How We Use is a free online tool to help you see where your money is going. We've been using it for a few years and get a ton of questions about it, so we figured it was time to share how we use it. Note: Mint is not a budget, because it's reactive to what you have already spent. A budget helps you know where your money will be spent, and you decide before the transaction happens.

About Mint

If you are not familiar with, let me introduce you to a great tool. It's a website that pulls all your financial account information into one place. This assumes you have access to your accounts online. (Welcome to 2013; if you use financial services that have no online access to your information, Mint won't be able to do it's job.)

How You Can Use Mint

  • Alerts: You can set your preferences to alert you when bills are due, are charged fees, have low balances, make large purchases, etc.
  • Advice: Mint also tailors advice to your financial situation. Caution: I don't really like this feature. It's kind of spammy. It recommends all sorts of things you might not need (like credit cards). I typically just ignore this section.
  • Upcoming bills: Set reminders for bills you need to remember. They will email you a few days before it's due.
  • Budgeting: Mint will choose a category for every transaction that comes through on your accounts. You can set budgets for different categories, create new categories, and re-categorize purchases as needed. As time goes on, you can know more about where you spend your money. You can also set budget limits and Mint will let you know if you are overspending. If you have multiple checking accounts (like we used to), this is helpful to see what's going on in one place vs. trying to sift through your different accounts in your online banking.
  • Taxes: It's tax season. Mint can estimate your taxes via Turbo Tax.
  • Goals: Set goals for saving for big items, and watch your progress on a thermometer.
  • Ways to Save: This is sort of like the advice category. Mint scans the Web and compares your services to similar services and makes recommendations. For instance, they may find a bank that has better interest rates than yours, and recommend them. It's not a bad thing to check every once in awhile.
  • Net worth: Once you've added all of your financial accounts, Mint will calculate your net worth for you. Simply add in the value of your physical assets not included, and as life goes on, you can hopefully see your net worth go up, up, up!

How We Use

  • Budget: We've tried to use the budgeting feature on Mint, but it's just not quite right for us. For starters, it's tough to keep track of categories you use cash for. Mint is great for electronic transactions, but not so much for cash. It just shows up as the lump transaction at the ATM. We much prefer our budget spreadsheet over Mint for this.
  • Alerts: We only use alerts for bank fees. We love this! In fact, it was Mint that alerted us when our old bank charged us a $10 monthly fee. After that, we switched banks.
  • Goals: We've created savings goals to help keep us focused. Our saving goals currently include retirement, college, finishing our basement and saving for a car.
  • Ways to Save: Every so often I take a peek at the Ways to Save section to see if there are any great deals out there. Mostly it's just advertising for services that we're happy with or don't need, like credit cards.
  • Net Worth: This is my favorite part of Mint. I love seeing our net worth go up as we cleaned up our debt and started saving and investing. Here's a look at how our net worth has changed since we've started tracking it over the past four years:

[ultimatetables 4 /]

The big kicker...our home value. As most Americans have experienced, our home value tanked over the past four years. Things are looking up a little bit, but it will take awhile to recover the loss of value. We have paid off more than $30,000 in consumer debt and saved six months worth of expenses since then, so we're not letting our home value discourage us. We'll continue to watch our net worth rise on Mint in the years to come.

Do you use How do you use it?