Mint Condition: $128.95 Saved Is $128.95 Earned

Third in the Thin Mint series of posts

It's a month+ into my Mint evaluation and real-life data now populates the account; let the fun begin!  While it's still too early to expect in-depth insights or big payoffs, I'm eager to see what useful information can be learned and how difficult it is to unearth it. Here's the process I will use to look at the big picture and cash flow side of things every month.

Step 1: Confirm Net Worth meets expectations as per overall financial plan.  How? "Net Worth Over Time" graph on Trends tab.  What? Very little going on here (less than 1% change) as might be expected in only one month with no dramatic market fluctuations or large expenses.

Step 2: Check balance in checking account.  How? Account link on Overview tab. What? Too high! This sounds like a nice problem to have, right? But holding more cash than needed for near-term living expenses in a ~0% interest account = opportunity missed.  This was not intentional, but rather the by-product of a recent ETF sale and forgetfulness. What next? Transfer from checking to "medium term cash needs" bucket, a money market with 1% interest.  (Whoopee.)  What then? Can the software help prevent lazy cash? 

Step 3: Verify proper categorization of expenses. How? Expenses listed on Transactions tab. What? Several are uncategorized; some are categorized incorrectly. But most are correct. (Score one for Mint.) Some are technically correct, but not useful.  (Love me some Target but... all credit card transactions are lumped under the patently unhelpful "Central Checkout.") What next? Recategorize where necessary. What then?  Is Mint smart enough to learn categories of repeat vendors so less effort is needed over time? Can I categorize Target expenses in a more meaningful way?

Step 4: Compare this month's expenses to previous months and target spending.  How? "Spending Over Time" graph on Trends tab + cheat sheet specifying targets for overall spending and "high risk" categories.  What?  Spent about 27% more than intended. Yikes!  This included a few "one-time" expenses (responsible for the entire 27% overage!), a few mystery expenses ("foreign transaction fee"?), and a few cringe-inducers (darn overpriced but hard-to-quit gym membership.) 

 "Found money" - the best kind!

"Found money" - the best kind!

BUT I also found some buried treasure: a few rogue expenses that shouldn't be on there. What next? Reclaim buried treasure! What then? Drill down to find out what's going on with one-time, mystery, and cringe-inducing expenses. Figure out how to store spending targets and automatically compare to actual so I don't have to find the cheat sheet every month.

The net net? My beta test has barely scratched the surface of what this software can do and has already unearthed $128.95(!) in found money.  

That's $25 estimated interest + $103.95 erroneous credit card charges, including $56.46 service incorrectly allocated to me + $37.50 shared expense due reimbursement + $9.99 accidental subscription to Kindle Unlimited. (Love me some Amazon but... they're getting a little fast and loose with the word "free.") 

At times, the process resembled a wrestling match, but much less so than than trying to review expenses across multiple accounts... which would never have gotten done. Plus I'm optimistic that the wrestling:reward ratio will improve over time. There's only one way to find out: keep at it.

Technology Takeaway For most of these tasks, I'm pleased to report that the software (browser version) works just as well on the iPad (my preferred platform) as the PC.  EXCEPTION: As noted in a prior post, Adobe Flash is needed to dig into details of brokerage accounts. Unfortunately, Flash is not supported on the iPad. Nor does it work on Internet Explorer on my PC, which I learned the hard way.  Google Chrome works.

Extra Credit While originally intended as the blog theme for March, it's now obvious the Thin Mint series should have started a long time ago and needs to continue at least into May. There's just too much still to be learned. On the docket: the search for more buried treasure, exploring the "What then?" questions listed above, portfolio insights, additional attempts to automate, and musings on intentional -- and unintentional -- spending.  I'll also answer a reader question: "Do I really need to track my finances??? I'm not sure I want to find out what I'm doing!" Stay tuned for more, give your $.02 about which topic to tackle first, or submit your own question or comment.