Assuming you do all your financial transactions online, Mint is a solid method for tracking your saving and spending. The Web-based application consolidates your finances, so you can check on your financial health from anywhere, including your phone, and see where your money is coming from ... and where it’s going.
Setup is simple enough. After we created an account, we added our bank accounts, including checking, credit cards, and investment. Mint automatically logged into each and extracted our transaction data. This produced a consolidated and graphic view of the ins and outs of our money. Of course, that assumes all your transactions are conducted electronically; Mint can’t track expenditures that are not recorded by any financial institution.
For some reason, Mint makes a point of saying you can sign up anonymously, providing only an e-mail address and password. That may be the case, but once you add every bank account, credit card, and investment account, there is little left of that anonymity. That the site claims to be secure may or may not be enough consolation.
Mint isn’t intended as a checkbook-balancing product, though it can display your checking transactions (or at least the checks that clear through the bank). It doesn’t know about your checks that have not been cashed, so you still need to maintain your checkbook. Once Mint sees any transaction, whether it be from a check or credit card, the program identifies it by recipient, and automatically categorizes it for you. This can be great for expenses like iTunes, Pizza Hut, and Exxon, but a bit trickier for charges to Wal-Mart or Target, where you may have bought food, clothing, and tires at the same time. For those transactions, you have the option to split up the charge into individual categories manually.
We set up a range of alerts to be sent to us via e-mail or text messages. For instance, Mint can let you know if an account balance is low, if you are over-budget in any category, or for unusual spending patterns on a credit card. We liked the near–real-time alerts over having to check our PC to find out where we were about to overspend, as you must do with Microsoft Money Plus Premium.
Mint helps establish budgets: Just click on one of your spending categories to see what you’ve spent in previous periods, then set a budget number against your history. Mint also shows you what other people spend on the same categories, on average. In addition, Mint provides helpful suggestions for saving, based on competitive plans and offers that may be available.
While its online collaboration component is not as comprehensive Wesabe’s, Mint is a helpful and easy-to-use Web-based finance-tracking program. We just wish it offered more manual input options.