A Budgeting Tip: Mint.com

I blog about money quite a bit here at ESI. In fact, I just posted something on giving two weeks ago. But there’s a reason for that: the Bible is intensely concerned with the role of money in the Christian’s life.

There are many things that could biblically be said on the topic, and one of the basic premises of the biblical ideal on money is the idea of stewardship (see Matthew 25, Luke 12, among others). The basic idea is that God gives us gifts, and those gifts come in the form of talents, skills, opportunities, and also money. As a good steward, we use those gifts wisely, prudently, and for the glory of God.

One practical tool which many use in an effort to be a good steward of their money is budgeting. Now, you’re not talking to Dave Ramsey or Clark Howard here. My wife and I have been married for five years and have planned out and actually kept track of a budget for exactly one month of those sixty plus.

I, personally, have always disliked personal budgets (this is admittedly, a me-problem not a problem with budgets in general). To do one well, it would require a ton of ongoing tedious book-keeping and detail-tracking (once again, a me-problem). So I gave up years ago.

But there are an abundance of benefits in having a personal budget. It gives you parameters, it gives you a detailed look at where your money is actually going, etc. And I have recently stumbled upon a tool which makes budgeting, for me at least, simpler, less time consuming, and more fun.

The tool I speak of is Mint.com. Mint is a recently formed company which compiles all your financial accounts in one place (checking, savings, retirement, credit cards, investments, etc.). Once you’ve signed up for your free account, you have to enter your account information so Mint has access to the balances. Once you’ve done that, every time you log-in to your Mint account, each of your financial accounts updates automatically. This is a read-only service (i.e., you can’t make balance transfers, payments, or anything like that….), so you’re just seeing the balances and activity.* (Mint has endorsements from Money, Kiplinger, the NY Times, and more)

There are tools to track net income, net worth, monthly spending, monthly budgets, month-to-month comparisons, your spending vs. national average spending in particular categories, etc. I’ve enjoyed using it greatly, and while I can’t go into all the features, here are the ones I’ve appreciated:

  • Receiving weekly updates via text with all my account balances
  • Receiving text messages alerting me when I’m close to being over budget in a particular category
  • Customizing my budget by naming each category and placing particular retailers in each category automatically
  • Being able to change specific purchases to whatever category I wish
  • Receiving alerts regarding unusual or high spending and large deposits
  • The iPhone app (duh)
  • The graphics, charts, tables, etc. which help me “see” the budget in a refreshing way

There are two downsides that come to mind immediately. First, I did spend a decent amount of time (several hours) figuring out the system and customizing the details. For instance, I have created a rule which sends all Walmart purchases to my “Groceries/Household” budget and all Chipotle purchases to “Dining Out.” Additionally, I had to specify how many sub-categories within my budget I’d have, and then assign each normal retailer to one of those. Second, I don’t make many purchases with cash, I generally charge or debit everything, but if you are a cash person, there obviously isn’t an automated way to track those purchases.

This tool has showed me where my money goes each month. And that’s been a little convicting (who knew Kaldi’s coffee and smoothies cost that much…I mean it’s only 4 dollars a pop…but boy that adds up). It’s been very helpful in my endeavor to be a better steward with the money God has given me.

Maybe it’ll help you too.

* As with any online banking service, there are security risks. Much internet ink has been spilled on this issue, and I’d encourage you to Google search some of those topics. However, Mint has the same security and privacy features and encryption that banks have. Additionally, they don’t actually have your name, social security number, and address, just your logins for your accounts. Is it a risk? Sure. But all online banking is. But after reading about it, I’m comfortable. Plus, if unusual activity showed up on one of my accounts I’ll see it much quicker on Mint.com than through Discover, Visa, or my bank. If you’d like to read more about this, check here.

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