18 November 2008

Budgeting for Dummies Series: Mint.com

I have been using mint.com for nearly as long as I've been using Quicken online, since I joined mint about two weeks after I joined Quicken. Mint.com also has some pretty snazzy pie charts, and they have a very similar setup with the categorizing of transactions and budgets, although for me, the budgets on mint.com were more intuitive and easy to set up than the ones on Quicken.

The overview page allows you to set budgets by different categories and the bars will fill with color as you approach each limit, turning from green to yellow if you get too close, up until you hit the limit. It turns red if you go over your limit, and a little red number will pop up next to your budget, letting you know by exactly how much you went over.

Your accounts are listed in the left hand panel, and you can see transactions from each of them individually, or you can see all of them at once. The transactions tab allows you to categorize your expenditures and income, and all of this is very much like what I described in Quicken. Like Quicken, mint is also mostly intuitive, but some of the categories will need correcting at first. The only problem I've run into has to do with duplicate entries. I neglected to mention this last time, because Quicken is better about this than mint, but both systems have given me trouble with duplicates before. I assume this is because when I pay my credit card bills, it is seen as a debit from my savings account, but since my credit cards are also in the system, the actual purchase is also seen as a debit. Then the credit is only counted once, so I've had to hide some of my debits before - and I would recommend watching out for that, but it's pretty simple to catch.

The trends tab is where the fantastic pie chart lives. You can also analyze your expenses of each category by month in the bar chart at the bottom, and then compare your expenses to the averages in other cities in the U.S. If you click on a color of the pie chart, it will break it down further, and it lists the places you've spent money next to the pie chart, by frequency of your visits to each place. The sliding bar at the bottom lets you change the time frame from which the pie chart gathers its data, so you can see a few months at a time if you'd like.

But as I mentioned in my write-up about Quicken, the difference with mint.com is the next tab, where you can chart your retirement accounts. This can be a dangerous thing, maybe, especially in light of the recent economy...but on the other hand, it has been a blessing because of my recent employment status. I need to roll my former 401(K) into a traditional IRA, and mint.com has a lot of suggestions for doing just that.

The "Ways to Save" tab is the best part, so I've saved it for last. Since I started using mint.com, I have found a new credit card with better rewards (and 0%APR for a year, followed by the lowest APR I have ever seen after the year is up), and I have a new payment account that is accumulating a higher interest rate than my former one. Mint.com had all sorts of recommendations for me, and since I've moved on them, I've been happier with what my money is doing for me.

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