My Love-Hate Relationship with Mint.com
Have you ever been around someone who seldom thinks you do anything right? The worst is nagging, where you get constant reminders about your flaws. Even if the person has a point, it would be nice if it came with encouraging words to help you feel peaceful and optimistic.
That brings me to my love-hate relationship with Mint.com. With over 6 million users, Mint.com is likely the Web’s most popular money management application. Its core function is to aggregate all your bank and credit card transactions and categorize them within a budget to track your spending. Mint.com also tracks investments and displays your combined allocations across all accounts. These capabilities can accompany you everywhere via a mobile app for smartphones.
Mint.com’s pretty impressive, huh?
You’d think that, as a financial planner carrying the app on my iPhone®, I would consider Mint.com my best buddy. However, as a financial coach who works with real people, I get peeved about some aspects of this fine software. They could be summed up as guilt-ware, fear-ware and sales-ware.
Guilt-ware: Mint.com is budgeting software, which by nature is guilt-producing. You’ll know you’ve overspent via a direct alert to your mobile. There’s always some overindulgence in a given month, so the most frequent message from Mint.com is a reactive "You messed up again." The guilt works at first! Eventually you ignore messages because the negative experience is unpleasant.
My blog Simple Saving: The No-Budget Way to Spend Less and Save More explains why budgets don’t work well for most people. Mint.com reinforces any slight inability to follow a budget by punishing you with an immediate negative stimulus when you fail.
Fear-ware: Tracking your investment portfolio using your smartphone seems sophisticated. However, markets can fluctuate widely, and behavioral economists recommend not checking your portfolio too frequently to avoid being put on an emotional rollercoaster with the markets. You’re then tempted to make impulsive investment decisions, panicking at each downturn and investing aggressively at each peak so you sell low and buy high.
Personal finance shouldn’t be crazy-making. Watching moment-to-moment and day-to-day market swings isn’t psychologically healthy. Mint.com does a great job, but it’s better to focus on living life! Once you have a good long-term plan, you simply need to review your portfolio annually.
Sales-ware: Though the service is free, Mint.com doesn’t hide the fact that it recommends financial products based on information you provide and gets a kickback if you use them. Your information includes credit cards, bank accounts, loans, investment services and so on. Recommendations you receive through the advertising are said to be unbiased, but they’re certainly influenced by the companies paying for them.
Not everyone is comfortable signing up for a constant stream of advertising. It’s important to be aware that you’re getting intentionally targeted sales pitches based on your personal financial information.
Despite its problems, I’ve been using Mint.com at various levels for years.
Currently, it helps me track those bank accounts impacted by my day-to-day spending decisions. I also track my credit cards so I’ll be alerted to unusual activity. The account aggregation is excellent, and information updates very quickly. I can check balances using Mint.com on my iPhone faster than with my bank's app. Updated tracking is convenient for my wife and me, because when we spend from the same accounts we can both easily watch the balances and coordinate purchases.
As for Mint.com’s budget notifications, I usually turn them off. Occasionally I’ll track my expenditures in detail to find ways to trim unnecessary spending and shift more to Thriving. Mint.com is useful when I want this level of detail.
I don't track investment accounts with Mint.com, so there’s no temptation to watch my net worth gyrate with the markets! I “eat my own cooking” by using the Wealth Gathering Portfolios and the Easy Investing 101 techniques in my blogs. Though I can't totally escape the sales promotions, I’ve turned off most Mint.com alerts generating the offers. I also limit the personal information included in my profile.
People have differing needs, preferences and pet peeves. I’m ready for your perspective. Do you love or hate Mint.com? Do you use other Web-based personal finance software?