Recently, I wrote an article about the envelope system of budgeting. While that may be the right system for some, others find that maintaining numerous envelopes is more work than they expected. Plus, keeping money in cash can be annoying or unsafe for some. If you think enveloping is not the right fit for you, I am going to walk you step-by-step through Mint and how it can help you maintain financial health.
Mint is a web and mobile application developed by Intuit (the creators of TurboTax). It comes in the form of a web and mobile application that can be connected to your financial accounts to track your habits. For example, if you have two checking accounts, two savings accounts, and an investment account, you would log in to your accounts through Mint so that it can monitor your activity.
Once you have your accounts in there, you can use them like normal to set a baseline. Mint will track how much you spend in different categories — from food to auto to bills. You can also break down the categories further. Because Mint uses the transaction code (which they interpret for you as the merchant’s actual name), they can easily identify similar transactions. For example, you could visit two separate McDonald’s and Mint would categorize them both the same.
Speaking of the translation Mint does for you, it can actually be a big help in two ways. Many times on bank statements, you’ll see something like “POS PUR MCD 0125”. This is saying “Point of Sale Purchase at McDonald’s #0125”. However, you don’t need all of that information, and it can slow you down when trying to budget and categorize. Mint standardized this text to just “McDonald’s”, which makes categorizing much faster.
Another way this can help is with fraud. Let’s say there is no McDonald’s within 10 miles of you, so you rarely eat there. If Mint shows that you have make several trips in the past week, you can identify this fraudulent activity and contact your bank. Mint also alerts you of any suspicious activity (including large deposits or withdrawals) for this reason. If you were afraid of someone hacking into Mint and stealing all of your info, they take high security measures to encrypt everything, so there is no more secure place to track your finances digitally.
Along with the actual tracking that Mint does, it also has many other features to help you financially. You can set budget goals for different categories and Mint will alert you if you are getting close or if you go over budget. Furthermore, Mint gives you a free look at your credit score (which may vary from official credit score readings or other free sites, such as Credit Karma) and will suggest credit cards that may benefit you. Finally, you can also track and pay any bills you have directly through Mint.
If you prefer to have your finances right at your fingertips and want to utilize some of the extra features Mint has, I encourage you to give it a try. It is free and easy to sign up and begin tracking. However, if the envelope system and Mint are both not the right way for you to track your finances, come back soon to see the third and final system I suggest you try to maintain good financial health.