Many of our clients ask us, “is there a better way to track our budget?” Our answer is “Yes!”
We often suggest Mint.com for it’s ease of use. The online tool is free, very secure and relatively easy to learn. We find that it is helpful for those that have tracked a budget for years as well as those that are just getting started with budgeting.
Here are a few points to help you get started.
Why should I use Mint.com?
Mint.com is a free, online account aggregation tool that can help you plan, manage and stick to your budget. Setup is quick and easy—you can expect to have your accounts linked to Mint within a couple of minutes! Security is good, being at or above most institutional banking websites.
Mint never asks for your account numbers, name or other personal identification information. Money cannot be accessed, moved or transferred within Mint, and all data stored at Mint is backed by bank-level data security protections.
How many categories should I use and what are they?
Some common problems we see are trying to over-categorize and coding a large amount of regular expenses as one time occurrences. Simplification should be emphasized when creating your budget and categorizing each transaction. We recommend using the following categories in a combination that fits your household:
- Auto & Transport
- Bills & Utilities
- Food & Dining (Groceries, Restaurants, Coffee Shops)
- Gifts & Donations
- Travel (Vacations, large trips)
- Everything Else (Cash, Fun, Church/Charity Contributions)
- Food (Dining Out, Alcohol, Groceries)
- Debts (Mortgage, Equity Line, Car Payments, Credit Card or Student Loan Payments)
- Education (Books, Private School, College Tuition)
- Health & Fitness (Gym Membership, Doctor Visits, Prescriptions, Insurance)
- Home (Maintenance, Home Improvements, Furnishings)
From these basic categories, you can create future sub-categories, but it is important to keep the bigger picture in mind when monitoring your expenses. Keeping broad categories may also help speed up maintaining the data that Mint is able to aggregate between your accounts.
Should I be trying to hit the same number every month?
Comparing expenses on a monthly basis can be another source of frustration as there are many fluctuations that occur throughout the year (Holidays, Summer Vacation, etc.). Therefore, it is important to measure your progress against a rolling year period.
For example: If the month of May has just ended, you will want to measure June 1st of last year to May 31st of this year against the calendar year amount of your budget. If the amount is more, then you know you are a little ahead of pace and you should scale back. Performing this exercise monthly or quarterly can greatly improve your overall financial picture as it allows you to have greater control over your regular expenditures.
If you are interested in learning more about starting a Mint.com account, or have questions about your current Mint.com account (transaction coding, setting the right categories for your household, etc) feel free to contact Heather Gudac at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone, (919) 851-8200 ext. 205.
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