Mint.com is an online website that provides us a free application to manage our money. It is completely free for its users. I have been using it for a couple of months now and have found it to be an amazing tool. It gives me great visibility into my expenditure with details like how much I spent on grocery, how much on clothes, how much on fuel, etc. With this kind of visibility into my expenditure, I can make decisions around what i need to cutback, what i need to avoid etc. And all this without me having to make notes in a diary or excel sheet on a daily basis to record my expenses!
Caution: if you tend to make most of purchases using cash, Mint.com would require you to key in these transactions. If you do it via a credit card/debit card, you dont need to worry.
How does Mint.com work?
Here is the frightening first step for most of us - when you setup your account in Mint, you will be asked to enter the online banking user ids & passwords for your different accounts. Mint uses this to connect to your accounts and pull your balance and transaction information from them. They assure us that this is a read only access and no one can use this detail to move any money out of our accounts.
I did spend a lot of time wondering if I should take this step. Finally I did and now I feel pretty happy about it. Today when i log in to Mint.com, it uses the credentials I entered previously to pull information from my accounts (my checking account, credit card account, etc). It then collates this information and shows me the total amount I have and the total amount I owe to my cards. Previously I used to get this information by logging into each different website and manually summing the balances I see there.
Caution:I have noticed Mint.com can't pull pending transaction information sometimes. So when you look at your credit card balance, keep in mind there may be a few recent pending transactions that are yet to show up here.
Is Mint.com worth the risk?
If you are like me (lazy but sincere about wanting to manage your money better), it is definitely worth it. In two months, it has already helped me a lot.
For example, I was able to get a picture on how much I spent on fast food and clothes monthly. This straight away showed me venues to improve my life. I can now plan to cut down on my fast food consumption and watch Mint record my success in the current month. Its definitely good for my health as well as wealth :)
Another example, now I get a picture of how much I spend on groceries and in which grocery stores. With this information at hand, I can plan to maximize my benefits by trying to show at one location and gain reward points better. Some supermarkets like Kroger allow you to use these reward points to get discounts at the gas pump.
Mint.com also allows you to plan for the future. You can plan a budget for the month and track your progress towards that budget. You can configure alerts that tell you if you are exceeding the allotted budget for a category like fast food. It also shows how you are progressing towards a goal you can setup, like setting up an emergency fund.
Is Mint.com safe?
So far so good! thats what i would like to say. I have a few friends who have been using Mint longer than I have. They too assure me its safe. Mint.com advertises that it has over 7 million users and has won many awards. So based on these statistics and numbers, I am making an educated guess that they should be safe.
Caution: Even huge corporations like Sony have had security breaches and passwords stolen. So my advise would be to keep a track of your account always. If you hear any news about a breach, immediately change all your online banking passwords. Also even though Mint.com gives you a complete picture of your finances, logging in to your individual bank accounts once in a while and monitoring your transactions there is a good practice.
Why is Mint.com free? How does Mint.com make its money?
I will talk more about this in my next post. Till then, keep saving! :)