I don't really have a budget, and why I use Mint and Personal Capital

One of the most important things that people say when they are trying to help someone conquer debt or save more money is to start a budget. That is something I've never really done. There are a few times in my life that I have but those are special occasions. Like when I went to Europe for a month after high school with friends. I had a budget on that trip so I wouldn't run out of money.

Don't get me wrong, I think budgets are a great thing for people to have, especially if you have debt you are trying to be free of, but luckily for me I've never really been in that situation. If I was in that situation I'm pretty sure I would have worked as hard as I could to pay off all debt as soon as possible. I just don't like owing people money.

I do track my finances and pay close attention to them, but I don't really have spending limits that I put on myself. I think everyone should be very aware of their spending and income, and if you spend more than you bring in, then you probably need a budget.

I believe in tracking my finances, but I don't keep a budget on things. I know that I spend less than I make so I don't track each dollar as carefully as I maybe could. This doesn't mean I will go out and waste money on things I don't need (though that has been known to happen from time to time) but I don't pass on going out to a bar with friends because I already spent more than my allotted amount on alcohol this month.

I guess you could argue that I do have a budget and that it is simply spend less than I make. If you want to make it that simple then yes I have a budget, but occasionally I will have a month where I buy a big ticket item like a new TV, or my oven at home dies, or some rare item that comes along every few years that surpasses my income.

What do I use to track my finances?

In a previous post I talked about a site called Personal Capital, I think that is a great site for tracking your investments, though personally, I don't like it that much for tracking my general spending habits and everyday finances. I do have an account setup with them, but it's not an end all tool for tracking all of my finances.

The other site that I use to track my finances is Mint. This is another one of those sites where you enter in all of your other account information such as banks, credit cards, investment accounts, loan information and it will track all of your finances and give you easy to read graphs on your monthly progress.

Concerns about these sties?

Spam - My first concern with these sites was that once I signed up I thought I would be spammed with tons and tons of advertisements and junk mail. After using these sites for a long time I can say that the only emails I have received from them were ones that I setup myself, such as notifications of large purchases which for me is a good reminder to tell myself that I spent a lot of money on X thing lately and I should maybe not spend a lot more for a little on new taxidermy or whatever category X thing might have fallen into.

Security - If I give them all of my account information, what happens if someone gets into that account or breaks their security? Well, these days everything is online so you have that same risk with everything out there. But it's not like if you stay logged into these accounts someone can withdrawal from your bank, I don't think they can even see your passwords. So far, I am more than satisfied with the security of these sites.

The Good and the Bad

Mint does have a specific section setup for you to make budgets in a number of categories that you are likely to spend money in each month such as food & groceries, transportation, utilities, or rent and mortgage. This is a really easy way to setup personal goals for yourself. Such as I should only spend $65 per month on restaurants. It's quick to setup and more importantly it's easy to see where your money is being spent. If you find that you really spend $300 a month on restaurants you might consider spending less eating out and cooking a few more meals at home. I find these budgeting categories very useful to know where I spend the most of my money (besides my monthly mortgage, that is always the biggest expense). This section is a great place to start budgeting, and I would recommend you give it try if you really want to know where your money is going.

Mint's Investment tracking section is lacking though. They don't seem to recognize all of the stocks that I have investments in, for example I have a small holding in a company called Facebook. I think that's a pretty big company that they should recognize their stock ticker a little better but for some reason they just don't seem to be able to show me performance on that particular company. There is a section for setting up lending club accounts but when you track that through the investment section it constantly underperforms everything even when the market has a bad month and my lending club account increases by 1-2% in the month. Some investments I have in multiple accounts such as a small position in company X in my ROTH IRA account and a small position of the same company X in a regular brokerage account. On the summary page of all of my stuff on Mint it will say the 7 day change for company X is 3.6% and it will also say it is 4.2%, I'm pretty sure it's listed twice because I hold it in 2 different accounts but the percentage change in the stock price should be the same. So it seems very inconsistent. I use Personal Capital for my investments because it's tracking seems much more accurate and gives me better comparison tools.

Both Mint and Personal Capital don't recognize the institution that I use for my company 401k plan so I cannot link that account to either of them, but overall I'm still happy using both of those sites I just use each of them for different reasons and I am happy with both. Hopefully this will get you to start tracking your finances better. If there's another better alternative out there I might give it a try but personally I don't like having 50 different accounts setup everywhere so know I will not try them all.


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