Christmas is over. The new year has begun to settle in. You’ve spent the last month traveling, buying gifts, visiting family and all the while pinching pennies to get it all done.
Now, It’s time to look at the bank account.
If you’re like me, you’ve stretched yourself too thin. Whether you overspent your checking account or you pushed the financial damage of December onto a credit card, you’ve probably got some catching up to do. Before you dust off the old yellow pad, and start printing off your bank statements, let me recommend a free app that will help you get back on track and help you get ahead in 2017.
Mint: A Budgeting Breath of Fresh Air
If you’ve ever written a budget, or been through a budgeting class like Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University or Crown Financial’s Money Map you already know how to write a budget. However, for most people it’s not writing a budget, but sticking to the budget, that is the hard part.
This is where Intuit’s “Mint” app comes in handy. Mint connects directly to your bank account (with your permission of course) and categorizes your bank transactions for you. If you’ve never written a budget yourself, it has a built in budget that you can follow and adjust accordingly month-to-month.
There are three key features that Mint brings to the table that I really love. First, its intuitive ability to figure out what type of transaction you’ve made based simply on where the transaction was made. Granted, it’s not perfect. Every now and then I grab a couple hot dogs from Sheetz’ gas station and it assumes I filled my gas tank. Still, I’d say roughly 70% of the time it can accurately tell what type of transaction I have made and where it fits in my budget. For those who love to write the budget, but have trouble telling how they’re doing mid-way through the month, this is a great help.
That brings me to the second thing I love about Mint: its up to date charts based on bank transactions. Mint comes equipped with a pie chart that tracks your spending by category and two bar graphs that track your month-to-month spending and income over time. The pie chart quickly shows you where your money is going this month, and helps you decide if you really need to order another pizza or not. The bar graphs quickly tell you, at a glance, how your spending compares to your income. This feature can help you determine if a spending cut is in order, or if a part-time job might be something to look into.
Finally, the third thing I love about Mint is simply its flexibility. As mentioned before it comes equipped with a canned budget you can try to follow. However, if you’ve gone to great lengths to write your own budget Mint makes it easy to create categories and set their budget amounts. Further, while Mint will guess that you bought gas at that gas station, you can go in and quickly change it from gas to fast food if you bought a hot dog like I did.
A Couple of Drawbacks
This app does a really good job once it is setup. However, it does have a few issues during setup that may turn off the novice cell phone user or the person with a short attention span for budgeting and finance.
First, Mint connects seamlessly to some banks but I understand it may have trouble with others. If you use a small local Credit Union or another bank that isn’t nationally known you may find yourself truly disappointed. You can definitely still use the app but you’ll find yourself tediously entering all your transactions yourself.
Speaking of tedious, Mint makes a lot of initial assumptions when it imports your last two months of transactions. One of the biggest turnoffs for me was the amount of time I had to put into setting up Mint. Once Mint is set up it’s not so bad. However, when you have to initially go back and correct a month’s worth of mis-categorized bank transactions it gets a little tiresome. Add to this the tedious work of inputting your own budget categories and you’ve got an app that has an initial setup process of anywhere from 2-4 hours depending how detailed your budget is, and how often you swipe your debit card each month.
Finally, since we’re talking about swiping the debit card there is one last draw-back that really frustrates me. There is about about 24-48 hour lag time between when you swipe your card and when Mint decides to put it in your categories. If you’re on the go and just made three purchases today, you might want to know if a fourth purchase is ill-advised. Unfortunately, Mint won’t be able to help you out for a couple days. Maybe that means you shouldn’t make the purchase but it’d be nice to be able to see today’s transactions…today.
I understand why Mint takes so long to update. Rather than importing pending transactions it waits for the transaction to actually clear. This can take 24 hours minimum and up to 3-5 business days particularly for gas stations and smaller businesses that don’t batch out daily. For me, as a millennial, after spending a couple hours setting up an app and seeing all its cool charts, I was really bummed when I went out, swiped my card, and had to wait a couple days to see those cool charts update.
Conclusion: How Does this Glorify God?
The drawbacks notwithstanding, this app is a pretty nice addition to your budgeting arsenal. If you’ve got some ground to make up, or you want to get your 2017 started off right, the Mint app will help you keep a close eye on your budget progress throughout the month. More to the point, as you try to bring your spending into submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ this app will actually help you see clearly where your treasure is and where you need to trim the fat…for the glory of God.