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When I recently discovered that my local bank had finally been added to Mint, I immediately signed back up. MakeUseOf did an overview of Mint back in 2007 when it was in its beta release. Since then, it has grown and added more features so it’s time for an update post.
Mint is a free, automatic online finance tracking and budgeting platform much like Microsoft Money and Quicken. Since adding my financial accounts (Paypal, credit cards, banking), I’ve stopped using similar software applications on my Mac and iPhone. Mint does all the personal accounting work for me. In this article, I’ll share some tips on using the features of Mint to track and budget your spending.
How to Make a Mint Budget – Setting Up Categories
When you add your financial accounts to your Mint account, about a year’s worth of your past and current transactions get added to your account. Using your past transactions, Mint assigns your transactions to various categories. For example, credit or debit card transactions you make at Target will be assigned the Shopping category. A transaction from Best Buy will get assigned to Electronics & Software. You may find that many of your transactions get assigned appropriate categories, but you can also change or create categories for any transaction.
Here’s how to do it.
- Open your Mint account and click on Transactions in the menu bar at the top of the webpage. Select the transaction for the category you want to change.
- Select the current category for the transaction and click on the triangle in the selection field to either change the name of the category or see if there’s a sub-category. So if say your transaction is from Amazon, you can leave the default category as Shopping or you can assign it a sub-category, such as Books or Clothing.
- Now that you have changed the category, you will probably want all future transactions from say Amazon to all be labeled Books instead of just Shopping. To make this happen, you need to change the rules set up for this type of transaction. Click on the Edit Detail tab.
In the resulting dialog box, select “Always rename Amazon as Amazon and categorize as Books.” This new rule will change all existing and future Amazon transactions. Notice also, you can assign tags to transactions, which is great for keeping track of tax related expenses as opposed to personal expenses. By clicking “Manage your tags”, you can change, add, and delete tags.
When you first set up your account and add transactions, you may find there are numerous transactions which are uncategorized. Taking the time to set up rules for uncategorized transactions will inevitably help you monitor your spending. Also, one useful tool in this regard is that you can click on the “Show all” button on the right side of your Transactions page to get a list of the total spending for all transactions for a particular category, sub-category, or store.
One of the best reasons for using Mint and taking the trouble to categorize transactions is that you can make Mint budgets, especially for discretionary spending items and services. For example, I like to make sure I’m spending a limited amount of money on books and iPad/iPhone apps per month. If I don’t monitor my spending on such items, I tend to overspend and even sometimes waste money by not tracking those expenses.
Again, when you set up your Mint account, Mint creates a few default budgets which you can change or create new ones. To do this, click on Planning in the menu bar of your account’s page. Select the budget you want to change or update. Or click the Create Budget button to create a new budget.
For an existing budget, you can increase or decrease the amount by clicking on the left and right triangles. You can make additional changes by clicking the Edit Details tab, in which you can change the time period of the budget, and check whether or not you want the selected budget to roll over to the next month. As you spend money toward those budgets, the bar color will change from green to red when you are over your budget.
Almost everything about Mint is automatic. So once your transactions are updated for your accounts, all your categories and budgets get automatically updated. You never have to manually input that data.
Setting Up Email Alerts
Another useful Mint feature which helps you monitor your finances is by sending you email alerts for when you’ve gone over budget, when your balance is low, when a bill is due, and so on. You can configure the settings for alerts by clicking on Your Profile on your accounts page. In the drop-down box, select Email and Alerts to set up changes.
Get the Free Mint iPhone App
If you’re an Apple mobile user, you can download the free Mint app to view your online account. Transactions, however, may not immediately show up on your Mint account. It may take an hour or two to get updated. But using the mobile app also allows you to add tags and/or change categories for new transactions. Your new alerts also show up in the app.
There are many more features in Mint, and once you get your accounts set up, you’ll see that it provides you with a wealth of information about your finances, as well giving you tips on how to save money.
Mint.com may not be the best solution for say tracking a large business account, but for personal and small business accounts, the service is a huge time saver. The biggest drawback to the service, however, is that it doesn’t provide a way to print out reports of your transactions, categories, and summaries. You have to download the data and then set up a spreadsheet to create reports. Hopefully the developers of Mint will address this problem in future updates.
Let us know if and how you use Mint.com. Has it helped you budget your spending?