How To Track Your Spending Beyond Mint.com

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — As a little girl, I’d go with my mom to the bank every week and watch as she wrote deposit and withdrawal slips, got her passbooks updated and entered transactions in her diary. She’d collect cash from the teller, an affectionate lady who loved to chitchat. Gradually I started helping my mom with all this. “It’s good training,” my dad would say. “They won’t teach you this in school.” I’d feel all grown up and would picture myself doing the same with my own bank account in due course. Unfortunately, that never happened.

By the time I started earning money, there was no need to write slips or maintain passbooks. In-person tellers were replaced by ATMs. Cash was replaced by plastic, and plastic soon too might go the way of the dodo. Everything became easier and faster. At the same time, risks increased. Risks like over-spending, excessive borrowing and too little saving.

Tracking spending is most critical for youngsters, according to Ariadne Horstman, a private client specialist at Sensiba San Filippo advisory firm and a board member with the Silicon Valley Financial Planning Association.

"Changing how much you spend today, even if it’s a small sum, can really change how your future finances stack up," she said. "When you’re in your 20s or 30s, you have a long time until retirement and compounding even small sums over that time frame can go a long way.”

Fortunately, today you’ll find smart and sophisticated tools to help you track spending. I took a dipstick survey among my friends to find out which tool they used to track their expenses. The unanimous answer was Mint. But sometimes it's important to get an alternative option: there's Money Journal(iOs), Piggie(iOS) or the Easy Envelope Budget Aid(Android). But what about one that's available for both Droids and iPhones?Cue Personal Capital.

If you’re new to this, I’ll take you through Mint and Personal Capital, which are both so easy, you can start right away. You may be using your bank’s app, but if you have multiple bank accounts and credit cards, these apps will give you a comprehensive picture. And before you worry, both apps are secure and pass code protected so your finances remain safe even if your phone does not.

Mint

Amy Sandler, a 32 year old digital marketing professional based in Foster City, Calif., used to update her assets excel spreadsheet manually every month.

"That quickly fell by the wayside as I got busier," she said. "Enter Mint! I did have to put in some set-up time, linking all my accounts and entering investments that did not have linkable accounts." Once she was all set up, Mint took over the hardwork and provides her with a quick, comprehensive view of her inflows, outflows and networth.

Mint is easy to use, intuitive and visually appealing. It helps you set a budget and track your expenses. It’s available for free on iOS and Android.

What I liked:

  • One stop dashboard: You can link your bank, credit card, mortgage and investment accounts to get a snapshot of your financial position. All you need to do is enter the login credentials of your financial institution, and Mint downloads all your data for you.
  • Most current information: Every time you login to the app, it gives you the most current picture of your finances. I found this feature most useful to tell me the credit utilization on my card.
  • Expense tracker: The app automatically classifies your expenses into various categories like home, utilities, education, shopping, food and dining, etc. For the most part, my expenses were correctly classified. In places where they were not, I was able to change the category easily. It also gives you an analysis of your spending pattern over a period of time.
  • Budget: The app automatically creates a budget for each of your expenses based on your historic spending pattern. You can customize these budgets. You will get alerts in your email if you hit these limits.
  • Investment goal setting: The app has some smart calculators that help you arrive at figures for your various financial goals. You can then link your goals to a financial account and compare them against your actual investments.

What more I would like:

  • Alerts: The app does not allow you to set alerts, say for bill payment reminders. Having said that, you can always login to the mint.com website and set these reminders. But that’s just one extra step in the way. It would be nice to be able to do everything on my phone. Sandler adds, “My only nit-pick is that Mint alerts slightly lag the real-time transactions. But overall I really like Mint and believe that the company will iterate their product and make it even better in the near future.”
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  • Investment tracker: The app could do better on tracking investments, especially reporting better asset allocation.

Weakness:

  • The only weakness I thought was the occasional popping up of ads and selective product recommendations. But since the app is free, this is one nuisance I can tolerate.

Personal Capital

Like Mint, Personal Capital allows you to link all your accounts into one app. It’s available on iOS and Android.

What I liked:

  • One stop dashboard: After linking accounts, the app throws up a good summary of your finances.
  • Most current information: Like Mint, this too throws up the latest numbers.
  • Detailed asset allocation: The investment part of your finances reflects very well on this app. You can see a detailed asset allocation report after taking into account all your various investments, even funds.

What more I would like:

  • Budget and expense tracker: This app does not let you set budgets for and track the various categories of expenditure.
  • Reminders: This does not allow you to set reminders for bill payments.

Weakness:

  • The app has a greater focus on the investing part of your finances. That’s why perhaps, the features on the expense tracker are fewer.

To sum up

“These tools, with their summary and alerts keep you in line," Horstman said. "You actually get to see, in real-time, your financial status and that can be very useful." This kind of financial literacy and at-a-glance understanding of your spending, saving and investing trends can be invaluable. Of course, there's no silver bullet expense tracking app, so it's best to find the one that best suits your needs according to your financial goals.

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