In practice, we all know that we should make a budget and keep track of our expenses to make sure we stay within that budget. However, budgeting is much easier in practice than in reality and often goes unattended as life gets busy.
One of the interesting things about our job is that we get to see a lot of the different ways people budget. Some use the envelope system, cashing out their paychecks and placing cash in various envelopes for their needs. Others fastidiously use Excel or QuickBooks and manually track every single transaction. Some check their bank statement each month and as long as it has more by the end, their budget goals have been met.
With our experience, people often ask us what we recommend when it comes to keeping a budget. In the end, it is ultimately what works best for your situation, but the one option we have seen the most success with is a website, www.mint.com. In fact, it is the way I keep track of my own finances.
What is it?
Mint is a web-based budgeting application that is owned by Intuit, the owner of Quicken and Turbo Tax. Its primary service is to pull data from banks, credit cards, investments and loans (such as mortgage or credit cards) and to automatically categorize them in an easy to understand format.
What we have found is that the automatic pulling of data and categorization usually makes budgeting painless enough that people stick with it. Mint also does a great job of generating easy to read charts and graphs that help even the most novice of budgeters understand what is going on.
What features does it offer?
Outside of being able to set a monthly budget, Mint offers several other features to help you stay on top of your finances.
Alerts – Can remind you of upcoming payments or alert you to unusual charges or late fees
Advice – Uses the research from all of its clients to help make recommendations based on your accounts
Bills – Organizes all of your bills in one place to help plan for them as they come due
Goals – Can set aside funds to make sure you are meeting your goals, from vacation to paying off debt
Trends – By creating charts from your data, it becomes easier to see what your trends in spending are
What is the cost?
The last great thing about Mint is that it is free. However, as with all free things, there is a catch. Mint makes its money from advertisers who will make recommendations based on your information. For instance, they might recommend a credit card with higher reward points or cash back. In my experience, it is fairly easy to ignore the advertisements and they are not overly aggressive by any means.
Again budgeting is a very personal thing and everybody usually develops a tried and true method that works best for them. However, if you are still looking or want to try and budget a little tighter than what you are currently doing, www.mint.com is a great website to check out.