Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Money Matters: Budgets & Mint

Although I've never had budget trouble, it seemed like something wise to do. And what I really wanted to know was where my money went. I've always spent less than I earned so I wasn't too concerned, but tracking where my money went sounded useful and like it would head off any potential problems.

That said, it seemed like an awful lot of work to set up a spreadsheet and keep it updated, and I didn't have any software already on my computer. My level of curiousity just wasn't high enough to warrant a bunch of extra work. (I feel the same way about vitamins, flossing, and pointless exercise. I know they're good, but I can't quite work up the enthusiasm to do it.) And then I read about Mint.

Mint allows you to input your account information* into their site, and it then aggregates everything for you. It was magical. I could see all my account balances, my transactions, set up a budget and view trends in my spending over time. It was also confusing in some of its details, which I'll cover in a future post.

Want to try it? In my experience Mint takes a little while to catch on to your real habits, so sign up now so that it can start getting more data on you. We'll go through this real-time, so you can follow along. You'll need online accounts set up for all your banks, and you'll input those logons for mint to get read-only access. I'm generally not too skittish about security, but Mint uses bank-level encryption and I've never heard of a problem if it makes you feel better. So go try it! You want to have a couple months in there before doing too much with it; the records will make it easier to see your true patterns. And don't wait based on some big event that you don't want to "count" against you--you can always exclude something (but you better have a good reason!)

Next week we'll start looking at some of the features...until then just get your accounts in there! It walks you through the process so you don't miss any accounts. 

*I know many people have security concerns about giving one company all of their information. Mint uses the same encryption all of the online banks use, so its as secure as they are. Basically, for me the convenience is worth the risk.

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