Tag Archives: mint

Check Out My “Expert Interview” on Mint.com

As many of you know, one of my favorite budgeting tools is Mint.com – so I was a little giddy when their PR team reached out to me to include me in their “Expert Interview” series. I went to town answering questions on my networth goals, progress, ups and downs.

I’ll post the introduction to the article below, and then if you’re interested you can read the rest of the Q&A here. I am actually very proud of this Q&A because the answers really reflect the personal finance advice I would give to anyone at this point in my life!

Imagine retiring with $2 million in the bank. Now stop imagining that goal and make it a reality.

With Her Every Cent Counts, readers get all kinds of tips and encourage to start building a net worth they can be proud of. That’s not to say there isn’t a lot of hard work involved. In fact, the woman who started the site (who prefers to be anonymous) had a net worth of $250,000 by the time she was 30. She plans to grow that number to $2 million by the time she retires.

Her net worth tracker can be found on her website where readers can track her progress. This serves as an inspiration and real-life glimpse into what is possible when saving money.

To learn more about reaching your own financial goals, take a look at the helpful information in the interview [here.]

PersonalCapital.com vs Mint.com: Innovation After Intuit

PersonalCapital.com's Portfolio Risk Manager

I’ve been a long time fan of Mint.com, raving about the features and design for anyone trying to track multiple accounts of income, savings, spending, and investments. But ever since they were acquired by Intuit, I felt the level of quality decreased. Innovation ceased, or was focused on building an iPad app I personally had no use for, while the website stopped connecting my accounts properly.

When I lost all of my investment data before January of last year (due to account connectivity issues), I pretty much stopped using Mint, except to check my budget every now and again. Google docs was much more useful than a site where my account connections kept breaking.

The entrepreneur in me always felt there was a great opportunity for another company to swoop in and do a much better job at finance management. At the same time, Mint was clearly focusing on people with credit card debt, trying to affiliate marketing better credit card rates, among other targeted advertisements. It’s budgeting tool, which once let you see how much money you could save in a year, was changed to be month-by-month only. It’s investment analysis, besides losing my data, was sorely lacking. And recently I’ve wondered (and have good reason to believe) Mint might not be around much longer. It doesn’t make sense in the Intuit portfolio of pay-for products, and they’ve just killed the quality that made it so great in the first place. Sorry Intuit, I love TurboTax, but you’re killing Mint and I haven’t been happy about it.

It was only a matter of time when another company stepped in to pick up where Mint left off. PersonalCapital, which apparently launched in September but I just heard about last night, is being talked about as “Mint.com for rich people.” Ha. The site provides a much deeper view into your investments (while letting you easily auto connect accounts like Mint). They want to make money by providing an optional service of 1% of your account for deeper investment advice, but otherwise provide a free service which shows you how your portfolio may be out of whack. If a focus on investments and long-term growth is Mint.com for “rich people,” then call me rich, and call me interested.

Now, I’m not sure their business model makes sense, so I’d be hesitant to give up Mint entirely (there is great value on historic data, even if Mint lost all of my Sharebuilder account data for the last three years!) and who knows if PersonalCapital can make it, or how the business model will change. I’d imagine they’d do better charging everyone for site access, but a small monthly fee ($2.99 / month) and perhaps add on fees for more insight. Not that I want to pay for this service, but I’d rather pay for a product that works well at this point then invest my time into something free that doesn’t. I imagine if they are going after the “rich” like me (with my $120k networth, ha) then the sentiment might be similar across the board.

The site’s UI is not as intuitive as Mint (guess that’s why Intuit bought Mint, ba dum dum.) They’ve clearly focused their resources on the investment portion of the tool, which makes sense. Already, I’ve been able to quantify just how unbalanced my portfolio is regarding international exposure, which I already knew, I just didn’t know what percent I should focus on investing abroad next year (go Asia go… I’m in the marketing for a good China & Japan dividend ETF, any suggestions?)

What’s missing is the budgeting and ease of categorization tools, which means a lot for tracking your finances. The worst part so far is trying to re-categorize all of my spending. I haven’t figured out if you can create your own categories and the ones they offer are limited. Many items come up uncategorized and trying to change them is a pain (you have to scroll through a long list, there isn’t even a way to type in the category and have it “guess” what you’re writing so it pops up. I’ve given up at using Personal Capital as a budgeting tool for now. The worst of it is that my spending always includes a lot of work expenses, which I have to mark at reimbursements, otherwise my entire spending report is massively out of whack. Maybe if this is Mint.com for rich people they could partner with Expensify and/or provide an easy way to note your work expenses so they don’t get all mixed up in your spending reports.

In any case, I’m excited about Personal Capital, because — even though a lot of the PF journos think Mint.com is the clear winner in this market — there’s a lot of room for innovation here. I’ve long wanted to make a site like Mint that actually provided useful input about one’s overall portfolio. It looks like Personal Capital beat me to it, but given I’m already working at a successful startup and I’m buried for the next year writing a business book, I’m glad they did. My scattered portfolio desperately needs the insight.

 

Mint’s "Goals" Depress Me.

It’s been a while since I’ve written on here because I’ve been so busy lately. Which is a good thing. I’m working a full-time job, spending some time on a side project, and not spending all that much money. All in all, I’m doing “good.” Heck, I’m doing amazing right now in relation to how I’ve done at any point in my life before – financially, personally, etc.

Yet I feel so far away from reaching any of my goals. Mint’s new Goals feature makes my future look terribly bleak. Especially given that my current salary — of about $120k per year, give or take — is temporary at best — and even WITH that salary I can’t save enough to reach my “goals.” At least according to Mint.
I made four different goals for myself…
Emergency Fund — I have my $8k in that, and it’s the only goal I’ll reach.
Save for Grad School — I need to save $110k, I’ve saved $1.4k. Yikes. At this rate I’ll go to to grad school by the time I’m 90.
Buy a Home? Yea, right. I need to save $207k for a downpayment. I haven’t really saved anything for a downpayment yet, but I’m counting my various non retirement investment as savings for a downpayment (which, it is if I ever want to buy a house.) Ok, so how much do I have saved now? A whopping $13k. Mint so nicely reminds me that I’m “4 years and 10 months behind” my savings goal. Granted, I wrote that I want to buy a million dollar house – but that’s not unreasonable where I live. That’s a pretty small house where I live. And I’ll never do it. Ok, so I’ll rent forever. Or I need to more to Kansas (I guess I’m renting forever.)
Retirement? Well, I’m doing OK on that goal. It doesn’t LOOK like I’m doing ok since according to Mint I need to save $6,362,665 by the time I’m 65 to hit my retirement goals. Yikes. Yea, so that’s giving me $80k per year in retirement income and I doubt I’ll need that much money when I retire, but I wouldn’t mind having it. I have $22.8k saved so far, at 26. You may say I don’t REALLY have $22.8k saved because that money will probably have to go to the down payment on my house one day when/if I want to buy one. Which SUCKS because I don’t want my retirement savings to go back to zero.
I know it’s good to be honest with yourself about your goals and how much you have to save, but really this is just terribly depressing. And as I contemplate seriously applying for graduate school next year, I am forced with knowing that grad school will make my goals even further from ever becoming a reality. It almost makes me want to give up. I’ll never own a house and never have enough for retirement. I’ll be lucky if I can buy myself another car when this one dies.

Mid-Month Financial & Budget Check Up

Instead of letting my spending addiction control me, I’m now using Mint’s planning features (read my interview with Mint CEO about this feature release here) and am finding that the tools are extremely useful in keeping myself on track.

This month has been a bit wonky between travel and gifts and end-of-year expenses, but I’m trying my best to stick to the budget I set for myself. What I really like about Mint is that it’s easy to adjust my budget as the month goes on. So, for instance, this month my medical/health costs skyrocketed, and I reduced my entertainment and education costs to balance out some of the extra spending. Ultimately, my goal is to save as much as possible per month without living “frugally.” I just want to live smart under my means, and earn enough income to make this possible without being “cheap” or “frugal.” Also, this month I received a surprise $200 bonus, so I am using that to pay for the remainder of the month with the exception of whatever other bills I will be paying automatically before the 1st.

Expenses so far this month: $3983

Auto: $194 / 200

Bills: $341 / 400

Education $0 / 10

Fees: $12 / 15

Food: $363 / 500

Gifts: $90 / 100

Health & Fitness: $1422 / 1500

Rent: $632 / 632

Personal Care: $78 / 100

Shopping: $423 / 500

Travel $322 / 400

Other: $70

…………………………..

Come January, I’m shrinking my budget and focusing on saving more each month. This month, I’m lucky, I have a lot of belated freelance income owed to me that is coming in the mail so my excess spending should balance out, even leaving enough to save a bit. Still, I need to be more careful next year. I may only have a job 1/2 the year if my company runs out of money, which means I might need to give being a frugal a try, at least for a little while, and maximize my savings as much as possible.


Dear Mint… How I love thee, let me count the ways…

After finding out about personal finance sites like Mint, Geezeo and Wesebe in their early days, I’ve been enamored with the concept of using technology to make personal finance easier to grok. While Geezeo and Wesabe (and Cake and Covestor, etc) had some decent features, Mint ultimately took the cake… with the frosting.

Even though I was a little worried when they were bought by Intuit, I’m still a fan. I can’t say I contribute to their wealth as I’m pretty smart about my credit cards and cds, so they never have any good deals to offer me. (Mint, take note of BillShrink.com, which is offering a cool find cheapo gas near you feature… which is actually useful for me. Though I’m not sure how they’d make money off of that feature, other than hoping you get a CD or Credit Card through them on an educated whim.)

Anyway, what has me all buzzing about Mint today? Their planning tools that they rolled out a few months ago. They weren’t that useful to me online only, but now that I have my shiny new iPhone having the Mint app makes my financial life a thousand times easier and better.

Just tracking my expenses and income per category, and having access to that at all times, is giving me so much more control over my financial life. And it feels good. Minty good.

While this month my expenses have been (scary) more than I’d like, starting in 2010 I’m going to use Mint to carefully BUDGET (like really budget) and account for every little thing I spend. It’s so easy to do that because Mint knows. Every once in a while I have to adjust a category or categorize a check, but that’s easier than inputing everything by hand. I am so excited to embark on a year of incredible savings and budgeting thanks to my Mint iPhone app and Mint.com (and yes, even (M)intuit.

Mint.com Launches Financial Fitness Feature: Interview w/ CEO

Mint launched a cool new feature today that helps you plan your financial fitness strategy. Y’all know I’ve been a fan of Mint since their private beta in 2007, and it has been exciting to see them grow over the past few years.

The new feature is brilliant from a business standpoint for them. Continuing on their money-making concept of high-profit referrals to financial accounts, the financial fitness tool suggests places to tune up your fiscal health. I hate the term win-win situation when describing product features, but if there ever was one it would be this, and all of the related features Mint rolls out.

Mint CEO Aaron Patzer took the time to chat with me via phone yesterday to show me the new feature and answer my questions.

The new feature is basically a page that offers 12 different steps to get your finances in order, and you get points and other sorts of rewards for getting closer to your goals. Game theory at its finest. For us personal finance bloggers / blog readers, the steps are not enlightening in their own right. (Check your credit report. Get cheap health insurance. Set up an emergency fund. Pay off debt.) But what is really neat about this feature is that Mint can access your bank accounts and tell you exactly what you need to do where to get financially fit.

Patzer admits this feature is designed mostly for 20-somethings who are in debt and not 30 or 40 somethings who have more complicated finances, adding that in the future they will add even more features to help people without debt look at ways to grow their networth and invest.

“The next phase of Mint is financial goals,” Patzer told me. “It’s what do I want, when do I want it? I want to retire by 50, put my kids through college, what are trade offs for all those goals, what do I have to save each month in order to achieve them. How can Mint help me find ways to save for my longer term goals?”

(I’m looking forward to that!)

I grilled Patzer a little bit on if the offers are really the best for the users (or just the ones they’d make the most profit on) and he said that they do get offers that are actually good for users — for instance, they went with Annual Credit Report which is “truely free” as opposed to FreeCreditReport.com which costs money after seven days.

With 1.1 million registered users, it looks like Mint won’t be going anywhere. While there are lots of other personal finance startups out there, their only real competitor these days seems to be Quicken Online. But that product, while similar, is really suited for a different audience… one that’s older, and that might not be so hip to the web. Plus, 40% of Mint’s users are using their recently-launched iPhone app. (That actually says a lot about the type of person who would use Mint, since the iPhone crowd, which I don’t currently belong to, is definitely a cult-like group of uber hipness.)

One interesting point Patzer noted is that their female adoption has gone up since they launched – it started out as 85% guys, 15% gals and now they’re at a 60/40 split. Count my mom in to that mix, I signed her up for Mint and am teaching her the ropes of personal finance that she needs to learn now that my dad has taken ill. It’s also nice to hear that other women are really getting empowered to take charge of their finances with the help of Mint.

“Even if you go to Quicken Online or Microsoft money, the color scheme, product design… the way it’s positioned is for 45 to 60 year old man that has a half million dollar networth and manages stocks all the time,” said Patzer. “Mint is really more about where do you spend your money, where do you cut back, and that appeals to a younger audience and to women.”

There are still some features I hope Mint adds, and some kinks that need to be worked out, but overall I’m still a fan. Will keep y’all posted on new features they roll out, as long as they keep me posted. Thanks to their PR firm for reaching out to little ‘ol me for the interview, and for Patzer to take time out of his busy schedule to chat.

2009 Budget Plan

As I wrote in my last post, my 2008 savings plan was a success. But in 2009, a lot of variables are a changin’, and I can’t save 50% of my income for taxes anymore. Being a full-time employee means regular tax withdrawals from my paycheck. No more saving for taxes in a nice 3% interest ING account. So what does that mean for my spending and saving in 2009?

First of all, I recognize that at 25, my medium-term goals (buying a house, grad school, having kids) are suddenly becoming more-or-less short term goals. I won’t go into how much that’s freaking me out at the moment, and instead will concentrate on how I can best save for them while my fixed monthly out-of-pocket expenses are low.

Even though I use Mint to track my spending, I find it most useful to have a Google Doc spreadsheet set up for my monthly budget.

First, I make a row of “Budget Headers” — which includes everything from “income” to “travel.” For now, I’m not too picky on my breakdown. I have a few columns left for income – my base paycheck, some small additional freelance income I earn monthly, and other revenue streams that may pop up throughout the year. Then, using my strategy from last year, I deduct 50% of my income from spending power.

The next columns are set up for fixed expenses: Rent, Bills, Insurance, Gas, Food, Gym, etc. After I got all those in, I made a column for remaining liquid cash called “LEFTOVER.” My LEFTOVER money in 2009, assuming I can take in $2650 after taxes, is $1178.

$1178 seems like a lot, but it’s not extravagant.

After the “LEFTOVER” column I added a “REMAINDER” column, which basically tracks the difference between my extra spending/saving and the LEFTOVER amount. The goal would be to get this as close to 0 each both as possible, without going under.

On the right side of the REMAINDER column I made columns for all of my un-fixed expenses: clothing, travel, Roth, downpayment account (currently at $0), gift, entertainment.

I’m sure I’m forgetting something but I’ll add it once my January totals come in.

The cool thing about this spreadsheet setup is that I can adjust it for income. My favorite thing about 2009 is that I have a few easy income streams for a couple of extra bucks a month if I can get myself out of bed early. My main job is going to really take up most, if not all of my time to “work,” but if I really want the extra cash I can write a blog post once a day for $25, up to $500 a month. Last month, I earned $250 doing that… which was a good thing since my other generally stable freelance income stream of $400 a month payed out only $100.

At the end of each month, I’ll post my budget chart here.

Using Mint.com to Teach My Mom About Personal Finance

My mom has a habit of… spending. And spending. And spending some more.

With my dad’s current state of health, it is more important than ever for her to learn about where the money goes and where it comes from. Living across the country from my mom, it’s really hard to teach her the ins and outs of personal finance.

With Mint.com, however, the distance education is possible.

My mom doesn’t get bills, but she does get the trend charts that break down her spending in pie graph form. She’s starting to get into seeing where her money is going, and that’s a huge leap for her. She’s not at the point yet where she’ll stop spending, but knowing that she’ll have to see her transactions appear in a pie chart make her think twice before spending.

She’s having some trouble adding all her accounts to the site and long distance debugging w/ my technically illiterate mother is difficult. But Mint’s UI is quality — even my mom can figure out how to use it, and that says a lot.

Have you gotten your parents or older friends/family to sign up for Mint (or another personal finance online site)?

Mint Launches iPhone App!


When I see an iPhone, I think about that time when I was 4 and I craved a Nintendo game system. I didn’t need it, but I wanted it. I got it for my birthday at some point, but the big difference was that it didn’t require a $70 per month data fee.

Mint – my favorite online finance site – just announced the launch of their brand new iPhone app . So if you have already splurged on an iPhone (or plan to in the near future), the good news is that at least now you can use it to budget for those high data fees.

Their screenshoots look pretty, and pretty much like their website in mini form, so I’m sure the user experience is just at top-notch as the one found at Mint.com.

If you refuse to pay such high data fees and don’t have an iPhone, Mint also lets you text “Balance” to MYMINT to find out what your balances are on the go. I haven’t used that functionality yet, but I’ll have to try it sometime since I’m one of those kids w/ out an iPhone.

They’ve come a long way since their private beta. There are lots of copycat companies these days trying to make a buck in the personal finance website and mobile space. A few new ones on my radar are Rudder (the first actual Mint competitor I’ve seen that’s in the same ballpark), Thrive, and Greensherpa. I haven’t had the time to review any of these fully yet, but I hope too do a detailed update on the personal finance startup space sometime soon.

Digital Finance February: Yodlee, Mint, Geezeo, Cake

Despite prior raves about various digital finance sites, I’m ultimately still left unsatisfied with my current offerings.

I think what I want is simple. Sure, I’d like some cute features and nifty community learning options. But what it comes down to it, I want an online finance site that:

1. Shows me my checking and savings account data in REAL TIME (not 6 hours ago, not 3 days ago, but as in up-to-the-minute updates).

2. Includes my investment earnings and losses for the day/month/year. Cake has a great feature showing me how I’m performing versus the markets and other users. I imagine once investments are on the site, this feature can’t be too hard to implement. I’d even be happy without it.

3. Budgeting tools. The sites are pretty good now at coming up with such tools. I love Mint’s budget breakdowns. But it’s not really helpful in the way I need it if the data isn’t actually up-to-date. It isn’t helpful if I have to go sign into BankofAmerica.com and breakdown my monthly spending just to keep on top of everything AFTER I sign into Mint or any other second party bank account tracking site.

4. A *bonus* would be if the site provides me with legitimate ideas on how to save money. Not like Mint, that tells me if I switch to a $47 a month Verizon plan I’d save $x per year when the fact of the matter is, the only reason the month cost me so much at Verizon is because I went over on my minutes. In fact, I’m ALREADY ON the plan they recommended. If your recommendations are going to be wack, I recommend not recommending at all. How’s that for a recommendation?

Cake.com
My latest find, thanks to a friend, is Cake.com. This site is… howdoyousay… hypothetically awesome for investors. That is, if it worked properly. (I’ve added my Sharebuilder account but am having trouble adding my Vanguard account). It’s not really like Mint, Geezeo or Yodlee at all, so it probably should be compared separately… although if Cake really wants my business, they’d simply have to add my savings and checking accounts so I can track all my money at one place. And really my Vanguard account would have to work too.

Mint.com
By far, Mint still has the best UI. I love Mint, I really do. But I’m getting impatient waiting for them to add investing accounts. If Cake, Yodlee and Geezeo can all add investing accounts, and if Mint is built on top of Yodlee’s architecture, I don’t understand why it’s so difficult to add investing accounts. Maybe they’re not focused on 24-year-old “old fogies” like me that enjoy putting some of my monthly income into Sharebuilder and Vanguard. But I like to budget my monthly income based on how the market is doing (obviously this month I’ve been failing at that!) I think Mint is going to be amazing in the long run. They’ve already added a bunch of nice features (like a chart showing me how my spending on different things compares to other people in the area). But, come on Mint, add my investment accounts and maybe figure out how to make my data “update” as in “update currently” and not “update what my bank statement looked like yesterday” and I swear, I’ll ask you to marry me.

Geezeo
Aw, Geezeo, Geezeo, Geezeo. I really want to like you. I found you and Wesabe first, and you were much better than Wesabe. You even have investment accounts now. But there’s something about your UI I don’t quite like. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m having trouble adding my Vanguard account on here too, or, when I tried to add my ING Direct Savings account and waited about 5 minutes for it to process, you told me “Heavy traffic is causing delays. Please try again. If you think this is a problem with Geezeo, please tell us by making a Support ticket.” I feel like there are just too many bugs on the site for it to be worth my time right now. Updates are just as delayed as any of the other sites. The UI is sloppy too. Mint, on the other hand, has such a nice design, with screen real estate divvied up quite nicely. Geezeo kind of looks like a kids toy. And the useful features are often buried at the bottom or hard to find.

Yodlee
Despite being boring (yawn) and basic (blegh) Yodlee is still my top digital finance choice. Why? On Yodlee, at the very least, I can see data from all of my accounts including Bank of America (checking, savings & credit card), ING Direct, Vanguard, Sharebuilder, Paypal and Prosper. Data is still a bit delayed, which bugs me, which means I still have to sign into BankofAmerica to check my current checking account status, but I can deal. At least I can see everything in one spot.