I've had some conversations lately with a few of my friends about saving money. As we began discussing, my first question was:
"Do you use Mint.com?"
To which all of them replied: "Yeah"
To which I then replied: "But do you use it correctly? When used correctly, it's life changing."
And just like that, I opened up a whole new world.
I am no finance expert. In fact, I was born with visual and linguistic talents, that far exceeded my mathematic capabilities. So you're probably wondering why you should even listen to me talk about financial approaches. I'll tell you why: I have devoted the past year to saving more money than I ever thought possible, simply by reinventing my spending habits. This reinvention has included an enormous amount of willpower, reading great sources of information like Carl Richard's The Behavior Gap and Sophia Amoruso's #GIRLBOSS taking away tid-bits like:
The approach I am about to offer works for me, and if anything I hope it inspires you to start saving – in whichever way you think best!
So let's get started.
The problem many people have with Mint is that they aren't willing to do the work up front to set themselves up for success. It involves linking up every account, fixing the links every now and then (ugh), consistently checking in with Mint as a reminder of your spending, and most importantly - tracking what you spend your money on with a built in budget tracker. *Whew* sounds like a lot. But it's not once you get the hang of it.
When I used Mint a few years ago, it was pretty much worthless. I didn't set up a budget, it was collecting my transactions into the wrong categories, and I never correctly linked up all of my accounts. More importantly, I didn't have measurable goals for how much I wanted to save. It just seemed like a mess that I needed to clean up. This past year, I took the time to do it right. Here is my personal step-by-step guide to saving money with the help of Mint.com.
1. First decide how much you can realistically save per month. This part is personal, and all depends on your financial situation and how much you are willing to give up, or what you can actually save based on your income and cost of living. Try to save at least 10% minimum, and have the money immediately auto-deducted into your savings account. Then *poof* it's gone! Out of sight, not yours to spend anymore, and you'll get used to living on a lower paycheck. I started by making a spreadsheet in google docs, first subtracting the inevitable costs ( basically everything you MUST pay every month) from my monthly income (For example: rent, loan, car payment).
2. Next, choose categories that reflect your spending habits. These categories are pre-determined on Mint.com, so you simply select the ones that are relevant to your lifestyle. I included: transportation, food/dining, personal care, entertainment, clothing, gifts, health/fitness. I then decided on the least amount of money I could spend in each of these categories per month, and planned to set that amount in my budget. This will vary for everyone, and it depends on how extreme you want to make it. Remember, the least amount you can spend in each category, the more you will save! For example, I was spending SO much money on clothing, never actually aware of these monthly totals until I used Mint correctly. I made life altering changes by cutting my clothing expenses in half. I specifically remember wearing the same exact outfit within a 7 day time frame. The girl who sits across from me at work didn't compliment it until the second time I wore it. Point is: No one's really paying that much attention to your wardrobe. Choose what you truly care about, and put your dollars toward those goals. Is it traveling often? Is it having a really nice house one day? We're all different, but we must recognize what's important to us in order to fulfill it.
LET'S DO THE MATH: YOUR MONTHLY INCOME - INEVITABLE COSTS - TOTAL AMOUNT OF BUDGETED AMOUNT PER CATEGORY = SAVINGS
It may take a few different approaches to find the numbers you are comfortable with, but eventually you will know how much you'd like to save per month. So lets talk Mint.com logistics.
3. Make sure all of your accounts are linked up correctly. If you don't have an account, you will have to create one. Let's back up and make sure that you have added every account to your name. Too lazy to look up the account number or password? Too bad. Just do it! Get it over with and if there is an issue troubleshoot it right away so that everything is nicely linked up and you can see where you are at financially. This includes all of your checking accounts, loans, credit cards, 401k, investments, etc. Set aside a good time in the day to devote to doing this. It's easy to start, and then forget about. After you're set, You may know your net worth, but here's the kicker: you probably don't know how you are spending your money each month, and where you can begin to influence major changes. Create measurable goals to help you take it seriously. Are you looking to buy a home? Plan a wedding? Buy a nice camera? How much do you need to save and what's your deadline?
4. Create your budgets. Remember the math we did in step 2? Now's the time to plug those budgeted numbers into Mint.com. In order to implement your new goals, you need to stick to your plan and have a visual recognition reflecting progress on your Mint account frequently. After logging in to Mint.com, click on budgets on the navigation bar. From there, it gives you a step-by-step guide to creating your budgets. This is the first screen that will begin the journey for you, and it's simple and easy to comprehend.
For me, I like to keep everything in its EXACT category. So if I buy a dress at Target and it comes in under "shopping" - I immediately file it under my chosen category, clothing, so that everything is organized. You don't need to use categories, but it helps me stay successfully on track. If it's easier for you, you can also just have one total spending budget per month, and aim to not exceed that amount.
One other useful trick I've developed is pin pointing key things (quality over quantity) that I want to buy each month that are within budget. So instead of making rash spending decisions, I've made purposeful selections that are relevant to my needs. And bonus – you'll get excited each month when it's time to buy the items on your list.
5. You can make adjustments, but don't stray from the total goal of your plan. There are months where I will have to undoubtedly shift my budget totals. For instance, in a month where I have two weddings, I will up my gifts budget, and be much more frugal in the entertainment category. Try your very best to stick to your goal savings every month, even if it means sacrificing one area for another. It won't work every time, but again – try your best. Going over a little is better than going over a lot.
6. Think of Mint.com as a game. I'm no gamer, but let's just say that I'm addicted to Mint. Every morning on my commute to work, I open up my app, take a look at all of the transactions coming in, and make sure that everything is categorized correctly! For example, Uber always automatically goes into Alcohol and Bars, when it needs to be in travel. I tap Uber and re-categorize it correctly. I believe there is a way to have certain transactions that you use frequently automatically re-categorize, but I haven't looked into it yet! I have too much fun doing it myself. I'm obsessed with making sure my account is current, cleaned up, and everything is accounted for. It's made all the difference in my ability to save.
I hope this helps you take steps forward to saving more money, and feeling financially secure. Even if its just a little bit, trust me - over time it adds up! And one day you will be in a beautiful home you were able to put a down payment on, drinking an expensive bottle of wine, thinking: "Thanks to that girl from A Thing or Two..."
Thanks for reading, and if you have any personal tips or tricks that work towards helping you save, please share!