Personal Budgeting with Mint.com

In January of 2008 I wrote about Mint.com.

I’ve had Mint quietly gathering data for the past 10 months and I’ve come up with a way to intelligently budget for 2009. The only work I’ve done is categorizing the transactions to make this whole exercise worth while.

Step 1: Export all Transactions from Mint into Excel. At the bottom of your “transactions” tab in Mint there’s a small link that says “export all N transactions”

Step 2: Make two additional worksheets. One labeled “Budget” and one labeled “Supplementary Information”. I also edited my initial worksheet to be called “transactions”.

The supplementary information was sort of a scratch pad that fed my “Budget” worksheet.

Step 3: Start calculating your average monthly expenses for relevant categories. For instance, what’s my average phone bill?

=AVERAGEIF(transactions!$F$2:$F$575, "*Phone*", transactions!$D$2:$D$575)

– You need to understand how excel’s averageif works.

– For once a month bills, this is easy… but say you want to know what your average monthly grocery expense. I visit the grocery store many times a month. This adds a layer of complexity.

=AVERAGEIF(transactions!F2:F575, "Groceries", transactions!D2:D575)

That’s my average grocery expense, but not my monthly. We’ll need to implement excel’s COUNTIF function as well.

=COUNTIF(transactions!F2:F575, "Groceries")

The formula for monthly grocery expenses I used is as follows:

((Average Grocery Transaction * Number of Grocery Transactions) / Months of Data Collected)

I also used this method for Restaurants/Fast Food and Wal*Mart visits. I grocery shop at Kroger and do other shopping at Wal*Mart for tracking purposes.

Step 4: Look at your monthly averages, and make up your mind.

I was alarmed at how much money eating at restaurants really costs. It never really gelled for me. I took it a step further and said there are 90 meals a month (breakfast / lunch / dinner – 30 days in a month) and found out my per meal expenditures for groceries and for restaurants. This also showed me another startling number – an average of how many meals a month I was eating at a restaurant.

I made a goal – eat out 5 times a month. This has an added cost of saying, I’ll have to eat groceries more. At a savings of $5 per meal, it’s worth it.

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Unsolicited Testimonial: Mint.com

In the spirit of Anil Dash’s Unsolicited Testimonials, I present my Mint.com Unsolicited testimonial.

The thing with unsolicited testimonials is that nobody asked me to write about Mint. I’m just a passionate user of their service. I’ve been using Mint since November.

FACT: I am more in control of my finances with Mint.com

Mobile Alerts – my favorite

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Mint sends me a weekly text message and e-mail with my balances. They also notify me of low balances, or when a paycheck has been deposited. This keeps me much more informed of potential screw ups on my part like overdrafts / bad returned checks.

Mint Saves Me Time

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Before using Mint, I kept an excel spreadsheet with most of my recurring expenses like rent/cellphone/electricity/etc. just to give me some kind of idea of what was going on – I didn’t invest the effort into getting down to the nitty gritty on things like gas, groceries, restaurants, gifts, or entertainment. Now my transactions are entered in automatically, and most of the time categorized correctly.

What Mint Isn’t

  • Mint didn’t get me a raise
  • Mint isn’t perfect – it’s still a young product
  • Mint can’t move money
  • Mint does not handle trips to Walmart well. It’s difficult to put spending at Walmart into one category.

On Security

Mint has some reading material concerning security. I’ve checked a lot of it out. Yodlee, the company that Mint partners with is audited by several federal offices. It’s safe. Mint has an aggressive privacy/security policy that is also worth reading.