For anyone interested in getting their financial $#!% together, I could not possibly recommend any higher my new discovery of Mint (www.mint.com) and the corresponding smartphone app (available free on the app store).
I make the goal every year of creating a budget, but to be completely honest, until now, I have never gotten around to even taking the FIRST STEP – opening up Excel and punching in expenses and incomes. Somehow, the image of sitting there in a haphazard pile of crumpled reciepts, struggling to fill in mystery blanks, cursing my computer monitor, and forgetting about it the next week anyways, was just too depressing to even attempt. Not now though! Oh no!
I stumbled upon Mint first on my iPhone. It was the top rated personal finance app, so I thought it was worth checking out. At first, it made me a bit sweaty since you literally give them all your banking information – but after doing my homework and feeling pretty comfortable with their security and everything, I went for it. Thank god I did! It is a masterpiece of web architecture. It brings together all your accounts, cards, loans, debts, and investments in one place. It automatically uploads and categorizes every expense, and gives you the ability to upload cash expenses in, oh, about two nanoseconds. You can create custom reports out of all this information, broken down by category, store, month, multiple months, trends, etc. You can get it in graphs, pie charts, or good old fashioned spreadsheets. It’s freaking awesome, and REALLY enlightening (“Did I seriously spend that much at the liquor store…. holy $#!%”).
It makes a default budget for you, based on your past few months of expenses, which you can then take and tweak any which way you want, and add or subtract categories. I rigged mine up so that, WHEN I follow it (notice, I did not say “if” there) I will end up putting a minimum of two G-Notes a month into savings or investments.
The best part is though, it prompts you to keep on track. This is really embarassing, because just yesterday, I wrote that rather self-congratulatory post about striving to get fit for free. But whatevs, sometimes you slip. Anyways, I discovered the ‘wagging finger feature’ after blowing a bundle at Lululemon’s clearance sale here in St. John’s. Almost immediately, my phone jingled and politely informed me that I had exceeded my clothing budget for January. Not to be defeated, I split the purchase into three categories (which is amazingly easy to do): a) Clothing, b) Health and Fitness, and c) Miscellaneous. Hey, that’s legit! Of course, there is only so much of the ole category shuffle you can do, before you literally just run out of TOTAL money in the budget. (I can see it now… self-justifications firing on all cylinders: ‘well, these spectacular shoes are made of leather. Leather is made of cows. We eat cows, ergo: these shoes could be Groceries, no?’)
Ohhhhh…. $#!% !!
All silliness aside, it at least made me think about the purchase (although maybe not enough -!). And there is no way I am going to tolerate any more wagging fingers. Not happening! I feel like it is challenging me – something no run-of-the-mill Excel spreadsheet could ever accomplish.
Seriously worthwhile – check it out! Even better – it’s completely free.