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Another Budgeting Tool: Mint Edition

June 22, 2017

Good morning friends! It is a good morning indeed—I was up with the birds and mornings/days just don’t come prettier than today.

As mentioned a few weeks ago, I have been digging deeper in other budgeting apps and today will provide for you my thoughts on Mint. I feel a bit like a chef on I-can’t-remember-the-show’s-name when they present their dish to the panel: “Today I have prepared for you…” Enjoy, even though what I provide for you today is not exactly an edible, gourmet dish:)

Here are my thoughts on Mint stacked up against the things I value in a budgeting app. The below is shared with the caveats that:

  1. Some money management is wayyyyy better than none. If you are using and loving Mint and it’s working for you – great!
  2. I am not a Mint expert user and if I had to use it for weeks on end might figure out some of the below issues or determine that they are not actually issues.
  3. This is written for the sake of anyone who is in the market for a budgeting tool. While I am not the world’s guru on budgeting or budgeting tools, I have a couple years of success budgeting and I know what works and what doesn’t for me.

So ready…set…go. My thoughts on Mint in the main 6 areas, followed by bonus thoughts. Ooooo…bonus thoughts!:)

Zero-based.

Mint doesn’t do zero-based budgeting. You can budget your income (meaning: create a plan for how often and in what amounts you’re going to receive income I think) and you can budget your expenses (meaning: track spending against goals) but it doesn’t really do a great job of putting them in the same “pot”.

In its version of zero-based budgeting, Mint is currently telling me I have -$430 in my budget (which is confusing that only at the bottom of the main screen do they use the word singularly) but I have no idea why and am absolutely positive I am not.

Ability to plan your money and not just track expenses.

Mint doesn’t stack up very well in this category. Because of the separation between Income and Expenses, I mentally don’t experience the same AH-HA that I have in YNAB that you start with only the real money you have in your possession today and tell it what it needs to do (assign money to categories) before you get more monies.

Mint instead uses historical data of expenses (which were not in all cases accurate or categorized) to inform the starter, month-long budgets. I think the fact that I have $461 of Uncategorized purchases can quietly hanging out at the bottom of my Spending (like it does currently in Mint) would be problematic for me.

In YNAB, because you see every transaction by account, you can’t lose track of expenses in an Uncategorized category. Also, you can budget for partial months and partial Categories since you are working ONLY with the income you have right then.

Flexibility to adjust.

Like in YNAB, you can adjust your budgeted amounts in Mint. You can drop the target amount for, say, Fuel and it lets you know how much you have left in that category taking into account the adjusted amount. But the fundamental difference between YNAB and Mint is that in Mint it happens kind of in isolation. YNAB tells you in the magic number up top that, by decreasing your budgeted amount for Fuel, you freed up $20 for another job.

Ability to split transactions.

Mint lets you split transactions, so that’s good. However, the UI is a titch less sophisticated than YNAB’s. YNAB knows that if $13.47 of a $58.02 purchase went toward one Category, there is $44.55 Unassigned. It’s a small thing but appreciated by yours truly.

One more serious bummer about splitting in Mint is that you can’t transfer to a Cash account (at least that I’ve seen). This makes it a lot trickier to keep track of the cash-back transactions. You’ll maybe recall that keeping track of the sawbucks (aka cash) has helped me a ton in the budgeting process—no more money going missing.

Phone app.

Check. It has 4.3 stars (with over 120K reviews) compared to YNAB’s 3.8. This may just reflect more people who started on Mint before YNAB became a thing, or the YNAB faithful getting used to the new YNAB app. Not sure! But Mint also has advertising which I do not care for. “You’ve spent over $250 on groceries in 3 months. Here’s a relevant offer for you. [Insert details of the Blue Cash Preferred card from American Express].” I don’t love that since sometimes you just need a place that’s safe from advertisers, right? The Mint app isn’t it sadly.

You gotta like it.

I do like their colors and logo and it’s visually nice. But there is so much information presented it’s a little overwhelming. And some of the information is wrong so it makes me question their reports and recommendations for me. And seeing promotional offers counts against it in the “like it” realm.

In the “like it” category, they feel too impersonal and big-software for me. Kind of sterile almost. It’s the same feeling I get when I go into a super air-conditioned building on a gorgeous Summer day. Yes, I am grateful for A/C lots of days a year, but the feeling of being artificially cooled on a beautiful day is…not my favorite. YNAB=Summer in the outdoors, Mint=airconditioned building:)

And now, as promised, bonus thoughts:

Creating goals.

I forgot to mention this one in my review of YNAB! This is a feature I really like, and I like how YNAB handles it. You create YNAB goals within Categories and YNAB lets you know if you’re on track to fund that goal by your deadline.

Mint also has the ability to set a goal but, you can’t track the goal by category. You have to create a new account (like at the bank) for Mint to track your progress. To try it out, I just set up a Vacation Goal and, because I did not want to create a new Account for it, Mint thinks I’ve already met the goal because of the balance in my checking account exceeds the estimated cost of the trip. The prompt says: “Choosing an account to dedicate toward a goal is the only way that we will be able to help you track your progress toward your goal.”

I much prefer YNAB’s simple way of Category creation (or working within existing Categories) for Goals like this.

Mint does a lot of work for you.

I find this confusing and one of the biggest drawbacks with Mint. I didn’t set any of it up and therefore I don’t understand it. Even changing it feels confusing since I didn’t set up the original. When I set up Mint, I synced it to a bank account (this is a requirement) and when I log in it tells me how much I had spent and in what categories (their predefined ones). However, since the categories and subcategories are not anything I set up they don’t mean much.

Also, I know they’re trying to be helpful by categorizing transactions as best they can, while still giving you the option to recategorize if needed, but I can see miscategorized purchases slipping thru the cracks for me.

It also creates multiple budgets for you.

I understand this in theory and I guess YNAB technically does this too but it never feels like Fuel and Groceries (for example) are two separate and distinct budgets but rather part of my overall (singular) budget.

You can’t add/edit/delete top-level budget categories in Mint.

This is a pretty big deal for me. I don’t want extra categories that don’t describe my spending cluttering up my experience and distracting me from my goals. For example, I don’t need to have 5 particulate categories of Food and Dining and 5 categories within Entertainment. These very comfortably exist as a single Category in YNAB.

Summary:

I like YNAB. Still. A lot. A LOT. This may have kept me from giving Mint the fairest chance in the land, but I did honestly try. Exploring it as a budgeting tool was insightful but confirmed that it would not have been the tool to get me where I am today. If it’s working for you, that really is great. Success and persistence are the main goals here and if you’re having those on Mint, WAY TO GO, CHAMP!

But for me and mine, YNAB will (no surprise) continue to be the tool of choice. I’m picturing someone rounding third-base and running triumphantly toward home plate as the small crowd at the Little League baseball game cheers “YNAB, YNAB, YNAB!” (Me and my visuals, I know…)

Have a great day, people! I hope you get to spend some time outside sterile air conditioning and, if that takes you to an evening baseball game, even better.