Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Why Mint.com doesn't work for me

With all the financial discussion going on around this blog recently, it makes sense to discuss the whole Mint.com thing. I have heard so many people raving about how great Mint is, and how it has revolutionized their finances, and generally changed their lives. And that's great. I totally see the point. I see why Mint is great, what it does, and how it is useful to lots of people.

But I hate it, personally. Not for other people. I think it's great for people who haven't been monitoring their finances, and know they need to start. It's great for people who don't really have a system in place. It's great for people whose systems are confined to their house, or office, or just aren't really working for them for whatever reason.

But for me. Oh, it drives me crazy. Well. It drove me crazy. I've stopped using it now.

I think the main reason why I don't like it is that I have a system that I have been using for years, and it works very well. I have a spreadsheet in Google Docs, which allows me to look up bill due dates and amounts from any computer. I sort bills by due date and put monitoring dates on inactive accounts, so I remember to look them up and make sure there isn't some activity that I'm forgetting about, or that is fraudulent. I mark unpaid bills in red so that I notice them. I have usernames (but not passwords) associated with the various accounts so I don't forget my login. It works. It's worked for years. I like it.

Still, I'd heard great things about Mint, and I thought, Ooo! It will do all this FOR me! How great! So I set up an account this past summer, and input all my information. Which is where I ran into my first stumbling block: Mint doesn't have access to all our financial information. It can't get our car loan, for example, because it's through a random credit union that isn't supported. It can't get a couple of our credit cards, and it can't get our savings account because the bank doesn't allow it access.

So, really, that alone is a dealbreaker for me. How helpful is it to have this thing that's supposed to manage your finances if it's only managing MOST, but not ALL, of them? NOT HELPFUL AT ALL, in my humble opinion.

But I plowed on, because I thought oh! It'll still be great for tracking MOST of our finances, and giving a GENERAL IDEA of hot-button spending areas.

HOWEVER. As I moved through the system, I noticed several other complaints. Chiefly:
  • It feels less thorough than my own system. It's harder for me to log in and see at a glance exactly what's going on with all our finances and what's due when and what our balances are. As I've mentioned before, we have a lot of credit cards (though we don't use most of them), and so this is especially important to me.
  • Relatedly, I don't totally trust it. I know I CAN trust it, but I trust myself more. I sometimes worry that things are slipping through the cracks, and then I review my spreadsheet and check all our account balances to make sure everything is in order. I know there are some areas where too much control is a bad thing, but in finances I don't think that's the case. I like to know what's happening at all times, and feel that I'm in charge of managing it, so I don't forget anything. Mint took too much of the process away from me. I think I learn from doing, and when I don't do, I don't process things and remember them as well. This is a problem for financial management.
  • The categorization ended up not helping me that much. The categories weren't always accurate, and they often weren't specific enough, so when I got those notices that said I'd gone over budget on whatever category, half the time they were wrong. AND I got annoyed even if we HAD gone over budget, because I already KNEW that and there was a REASON for it to begin with. (And yes, I know, it's just a website with limited information, not a personal critique. I never said my complaints were RATIONAL.)
  • It seems to have a tiny bit of a lag with updating information, which wouldn't be a problem except that it sends out weekly summaries on Fridays, which also happen to be paydays, and it never seemed to know our current bank balance INCLUDING that day's paycheck, so whenever I opened the weekly summary and saw our alleged net worth (which of course didn't include our savings because the savings account isn't supported on the site), I had heart palpitations.
  • It sends out payment reminders too early for my taste. Maybe this is customizable and I could change it, but I never bothered to look, because I was already OVER IT. But one email, over a week in advance, isn't going to cause me to remember to pay the bill. Only my spreadsheet causes me to remember to pay the bill. This relates back to the second bullet point about how I have to personally do things in order to really absorb them.
So! No Mint.com for me. I'll stick with my spreadsheet, low-tech as it may seem. (Crazy that we're already in an era where a Google Spreadsheets seems so passe, huh?)

What about you? Do you use Mint, or have you used it? What do you think of it? If you don't use it, what kind of system (or lack thereof) do you use to manage your finances?

33 comments:

SoMi's Nilsa said...

Before reading this post, I honestly had never heard of mint.com. Sounds to me like the website is geared toward someone just out of school with a simple debts and spending habits, no?

In all honesty, we have no system. We are terrible. I've somehow made it into my 30s by merely balancing a checkbook (and I don't even do that anymore since I moved to online banking about 5 years ago).

I think we'll likely skip Mint.com and go straight to a financial planner. Do not pass Go.

bessieviola said...

I tried to use Mint too, but it doesn't support our credit union, which was the end of that game for me. I never went further because we manage ALL our money through our credit union.

I have an even-lower-tech Excel spreadsheet, in conjunction with a calendar that Excel exports the data to so that I remember to pay bills. And then I block out the bills that are already paid on the calendar so that I know it's been done. It makes me happy, to see the bills crossed out.

I also have a separate spreadsheet that lists our remaining debt, and I update it as we make payments so that we know EXACTLY what we owe. It's a good thing to have when Windfall Money comes along and we have a place to see where it can be best applied.

I don't know, maybe that's ridiculous, but it seems to work for me. I have had to sort of make this up on my own, as I still don't know how my mom does her bill paying.

12ontheinside said...

I don't use a spreadsheet but no idea why since I have lists in excel for everything else in my life!
As bills come in I put them into an in tray, and enter the due date into my google calendar, which SMS's me 15 mins before I set myself a reminder to pay it (or any other reminder - and that is free, so way cool). That way I always pay on time, plus keep the money in my account for as long as I can. (obv Mint is a US thing - we don't seem to have it down under)
Oh, and I also have a spreadsheet detailing my exact wealth or lack thereof at any given moment... not so wierd to the commenter above :)

kakaty said...

I use a combination of Quicken and my bank's online bill payer. Almost all of our bills are pretty stable (same amount due the same date each month) so 99% of our bills are set to be paid automaically through the bank BillPayer - I don't even have to think about it. Then once a week, I use the accounts I have set up in Quicken and balance everything (I have an account for checking, savings and each credit card - big things like the car and mortgage don't have Quicken accounts, but I always have a rough figure in my head on what we owe). It only takes a few minutes. Once a month or so I review upcoming payments to see if we need/want to increase the amount from our standard payment. The way I use Quicken, which is that I enter the entire month's known input/output (paychecks and bills) then just have to add the incidentals, it makes it really easy to see where you are now, and where you will be at the end of the month.

I tried Mint for awhile, but I liked my system better so we quit.

missris said...

I've heard of mint but I'm such a control freak that I don't trust it to remind me of stuff. Plus I check my bank account balance just about every day, which allows me to be very vigilant and very on top of my finances. Mint just wasn't doing that for me. So, I'm with you here. But for people who need help getting started or getting organized, it seems like a great resource.

maggie said...

I use Mint, my bank's online bill payer and a fantabulous Excel geek spreadsheet my husband and I spent weeks working on, and forget to update. Oops! I mainly use Mint to categorize all my debit and credit card expenses - to see where everything is going. Then I use those numbers to update my spreadsheet. It's not perfect, but I'm frightfully lazy and it's nice having something else categorizing things for me. I DID spend hours upon hours setting that up so I feel pretty confident in it, but no, Mint is not my single financial system either.

Becky said...

We have some friends who started using Mint.com and say it has completely changed their spending habits - they didn't have a good handle on where their money was going previously. We have almost all of our money managed through a Credit Union that isn't supported, so even though I set up an account a while ago just to check it out it doesn't work for us.
I have a spreadsheet too. I don't update the balances on our credit cards and loans very often, but it has all the due dates, indicates which bills are paid automatically, and also tells me which bills are to be paid on which payday (I get paid twice a month), and I highlight the ones I haven't paid yet. I also have a section on it where I keep track of when Ryan gets paid, since he's on an every-two-weeks schedule, and a running balance of our checking account showing outstanding items.
While the part of Mint.com that shows where you spend your money might be helpful for us, I like my method of paying bills. I don't know if I could trust a website to let me know. Plus, I like paying the bills twice a month instead of all over the place. It gives me a better handle on how much money we *really* have left.

Tia said...

I have a system I use - my husband! :) We both had our own systems before getting married, and we tried for a bit to both pay bills. It was awful (did you pay this yet? out of which account? which account should I be using for XYZ?). I'm also an estimator (we have ~$600 in that account) and B is a penny watcher (we have $645.32 in that account), so I decided I was fine letting him do all of our finances. Yes, we talk about it together (i.e. where to put any extra money that month, can we afford XYZ), but he manages it. I know he uses a combination of an excel spreadsheet and our online bill pay.

artemisia said...

I tried Mint.com and it was ok. It is nice to visually see your net worth in a snap.

Except my net worth isn't accurate as it doesn't support my student loan provider. And that is my debt. Ha! So....

I think it is good for folks trying to get a handle on their finances, etc.

Now we use You Need a Budget (YNAB) and love it. It makes meeting our budget and financial goals so much easier because within two minutes we see exactly where we are. Love it.

artemisia said...

Oh, yeah. All of our bills are on autopay, so we never miss them. That freaks some people out, but it is built into the budget every months so there are no surprises. Totally worth it!

d e v a n said...

I've never even heard of mint... I guess I'll have to check it out. I used to just use a spreadsheet, but tracking everything took FOREVER. I gave up after child #3 arrived. I just didn't have the time to sit and work on it for hours and hours. Now we just try not to spend money on anything we don't need. lol
Not the best system.

Steph the WonderWorrier said...

I've never heard of Mint.com, and being Canadian I'm not sure if it's an option for me anyway (I didn't check it out yet before commenting either, lol).

I don't do anything special yet with my finances because I'm not in that place yet. I only have one credit card, which I monitor online anyway, and I have one bank account that right now is sitting at nearly zero anyway, LOL. Oh the life of the newly graduated student / not yet working gal! I still live with my parents and don't really have any bills of my own.

Soon though I'll be starting my Big Girl Job, as will my boyfriend, so I'm sure we'll be moving towards this place in the very near future. I'm probably going to use Excel; my boyfriend already uses Excel for his own personal budgeting (he has more bills than I've had so far). He's pretty savvy, so while I know we'll work on it together, I think he'll be the leader on keeping track. I'll probably handle the paper copies of bill statements and stuff, with some sort of filing system in place.

fairydogmother said...

My system is very low-tech -- marking bill due dates on a calendar. I'm so low tech, that I only started marking them in iCal in 2009. Late 2009! I have a few bills due at the beginning of the month that I pay via check, but the rest I pay online throughout the month. It works okay for now, but I do need to be more thorough, especially about regularly monitoring credit card accounts that i don't use. Your system sounds great! I'm likely going to adopt parts of it myself. Especially since we are planning to start a new business soon -- I'll be setting up systems for the business, I might as well improve my personal systems at the same time!

Phil Murray said...

This a pretty exhaustive review- thank you for putting it together. I plan to write a review in the near future as well. I've actually written a blog post about the founder of Mint.com on my blog at http://philmur.com/2009/12/04/mint-coms-aaron-patzer-wisdom-beyond-his-29-years/

Alex said...

I'd never heard of Mint until this post.

I personally use Quicken and the online banking feature that my credit union offers, but then again my finances are currently very simple. I don't have investments or multiple credit cards or multiple debts and stuff.

Emily said...

100% agree with you. I tried mint because I'm a budget geek and hated it. The categories get convoluted all the time. My favorite is when it told me that I'd exceeded my grocery budget by $1300. So I go in and they're computing our mortgage as groceries.

I think you're on to something though - for people who don't usually pay attention to their finances and budgets, I think it works. But for geeks like me that live for budgeting and rebudgeting, it's not thorough enough.

Alice said...

haha, we're so opposite... reading the description of your personal method gave ME heart palpitations because i can't deal with that level of detail :-) i mean, i have a detail oriented job and it's not like i overdraw my account or anything, but... i am too lazy to maintain a system like yours. i keep an excel spreadsheet w/my monthly utilities since i need to calculate how much to charge my roommate, and... that's about it :-)

bustysatan said...

I don't have a system and frankly it makes me anxious just to think about it! I look over my credit card bills periodically (I rarely use cash as the credit card means I notice the purchase twice and am therefore more careful in spending) and calculate what's going where and cut back as necessary (e.g. I now make coffee at home and save $45-60/month).

Then again, my only debt is my car, my retirement deduction is automatic so I don't even feel it, and I don't share finances with someone else, so it's relatively easy for me.

JRM said...

I tried it some time back and found some of the same issues as you. I just use an excel spreadsheet that lists incoming and outgoing.

stephanie said...

I checked out Mint when I first heard about it sometime last year, but decided it wasn't for me. I already have a system in place. I pay rent and my main credit card bill on the 1st of the month (payday #1) and all other bills on the 15th of the month (payday #2). I keep a checklist of all the bills that need to be paid each month and check them off once I've paid. I pay most bills online, but I don't do automatic payment because I like to keep track of what goes in and out when, in case some situation comes up that forces me to hold off on paying a bill for a few days.

As far as budgeting, I just don't really have too much of a problem. I was living month-to-month for a while and got used to constantly balancing my checkbook and putting what I could into savings. I'm much better off these days, but that mentality has stuck with me.

k.rae said...

I don't like mint.com either. I like to be very detailed in tracking my purchases, and mint just doesn't do it for me. Plus it's web-based, and I don't always have an internet connection.

I do like the concept it evolved from though, putting cash into envelopes for each budget category, then spending ONLY that amount. I might try to implement it in the future.

Kelsey said...

I think mint.com works best for folks without complicated finances. It works for me because I have one credit card, one debit card, and a checking account. That's it. Because I rarely ever buy things, my monthly expenses are somewhere in the range of $150 (other than rent), so I don't exactly have a lot to track.

Kelsey said...

The only thing I *don't* like about mint is the delay you mention. Maybe it improves as you use it more, it can be annoying sometimes.

Penny said...

My whole career is working with excel spreadsheets, so it feels completely natural just to operate in those for our budget as well. Of course, our budget may be relatively simple compared to some one else's - we don't have to sweat out every nickel.

Once a long time ago I got some kind of financial software, forget what it was now, and it was so AWFUL. It took a gazillion hours to enter all the data in, and for what? Some pre-programed forecast? Never again!

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Non Sequitur Chica said...

We use Quicken and do a month-to-date check every week to make sure that we are within our monthly spending limits that we set back in November. It works pretty well, except we haven't been able to figure out how to change the budget for a month if we know, for instance, that we will need the dog walker to come more than three times a week for two weeks b/c CP is traveling or something.

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