quest? Mint users – how do you like it?

 

 

*We were also initially concerned about the security implications of putting all of your financial information in one place. But after learning that Mint only has read-only access to your accounts, and realizing that the real security lies in the underlying banks and credit cards which automatically protect you against fraudulent transactions done to your account, we got over it. It’s also a big operation that was bought by Intuit itself (and subsequently another bank) and now has millions of users, so it has had some battle testing. Overall, I have always been comfortable with internet commerce and have never seen any ill effects in over 16 years of participating in it.

**You’ll note that a lot of personal finance blogs do a suspicious number of reviews of rewards credit cards as well, because of this same lucrative commission structure. Not that there’s anything wrong with that from a Mustachian perspective – I’ve been a staunch rewards credit card user for ten years, with many thousands of dollars in cash back and free family travel collected over that time. The field remains competitive with very high signing bonuses and I maintain a list of the best cards on my own rewards card page here).

  • poorplayer December 12, 2011, 6:40 am

    Wow – missed the opportunity to toss you three bucks by THAT MUCH. I just started using Mint this past weekend! I had the account for three years and let it idle, not trusting the security issues, but with a pending annual portfolio balance coming up I decided to hop onto Mint this weekend so I could track spending better and really fine-tune the portfolio with extra cash from discovered waste. We must have been riding the same vibe this weekend. Obviously I don’t have enough experience to give an opinion yet, but on first blush it has been very cool. It could not track one credit card for me at this point – a card issued through my umbrella union. But everything else I threw at it came up just fine. I still have more data to put in, but I suspect this tracking idea is going to work well. I swear I am wasting money somewhere, and this should help me find those wayward dollars and steer them onto the path to the ‘stash.

    PS Congrats on a million views! Keep this up and you may have to outsource! :-)

    Reply
  • iterations December 12, 2011, 6:46 am

    FYI, Mint.com (which I’m a huge fan of) was actually a stand alone start-up for a couple years and it was recently acquired by Intuit.

    In my opinion, this makes it more trustworthy than something Intuit cooked up. I’ve been using it for years, and it has absolutely helped me get my entire financial life in order.

    It makes your personal finances like a game, and has really helped me “optimize” my spending and saving. Definitely a ‘stache builder, glad you found it MMM!

    Reply
    • iterations December 12, 2011, 7:29 am

      Oh I forgot to mention, an important thing for potential users to know going in: mint.com (and other aggregator sites like it) get MORE valuable over time, because you actually can see real trends and the changes you make over time. Initially, it only has the last month data (usually whatever your “real” financial sites make available) but if you keep syncing it, it builds a full history.

      I’m really enjoying doing a “overall spending” trend graph plotting last 2010 vs. 2011 month by month in each category and seeing the difference since I took a more proactive “mustachian” approach to my finances.

      It isn’t perfect, but well worth the effort to recategorize things that it guesses wrong etc… I know where every single dollar spent and earned came from over the past 3+ years. I used it as a big motivator to pay off my mortgage and become completely debt free while maintaining a balanced asset mix.

      Reply
  • Benji December 12, 2011, 6:54 am

    I will have been glad to give you 3.00€ for your advices and to discover mint but unfortunately, it’s not yet available in France :-/

    Reply
  • Will December 12, 2011, 7:20 am

    Mint is a great tool. I signed up for it at the end of 2007 when my wife was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and we had a moment of clarity RE: personal finance. We were spending way more than we earned and when we’d make progress in one spot we’d inevitably slide somewhere else. Looming future health costs had us resolve to get out of debt and we’ve been working on it ever since. About a year ago I discovered ERE and decided I’d try to push my wife further on the frugality spectrum towards some kind of modified ERE. Key in all of our financial change and planning was Mint. It’s really helped us to understand where our money was going and make informed decisions about what we can and cannot afford. (Although I’d argue we still have a fair amount of work to do there…)

    At any rate, congratulations on a million views. It’s nice to see a place with new ERE style posts now that Jacob has slowed down and/or quit posting.

    Note: Not to nitpick but you made a small mistake at the end of your post which may matter to the security conscious. (Although I’d argue about a large institution being more worried about the privacy of my personal data than a small shop in all cases…) Mint wasn’t built by Intuit. It was founded by Aaron Patzer in 2006 and was acquired by Intuit in 2009:

    http://techcrunch.com/2009/09/13/intuit-to-acquire-former-techcrunch50-winner-mint-for-170-million/

    Reply
  • Jeh December 12, 2011, 7:32 am

    I was wondering if you had ever checked out Mint…glad to read you have and liked it. I’ve been a Mint user for many years and it’s one of the first sites I visit nearly every morning, to watch my money (though I admit, only until I started reading your blog did it start to take on a more ‘stachian purpose…prior to that, it was just an easy way to track everything, now it also serves to remind me to stop spending on X, or Z).

    Reply
  • Matt from Buffalo December 12, 2011, 7:38 am

    I have been a Mint user for a couple of years now, on and off, and kind of have a love/hate relationship with it. Let me explain.

    On the one hand, there is no better tool (that I can think of at least) for tracking your spending. Mint has a supernatural ability to pull together all of your transactions with only a minimal amount of fussing and fine-tuning. In addition, for a stats geek like me, the ability to break up your data into tons of different pie charts, time-based line graphs, and the like is fantastic. Their product pushing is not excessive. And like all great software products, they have added nice new features, and generally addressed user concerns over time. Finally, they give you a lot of freedom to budget/track in your own way, and not force you into a certain way of doing things. It is for these reasons that I have stuck with using Mint over time.

    However, at the risk of being a complainypants, I do have one big issue with Mint- they do not work with all banks and accounts. For example, my current Employer’s 401(k) account (which I will only say is with a major, national, household-name investment bank) will not talk to Mint, and seeing as there is no way to manually add transactions, I have to omit that account from Mint, and thus have an inaccurate picture of my net worth and retirement savings, which for an obsessive like me is frustrating. I use Google finance to get a complete picture of my retirement portfolio, and download and add transactions once a month to keep it relatively current. Sometimes Mint can’t work with a bank because it is hand-tied by the bank’s online system, but other times it seems to be Mint’s fault. I have had other problems before with Mint in the past (using Mint with my checking account would lock my online baking for the account after about 5 transaction refreshes), but these have been fixed.

    All in all, 4/5 stars. It earns my recommendation as well.

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    • iterations December 12, 2011, 7:45 am

      Agreed Matt, the syncing issues also really irk the perfectionist in me, but I’ve tried to stay Zen about the whole thing. There are some REALLY angry users on their support boards, but most of the problems I’ve seen are when a financial institution updates their website, forcing mint to change its approach to data scraping for that site.

      It usually works out in the end, and I would imagine they are continually expanding the sites that they cover based on overall need from their user base, so if you have an account on a relatively obscure site that has some non-standard data security and display policies, mint probably won’t track it any time soon.

      Reply
    • Jeh December 12, 2011, 7:49 am

      I feel your pain. While Mint DOES work with my ex-employer’s 401k (which I still have funds in), it often cannot synch and takes days to finally right itself. It’s pretty damn annoying, but I’m not sure if it’s Mint’s issue, or the financial institutions.

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    • Will December 12, 2011, 8:09 am

      The one thing I really do hate about Mint is the, “Investments,” section just does not work well at all. As I am transitioning more from tracking every dollar I spend to wondering how my retirement accounts are performing it is particularly irksome.

      My accounts will show up multiple times, stop importing, show no information, show double the correct information, etc. If you can think of a way for it to be broken it has probably been broken that way. The worst part is I have had a ticket open off and on for two years on my Merrill Lynch accounts and they keep closing it and telling me to open it somewhere else. I feel like a ping pong ball.

      I’d still give it a 4/5 though because nothing else comes close in features/interfaces for what it does.

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      • Steve December 13, 2011, 1:00 pm

        I have it ignore all investment transactions. I only use it for total net worth calculations.

        Reply
    • John in Buffalo December 12, 2011, 9:38 am

      Here’s to Buffalonian Mustachianism!

      There are some hiccups sometimes. Ever since the federal student loan system changed websites my student loan will not update.

      I wanted to point out though that if you are super obsessive as you say, you can add accounts manually. I’ve done this in mint to account for private loans with people. I add the loan as an account, and adjust the value after each payment. If you wanted, you could manually add the value of your 401(k) as well. You’d have to check the account value at Google finance first and then adjust it in mint but at least you could get a complete mint-snapshot that way.

      Reply
      • Matt from Buffalo December 12, 2011, 12:33 pm

        Thanks for the tip John! And it’s good to see fellow Buffalonians out here!

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    • Matt December 12, 2011, 10:00 am

      Very well said. I ended up leaving Mint because I would spend hours trying to update my various financial settings without success. Almost every time I logged in I had to fix something.

      A partial view of my finances wasn’t worth the risk of having all of my most sensitive usernames and passwords living on a website that wasn’t working for me.

      Intuit owning it also made me nervous because in their turbotax software they sell your private tax return information to third parties (with your consent, but consent it is a little sneaky). Here is a post talking about it: http://bythebayou.com/?p=3397

      Reply
  • Peter Backx December 12, 2011, 8:24 am

    Mint and similar sites are pretty much useless outside of the United States. Yes, you can import the standard banking files (manually), but you can forget about VISA or other credit cards.

    So after using a spreadsheet for a few years, I’m now creating my own solution. It’s very basic, but “it just works”.

    Reply
    • Yabusame December 12, 2011, 9:10 am

      Peter,

      I use YNAB (http://www.youneedabudget.com). Its budgeting software that isn’t country-specific. I was using Excel spreadsheets for years but YNAB has allowed me to get a firm grip on my spending. Whilst MMM may be in the tracking phase of his spending, I’m in the budgeting phase. I want to decide what is important to me and assign funds accordingly. YNAB is great for that. I’d suggest you take a look at their website, video tutorials and forums. You’ve got nothing to lose by just looking.

      P.S. I am just a satisfied customer.

      Reply
      • BesselJ April 6, 2013, 10:22 pm

        Add another vote for YNAB. I’m in New Zealand so Mint doesn’t deliver the same service for me that you can get elsewhere.

        I find the YNAB method and software to be a great help in fertilising my stache stubble. To use the software you need to completely rework the way you understand money and budgeting, which is (I think) a good starting point for developing your baddassity. The tool is simple and easy to use, but also able to export into spreadsheets for fantatical analysis and scenario calculations (if you’re so inclined).

        For context, I’m 25, 2 years into an engineering job and getting married soon. Most of my ‘stache-ness and badassity is based on working four days per week, but I’m working my way through all of the post and getting seriously inspired!

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        • Nadia Lewis June 29, 2013, 8:41 pm

          YNAB FTW!

          I’m a huge fan, as it’s so responsive and adjustable — I normally get frustrated EARLY on at how rigid most budgets and budgeting software is and how much of a fuck up that makes me feel like for buying one cut of fabric too many.

          Go Team YNAB! :D

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          • Katie Alligood June 24, 2014, 8:20 pm

            Another vote for YNAB!

            I’m a (mostly) stay at home mom to two young kids with a pharmacists license I use occasionally. Hubby is also a pharmacist and we are recklessly trying to get rid of our student loan debt. We tried Mint for a long time, but YNAB has been fabulous for really keeping tabs on our money.

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  • B December 12, 2011, 8:53 am

    If you have problems with Mint try Yodlee. I’ve been using yodlee for about 5 years and I am really a big fan. I don’t know how it compares to Mint but its the same concept.

    Reply
    • Tom December 12, 2011, 9:55 am

      Mint actually used Yodlee when they were a startup (Intuit has its own scraping thing now).

      Reply
  • MMM December 12, 2011, 8:59 am

    Thanks for the point about it not being actually developed by Intuit – I fixed that footnote.

    As for the various comments about certain accounts not working: yeah, I noticed that with the home equity line of credit account that I have open with an obscure private bank. You can always work around things like this by manually updating any accounts that do not work automatically. Still better than a spreadsheet, where everything is manual.

    As software developer myself, I feel you have to cut these guys a break. There are thousands of financial institutions in the US, and obviously they don’t have time to fine-tune the engine so it works perfectly with every single one. I was actually shocked at how many things DID work on Mint.

    All software has bugs and imperfections. The way I judge things like this is, “Does using it provide me with more benefit than NOT using it, given the price?”. After a few months of using Mint, I decided the answer was “yes”, hence this article.

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  • mike crosby December 12, 2011, 9:01 am

    My main motivation for Mint was to keep track of all my accounts. But for some reason, the accounts will drop off and it’s no longer possible for Mint to track.

    And reconnecting the accounts to Mint can be a big pain.

    So, unfortunately Mint doesn’t work for me.

    Reply
  • jlcollinsnh December 12, 2011, 9:12 am

    looks like I’ll be the odd one out on this. life should and can be simple. investing and FI more so than most things.

    There is an entire, and very profitable, financial industry built on making money complicated and mysterious. Truth is when it comes to money not only is simple well, simpler, it is also more effective and much cheaper.

    Just save 50% of your income. Invest in Vanguard index funds. Leave them alone. When you can live on what they throw off you’re done.

    Want to retire sooner? save more than 50%.

    unfortunately for me, I learned this the hard way. I wasted far to much time and money looking for the magic tool.

    Cheers!

    JC

    Reply
  • John in Buffalo December 12, 2011, 9:28 am

    I love and use mint. My renters pay me in cash so I generally use that to pay for everything since I have to get rid of it somehow. This makes it a little less automatic than using a credit card since I have to whip out the smartphone and plug in most small expenses manually. However, I think the triple whammy of having cold hard cash ripped from my hands, having to type things in manually into mint, and seeing my spending trends on mint.com makes me spend less money.

    There is another great alternative to mint called “pageonce” that takes mint a step further. It actually aggregates your cell phone bill data, airline rewards programs, etc. So you can go to the same website to check your cell phone usage, credit cards, spending trends, etc. It’s kind of like buying car tires, eggs, and underwear at Walmart in one trip. Unfortunately, they don’t have access to ING accounts or my local bank for some reason so I don’t use it. I didn’t use mint for the longest time for this same reason.

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  • Bakari December 12, 2011, 9:33 am

    I’ve used them for over a year.

    It’s definitely worth using, and I can’t complain about a free service not being good enough, but it has quite a few bugs.
    Its not just the lack of access to some accounts that so many people experience.

    In addition to the nearly useless investment section (Mint insists that I spent $10,000 on a mutual fund which actually cost $3000 – it has a way to manually override this value… but then it ignores what you type in!) it also has random bugs all over, like not allowing you to add 3 accounts to one goal (even though it claims you can) or showing duplicate transactions after you explicitly tell it to exclude one of them from the records.
    Then there is the fact that a few months ago one of my accounts stopped working, and the only way I could get it to connect was to delete it and add it again, and in the process they erased not only the account log-in, but almost a year of saved history data, which was not restored when I re-added the same account a minute later.

    Compared to keeping track of all those accounts and transactions by hand though, it is still worth it

    Reply
    • Bakari December 12, 2011, 9:35 am

      wow – I just checked, and Mint now thinks that I paid 28k in the mutual fund that I actually paid 3k for, so investments says I’ve lost 26 thousand dollars since April!

      Reply
  • Terry December 12, 2011, 9:35 am

    My wife and I use a budgeting app called AceBudget, where we record all of our purchases. Does Mint have a similar tracking app? If so, does anyone know if you can have multiple people enter data into the same budget? It’s annoying that my spending and my wife’s spending are separate. Thanks!

    Reply
  • Jenny December 12, 2011, 9:39 am

    I was using a spreadsheet before too – and I like Mint to track our current spending as well. But for planning out future expenses or playing with “what if” situations, I still use the spreadsheet.

    Reply
  • Laura December 12, 2011, 9:41 am

    I used to LOVE Mint, but I now do all of my banking through a small credit union that blocks it. I end up using a spreadsheet I’ve developed over time instead. I miss Mint :(

    I’ve been email my credit union about once every three months to see if they have changed their set up yet, I keep hoping!

    Reply
  • Nathan December 12, 2011, 9:42 am

    I used to use Mint to track both my current and historical financial status, but now I just use Mint to give me a snapshot of my current financial picture, and I track my historical progress in Excel.

    Reason being, Mint had a bit of a meltdown a while back with ING. All my original ING accounts with my spending history stopped auto-updating, and then they created duplicates of all my accounts, sans historical info. I had to choose between hiding the old accounts with all my history, and my new ones with my current financial standing. So I hid the new accounts, imported my historical info into Excel, “un-hid” the new accounts, and then hid the old accounts. My historical progress in Mint is now skewed, but at least I know what my current net worth is. And at the end of every month, I take my financial stats from Mint and plug them into Excel, where I keep track of my progress on a month-to-month basis.

    Reply
    • Ramses December 12, 2011, 4:44 pm

      I love the Mint concept and execution, but for me at least, it is unbelievable slow to even load the site. I am sure they (Mint) are currently way over capacity as far as the amount of users they can handle, because this has been an ongoing issue since I tried to use their site weeks ago and now from home and work on different computers, browsers and operating systems.

      I guess I’ll have to figure out how to keep track of my financial data using LibreOffice.

      Reply
  • TLV December 12, 2011, 10:37 am

    I use mint to aggregate accounts, but then I put all the data into my own database/spreadsheet. It’s much more convenient to just check Mint (with the occasional trip to vanguard or my employer’s 401k provider, since Mint has trouble with investments) than it is to find the activity statement on each credit card.

    I use my own database/spreadsheet for several reasons:
    *Category hierarchy. Mint only does 2 levels of hierarchy; I occasionally want more.
    *Paychecks – Mint only sees the net. I like being able to track the gross, as well as taxes, 401k contributions, and the employer match.
    *Investments – Mint has a really hard time with cost basis and tracking individual investments. The only thing it does reliably for me is to report the total account balance.
    *Random weirdness. I once bought a gift for someone at our regular grocery store, and ever since then Mint always reports purchases from that store as gift instead of groceries.
    *I just like fiddling with databases and spreadsheets. :)

    Reply
  • TheMonopolyGuy December 12, 2011, 11:01 am

    I use Quicken, and like it a lot better than Mint. Your post was wrong to say you have to enter everything manually, though. It downloads everything from all your bank accounts and to me is much more powerful than Mint.

    Reply
    • TheMonopolyGuy December 12, 2011, 11:03 am

      Actually, one thing I hate about Mint is that once every month my inbox gets flooded with emails about the status of all my various accounts. Quicken will notify you but you can configure it however you want.

      Reply
    • abc December 14, 2011, 11:04 pm

      Upvote for Quicken. It costs $ but is much more configurable and I get to retain ownership of my financial data to a much greater extent. Once I’ve purchased it I can expect to use it for years.

      Intuit purchased Mint for their IP (their technology behind the site) and the website userbase was just gravy. Want to bet Intuit might monetize that gravy at some point? I wouldn’t be surprised to see Mint+, which will naturally be a paid service… and after getting everyone used to tracking all their info for free many will be happy to part with five measly bucks a month to keep access to it.
      Tasty moneygravy.

      Reply
      • Jeh December 15, 2011, 6:01 am

        So it’s ok when Quicken charges you, but if Mint ever does it’s (evil) “tasty moneygravy”? Got it.

        Or, am I just reading too much into that there comment?

        Reply
        • Spork December 15, 2011, 7:38 am

          I’d actually feel better about Mint charging… I think more nefarious things are afoot here. The reason Mint doesn’t charge you is because you are not the customer.

          Mint is more likely making money as a marketing company. They are likely selling your information to the highest bidder. In other words, someone wants to target market a product to “female, income 40-60k, lives in zip code 77777, owns their own house, loves to buy kitchen gadgets.” Mint can clickity-clickity-clickty-BING: spit out a list of names/addresses. Or “people with more than 100k in investment accounts at Schwabb” could be sold to Merrill-Lynch to target market moving their investments.

          This, in and of itself, doesn’t on the surface bother those of mustached lifestyles as they (in theory) make their decisions not based on marketing, but on actual needs (occasionally wants) and within their own means. But best case: it’s annoying. I don’t want to see targeted ads. I don’t want cold calls during dinner. Worst case: the more people that have access to your personal data (directly or indirectly) the more likely you are to get all tied up in identity theft or loss of real property.

          Reply
          • MMM December 15, 2011, 11:18 am

            True, true. I will let everyone know if I ever see any negative effects from Mint. I’d advise taking the usual online precautions: don’t give you real address, phone number, or date of birth, etc. unless absolutely required and you trust the company, and use your “spam” email account to sign up as an extra precaution (although I find that gmail already filters out 100% of my spam anyway).

            Reply
  • Kevin M December 12, 2011, 12:19 pm

    I can see the value in Mint for the average person, but me being a super-detailed-number-guy (CPA) I like my Quicken I’ve had for years. It is cool being able to look at almost 10 years worth of net worth growth.

    Reply
  • Dj December 12, 2011, 12:20 pm

    I’ve been using mvelopes for about a year. It also tracks all your accounts in one place and requires you to choose which “envelope” your purchase comes from. You fund your envelopes from your income. You make a good point that this does allow for waste because I sometimes use the fact that I have money “leftover” to rationalize spending more than necessary. But it was a good way for me to track my spending and I’ve made great strides over the past year. It also costs about $12 – month. I have been able to justify this so far but we’ll see as I get better at limiting my spending. Thanks for the sneak peak at mint as a good comparison!

    Reply
  • Christine Wilson December 12, 2011, 12:24 pm

    I like Mint. Still am relying on my spreadsheet though. Slowly, slowly I’d like to configure Mint exactly how my spreadsheet is so I can do it all online. Having some problems with how I like to categorize my financial information and their default way of categorizing.

    Also I think it helps when you do the same things over and over again.. this way you don’t have to figure out which category everything belongs in. It still doesn’t do the perfect job of knowing what each transaction was (convenience store, gas, restaurant, etc) I do live in Canada though.. and this is American.

    Reply
  • herbert salisbury December 12, 2011, 12:45 pm

    I’ve been using a $1 app called ace budget for a year or so. It’s simple, manual, in that I have to enter every purchase after I make it. Sometimes, avoiding that small amount of labour is enough motivation to not spend money at all…

    However, I completely agree with old MMM, tracking my spending has been far more useful in kerbing my cash firehose than making a budget.

    Reply
  • Tracinator December 12, 2011, 2:20 pm

    I use waveaccounting.com and I love it. I recently started my own business and I wanted something that would automatically track my personal as well as business spending.

    I checked out Mint.com, and it seemed pretty cool but a lot of the small business reviews seemed to state that using Mint for a small business was doable, but not optimal.

    Waveaccounting does both and I’m very happy with it. Plus, it’s free. A downside would be that there is no mobile app yet.

    Reply
    • iterations December 12, 2011, 3:44 pm

      Hmm yeah I don’t think it would work for a small business (is it intended for businesses?) I think it is definitely for _personal_ finance only.

      Reply
    • Christine Wilson December 13, 2011, 9:19 am

      Thank you! I’m now using Wave Accounting. It generate reports for you. Balance sheet, income by customer, general ledger and income statements. Very nice. I still need to check out the personal part, but this makes keeping track of income and expenses easier… and more mobile ;)

      Reply
  • Bill Burcham December 12, 2011, 2:30 pm

    I think that MMM’s assertion that “Mint only has read-only access to your accounts” is based on out of date information. Not only that, the statement was never actually true.

    In the old days, Mint was “powered by Yodlee” That’s not the case any more http://money.cnn.com/2010/12/02/pf/mint_leaves_yodlee/index.htm. Nevertheless, whether your account credentials are handled by Yodlee (as they were) or handled by Intuit (as they are now), you still must share your banking account credentials in order to use Mint.

    In no sense is this “read only access”. For instance, if you have a Wells Fargo account, you must share the same username/password with Mint that you use to do online banking at Wells. Those credentials are stored (by Intuit). To get more benefit from Mint you add more account (credentials). Eventually all your account credentials are stored at Intuit.

    Now it is true that the Mint application does not (itself) make banking transactions. It only reads banking transactions (from other institutions.) That doesn’t change the fact that all your banking credentials are stored at Intuit. If a bad guy gets those credentials you are hurting.

    An exception to this is ING Direct accounts. ING Direct provides a separate set of “read only” credentials. These are actually different credentials than the ones you use to log in to ING Direct to move money around. You can use this separate set of credentials for Mint and in that case Mint has a read-only view of your ING Direct transactions.

    Also, I don’t think Mint (or Intuit) provide any indemnification or insurance for you, beyond FDIC etc. So if your account at Intuit is hacked I believe you are going to have to take the issue up with your financial institution(s).

    I’m all for Mint. It can be useful. But folks should be very clear on the risks.

    Reply
  • John E. December 12, 2011, 2:47 pm

    Thanks MMM!

    I’ve just spent the morning inputting my data. I reminds me of my old Quicken, but less work. (I’ve even got the wife’s email added so she also receives alerts.)

    Handy!

    John

    Reply
  • jump December 12, 2011, 3:16 pm

    Several years ago we tracked our expenses in a spreadsheet. Then we upgraded to Microsoft Money + the spreadsheet, but we hated typing transactions in manually. As a software developer, I hated doing the manual aspect and had been thinking for a couple of years of writing my own budget application. About that time mint was introduced, so I tried it for a bit. It was a very nice system, with automated transaction retrieval, but ultimately it wasn’t tracking at the level I was after. note: it may be different now, I have not tried it in 2 years.

    My idea of tracking was: 1) automated transaction retrieval, 2) up-to-date, automated balance of all my accounts, 3) budgeting/transaction monitoring on a monthly cycle.

    Most systems at the time seemed to track on an ongoing basis….so off I went to try and capture what I was after.

    The Mrs and I both got paid twice per month (at one point I got 3 paychecks two months out of the year). The 3rd paycheck month was what really bugged me about not being able to realize as it got sucked into the never ending Money budget. I wanted to break our finances down to a 30 day cycle…all expenses incurred within that month went into that particular month’s budget and all income realized during that month went on that month’s budget. Every month starts fresh with an estimated income/budget for that month. Transactions are retrieved automatically every morning and categorized into our budget. Monthly savings are also accounted for as part of the budget. What we end up with at the end of the month is either a profit or a loss based on this model. If there is a loss, we pull money out of savings to make up for the overspending. If there is a profit that month, it is transferred to savings. Lather, rinse, repeat.

    We’ve been running our system for almost 3 years now. Another side-effect of this logging is the fact that I now have 3 years of our trends and transactions. This actually helped us when our bank upgraded websites. They didn’t bring over any prior history.

    This particular method of financial monitoring took my wife several months to get on board with and understand the usefulness of. It also wasn’t until this level of detail monitoring did our stash start its upward climb. We now look forward to our morning email summary and utilize the website to project current/future profit for the stash.

    Sorry for the long post, it is an area that I’ve grown to love and an app I’m proud of.

    Reply
    • Gil December 12, 2011, 7:31 pm

      Hi Jump,
      Sounds like a great app and so much more in tune with how I look at my personal finances.
      Is this an app that can be found online?

      Reply
      • jump December 13, 2011, 7:18 am

        Thanks Gil!

        Treating our finances like a business, breaking details down into their corresponding month, and automation was what helped us the most.

        Unfortunately, my site is not available for others to use. I’ve thought about it, but ultimately it is not real simple to make it so others can log into their institutions. It took a good day to develop the macro to log into my bank as if I were sitting in front of my computer. Once the app has logged in, it navigates to the daily transactions, screen scrapes, and trims its way down to a delimited list of transactions that the app then uploads to my website for integration. The transaction retrieval would basically be specific for each individual institution out there. Same situation as Mint, except they have an army of developers building macros.

        Security was also a concern of ours. We didn’t feel comfortable handing over the keys to our online banking sites. All major sites at one point or another get hacked.

        Reply
  • Valerie December 12, 2011, 3:17 pm

    Timely post. My New Years resolution is to track EVERY purchase I make and I really have no desire to do this all manually with a spreadsheet. (I value my free time and crunching numbers is not how I want to spend it.)

    I’ve taken a look at Mint and I see that it’s available in Canada and includes my main financial institution. Any Canadian users out there to advise on whether it’s working as well (or as poorly) as the US version?

    Reply
    • Christine Wilson December 12, 2011, 3:25 pm

      Works well as long as it supports your Canadian bank accounts. That’s been the only big issue for me. It didn’t support CIBC for awhile.

      Reply
  • Valerie December 12, 2011, 7:38 pm

    I’m actually wondering about this statement, “the real security lies in the underlying banks and credit cards which automatically protect you against fraudulent transactions done to your account”.

    Do they still protect you if you willingly provide all your confidential access information to a third party?

    Reply
  • Teresa December 12, 2011, 8:23 pm

    I have used mint, yodlee, quicken, and money in the past. I really, really, really loooooove Pearbudget. It is a web based budgeting or spending plan if you like that does not store any account info. This in combo with a spreadsheet to balance my bank accounts, and reading ERE and MMM has helped us start plugging those leaks. Pearbudget has an annual fee, but it is worth the money for someone like me who is definitely not yet an advanced Mustachian. Plus Charlie Parker and team are really helpful and I like that I am supporting a small business.

    Reply
  • Naomi December 12, 2011, 10:17 pm

    We use Mint for almost all of our accounts. The one account I will not sync with Mint is Vanguard. I read somewhere that if you give your login information to a third party and then your account is hacked due to that third party’s negligence, you have no recourse. I don’t know if that is true, but I am not willing to take the risk.

    I’d love to know how you’re invested, MMM, to produce that kind of income. We’re lucky to get 1% in dividends and interest. How do you do it?

    Reply
    • MacGyverIt December 13, 2011, 7:30 pm

      Interesting/weird, as mint.com tracks my Vanguard investment accounts just fine. Hmm.

      Reply
  • PKamp3 December 12, 2011, 11:33 pm

    I also appreciate the info porn Mint lets you indulge in – Mint let me know I spend less on gas and more on car insurance than others in my city.

    I’m glad that you don’t simultaneously trash credit cards and recommend them (cognitive dissonance is painful). I fall on Team Rewards Cards – if you always pay them off you don’t have to care about the APR.

    Reply
  • Kevin December 13, 2011, 5:59 am

    MMM, excepting for recent hiccups with the website and web app not functioning properly with Bank of America and its subsidiary brokerage companies and other affiliated companies, Mint is effing awesome. It’s a constant reminder that I bought my house too far from work, based upon the regular expenditures of gas, car repairs and that I’m overpaying for my car insurance, but NOT a car loan, as I’ve never bought a car in my life. I find that, however, I don’t really pay much attention to the Mint anyway though because I know that the vast majority of my expenses come in one of a few categories that I have accepted, for the time being, as unavoidable. There’s still stuff I need to work on, and Mint can help remind me of that via text and emails, but at the same time, I know the problems my behaviors are causing me toward reaching my financial independence as quickly as I want, and I am capable enough to determine that I’m not making progress enough for me to notice.

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you said that Mint is nifty for starting mustaches (paraphrasing), but it’s no replacement for knowing the stuff you’re doing right and the stuff you need to get better at. Mint will get you to a pretty good point, but you still have to go above and beyond Mint to really reach financial independence.

    Reply
  • Rob December 13, 2011, 9:43 am

    I’ve been using Mint for over a year now. Before that I was an avid Quicken user and before that MS Money (which was discontinued by MS). Tracking my net worth and budget has become a hobby for me.

    Mint is great. I particularly love the ability to categorize/track everything from whatever device I am on a the time (yes, I have and love my rather unnecessary iPhone). But now that I’ve used it for an extended period of time, I’m really seeing the benefits. How does my spending on Christmas gifts compare to last year? How has our spending on food changed since we’ve identified it as a “needs improvement” area. How has my 401k portfolio performed? I can answer all of these questions on one site. I love that.

    Reply
  • Spork December 13, 2011, 10:19 am

    (oh my god, forever long comment. Be forewarned!)

    In an effort to be completely and absolutely different than anyone …. Let me first say, this has been sort of an obsession of mine for about 10 years. GRAPHS! Oh, the beauty! Oh, graphs, I love thee!

    This is going to sound complicated. And that’s only because it is. What I use to track my money is gnucash. It’s free software and from a purely accounting standpoint it is “more correct” than most of the other financial software out there (Microsoft Money, Quicken, etc.). I will say, however, it is nowhere near as full featured as the “less correct” software.

    But… it’s free software and it writes its data in XML format. So, I’ve cobbled together, over time, a system that reads the XML, parses it, picks out hundreds of things I want to examine and graphs it using Cacti (another bit of free software). I also have automated duct tape and bailing wire that takes the data from gnucash, plugs it into firecalc in various scenarios and graphs all of that stuff.

    As an example, I generate graphs for: Asset Summary; Assets v Liability; Types of Assets; Retirement v non-retirement Assets; Account details for retirement accounts, trade accounts, 401ks, bank accounts; breakdown of how savings has been categorized;
    cost vs value and return on investment for every stock/fund and summaries for every account; expected amount of time emergency funds would last based on expenses; Income and expense graphs based on 30 day, 90 day, 1 year and 5 year data; savings percentages for the same timeframes; dividend info for the same timeframes; top expense categories for the same timeframes; time-to-retirement based on my own questionable fudge figures (for 30/90/365/5year expenses/incomes); time-to retirement graphs based on firecalc predictions percentage chance of retire now, now+1 year, now+2, …, first fit using firecalc for what year is the 100%…. …and that’s just an overview. I got graphs of how well the graphing is working.

    As an aside: as someone that has worked 20 years in internet security, you probably SHOULD be concerned about the security implications of giving someone else access to your account. Even more so when it is a free service. Yes, I know, I like free, too. But in today’s internet world, “free” means “you are the product.” Even in my own cobbled together software solution that runs on my own server in my own house, I do not put all the userids, account numbers and passwords in my software. It’s just too common and too easy for that stuff to get out. I’ve seen it first hand. You’re probably right that the liability falls on the banking institution, but that may be of little help if you have to unwind the problems with identity theft.

    Reply
    • Rob December 13, 2011, 10:41 am

      Spork,

      As an engineer and personal finance geek, your system sounds awesome. Do you share any of your customizations to gnucash for others to use? Early on I played with gnucash but didn’t want to take the time to reinvent the proverbial wheel that was MS Money / Quicken and is now Mint.

      -Rob

      Reply
      • Spork December 13, 2011, 10:53 am

        I’d probably have to clean it up (and remove a bunch of stuff that only applies to me)…. I could probably do so. My hesitation is that it is a gawd-awful complicated pile of stuff that might be hard to support. :)

        It’s also going to pretty much go on the assumptions:
        1) you’re running Linux
        2) you’re running an always-on server (which may not necessarily be mustacian. I figure it costs me about $20 a month to run it.)
        3) you’re a perl hacker and a cacti hacker that can customize it to suit your own needs.

        This isn’t actually an add-on to gnucache but something that is duct-taped to the back end. It parses the xml data file and generates it’s own cached copy. There is then another pile of scripts called by Cacti on a 5 minute interval to create graph data. It’s way over complicated for what it does.

        Reply
      • Spork December 13, 2011, 10:56 am

        I might also mention: as an avid disliker of Microsoft, I thought Microsoft Money was a damn fine program (from a user point of view… it was awful from an admin’s point of view). That’s really hard for me to say. And that’s based on the last time I used it, which was about 1999.

        Reply
  • Steve December 13, 2011, 10:52 am

    I like Mint because it helps keep me honest. If someone were to ask how much I spend each month on groceries and whether I was spending less than before, I’d say I was probably spending around $50 per week and that spending was about the same.

    However, I can go on Mint and see that my spending for last month was actually $67 per week, running a little higher than normal. You can drill down into that and see where the extra money was spent. In my case we stocked up on meat and milk that has lasted into December.

    I can also see that our dining out expenses are running a little higher than normal. I think one of my New Years resolutions will be to have a $100 per week budget for dining out. I know $100 per week for dining out isn’t very Mustachian to some, but it’s a savings of $50 per month over our current family’s spending.

    Reply
  • Katherine December 13, 2011, 5:31 pm

    I had some account sync issues with Mint that just kept reappearing despite attempts to fix … so I switched back to Yodlee (which I had used a long time ago anyway). Each website has its quirks though.

    The one service that I strongly recommend is CalendarBudget (www.calendarbudget.com) for forecasting … it is indispensable for knowing where your ‘stash is at any given point in time in the future. I like to plan ahead. ;)

    Reply
  • MacGyverIt December 13, 2011, 7:20 pm

    Love, love mint.com!!!

    One question – can anyone recommend the best way to track my mortgage/amoritization schedule? My mortgage loan can’t sync up with mint.com (no complainypants, I’m a huge fan of the site) and I’d like to know *exactly* where I’m at with payments and interest (b/c I hate all that interest :-< ). Any web-based/login/storable sites for this function? I use a cheap version of MS Office/Excel called ThinkOffice so compatible macros often work (I've tried a couple with minimal degrees of success). Thanks in advance for any suggestions!

    Reply
  • Jeff December 14, 2011, 11:29 am

    I’ve tried mint on and off. I haven’t touched it in months because it kept screwing up. Couldn’t find accounts, sent me emails warning me of getting charged fees that were really just my mortgage payment, and in general doing a lousy job of categorizing purchases. I’m sure it has gotten better with time, and I’m sure that if I put more effort into setting it up and staying on top of it, it would be spitting out a lot fewer red herrings. I’m going to try again. Thanks!

    Reply
  • Peter December 24, 2011, 10:37 am

    I must be a nerd because I love typing in receipts and tracking things manually. I know it no longer has any online support, but I like using MS Money (and it’s free). Gives me all the info I need and makes it easier for me to visualize what I need to do to pay off bills and trim my spending habits. It also does projections which I am not 100% sold on, but I think it gives me a glimpse of what I can do.
    Also, in regard to retirement, because I am a government employee I don’t have a normal 401k, I have a few funds to pick from that are supposed to track certain markets but are not perfect. So I keep my own excel files for that stuff.
    Plus, if I’m putting in my own receipts I can keep an eye on things I can start dropping from my usual purchases. Buy a cheaper knock off or something like that.

    Reply
  • Jon Bendtsen January 28, 2012, 3:35 pm

    My bank offers some analysing tools. I also get an email with all posts, but only amount no text. I get an email when the account drops below a certain level, but they still have not made a warning email about planned payments which exceed the balance :-(

    Reply
  • j May 27, 2012, 1:13 pm

    Trust Mint? in researching a mobile platform for budgeting, I see multiple recommendations for Mint. Yours is the first that reveals the cozy reimbursement relationship to posters. Thank-you for that open sharing info. I have tried Mint before, and as other reviewers have posted, not all my accounts worked, so therefore I could not use it for a complete financial picture. I have a very complicated financial picture, with multiple banks, multiple businesses, multiple rental properties and multiple loans/lines of credit. After downloading the mobile Mint, I started getting text messages from unknown sources offering me consolidation loans or debt management loans etc. I tried stopping them without avail, as the phone numbers kept changing. I decided to delete my Mint app since I wasn’t using it. Voila, no more text messages. Just sayin’

    Reply
  • James September 21, 2012, 4:26 pm

    IF anyone here wants to help a smaller institution out, please recommend that mint.com links up with http://www.sogotrade.com Thats where my brokerage account is and I know sogotrade is trying to get mint’s attention, but currently they don’t work together. Three bucks a trade. Thanks, the more people that try the better obviously.

    Reply
  • Sammy October 15, 2012, 2:00 am

    Mint is great, too bad it can’t be used to its full potential outside US. Among personal finance tools with international support, I would suggest http://www.gnucash.org/ (desktop app) or https://www.inexfinance.com/ (online software).

    Reply
  • Debbie Miller February 9, 2013, 9:20 am

    Has anyone had trouble getting Mint to sync with their bank accounts? My Mint account has not sync’d with my bank in over 2 weeks. This tendency has happened before and discourages me from wanting to use the system. I do record my cash & other spending but lack motivation when Mint is so far behind. I have emailed them this time, and in the past. Thinking or starting my accounts over again from scratch but hate to do that very often. Better to use a paid than an unpaid system if the unpaid system does not work.

    Reply
  • Devin June 2, 2013, 6:56 pm

    I know this is much later than the original published date however I think ill leave my two cents. Mint is excellent from a tracking standpoint. Not as customizable as I would like but if need be I can export the data to tinker with in excel.

    I recently came across another site that provides a similar net worth monitoring service. http://www.personalcapital.com. It does not do budgets but does allow for monitoring of bank accounts (you can even transfer money/pay bills etc. if so desired) and seems to be geared largely toward the investor focused on building the net worth through investing. (if you have over $100k in investable assets you get a free advisor)

    While not for everyone it is certainly worth checking out.

    I discovered this blog a few weeks ago and am slowly reading through each page. Great stuff in here! Keep it up MMM.

    Reply
    • umair August 14, 2013, 1:02 pm

      Thanks for the tip! I’ve getting very annoyed by Mint lately.. would love to see MMM revisit this and review some of the newer (better) tools out there

      Reply

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