I haven't tracked our expenses since June.
Not to appear completely incompetent, I do check our accounts on a regular basis to verify the charges and withdrawals. But I can't tell you how much we spent on groceries in August or how much we spent on fuel in October without printing out some statements and manually doing the math.
For a long time, I dutifully downloaded our statements at the end of each month and uploaded them into Quicken on my desktop (I have an old version of Quicken). I'd go through each expense, verifying its category. The process took an hour or so, mainly because I'd have to go online to look up check payees, but I did it without fail.
Then I fell behind a month. And one month turned into two. The more I fell behind, the more I dreaded updating our accounts since I knew my procrastination meant the process would take much longer. How could I remember in October why we withdrew $40 from an ATM in August?
This month, my husband enrolled at a trade school. His schedule will change after starting school, and that will translate to a change in his salary. We're trying to figure out our best option. The first thing we needed to look at was our budget. But without some recent figures, we had no idea what we've been spending in each category.
After getting those numbers the really-hard-and-no-fun way (manually), I started to think about joining Mint.
Why I Didn't Join Before
I held out for two reasons. One was security concerns. But in the comments of , Founder and CEO Aaron Patzer wrote: “You're safer on Mint than with online banking. Mint has a read-only connection to your bank; there's no money transfer in Mint.”
He also pointed out the physical security, proactive account activity alerts, and that Mint uses Yodlee on the back-end. (Yodlee has been in operation for 10 years without a major security breach.)
I was still nervous about typing in my passwords, but after reading through the security precautions on the Mint website, I decided to try it. Obviously the old method of downloading statements was not working for me, and it would be silly to pretend that was going to change.
The other reason I resisted joining Mint is that I had tried Yodlee for a few months, and the system had so many bugs it was unusable:
- For example, I had a category set up called “personal.” I used the category for items like toothpaste, toilet paper, etc. Shortly after setting up my accounts and categorizing months of transactions, Yodlee reported that I had spent $425 in the personal category. Normally, it's under $25. When I clicked on the category to view the transactions, the system would time out. I logged into my bank accounts to verify that the $425 was incorrect (it was). No matter what I tried, the $425 wouldn't go away, and the system would not list the individual transactions.
- Second, Yodlee had it in for my ING Direct accounts. It quit pulling account information one day, showing an error. I tried many times to get Yodlee to connect with ING Direct, even deleting the account and adding it back, but it was a no-go. I contacted customer service about these issues, but didn't receive any actual help fixing the problems.
With Yodlee misreporting my transactions and rejecting my ING Direct accounts, it was no longer a feasible option for tracking my expenses.
Why I'm Giving Mint a Chance
Despite my experience with Yodlee, I'm willing to give Mint a chance (and my fingers are crossed that the bugs have been fixed) because some of Mint's features might help me avoid what kept me from dutifully tracking my expenses, such as:
- It's online. I can log onto Mint during my lunch break and modify transactions, if needed. Before, I'd have to do this at home, usually on the weekend, which meant I'd forget about it or avoid it.
- It's simple. When I open Mint, the accounts are listed down the left-hand side and the budget is on the right. The budget is a bar graph showing how much I've spent in each category for the month and how much was allotted for that category. That's really all I want from my personal finance software. The detailed reports in Quicken were fun, but I didn't use them. All I want to know is how much I've spent in each budget category.
- It has alerts. These were annoying until I took the time to tell Mint which alerts I wanted, but they can be useful. You can set up alerts for the low balances, bill reminders, credit available, unusual spending, over budget, interest rate changes, trade commission charges, bank fees, large deposits, and large purchases.
So far, I like Mint. The budget planning is exactly what I wanted. There are still some issues with my ING Direct accounts, though. When I log in, I get an error and have to enter the answers to two security questions. Inconvenient, yes, but after a few minutes my accounts do actually update, so I can deal with that.
For now, it seems like a good solution.
Do any of you Mint users experience these issues? And what kind of experiences have you had with other online personal finance software?
Author: April Dykman
As a freelance writer, editor, and blogger, April Dykman specialized in personal finance, real estate, and entrepreneurship topics. Her work has been featured on MSNBC, Fox Business, Forbes, MoneyBuilder, Yahoo! Finance, Lifehacker, and The Consumerist. Now she does direct response copywriting but, in her free time, April is a wannabe chef, a diehard Italophile, and a recovering yogi.