Why We Don’t Use Mint for Our Main Budget

Why We Don't Use Mint for Our Main Budget

I remember when Johnny and I first heard about Mint a few years ago. We wondered what kind of witchcraft had made a site that compiled all of our moneys and put them in one place — automagically? We were stunned, giddy, and way too excited about something so nerdy.

But for how excited we were for Mint, we haven’t ended up using it as frequently as we thought we would. Johnny and I both have Mint on our phones, and we he looks at it a few times a month. We use it to see our account balances at the end of each month and to record them on a trusty spreadsheet that tracks our net worth. But even though Mint seems like the ultimate budgeting app, we don’t actually use it for budgeting. We know lots of people do, including some of you, but Johnny and I have found a few sticking points with Mint that we just can’t seem to shake.

No Pain, No Gain

I remember a poster that used to hang in the exercise room at my house growing up. NO PAIN NO GAIN it read in bold letters. It left a lasting impression only because it seemed kind of dramatic. And while the phrase still doesn’t make me want to go run a marathon, I think it applies pretty well to how Johnny and I approach budgeting.

With Mint, we don’t feel the hurt of each expense. Mint does the budgeting for us. But Johnny and I need to do more than just swipe a plastic card every time we spend money. We need to enter that expense into our budget ourselves. I need to be reminded, “Yes, Joanna, you just spent money on a Costco-sized bag of Starbursts.” And unless we checked Mint every day and categorized our expenses, our budgeting would be passive, rather than active. There’d be no pain.

But with our manual budgeting app, we have a reason to check it each and every time we spend money. We quickly enter the expense in our app, and it reminds us where we are for the month. We need that hands-on budgeting experience. Not everyone does. We’ve tried the passive approach in the past, and we go over budget every single time. We still look at Mint at the end of the month as a good overview, but during the month, it’s not active enough to influence our spending habits.

Minty Mistakes

I once worked for a woman who had the uncanny ability of getting her computer to freeze. And each time it happened, she felt the need to inform me, “It’s thinking.” But that’s the problem. Computers don’t think, which means that sometimes Mint makes mistakes. I know, how dare a free program ever make mistakes?! The main mistake is that Mint sometimes duplicates our expenses. For instance, we’ll pay off our credit cards each month, but sometimes Mint sees that as an expense, rather than a payoff, which then doubles our expenses. Thus, the automatic categorizing doesn’t work very well for us. And deleting those messed up expenses becomes rather cumbersome. Perhaps this wouldn’t be a big deal if Johnny and I didn’t have control issues, but we do, and so it bugs us. Without this problem, Mint would be even more painless, which would be an even bigger problem for us!

And so, we continue to budget manually. And while Mint will always have a special place in our budgeting hearts and on our smartphones, we don’t use it as our main budgeting app. We just gotta feel the pain, and Mint, you make things way too easy.

How do you feel about Mint? You lovers of Mint out there, let’s hear why it works for you! 

27 Comments

  1. Brian
    January 27, 2014 at 7:46 am

    I stopped using Mint because it started having a lot of problems logging into a couple accounts of mine. Since I had to do it manually each time I just deleted my account.. Maybe they have fixed it now, but I’ll never know.

    Reply

    • Joanna
      February 18, 2014 at 1:46 am

      Yep, those little glitches with Mint were the deal breakers for us. We still use it from time to time, but it’d be nice if it were a little more intuitive.

      Reply

  2. Kali @ CommonSenseMillennial
    January 27, 2014 at 8:17 am

    These are pretty much the exact reasons I don’t use Mint at all – it makes it waaay too easy, and while the computer doesn’t think, neither do you when you use it to budget for you! I also didn’t like how it automatically divided up expenses, because it didn’t always manage to get the category right (and had the same problem with the credit cards).

    Reply

  3. Carrie
    January 27, 2014 at 8:40 am

    I stopped using Mint because it was only set up to track budget items on a monthly basis. Hubs and I both work for the federal government, and we track our budget by our bi-weekly pay periods. We get 26 pay checks a year and it doesn’t line up with the calendar months. If you could adjust the times to track expenses, I would try it again.

    Reply

  4. J.Mill
    January 27, 2014 at 9:31 am

    We use mint because it sorta “learns” our expenses. It knows what local grocery store we use and automatically categorizes that. It knows our local chinese place and categorizes that. It doesn’t, however, know why the flip we spend $70 at Target. So that, has to be manually divvied up.

    I know that it’s sorta hands-free sometimes. And just like autocorrect, it learns but sometimes learns the wrong things. We don’t need the everyday check-in like some, so Mint works for us. We check in a few times a week and break down shopping trips as needed.

    Being married has helped me remain accountable for my expenses. If my Mr. logs in, I have to explain to him that some of that $70 at Target was nail polish… and I have to put those dollars in my expense category.

    Reply

  5. Insourcelife
    January 27, 2014 at 9:47 am

    I use Mint almost daily and it works great. Yes, it took a few months to get it set up so that it automatically categorizes our stuff correctly but now it’s very good about doing what I want it to do. I don’t “budget” with it since we don’t budget our finances at all, but it’s great for tracking our expenses, income, savings rate and net worth on our quest for FI. I find charts motivating! One thing that I really like is that I instantly see any issues across ALL accounts that I have. If there is a transaction or a fee on a dormant account, I see it right away. This is great for potential fraud monitoring as well.

    Reply

  6. Little House
    January 27, 2014 at 9:48 am

    I checked out Mint a few years ago and I too was really excited about it. However, because I also use Quickbooks, I felt Mint was overkill. And, like you mentioned, Mint would make mistakes. It bugged me that I had to go in and fix them when I was already entering all of my expenses and income in Quickbooks. Ultimately, I let Mint go. Love the idea of these online budgeting programs, but when you already have something else that works, it doesn’t make sense to switch.

    Reply

  7. Laura at Making Baby Provence
    January 27, 2014 at 11:32 am

    I am addicted to budgeting via an Excel workbook. I have about 20 different worksheets in it to keep everything organized. I budget everything down to the last penny. It’s what works for my anal retentive mind. I send my husband very short daily and more elongated weekly updates, so he’s on the same page. We get together every so often when there is a big decision to make on how to save for something. I know it sounds like a lot of work, but I only put about 5-10 minutes into it each day when I get to work. It’s become an obsession because we used this style to get us out of about $80,000 of debt a few years ago. Now, we only have our mortgage debt. I have friends that have tried to get me to switch to many other outlets, including Mint. I have tried them, but I need the details laid out like I want to see them. It’s what works for us.

    I appreciate your blog so much! I enjoy reading how other people keep their financial lives in order. Thank you for being so open in your sharing!

    Reply

  8. Lauren May
    January 27, 2014 at 11:39 am

    I love Mint and check in with it just about everyday, both on my laptop and phone. I had that issue once or twice where it duplicated transactions, so I emailed the support and they were able to correct the issue. Haven’t had the problem since, thankfully. We do use it for budgeting and have found it to be great for keeping our spending on target each month.

    Reply

  9. Lauren
    January 27, 2014 at 1:15 pm

    I couldn’t agree more about the Mint app. We use it sparingly because of two key things: 1) it also duplicates our expenses and income, OFTEN. We’ve tried to sort that out, but it seems to always recur. 2) I’ve found the goals section cumbersome. The goals won’t allow you to save for the goal unless an account is assigned, and we often have more than one account that will take us to a particular goal. Also, if you do want to add a goal, you can only start the goal if you have an account that has enough money to cover the goal itself, which is ridiculous. I am not sure I explained that correctly, but it’s a huge issue for me. We are constantly looking for new ways to make our budget an active one, and part of our every day life. I am so glad to have discovered this blog today and will be catching up on posts this weekend! Do you provide your manual budget app to others? Is there someplace this can be downloaded? Thanks, Lauren

    Reply

  10. Amanda
    January 27, 2014 at 1:59 pm

    Oh my goodness, I was thinking about this the last time I read your blog and wanted you to post about the “pain of paying.” (I did a class through Coursera with Dan Ariela where he talks a lot about this.)

    We really are in need of a system that tracks things in a more minute way. Every expense at the time of the expense. I’m trying to figure out what that should be. What is the manual app that you use? You might have blogged about this . . . maybe I’ll search.

    I like mint to get a holistic, quick overview of what’s happening with all of our different accounts, and to see things that are going on without having to log into like 4 or 5 different sites. But I don’t use it for our budget, either.

    Reply

    • Joanna
      February 18, 2014 at 1:48 am

      We use the HomeBudget app. It tracks well for our needs, and it syncs to both of our phones, but it still isn’t perfect. I can give you more details about how we use it if you’d like… just message me! :)

      Reply

  11. Alicia
    January 27, 2014 at 2:27 pm

    I used Mint for at least 4 years, until I realized that I needed a budgeting software that would hold me more accountable. It became way too easy to adjust my budget in Mint, so that none of the categories showed the red bar telling me that I’d overspent. My budget also never lined up with my paychecks. I get paid twice a month, on the 15th and on the last day of the month, so for most of the month, Mint told me that I spent more than I earned, even though I was using the money from the previous month’s paycheck for the current month. It was very difficult to tell how much money I had available (that wasn’t allocated to bills), and I relied on my bank account balance to know if I had money to spend (instead of relying on my budgeted amounts). And, like Lauren mentioned above, I had issues with goals, and assigning an entire account to only 1 goal.

    When I started reading your blog 2 months ago (which I now read religiously), I came across a comment that mentioned that the person used a budgeting system called YNAB (you need a budget). This system holds you accountable for the money you spend, and won’t let you budget with money you don’t currently have in your bank account. Because this system holds me accountable, I haven’t spent more money than I’ve brought in during the two months that I’ve been using it. That’s a huge change from the previous 6 months or so when I’d been overspending.

    I still use Mint to get an overall idea of my net worth, and to track my loans and retirement accounts. I love seeing all that information in one place, but it just doesn’t work for budgeting for me.

    Reply

    • Joanna
      February 18, 2014 at 1:51 am

      We had many of the same problems with Mint. So many people have sung the praises of YNAB, so Johnny and I are planning to give it a try soon. Glad to hear you’ve found a budgeting method that works so well for you, Alicia! I’m excited to give it a try.

      Reply

      • Alicia
        February 18, 2014 at 7:02 pm

        You get a 34 day free trial, which is more than enough time to get a feel for it. Free trials are the best!

        Reply

      • Starla
        April 20, 2014 at 9:20 pm

        Did you ever try YNAB? I found it just shy of a month ago, and our entire world has changed. With your comments about what you don’t like about Mint, I think YNAB is right up your alley. Cheers!

        Reply

  12. E.M.
    January 27, 2014 at 2:29 pm

    I have to agree. I like having control of my spreadsheet and inputting everything myself. Mint’s categorizing doesn’t usually work well for my spending either, and I don’t want to have to go back and re-categorize everything. It’s just different when you’re analyzing your spreadsheet as opposed to viewing it on Mint’s screen.

    Reply

  13. Newlyweds on a Budget
    January 27, 2014 at 2:41 pm

    I tried mint but it just seemed like more work for me. I have my own system that I like and I don’t want to change it. That being said, I think it’s great for people who have no clue where to start.

    Reply

  14. Miranda
    January 27, 2014 at 2:48 pm

    Have you guys heard of Pear Budget? We don’t use it but I’ve checked it out and it’s really simple and easy, but I think it’s more for setting up the budget initially, not for tracking throughout the month. And it’s $5/month… https://pearbudget.com/

    We keep it really simple and have a shared Google Doc where we have a monthly budget broken down week by week (we set this up at the beginning of the month and have a meeting about it). We sort have an ‘everything else’ category like you guys, but weekly. If we don’t spend it all in one week, it just rolls to savings at the next paycheck. So for us it goes like this: Paycheck hits bank on Friday. Check Google Doc to see what’s due that week. Friday morning all bills due (online). Money is transferred to savings. Money is set aside for gas and groceries (which I usually go buy that day or on the weekend) so they post rather quickly, and then whatever is leftover is what we have for the week. That way we both know how much is available just by checking the bank account (because all of the debit card purchases hit the bank right away). This probably only works for us and would be crazy for anybody else but we’ve made it work for 8 years.

    Reply

  15. andee
    January 27, 2014 at 5:08 pm

    I never liked Mint because it wasn’t nitty-gritty enough for me. We mostly just figure it out in excel before the month starts and then divy up the cash into envelopes – that way we don’t need anything to track, We can just see when the money is gone. Old fashioned, but it works well for us.

    Reply

  16. Becky @ RunFunDone
    January 27, 2014 at 9:08 pm

    I never got a Mint account, because I felt too nervous about giving them ALL my information. What if a data breach occurred? The thieves would have access to all of my accounts! Beyond that, my understanding is that it tracks expenses and categorizes them. This is pretty much completely unhelpful for me because I do a weekly Target trip which could involve cleaning supplies, toiletries, clothes, and groceries. Mint wouldn’t know where to categorize that!

    Reply

  17. Sabrina
    January 28, 2014 at 6:31 am

    When I first downloaded Mint, I loved it but I soon found out that it doesn’t work well with our banks. It almost is never able to sync with either of our banks so I was never getting a balance that I knew was close to accurate, so I stopped using it

    Reply

  18. Jordann
    January 28, 2014 at 8:24 am

    I know a lot of people who have the same problem with Mint.com – so you’re not alone! Personally, I use Mint.com to track my spending but I’m one of those logs-in-every-day folks so recategorizing a few transactions is no big deal to me.

    Reply

  19. Kasey @ Debt Perception
    January 31, 2014 at 3:17 pm

    I’ve never used Mint. I’m a little cautious about giving away my info. I’d rather keep track of everything on my own and in my own little spreadsheet.

    Reply

  20. Hilary
    January 31, 2014 at 9:22 pm

    Mint has worked well for us, but maybe only because I rarely miss checking it on a daily basis. There are definitely a few little irritating bugs and I really wish Mint would fix them. However, it causes us a lot less stress than using a spreadsheet did; my husband and I argued A LOT about formatting and expense recording. We never could find a comfortable common ground, so using an existing platform, despite some drawbacks, seems to work better for us — if one of us doesn’t like how it works, we blame Mint instead of each other. Marital harmony: priceless.

    Reply

    • Joanna
      February 18, 2014 at 1:59 am

      Glad to hear someone who’s had a good experience with Mint! It has come in handy for us in some situations, like checking it at the end of the month to get a good overview. If we checked it every day like you guys, I think it’d be more effective.

      And anything that encourages marital bliss is definitely a keeper!

      Reply

  21. Leslie Beslie
    February 4, 2014 at 11:15 am

    This is interesting. I use Mint.com as a good overview of all my accounts. So I really can see them all i one place. I never even tried using it for budgets though as I’ve always felt comfortable with my own excel sheet. I think it does a great job showing actual spending though. FWIW, I only have two categories: fixed & variable. So that makes things easier.

    Reply

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