I Used Mint Wrong for Years and You Probably Are Too

Find out how you're using this budgeting app incorrectly.

Mint is an app designed to do all sorts of amazing things: help manage your money, pay your bills, track your credit score and maintain financial goals — and you’re probably using it wrong. I certainly was.

Below are some things I’ve learned about Mint over the years, and tips that I’ve found improve the usefulness of the app, especially if you’re still struggling to stay within your budget.

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Mistake #1: Not Having Goals

I made a pretty common mistake when downloading Mint — I didn’t have any predefined financial goals. This is like hopping into a car and accelerating from 0 to 60 mph without any idea where you’re going in the first place.

I quickly realized that if you have not established responsible financial habits prior to sign-up, Mint will not change the way you spend. Mint only reflects your spending habits. In most cases, it will just show that you live outside of your means, which you likely already know.

The Solution

Rather than downloading Mint and then trying to fix your financial life, take at least one day to define your financial goals first. You can always make adjustments, but you’ll be more successful if you understand the rules of the game before you start playing.

Mistake #2: Not Having a ‘Scoreboard’

Along with setting goals, I realized that it’s equally important to have a way to measure them — a scoreboard, so to speak. Without one, it’s hard to tell if you’re winning or losing at the game of personal finance.

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The Solution

Full disclosure here: I’ve written and spoken on several occasions about why the average person doesn’t need a budget. I still believe this. If you don’t like what Mint is telling you though, then you might need to take responsibility for initiating the change you want to see, and that means creating a budget.

If you’re in need of a scoreboard, here are three basic budgets you can start with based on after-tax income. Pick one and try sticking to it for at least three months. Remember that you can adjust these budgets to your personal lifestyle. Once defined, Mint can help you easily track and visualize your spending habits to make sure they match your own financial goals.

50/30/20 (a personal favorite of mine):

  • Living expenses: 50 percent
  • Entertainment: 30 percent
  • Retirement, debt payments and/or grow savings fund: 20 percent

70/20/10

  • Living expenses: 70 percent
  • Entertainment: 10 percent
  • Retirement, debt payments and/or grow savings fund: 20 percent

80/20

  • Retirement, debt payments and/or grow savings fund: 20 percent
  • Enjoy spending the rest: 80 percent

Mistake #3: Not Using It Regularly

I’ve been using Mint long enough that I can confidently say that the best use of the budgeting app requires at least monthly activity on your part. Most people are not doing this part right. I know a lot of people who claim to use Mint, some are even friends of mine (or at least they were before I called them out in this article), but what really happened is they signed up for Mint once and never looked at it again.

If you think setting up Mint and never logging in is going to work as a budget, I have bad news for you: You don’t have a budget — you have a paperweight that happens to have the Mint app downloaded.

The Solution

Update the Create a Budget option in Mint. Use the sliders to match your spending with the percentage-based budget you chose from the options above. You only need to do this once. Once established, you can review Mint throughout the month to see if your spending actually aligns with your personally tailored budget.

Bonus tip: You can supplement your new budget with Mint Goals. These allow you to plan for specific upcoming expenses like a new home, car, emergency fund and more.

Mistake #4: Ignoring Alerts

Honestly, I hate getting those (useful but painful) Mint alerts telling me when I’m near or over my budget. Everyone hates them. Still, they’re important to not disregard because they’re a sign you need to change your spending. Repeating the same habits next month will only lead to the exact same outcome.

If you don’t like where you’re heading financially, try another route. Getting upset with Mint for alerting you that you’re not following your own budget is like yelling at your watch for telling you the time when you’re late.

The Solution

According to a 2017 GOBankingRates survey, more than half of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings. That’s crazy. The simple solution, of course, is to live within your means. Yet if it were truly that simple, I’d be out of a job.

The more realistic solution? Automation. I recommend automating everything for at least three months. Once the habit of responsibly managing your money is second nature, you can reap your personal reward: You don’t need a budget.

Used correctly, Mint is a great tool to help you measure, plan for and actively reach your financial goals. Just remember to forgive yourself while you figure it all out. It takes time to change your habits, financial or otherwise.

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