It is the New Year my friends, which always means setting goals, making changes and starting fresh for our family! Finances are usually the first thing we look at and after the holiday season madness, we are usually motivated and eager to get organized and back on a budget.
Sometimes this process just seems too complicated and tends to fall by the wayside somewhere around February for most people. I thought I would do a quick post today to share a super simple way to manage your budget for free right from your phone. Let’s call 2017 the Year of No Excuses y’all because it really is so simple to do.
The app that I like to use for budgeting is Mint.com. (Note: this is not a sponsored post by any means. Mint is just a program with a good track record that I have used for a long time and trust.)
- To get started with Mint.com, you will just want to register for an account.
- Next you want to link your savings and checking accounts, credit cards and mortgage or loans (if you want.) For sure link your checking account so Mint can monitor and track your spending for you.
Set Your Budget:
Once you have finished that you want to establish a budget. This does take some time but once it is done, it is done and you can just make minor modifications from month to month on your spending categories. Mint will actually make a suggested budget for you based on the info it pulls from your checking account- you can use that as a framework to set your budget up.
We start by looking at several months worth of bank statements. I actually enter all our expenses into Quickbooks so I can print statements that break down all our expenses for the year. It is super time consuming though so you can pull up three months worth of bank statements and just start to get an average of all your fixed expenses. Note school fees, mortgage, gym memberships, utilities and so on- anything that you pay regularly that doesn’t vary in cost. We have the following fixed expenses (pool guy, mortgage, solar panels, school tuition, life insurance, car insurance, gym membership… and so on.)
Those you can quickly enter into your budget. If there are items that you don’t pay monthly you can divide the cost by month to get a total- we do this for auto repairs and other unexpected expenses. For other items that are not paid monthly- like our annual life insurance payment- the budget is $0 for 11 months and then on the month it is due we add it in to the budget. You can set alerts on your phone to remind you of these types of expenses.
Next enter all variable expenses- that would include groceries, gifts, personal care (haircuts and such), clothing, gas and so on. We look back at the entire year and divide the cost by 12 to get a monthly total, making adjustments as needed. You can just take an average from the 3 months of bank statements to get an idea of your spending. (Perhaps for dining out in 2016 you went a little overboard and want to cut back. Decide what seems reasonable- maybe you spent $4000 in 2016 and want to cut that down to $2500 in 2017- so enter $208 in your monthly budget for dining out.)
Ok the hard part is all done now and Mint will start tracking things for you. You can see some pieces of our budget above- Mint will have all your categories organized and at a glance you can see green bars (budget areas that spending is on track), yellow bars (getting close to hitting your budget amount in this category) and red (whoopsie you overspent here.)
When you open the Mint.com free app on your smartphone or tablet, you can click Overview and scroll down to budget to get a complete picture of how things are going for the month. Click on it for details on each category. It will give you your total for the month and then you can see all the categories listed below the monthly total. Easy right? Now you can quickly and at a glance monitor your budget. Sometimes unexpected expenses pop up- like our car battery died thus we are over budget in service and parts this month.
Since we are $49 over in a category I know I need to adjust another category to accommodate the overage. I might reduce groceries by $49 to make up the difference so the budget is in balance.
When budgeting, you do want every single dollar accounted for. You might be just making your bills each month or if there is extra cushion, contributing to savings accounts and retirement.
Edit and Update.
The beauty of Mint is that it pulls your spending in directly from your checking account and guesses as to categories of spending. That saves you time as you needn’t enter every single expense. You do need to make quick updates though as Mint doesn’t get things totally perfect. Don’t worry it is super quick to do.
Here is an example from our account- we have a budget set for gifts and Mint currently says I have spent $65 of $100.
I know I haven’t spent $65 on gifts so I can click that green bar and Mint will show me all the transactions. In this case it says Conservatory which is actually ballet classes for our daughter. I can click the expense and find a drop down menu to reassign this expense. So I click Kid’s activities and in about 5 seconds I am done.
Now when I click on Overview again at the bottom of the app, they have several things listed. The first is alerts. Mint will alert you when categories are over budget, when bills are due, when checks have cleared and so on.
Under that section you find Accounts. Here are your bank accounts and this is a really cool feature, click that and any account you have linked will show you current info- current balance and transactions almost to the minute. We don’t have credit card balances but if you do this is a great way to Dave Ramsey yourself out of debt by constantly checking that balance and making payments. We don’t have investment accounts linked but you can link those to stay on top of your net worth.
This is an area that you want to review every few days. For example, I have an Amazon transaction that just cleared. Mint has no idea what that transaction is so it is lumped into “shopping”. I can edit the transaction and break it down to the correct categories- gifts, household- whatever. The one disadvantage that I see is that you can’t split categories from your phone. Say I spend $50 at Amazon- $20 on laundry soap and $30 on a gift. Mint.com won’t let me split the $50 transaction into two categories from my phone so I either need to lump it all into one or do it from my laptop.
Add Bill Pay and Reminders.
This is not something we have set up but you can pay bills with a click from Mint. If you want to add your mortgage for example, you can enter the details in once and then each month on the appointed day, click pay bills to send payment. Easy!
You can also get a text or email reminder from Mint when bills are due. In our house we write exactly one check per month and that is for tuition to school. Darn if I don’t forget that check and the school fines us $25 for being one minute late with that payment. (Grumble, grumble…) So I can set an alert for both myself and my husband and Mint will text us a reminder.
This particular feature I haven’t been able to figure out from my iphone but you can set it up on a desktop.
Add goals to your account! Goals should always be specific- i.e. don’t say “I would like to save more money this year” but rather “I want to deposit $500 a month into a savings account for a new car” or whatever. So you can click what you want and Mint will help you create a goal- I randomly selected buy a car as a goal and Mint.com has options to help you get a realistic plan together for your goal:
And if you want to use a cash budget, Mint can help. You can click +, Add Transaction and add in any cash spending and click deduct this from my last cash withdrawal. I keep things simple by doing separate transactions. I might pull $200 in cash out for groceries. I can click the $200 withdrawal in my account and just change the category to groceries. Next I might pull out $100 for a night out on the town. So that second $100 withdrawal I can easily categorize as dining out or entertainment or whatever. Make sense?
Hopefully this is as simple for you as it has been for us. I wish Mint could just do everything for us as far as managing finances because this stuff is my least favorite thing to do but it does make money management pretty darn simple.
I have started to train myself when I pick up my phone, instead of clicking email or IG or pinterest, I try to click Mint. Scan the transactions and update as needed or just glance at the budget for the month. As long as I invest a few minutes regularly to keep things accurate, it seems to be a fairly simple process to manage expenses.
If you have additional tips and tricks for managing your budget, please let us know in the comments below!
Here are a few other articles you might enjoy:
The 52 week saving challenge. How to save $1400 painlessly this year.
And grab these free organizing printables when you sign up for the MFA newsletter. Super handy!
Chore Chart for Kids– chore ideas broken down by age