How To Get Your Finances In Order With Mint

Let’s face it: my brother got the “saving” genes.

I like having nice things, but I like having sub-par things right now even more. In high school, I worked a part-time job (or three) to pay for things like gas, movie nights with friends, and shopping extravaganzas. Now, I find my former need for 17 pairs of jeans absolutely ridiculous. I survived college on ramen and tomato soup and spent whatever I had leftover on $1.50 beers at Wednesday night karaoke. Man, are those memories incredible.

I spend, spend, spend until there is nothing left, but the thing is, I don’t regret any of the spending. You see, when you don’t have money, you don’t know what you’re missing… until you do. When I first began adulting, I couldn’t believe it when my biweekly paychecks topped $300—so much more room for activities!

Soon thereafter it became obvious that my immature spending habits when I didn’t have much had affected my control over money (when I now had a little). I researched and asked around. The resounding answer to my madness was Mint, an online money management tool and app (iOS, Android). After just a week of use, I’m loving it. However, I wish someone would have given me the guide for “How to Get Started with Mint (for Dummies).”

Instead, I just suffered through it. But my struggle is your good fortune, as I can now guide you through the process.

To begin, I suggest starting with the online website rather than the app. For one, the site is easier to navigate when you are just learning (and it walks you through a tour of the program). Also, some features are not available in the app (such as the goals portion).

Step 1: Sync All of Your Accounts

I loved Mint right away because my uber small hometown bank (with just three branches) could be synced as an account. Several financial tools have this ability for big name banks (think: Bank of America or Wells Fargo), but few are programmed with small town institutions for us rural folk.

After completing the tour, begin adding your bank accounts, including checking, savings, and credit cards. Accounts held at the same bank should be automatically loaded all at once (i.e. if you have both a checking and savings with one bank). Don’t forget to add any student loans, car loans, mortgages, and any assets, such as vehicles and real estate.

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Step 2: Categorize All Uncategorized Transactions

When Mint loads your transactions from each bank account, it automatically categorizes them based on what it concludes about the retailer. For example, Shell will automatically categorize as Gas & Fuel and CVS will categorize as Pharmacy.  However, some transactions remain Uncategorized if Mint is unsure. These are the ones you will want to assign a category. Without categories for every transaction, your budget is useless, and your trends are inaccurate.

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Click on an uncategorized transaction and you will see an option on the right side of the screen to “Show all Uncategorized.” From here, it will be easy to categorize what is left.

It doesn’t hurt to browse through transactions once or twice a week to make sure Mint categorized your purchases accurately.

Step 3: Create a Budget

After adding your accounts, Mint creates a sample budget based on your income and spending history. This is where it becomes very important that all of your transactions are properly categorized. If not, the sample budget will be very inaccurate (especially if your grocery purchases are categorized as Shopping: Clothing—you won’t budget enough for food!).

Mint’s sample budget is a good way to start, but I highly suggest you add monthly expenses and adjust your budget. If you think spending $400 on Restaurants is obnoxious, then lower that budget for the month.

(Psst. Make sure to think about all the necessary categories to budget for.)

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TIPS:

  • Select any particular transaction and click Edit Details. Here you will be able to change the category and/or the description attached to the transaction. This is also where you can create rules (if you have adjusted the defaults) for future transactions.
  • In the same menu, the “Y” shaped icon will appear in the upper right. This allows you to split transactions, meaning if you buy clothing and beauty supplies at Target, it will allow you to separate the two into different expense categories.
  • Another option in the Edit Details menu is Remind Me, the calendar icon. This is where you can set up alerts or reminders for you to buy an item or pay a bill each month.

Step 4: Set Your Goals

One of the features that Mint veterans brag about is the Goals tool. There are predetermined options to kickstart your imagination and get you thinking about what you want to start saving for. Whatever your goal may be, Mint helps to create the most efficient savings plan.

For example, if your goal is to pay off Student Loans, Mint will suggest, based on interest rates, what money to allocate to each loan. For me, the Saving for a Car feature is the most impressive. When you create the goal, it calculates the price (based on Kelley Blue Book) and allows you to input the monthly payment and loan term you desire. From there, it suggests what your down payment should be.

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If you really want to get serious, you have the option to create targeted saving accounts with Capital One 360 like InvestorJunkie does, which allows you to open several savings accounts for specific goals. Capital One accounts also have the ability run on auto-pilot, automatically withdrawing money for your savings each month.

Step 5: Keep Up the Good Work

Once you have your budget set, use your app to track your spending. Don’t be afraid to tweak your budget as the months pass. You may find you spend less on groceries and you can allocate some of that money toward one of your savings goals.

Add-Ons and Perks

Mint has many more features included in the basic plan (which is free):

  • Free access to your credit score
  • Alerts to notify you when you go over budget
  • Bill reminders (car payment, credit card, electric, etc.)
  • Pie chart showing percentages of money spent for all categories
  • Financial advice (located in the Overview tab)
  • Tips on ways to save

Try out some of these add-ons that make the program even more convenient to use:

  • Mint Quick View (Mac): This allows you to add Mint to your Mac menu bar.
  • Mint for Windows: A Mint app for Windows 8.1 desktops.
  • Mojito: Mojito is a Chrome extension that lets you customize the Mint layout, prevent it from logging you out, and more.

Happy saving! I l know you can do this.

Featured photo via charliewhite.net

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