I have a love-hate relationship with Mint.com. On one hand, it really is the best free budgeting tool on the market. There are features like bill pay and unexpected fee notifications that consistently blow me away. On the other hand, I constantly find myself wanting more: more breakdowns, more integrations with financial services (Robinhood please!), better feature support on mobile, and just generally more tooling.
A lot of my friends gave up on Mint a while back. They'll tell me they tried to use it "but it just didn't understand Venmo", or "it kept on duplicating my transactions". (Side note: Mint does offer Venmo integration now) While there aren't always solutions, there often are features tucked away in Mint's interface that let you solve these problems. Granted, these often require a little hand-holding.
In any case, I thought it would be worthwhile to go over my own highly-customized Mint.com setup. You may find it doesn't work for you. But you may also find some tidbits you can incorporate into your own flow. And if you do, it can be truly rewarding to have visibility into your finances at all times.
1. Connect every single account.
If you're comfortable connecting all your financial accounts, you can hook them all up to Mint and get a pretty sweet view of your net worth. I hook up my various 401(k)'s, the few Bitcoin I have stored in Coinbase, my Wealthfront account, and all of my various credit cards. This required a lot of effort (I had to dig up old account numbers, old passwords, etc.), but I found it to be worth it. There are a few accounts like Robinhood that Mint doesn't support, but otherwise, it's pretty comprehensive. If you so desire, you can enter in assets manually.
Once you've entered your accounts, Mint will be able to understand your current assets and liabilities and give you a really solid picture of where you're at. If you hit the "trends" tab, you can see your net worth change over time. I've found this to be a really useful way to get a wholistic view of my progress. I've also heard that Personal Capital does a good job of this, so I plan to check that out too.
2. Use the budget tab for analytics, not budgeting.
I don't know about you, but I'm not a big fan of that red color Mint gives you when you exceed a budget. I'd rather just be able to look at how much I spent each month in highly-specific categories. For example, I want to be able to ask "how much did I spend on Uber last month?" or "averaged over the last six months, how much do I spend monthly on Amazon?" I also want to look at the current month and see how I'm trending in each of my highly customized categories.
Here's how you can do that. Create a budget for every category you want insight into. If you want to know how much you spent on groceries, create a budget for shopping -> groceries. Set every budget at some high amount (I choose $1,000). That way each month, you can get a bar-chart style breakdown of how much you spent in each category. (Now if only I could sort this!)
1. Create a high budget for each category you care about.
This also allows you to average across months. Highlight the last six months (as shown below), and you'll see the total amount spent. (Then divide by six for the average.)
3. Average over a longer time frame.
3. Choose one day of the week to tidy up your transactions.
Yes, my Mint setup involves some manual work. And yes, I'm the kind of weird person who thoroughly enjoys categorizing my transactions. In fact, I had to limit myself to a specific time each week when I go through my transactions because otherwise I would spend too much time each day logging into the site.
For me, this also involves a few custom corrections. For example, I pay rent for my entire household (my roommates pay me back using Venmo but I write the check). So I have this massive check that goes to my landlord each month (rent in SF is expensive). So each month, I'll hide that transaction from my budget (go to transactions, select the category, and select "Hide from Budget and Trends"). I'll then add a new transaction for just the portion of rent I pay. That way, my monthly rent will reflect the accurate amount.
4. Aggressively hide transactions that don't make sense.
Mint.com is also known to include extra transactions that are just payments towards particular accounts. This can really screw up your view on the budget tab, making it seem like you spent more than you did. During my weekly "financial tidying", I'll go through and select "Hide from Budget and Trends" for all of these transactions.
5. Ignore most of the other features
The only real features I use at the moment are the budget tab for a monthly breakdown of my spending and the trends tab for tracking my net worth over time. I haven't got much utility out of the others. Feel free to comment if you've found other useful features!
6. Reap the long-term rewards
The long-term rewards of this setup are pretty sweet.
The biggest benefit has been being able to get an estimate for how much I spent on each category averaged out over a long time period. Travel is a really great example where this is useful. I've always wondered how my traveling spend stacks up against, for example, the amount I spend on groceries. If I'm taking a trip one particular month I might spend a lot of money on flights and hotels. But I'd really like to know how this compares to the amount I spend on groceries or rent on a month-by-month basis. Selecting multiple months in the budget tab gives me a really clear picture here.
Even with this set up, Mint.com still isn't perfect. That being said, it's still an incredibly useful tool for getting a good picture of things, and it's something I use on a weekly basis. I've been meaning to investigate other tools like You Need A Budget, which I've heard has many more bells and whistles.