Organization

2 Reasons Why I Don't Use Mint.com For Budgeting

Photo by Chris Potter under CC BY 2.0 license

I’ve tried Mint.com off and on for many years. I made another attempt a few months ago because there are two things I knew I loved about Mint:

  1. It logs your expenses automatically, just by hooking up your accounts.
  2. It shows your your worth, considering things you might not think about often, like your 401(k) account, or your home equity.

But there are also two things I absolutely hate about Mint. Those problems keep me from using it today.

These two problems lead to me feeling like Mint does not provide an accurate description of how much money you have available to spend today.

Problem 01: No Envelope Budgeting

First, it uses what I’ll call a corporate budgeting approach, not envelope budgeting.

Envelope budgeting, if done properly, ensures you can’t spend money you don’t have. There is no such thing as “over budget” in envelope budgeting, because you can’t use money that doesn’t exist. It relies on the theory that you have to physically take money out of an envelope before you can spend it.

But with Mint, as long as you have the money in your account, you can spend it.

I know that’s how the real world operates. But, consider an example. Let’s say you’ve created a budget where you need $1,000 for car insurance every year. And say you continue to go over on your restaurant expenses each month. Mint says, “Oh no, bad job.” But what it could mean for you in the real world is that you don’t have enough money when it comes time to make the insurance payment.

Problem 02: Annual Events Are Ignored

Second, Mint doesn’t plan well for annual events, and I find that imperative to good budgeting. They claim you should use goals for annual events, but that doesn’t make sense. Paying car insurance annually isn’t a goal, it’s something you need to budget for, or you can’t legally drive your car.

So, back to the example, if you have a $1,000 payment once a year, you need to make sure you put away at least $84 each month. If you’re using a savings account for that, that’s great. In Mint, if you create an $84/month budget (with rollover enabled) and achieve it the first month, it shows that your balance is -$84 the second month. That doesn’t make any sense. You can’t physically have negative money.


The combination of these two faults keeps me from using Mint.com for budgeting, despite all its other benefits.

What am I using instead of Mint.com? Well, nothing, at the moment.

I’ve thought (for years) the simple solution is to just find an envelope budgeting app and be happy. But I’ve tried mvelopes, YNAB, and MoneyWell, and I’ve yet to be satisfied. Each of these apps has the right intentions, but they try to do too much. They try to be too clever.

I’d recommend giving one of those apps a try to see if they work for you, but I’m still on the prowl.

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The Polymath Lab will be closing its doors in 2017. Many articles here will be moved to Sean's Medium account, which is the space in which he is currently writing.