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30 days with Mint.com

by Rob Friesel

Mint.comA self-professed miser and amateur budgeteer, I’ve been hearing rumors of Mint.com‘s awesomeness for quite some time now.  A long-time Quicken user, I’ve been a bit reluctant to try it out — once I’ve gotten into the groove of a particular apparatus or routine, I’m loathe to break from it1.

But Quicken has left me feeling wanting for a while now2, despite (or perhaps because of?) how entrenched in it I’d become.

So I decided to give Mint.com the ol’ college try for (give or take) 30 days:

7/30— Signing up seems easy.  Getting my accounts added in seems easy, too; but maybe there’s a trick to it?  I had to re-authenticate on at least 2 out of my original 5 accounts; trouble? warning signs?  And what gives with Mint not pulling in everything from this one Financial Institution3?  This one FI has like six account and Mint only sees three of them.  Hmm… Mint also seems to presume that all of my FIs have online services against which they can check.  And that seems natural enough for a web app such as Mint.  But that might be a blocker re getting out of Quicken entirely45.  Oh, and why did all of my budgets default to $20/month?  I guess that’s to encourage you to get involved in your own finances.  Who has a grocery budget of $20/month anyway?

7/31— I didn’t think about Mint.com all day.  Is that the way it’s supposed to be?  And then when I did think about it, it was because I decided to install the iPhone app.  And then I had a hell of a time remembering my password6.

8/2— Trying again to add more accounts (e.g., one of the loans that I expected to show up with one of the FIs that I already added but somehow Mint didn’t see as all the same thing?).  But my first attempt is foiled because apparently no one allows connections on Sunday morning?  So I’m frustrated because I’m not getting terribly far…  Instead we will start categorizing expenses!  The UI seems intuitive (just click and go, insta-saving and all that) and/but there is some serious tedium re categorizing cleared checks and miscellaneous expenses etc. Not that this is any worse than Quicken; any maybe it’s just a little better because most of these expenses are already filled in and you can “teach” Mint to know what things are.  For the most part.  Usually.  Except those blasted hand-written checks.  Like the ones that you cut for the babysitter every week.

Intermission. Entering receipts into Quicken sucks.  I am reminded (again) that its support for my bank appears to be flaky.  Flaky as in “it doesn’t work at all”.  I think I mentioned this earlier (vide supra?); Quicken used to “read” my bank statements via an online connection — DirectConnect? something like that? — but about two years ago it stopped working.  Couldn’t figure out why.  The Quicken support people told me to “reset” the app and the file that I use.  A whole series of esoteric commands.  “Hold down the Option key and ‘7’ while Quicken starts unless it’s a full moon and then hold down Command+Option+R and then after the application starts you need to blind fold yourself and click three times on the Ruby Slipper icon that will appear in the Dock for exactly six seconds.”  But it doesn’t work.  And it doesn’t seem to be the fault of the bank, as far as I can tell.  But anyway, that was a big reason for this experiment with Mint.com in the first place:  since every time I “fix” Quicken’s integration with my bank(s), it breaks again after another sync or two, I may as well find something that works.

Anyway, let us re-visit this (re-?) adding of accounts later in the day…  and (indeed!) Mint.com thinks that my bank is in fact three banks because I had to add the same bank 3 times to get the checking, the car loan, and the investments… etc. (sheesh!)  But at least that’s done

8/6— I still find myself putting my bills into Quicken; but that’s part of our plan, eh?  I don’t need to put them (the receipts) into Mint; they just show up after everything has cleared and synced.  But what about future and/or scheduled payments?  Where are they?  How am I supposed to plan?  This iPhone app sure is pretty.

8/9— Added 2 more credit cards and (finally) my mortgage7.  I kind of like having all this information in one place; and I like how it’s all presented.  But that said, I don’t spend much time actually in Mint, using Mint — is that a blessing or a curse?

8/10— I finally got around to reading last week’s weekly report; it’s nice to get those.  But what I’d like to know is:  what payment do I have already queued…? eh? hmm? can you show me that?

8/16— Alerts.  I feel like I’m getting a lot of false positives here in the early stages.  Mint imports some of my spending history but it doesn’t go far enough back to knows whether the last 30 (60? 90?) days are aberrant or not…8.  And it’s not just that but since so many items need their categories etc. corrected… well, it (Mint) needs some guidance.  More guidance than I’m willing to give it?  Maybe what that really means is that “this will be useful after I’ve invested a lot of time and use in it…”  I believe that Mint will get smarter as we go; I believe that Mint’s full potential does not get unlocked until you’re at least 90 days into using it.  But I won’t know that for another… 73 days.  (Give or take.)  And/but “Ways to Save” looks pretty cool — I need to check this out more.

8/18— Not even with Mint a full month and there’s an upgrade!  With release notes!  And badging of what’s ‘NEW!’  And/but I’m beginning to conclude that: (1) I’m liking how it more/less auto-filters everything into correct-seeming categories9 and I like how it remembers my corrections10; (2) I’m liking the graphs and I believe that I’m going to get better reporting out of it (long-term11) than I ever have out of Quicken; (3) but I’m still sticking on things like (a) not being able to monitor A.’s IRA position and (b) not being able to monitor what my scheduled/upcoming transactions are.  Also: it occurs to me that I should make it part of my daily tab sweep.  I need to make Mint part of my routine.

8/25— Mint.com is still not part of my daily routine.  And I’m getting a little annoyed with some of these budget alerts and bill reminders.  Hey Mint!  If you saw that I’d scheduled that payment, you wouldn’t have to keep reminding me!  You’d know it was in the bag!  Instead, you’re making me paranoid.

8/26— What gives with not letting me concatenate tags, eh?  I want to do some ad hoc reporting that looks at (for example) the Dining category but only for transactions tagged Lunch and Rob.  You’re starting to let me down a little here.

8/30— It occurs to me that no matter how awesome Mint is, it’s unlikely to become a part of my daily routine.  Because micro-managing your money sucks.  No one really wants to be that involved in their finances.  It is not fun to think about the movements of money.  But since it’s a necessary evil, it may as well be intuitive and smart and pretty to look at and maybe kinda/sorta almost fun.  Even if it can’t combine my tagged expenses on the fly.

  1. Not for lack of an innovative spirit, mind you.  But on certain fronts (i.e., tracking your household expenses), the reward for even trying something different seems so… not worth it. []
  2. Brief and informal list of complaints against Quicken:  (1) I don’t really like how it does budgets [and consequently, I don’t use the budgets feature]; (2) it stopped syncing with my bank statements more than two years ago and no amount of “resetting” the application seems to help for longer than two cycles; and (3) the reporting is all manual and tedious and the UI is just so clunky… []
  3. From here on out, let’s call a “Financial Institution” an “FI” []
  4. Is getting out of Quicken entirely even my goal?  And now that begs the question:  do I use Mint in tandem with Quicken? just for day-to-day expenses? just for budgeting and planning? just for reporting?  Let’s keep that in mind as we go, especially as it related to cutting Quicken’s cord all together. []
  5. And on that note, it also begs this question:  what about multi-account, multi-person households? with shared expenses etc.? now what? []
  6. Which is probably a good thing.  Having a strong password is good.  Especially when you have an app on a mobile device that accesses your finances.  Makes it less likely that someone could break in.  Except that you can leave it logged in all the time?  But who cares because you can’t use Mint to move money around anyway? []
  7. But the mortgage bit wasn’t Mint’s fault; I’ve never heard of an FI that won’t let you log in before physically mailing you a password before. []
  8. I’ll give you a hint:  those were some seriously aberrant 30 days.  What with moving and all… []
  9. And I like its built-in categories better than Quicken’s built-in categories. []
  10. When it can remember my corrections… []
  11. Again, “not just yet” — Mint needs 90 days for its potential to be realized, I’m sure of it. []

About Rob Friesel

Software engineer by day, science fiction writer by night. Author of The PhantomJS Cookbook and a short story in Please Do Not Remove. View all posts by Rob Friesel →

3 Responses to 30 days with Mint.com

jessamyn says:

I would have paid good money to have mint.com work with my smallish credit union, but it just didn’t. My “30 days” experience was basically “emailed a lot trying to figure out when I could use mint.com with my bank, never heard anything affirmative, cancelled my account” The folks who work there are super nice, but they don’t have a good handle on what their data provider is doing and so they just couldn’t really make this thing work for me.

Scott McCracken says:

Solid breakdown, thanks for sharing your experiences. I’ve been using mint.com for about a year now to manage my finances and find that it has become much smarter over time (too smart?)

I typically love everything about the site, except recently it seems to have a harder time making connections to download financial transaction data. In fact, in the case of ING, the bank has limited the hours mint can pull data to Monday-Friday, 8am-5pm. So if you’re not diligent about logging in every few days, your financial snapshot gets a bit fuzzy.

found_drama says:

@Jessamyn– I can see how that would be totally suck-ass and thus defeating the purpose (re: not getting the access to work). That is a bummer. I heard similar stories from a few folks and was a bit skeptical for that reason. Luck was on my side it seems.

@Scott– Glad to hear that that my hunch re: it gets smarter over time is right on (I’ve heard that from at least one other person). And I agree that these access restrictions seem weird and arbitrary and unnecessarily limiting.

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