The other day, I posted part 1 of a guide on how I use Mint to keep a budget. I was pleasently surprised with the response it got and was glad to hear it was useful. That post covers the main high level strategies that help make Mint useful to me, and in this post I’m going to cover a few of the more granular tactics I use that keep my routine running smoothly.
Ok, so you’ve set up your budgets, but despite Mint’s best efforts, you’re going to need to spend a small amount of effort making sure that the data it tracks stays clean. I find it doesn’t take more than 10 or 15 minutes once every week or two (depending on how much activity I’ve got) to keep things organized. Mint’s pretty smart about categorizing transactions, but you’ll definitely need to do some adjustment. But that’s the easy part. Here’s the tricks to making that maintence work:
Know when to hide transactions
So what happens when you buy something that your work is going to reimburse you for? Or you take a work trip and all your meals will be covered by a per diem? Or you buy something for a friend and they pay you back? Mint doesn’t have a great way to deal with this, but there is something: Hide From Budgets & Trends.
Applying this category to a transaction means it doesn’t count towards your budget. (Of course, there’s also the option to delete it, but personally I like to just hide it from budgets that way I can still see it and remember to be reimbursed for it). This is key for keeping your budgets from filling up with things that shoudln’t actually be counting against them.
Know how to split transactions
Right along with hiding from budgets, “Splitting Transactions” is a key feature as well. Say you go shopping and buy some groceries but you also, oh, I don’t know, restock your bar.
From the Transactions screen you:
Edit Transaction >
Split Transaction > And divide it up into multiple transactions, each one with its own category. See:
This is also super useful if you go out with friends and put your card down and have everyone Venmo you. You can split the transaction into one with the amount you spent and another for everyone else’s. Categorize yours according to whatever it is (food, alcohol, whatev) and the other into…you got it…
“Hide from Budgets and Transactions”.
Honestly, without this move I would’ve abandoned Mint years ago. It just would be too far separated from reality.
Go for cash
My last tip has to do with how you can reduce the amount of maintenance you need to do to keep Mint accurate, and that’s to use cash for the category with the most frequent transactions. Again, for me that’s food. When I first started using Mint, I would take out my weekly food budget in cash every week, categorize that ATM withdrawal as “Food and Dining” and then just not worry about how I spent it. This meant that instead of having to track dozens of transactions per week I only had to track one.
I now no longer do this, but I would definitely recommend it. It’s also a great way to really keep direct, physical tabs on your spending. But of course it means you’ll need to try to not spend that cash on things that don’t fall into that budget.
A few last thoughts
And that’s pretty much it! These six tips have really been the key to Mint being a useful tool for me, and I hope they can help you in some way or another. Or at the very least, I hope it doesn’t lead you to financial ruin!
Since writing my last post, I thought of a couple other thoughts to share.
- Almost the entire time I’ve used Mint, I’ve had a reliable, consistent income. So I really can’t vouch for how this sort of budget strategy works for people with more variable incomes. I imagine some of the things hold steady but I just wanted to add that disclaimer.
- Part of the thing I love about getting locked into a monthly budget is that it frees me from the up-and-down paycheck swings. Sure, I no longer feel flush on payday (I know exactly where that money’s going, more or less) but I also don’t feel like I’m taking a hit when I pay my rent or do a big grocery trip (because that money was accounted for).
- Tracking all of my spending — from my bank account and credit card — in one place has made it super easy for me to use a credit card for as many transactions as possible while making sure I don’t spend more than I should be. So I’ve been able to build up a bunch of cash back and miles while still paying it off every month.
- Last, there’s a bunch more things you can do with Mint that I didn’t even get into here. Things like setting goals, analyzing trends, setting alerts, and more. Maybe those things will help you, maybe not. But they’re there!
Again, if you have any feedback, insight or questions, I’d love to hear it. Oh, and I swear, this isn’t about to be a personal finance blog.