My Favorite Tool for Debt Management

If you read any personal financial blogs, you know about Mint.com.

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You probably even use it (or something similar). We started using Mint.com in 2009, when I heard about it on NPR. If NPR said it was safe, I believed it was worth trying.

(If you don’t know about Mint.com, it’s a financial tracking software made by Intuit. It can be used to budget, track investment growth, net worth, and transactions. It’s free.)

I log into Mint at least once a week, but sometimes I log in almost every day. I gradually got all of our accounts listed within the program. We have all of our checking, savings, and money market accounts tied to it, as well as credit cards, L’s 529 college fund, student loan accounts, car loan, and our Edward Jones Investment account. I also have my TIAA-CREF ROTH IRA in there (that’s where my retirement funds from teaching before we moved to the Southeast went), and we JUST added in my husband’s TIAA-CREF state retirement fund and my state retirement fund in December 2013. (H’s fund = awesome, my state retirement = NOT awesome. We’re both state employees. WHY IS MINE SO MUCH CRAPPIER?! Yet more evidence that our state hates public school teachers. Anyway…..)

Of course, as you know, just having your information all in front of you doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to make any lifestyle changes, manage your money better, or create world peace. It does, however, give you a place to start. I started by just tracking our expenses and felt really good about having all of our information in one place that was easy to access. As if just having the Mint account made me a better spender, saver, and money manager. Well, baby steps, I guess.

I don’t know how long it took me to realize it, but I finally noticed that, hey, we’re spending more a month than we’re taking in. That can’t be good… or sustainable. Maybe that was why we were now carrying a balance on our credit card from month to month. Some months we were really good and were able to pay off a big chunk of it, but we were committing that Cardinal Sin – borrowing ahead by a month (putting this month’s costs on the credit card while paying off last month’s bills).

Time to actually make a budget that wasn’t just reflecting what we were already spending. Maybe it was actually time to determine what we ought to be spending – or not spending. That’s when we started using Mint.com to actually help us manage our money, not just monitor it! After determining where our money was going, I set up budgets based on numbers I knew we couldn’t alter (mortgage, car loan payments, student loan payments, gas costs, daycare expenses), then I hazarded guesses at budgets that were slightly under our more flexible categories (food, shopping, entertainment, etc.).

After living with those budgets for a while, I came to realize that while we were doing better (more months in the “staying below budget” than “going over budget” category!), we needed to really make some adjustments. The biggest change we implemented last year was the way we shop for food. (I think I’m going to have to do a post on this soon.) The more recent one (just implemented last month) is doing an automatic transfer of $450 each month for expected (but not-monthly) expenses, so we don’t use the credit cards. Another small change (which I hope may yield big results!) is snowflaking the money I make from online surveys and any money left over in a budgeted category into our debt. I love tracking the changes via Mint.com, though I think that H – while very sweet to seem interested – is not really excited the same way I am. Well, someone in the house has to be, right? (He’s mostly just happy that I’m happy, I think.)

I’m already super excited about how this year has started with my new outlook on money management, and I hope I’ll see some good-lookin’ numbers by the end of the month. It’s Mint.com that’s helping me see the positive changes in our debt and net worth, and I know that seeing those changes is what really drives me and keeps me motivated to work hard at this. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve jumped into this personal finance stuff deeply enough to go ahead and use spreadsheets too (though I’ve never really loved them personally). Perhaps another post is due on the two spreadsheets I use in addition to Mint.

How do you use Mint.com? What awesome things does Mint help you do?

– M

P.S. This is not a sponsored post, but if anyone from Mint.com wants to sponsor me, I’d be all over that, not gonna lie. Dream….. dream, dream, dream….

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2 thoughts on “My Favorite Tool for Debt Management

    • Woohoo! Let me know what you think of it! It takes a while to link up accounts, but I didn’t do them all in one fell swoop. The best part is seeing the debt go down from month to month. It almost makes those loooooooong years seem to go by a little quicker when you can see the progress.

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