When I bought my iPad last October, the first thing I did was explore the App Store. I was dazzled by all of the different “productivity” apps, but pragmatic enough to realize that I probably didn’t need and wouldn’t use the majority of them (after all, I still had a laptop and would have a desktop as well within a few months). But one caught my eye: Mint.com. I’d never heard of Mint before, so I don’t know what made me tap it to read more about it, but I’m glad I did.
Mint.com is something that will make certain people–especially those who have a pathological fear of identity theft–cringe: it’s a free, online software that pulls in all of your bank account data and lets you budget accordingly. As someone who is not burdened with a pathological fear of identity theft (go ahead, identity thieves, take on my $50,000 student loan debt), I immediately thought, “Wow, I need this!” So I downloaded it.
I quickly realized that account setup would be much easier using the actual online software rather than the app, so I did that first, pulling in my Bank of America checking and savings, my external used-to-be-high-yield-but-not-so-much-anymore savings account, my student loans, and my 403(B) from my old job at the American Cancer Society. It works about as you would expect: every time you log in, it refreshes your account information so that it pulls in the most recent transactions. You can label transactions however you want, and can do so in such a way that certain transactions are always given a certain label. For example, Royal Farms is a convenience store/gas station here in Maryland, but my transactions there (I only ever buy gas there, rarely anything else) always showed up as Fast Food. So I made a rule that said any transactions at Royal Farms should be labeled as “Gas & Fuel.” (You can get to this menu by selecting any transaction and then clicking “Edit Details.”)
The budget tool is also really useful. It’s mostly useful for me so that I can remind myself how little disposable cash I have at any point in time and prevents me from spending a ton. For example, setting a $50 budget for food for the month (not including groceries) is a good way to make sure I’m not going out to lunch every other day. It also has a cute red-yellow-green feature where your bar is green if you haven’t spent much of your budget, yellow if you’re close to your limit, and red if you go over.
One of the things that was slightly irritating to me was that I couldn’t set budgets for specific spending accounts. It’s not a huge issue, but since my fiancé and I have a joint bank account for bills and rent and whatnot, it would have been nice to have those budgets under my account as well, without messing up my own personal budgets. (Because our joint account is also with Bank of America, when I gave my account number, the joint account info was pulled in as well.) But Mint does have a handy little feature that you can use to hide accounts you don’t want as part of your budget, so that does help.
Something else that is a bit annoying is that Mint seems to have some trouble with Bank of America. A month or so ago, my accounts wouldn’t update and I kept getting an error message telling me that my account info was incorrect even though I knew it wasn’t. It was eventually resolved, and my BoA accounts have been mostly fine since, but every once in a while it seems to glitch up again.
Another great feature is the “Trends” section. You can see pie charts and bar graphs and line graphs tracking your monthly spending over time, your spending breakdown, your net worth over time, and a whole bunch of other cool things. The graphs look fine on a browser, but boy, are they pretty on the iPad app.
By the way, don’t judge me for half of the money I spent last month going to “shopping.” It’s mostly because I bought a wedding dress
Overall, though, Mint.com is almost exactly what I wanted. (In case you’re wondering exactly what I wanted, it’s this: an app that will let me see what my account balance will be on any given day of the month, based on scheduled transactions, billpay, etc. so I can see in advance if that check will overdraw my account if it’s deposited on the wrong day, or if I should pay my student loans a week before they’re due or wait until the due date. So, whoever’s good at app design–get on it! Thanks.)
1) Secure and easy to use. Oh, and FREE.
2) Really helpful for OCD people like me to need to check up on their money 10 times a day.
3) Graphs and pie charts make great visual aids for people like me who sometimes have trouble making sense of huge spreadsheets.
1) Can’t assign budgets to specific accounts.
2) iPhone and iPad apps are pretty, but much less functional than the actual website.
Yes, Mint.com has its faults, but much fewer than its competitors (trust me, I know–when it was having problems with BoA, I started looking around for alternatives, and discovered that Mint is really in a league of its own). And to be perfectly honest, I’m guessing that most people don’t really care about assigning budgets to specific accounts or that the apps are less functional than the website. The apps are great to get a quick look at your net worth or if you want to spend some time looking at pretty graphs, and I imagine that’s what most people want out of them anyway.
I would absolutely recommend this site to anyone who wants to be able to have all your bank/investment/etc. accounts in one place. As someone who once vowed to never have more than one bank account and now has 3 bank accounts, 2 investment accounts, and a credit card…I’m thrilled that there’s one place that I can look at it all, and look at at it all securely.