The Minimalist: Mint.com

I applied to be a guest blogger for We the Savers, the blog for ING Direct, but a different father, vegetarian, 30-ish white guy got the job instead of me. I look forward to following Matt's posts, but I was kind of looking forward to passing on savings advice to a wider audience (not just the three people who semi-regularly read this blog).

This blog has been languishing for a while, as I don't really want to broadcast stuff about Viola or pictures of her for the whole world to see (not that anyone reads this, but anyway....), so I thought I'd try out a new feature. It's call "The Minimalist", a phrase coined by my mother-in-law to describe how Tammy and I live. But it's not about austerity. It's about how we thrive on the minimum amount of money possible. It drives everything from how we take vacations, to our delicious homemade dinners, to how we're raising our daughter. And how we do it all sinisterly (i.e. from the left).

For my first post, I'll take about a tool I use to budget my finances.

Mint.com
Back in 1999, I used to do monthly budgets using spreadsheet software on my computer. I meticulously kept it updated, putting in each receipt, all the way down to the last penny. Our finances were separate then, so we even broke it out by how much we each were contributing to our subsistence. As time went on, we made more money, I updated it less often, and by 2009 I was lucky if I could remember to do it once a year. Keeping it updated took time away from actually living my life, which is kind of the point of saving money, so you can spent it on fun and important things.

Enter Mint.com. I was at first wary putting all my online financial info into it, but I can't live without it now. I've created budgets for our gas and grocery and a bunch of other categories. I still have to put in manually cash purchases, and that's a bit of an annoyance as they haven't really made that interface very smart. (First I have to split the purchase, then afterwards I can date it).

But the automagic stuff is awesome. It pulls in info from most of my banks (my credit union isn't supported yet, grrr), categorizes it, and lets me view from a hundred different angles. For example, We're overbudget this month for restaurants (thanks to a very fun but very expensive trip to Pizzetta 211 with Viola's 2nd cousin). I can compare my spending to previous months, and I can roll over any underspend category into other month.

The big shocker for me was when I realized how much we spend on food. I thought we spent $150 max, but most months we're pushing $500. Since Tammy and I are saving up to one day move to East Bay, it's good to know this. I don't want to stop eating well (more on that in a future post), so with a little math--(groceries+restaurants)*12/income, I quickly see that this is 10% of our pre-tax expenditures. Not bad, but maybe we can do better.

At this point though, it's pretty simple. DON'T SPEND MORE THAN YOU MAKE. If you do figure out why using a tool like Mint.com or a spreadsheet or Quicken. Otherwise you'll go into credit card debt. And then you're pissing your money away to the banks who have done nothing at all to deserve your hard-earned cash.

Next time, credit cards! Why they suck, and how to use them to your advantage.

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1 Comments:

At 3/16/10, 3:38 PM, Blogger rahkan said...

One of my friends had a father who was so...frugal...that when the Chicago Times wrote an article about how food stamps didn't provide enough money to raise a family, he sent them a letter lambasting the allocations for being too high, and saying that some absurdly low figure, like $50 a week (in 1985ish?) was enough to feed a family of four.

And that started a shitstorm of letters about how this guy, a professor at Northwestern, was an elitist jerk. Until the Times tracked him down and did a story about how he actually did buy sugar in twenty pound bags and undertake other such Soviet-style austerities, and really did feed his family using roughly the same sized monthly budget as a family in Czechoslovakia. My friend showed me the clipped article. It was pretty sweet.

 

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