Not too long ago, I compared budgeting to dieting. Want to lose weight? Count the calories you eat. Want to save more money? Count the pennies you spend.
Of course, just like counting calories, tracking your spending manually is—to put it nicely—tedious. Thankfully, however, technology is all changing that.
Although I admit, I’m an Excel nerd who still favors spreadsheets for tracking my net worth and planning my upcoming months’ budgets, there’s a feature of online budgeting tool Mint that I can’t live without—it’s called Trends. In fact, I’m such a fan of trends that I wrote about the feature back when it was a part of Quicken Online. Since then, Intuit bought Mint and the two programs merged…my beloved Trends included.
If you’ve never used Mint before, it’s a must-try way of securely viewing all of your financial accounts in one place…online. And I only say “must-try” because Mint is totally free. So if you hate Mint, you can delete your account and be no worse off. (Before you ask, yes, Mint is an affiliate but no, I’m not getting anything special to write about trends…I truly do think it will help you track your spending). And let me tell you why…
If you do almost all of your spending with either a credit or debit card, and you link those accounts to Mint, Trends is: a) automatic and b.) bullshit-proof.
- Trends is automatic. Log into Mint any time of day or night and get a picture of your recent spending. There’s no need to crunch numbers or fiddle with spreadsheets for several hours every month to see how you did last month. Trends tallies your spending and it’s done.
- Trends doesn’t bullshit. What I mean is that if you were to manually track your spending, what are the chances you might forget a coffee here or a newspaper there? Or perhaps choose “not to count” that $63.50 (including ATM fee) you withdrew at midnight last Saturday night? I know I’ve done it. Thing is, we’re human. And unless we subject our monthly budgets to Price Waterhouse Cooper auditors, we’re probably not going to get an accurate snapshot of our spending unless we enlist technology like Trends.
Although I think that these are the two most important ways Mint Trends distinguishes itself from tracking your pennies with a pencil and calculator, they are far from the most novel. What makes Trends, dare I say, fun to use are all the ways you can slice and dice your financial data visually. For example, you can:
- View 16 different trends (like net worth, spending, debt, etc.).
- Select the timeframe to view (e.g., month, quarter, or all time).
- Compare your spending to averages in your region.
- Switch between bar and pie charts.
- If you must, export your data to other applications.
Trends takes the monotony out of tracking every penny you spend, but that also means you may spend five minutes looking at colorful charts where you once spent an hour pouring over dollar signs. The result? Less connection to your spending. That’s the danger of convenient technology. So although Mint is definitely a good tool to have in your budgeting workbench, don’t let Mint be where your budgeting stops.
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What do you think? Has Mint’s Trends feature helped you budget or reach other financial goals? Leave a comment—or if you have a really specific example, please contact me as I may want to write another post about it. Also, have you combined manual budgeting methods with technology like Mint? Why? And what are your methods?