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Previously, I wrote about You Need A Budget (YNAB) and EveryDollar. Today, we take a look at Mint and Personal Capital. I originally was going to put all four in one post. Apparently, I have quite a bit to say on this topic, in an effort to provide some value to you. It got rather lengthy and now here we are.
YNAB and EveryDollar are similar in that they’re both very budget focused. They both take the zero-sum, or zero-balance, approach to budgeting. Mint and Personal Capital have budgeting features, but they focus more on the big-picture net worth tracking and wealth building instead of the day-to-day/month-to-month budgeting.
Mint.com is apart of Intuit, who you recognize from TurboTax and QuickBooks. Mint is $free.ninety-nine. There’s no requirement to upgrade to get more functionality. All the features are f-r-e-e, all the time. That’s obviously a huge plus.
How do they keep the lights on you ask? There are ads on the site. More than I’d care for if I’m being honest. You can “X” them out in some cases (they’ll reappear eventually, but not for a little while). There is a “suggested offers” section on the overview tab, and a “ways to save” tab that has different offers. They could be a good fit for you, but be aware that they are indeed paid advertiser offers. There’s nothing wrong with that- its just important to note.
When you log in, the overview tab gives you an account overview, complete with current balances, you see when and how much your bills coming due are, and a graph of your spending this month as compared to last month’s. Next, you’ll see your budget status, free credit score option, overall money trends, any goals you have set, and your investment portfolio snapshot.
Each section on the overview page
All of that being said, the budgeting piece of Mint isn’t my favorite. It’s not as flexible as I’d like and it’s definitely not suited for zero-based budgeting. “Zero-sum or zero-based budgeting” is a new-ish term to me, but the idea is that you know exactly where every dollar you bring in is going.
I personally don’t understand how you can have an effective budget if you’re not using zero-sum budgeting. If you don’t know where your money is going, what does knowing how much you spend on groceries really buy you? But alas, personal finance is personal…
Anyway, we’ve always taken the zero-sum budget approach, even before we knew that’s what we were actually doing. I’m definitely a little biased here. I’m having an epiphany as I write this as to why I didn’t love Mint the first time we tried it…
We started tracking our spending and budgeting a few years ago with an Excel spreadsheet. It got tedious and annoying very quickly so I looked for better options. We tried Mint for a bit and I wasn’t sure why at the time, but I just didn’t like how the budget piece was set up. I couldn’t get it to work for us the way we wanted it to. We found EveryDollar shortly after and used that for over two years. We gave You Need A Budget a try recently and have enthusiastically joined that cult.
The other main reason Mint didn’t work well for us is because the savings goals you can create
Mint has several great features. I already mentioned the free part, which is a big one. Mint also allows you to check your credit score for free. Your transactions are automatically categorized for you. Mint will learn if you have to manually change the category, so you don’t have to do it manually every time.
The trends tab has a lot to offer. You can view graphs with options like spending, income, net income, assets, debt, and net worth. Each allows you to break your trends down by category, merchant, account, over a certain time period, etc. in a bar graph or pie chart. You can also export a .csv file for easy spreadsheet nerd-ing. I love all of this, but it is also quite a bit of information to digest.
The investments tab shows you how your portfolio is doing relative to the market over varying lengths of time, whether or not you have unrealized losses or gains (have you made money or lost money?), the overall value of your portfolio, and your asset breakdown.
Mint allows you to add any real estate you own as well. Using Zillow’s Zestimate, it adds your home’s estimated value to your net worth. Two very important things to note here if you’re going to add real estate and use this as your overall net worth calculation/tracker:
- If you have a mortgage, you need to add that as well to be taken into account. Unless you own your home free and clear (which if you do, CONGRATS!) the entire current market value of your home is not what gets added to your net worth number. I wish as much as the next guy that’s actually how it works, but it definitely is not. The equity in your home is what gets to count towards your net worth. Home equity is what you could sell it for today minus what you owe. That’s where your mortgage balance comes in.
- Zillow’s Zestimate is just an estimate. There are some markets and neighborhoods where the Zestimate is pretty accurate and others where it’s way off. Do not plan on taking that number to the bank without doing some further research. It’s an estimate.
Those two points are true independent of Mint itself and need to be applied in any real estate/net worth calculation situation.
There are several trends and reports provided that could either bring your spending habits into sharper focus, helping you reach your goals faster, or it could send you down an intense rabbit hole that ultimately sucks your time and sanity, depending on how you decide to use the information. With great power comes great responsibility…
Mint is a fantastic tool. I just don’t think it’s the best budgeting tool. Mint is better suited for net worth tracking and big-picture stuff.
Personal Capital is by far my favorite for wealth/net-worth tracking.
If you want to get very specific about your budget, Personal Capital not what you’re looking for. The budgeting part of Personal Capital is more along the lines of tracking your spending. It keeps track of what you spend and automatically categorizes transactions for you, in your linked accounts. It doesn’t go into a ton of detail and you can’t set spending limits for different categories like you can with Mint, EveryDollar, or You Need A Budget.
If you’ve already optimized your spending and your lifestyle to fit your values and goals, and are pretty much on autopilot at this point, then Personal Capital may be the only thing you need. It gives you the ability to keep an eye on everything in one place without diving into too much individual detail.
You can view cash flow, income, and expenses graphs and charts, allowing you to stay relatively informed without much work required after you’ve linked your accounts. That may be just what you need, but my detail-orientated brain needs a little bit more. YNAB gives me that “more” without much more work.
Personal Captial focuses more on net worth tracking and wealth building than daily budgeting.
The dashboard and website layout are clean, easy to navigate and
One of my favorite PC tools is the retirement planner. Input various goals and milestones, and get an estimated picture of what your finances in retirement could look like.
Set your retirement age, annual savings goal between now and
You can play around with the numbers and create different scenarios. Each scenario gives you a percentage of success. You may realize you’re much better off than you thought. A few small tweaks to increase your savings rate a now may have a huge positive impact on your retirement plan.
It’s not perfect of course, but as with all of this, the more informed decisions you can make now, the better off you’re likely to be in the long run.
Investment Fee Analyzer
Another fantastic feature available to Personal Capital users is the investment fee analyzer.
The fee analyzer takes a look at your linked accounts, what assets you’re invested in, and what fees you’re paying for those assets/management. It also shows you the overall cost to your portfolio over the course of your investing life. It’s eye-opening, let me tell you what. A one percent fee may not sound like a lot not, but over a few
I’ve already said PC is my favorite for net worth tracking. The dashboard and various pages of the website make navigation simple. You can get a quick overview of your current portfolio, or dive into specifics easily if you choose.
Across the top of the website you’ll find Overview, Banking, Investing, Planning, and Wealth Management.
The banking tab breaks down your cash flow, upcoming bills due, and shows your spending under the budget. Personal Capital now offers high yield savings accounts as well, and you can open an account from the banking tab.
Investing breaks down your portfolio by holdings, balances, performance, allocation, and US Sectors. The You Index illustrates how your portfolio is doing relative to the S&P, DOW, Bond market, etc.
Planning offers the retirement planner, savings
There are several tools here that can really take your savings and investing to the next level without needing an advanced finance degree or watching CNBC all day long.
It’s easier than ever to maintain a good handle on your finances without taking up hours and hours of your life. Do a little experimenting, find what tool(s) suit you best and get in the driver’s seat! There’s really no excuse not to have control of your finances, instead of them having control of you.
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Do you use Personal Capital or Mint? How do you maintain your money? Have a question about either??
Leave your comments below, or send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org). I’d love to hear from you!