Do you know where your money goes each month?

I think one of the most exciting things about graduating and becoming a "grown up" was the paycheck.  I had worked some full-time stretches in undergrad, during winter or summer breaks, but I always knew those awesome paychecks would only last for a few months.  When I graduated and joined the workforce, it dawned on me-- I was going to get this paycheck every 2 weeks for as long as I work- what a phenomenal concept!  After the initial excitement wore off, I decided I needed to start tracking where I was spending my hard-earned money.

 

Mint.com

Enter Mint.com.  I use Mint to track my daily transactions.  It is an incredibly easy site to "set and forget"- you plug in all your account information (I've read a few articles about Mint's safety, so I'm not worried about my identity being stolen) and Mint automatically tracks every transaction you make on those accounts.  Super, super simple.

 

For beginners, the best thing you can do is set up an account as soon as humanly possible.  If you're still on the fence about how closely want to track your money, that's okay.  Mint can be as involved as you want it to be.  For now, if you just want to sign up and only log in once every few months, do that!

 

It won't take long for you to get addicted to tracking your money.  After a few months of using Mint and watching your money flow in and out, I am confident that you'll soon reach my level of Mint OCD.  I log on a few times a week!

 

 

Categorizing

Mostly, I log on frequently so that I can make sure my transactions have been categorized correctly.  Once you've been bitten by the financial bug, one of the best things you can do to really track your spending is to come up with a list of categories that you generally spend money on.  Having each transaction categorized makes it easier to compare how much you are spending month to month.

 

Here are a list of my main Mint categories:

  • Home (rent)
  • Bills & Utilities
  • Auto & Transport (gas, car repairs, car inspections, parking fees, basically anything related to transporting myself around)
  • Groceries
  • Entertainment  (this is a catch-all for everything that I don't NEED to have to live... just those fun things like going out with friends on the weekend, buying a new nail polish, taking a road trip somewhere just for the heck of it)
  • Health & Fitness  (gym membership, things related to fitness like new workout clothes & workout DVDs, race registrations, and also prescriptions or medical co-pays)
  • Personal Care  (soap/shampoo, toothpaste, hair cuts, etc)
  • Clothing
  • Gifts

 

When you log on to Mint, check the Transactions tab and make sure each line item has been assigned to the correct category.  An example of categories making a difference in your tracking would be when you make purchases at Target.  Mint always categorizes my purchases at Target as "Shopping".  But what about those times that you're buying groceries?  You'd need to change the assigned category from "Shopping" to "Grocery".

 

So the moral of this story?  Take the plunge and start using Mint.com to monitor your transactions.  Logging on a few times a month to ensure all is correct is all you need to set yourself up for monthly tracking!  You'll be able to compare spending from month to month, making it easy to see where your money is really going!