Warning: No Poker Content
After reading a great article about finance-aggregator Mint.Com on Lifehacker, I was convinced to give it a go. I've been notoriously poor with money management in my life. Not poor in my spending or saving habits, per se, just poor at keeping track of it all. A loooong time ago, I used Quicken to do this for me. But that only lasted a few months because of the enormous workload it took to manually enter EVERY single transaction that I did on all my different accounts. As the internet took hold, things got a bit easier, but it was still mostly a cut-and-paste affair with most software.
Now that we are in the age where every financial entity in existence has a web site you can log into to check your balances and activity, it only makes sense for a meta-site like Mint to come along and make our lives easier. There is a downside, you have to give all of your logins and passwords to a single portal, but I'll address that in a second.
First of all, why do you need to do this? Simply, because it's the easiest thing you'll ever do and the wealth of information you get in return is invaluable. After a fast process (10 minutes tops) of entering your login/passwords to all your different financial sites, you are done. Incidentally, I didn't realize how many different financial accounts I had! The total number came to 9, which is probably on the low end for most people, but seemed like a lot to me. My accounts consist of:
1. Citibank Checking Account
2. Citibank Savings Account
3. Citibank 7-month CD
4. Bank Of Internet Checking Account
5. Bank Of Internet Savings Account
6. American Express Green Card
7. Citibank Mastercard
8. Citibank Student Loan
9. Scottrade IRA account
Whew, that's a lot of financial information flowing back and forth. They also do mortgage accounts, car loans, personal loans and just about anything else you can think of. To aggregate all of that by hand (something my Dad still does every week) would take hours. Once you've entered just your login/passwords, Mint does it all instantaneously. But that's just the start. You get an opening dashboard with a snapshot of your entire portfolio, including a Net Worth number of Assets-Debts. Pretty charts and graphs tell you where everything is going. All of your expenses (credit card charges, bank checks, etc...) get an automatic categorization based on the vendor. Tagging uncategorized charges is a snap and you can even custom tag your stuff in addition to applying multiple tags to the same charge. This is important if, say, you take a client out to dinner. You can tag it as 'Restaurant' and 'Tax Deductible'. So you can then get a breakout in both categories, great for end of year reporting.
Also, Mint has built in customized alerts available. For instance, when a transaction over a certain dollar threshold hits your account, you can get a text message or email alert instantly. This allays some of the security concerns people may have because you'll be alerted right away about funny business, something even your Credit Cards won't always do. There are also easy budgeting tools that allow you to set a dollar threshold for a particular category and it will show up on your web page as a chart. For instance, if I allow $400 for groceries, every time I buy in the 'Grocery' category, the line will inch up until it hits that dollar amount, after which I'll get, you guessed it, an alert. Alerts will show up on the website, and/or on the mobile phone web app that Mint has (Bless the iPhone).
So, for a single 10 minutes of work, which I do every day anyway, all my financial information is in one place on one site and actually useful to me. Plus it's very very pretty. Web 2.0 at it's finest with lots of slice and dicing tools.
Check it out and get a handle on your financial picture.