How to Use Mint.com Like a Champ: Cash Transactions

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Mint.com‘s patent-pending personal finance technology is a boon for those who want a 21st-century method of keeping track of their expenses quickly and easily. No longer does getting a hold of personal finances require spending hours and hours learning in-depth software like Quicken or creating tedious, error-prone spreadsheets on Excel; Mint.com does most of the work for us on our important assets and debts.

But many Mint users struggle with cash transactions, be they earnings or expenses. If you are one of these users, read on; all will be made clear, and you will have a new understanding of your income, expenses, and how to use Mint like a champ.

First, it’s important to know exactly what Mint is for: It is is primarily a tool for tracking spending and income within budgets. Not how much cash you have to spend, but how much you do spend, when, and where, versus how much you make. Mint does not handle cash expenses well with this in mind—it automatically categorizes entire ATM withdrawals as expenses in themselves, assuming you will be spending the cash somewhere down the road. When users then want to categorize how they spend the cash, many either end up double booking or assume they have double booked because of the way Mint displays transactions on the Transactions page.

Mint’s solutions, splitting withdrawals and auto-deducting from your last withdrawal, are not intuitive, prone to bugs and errors, or do not work at all, leaving many users in the dark about where their money is really going, or worse, seeing more expenses than they actually incur.

Limitations of Mint’s ATM Cash Solutions
Splitting

  • Can’t account for spending the sum total of multiple withdrawals
  • Forces an expense/expenses to a specific withdrawal
  • Obfuscates how much your ATM withdrawal actually was
Auto Deducting

  • Can’t account for a cash expense larger than your last single withdrawal
  • Doesn’t work properly on the smart phone app
  • Doesn’t deduct from historical withdrawals

Next, because there is no “Wallet Cash” account on display like your bank accounts, any cash income you receive seems to get lost. If you make $200 in tips and manually enter it as cash income, you won’t see your Assets or Net Worth increase on your Overview page.

Many users want Mint to create a cash account that users can deduct from and add to and see changes, just like bank accounts, debts, stocks, etc. But you don’t need to know how much cash you have on hand to record your cash use accurately with Mint. So leave behind the idea that you do. It’s not what Mint is for.

To use Mint like a champ and never worry about lost cash income or double booking cash expenses, simply:

  • Change the category for ATM withdrawals to “Transfer to Cash for Spending”
  • Stop looking at your Overview or Transactions page and look at Trends

Here is a screen shot of part of my March transactions from Trends > Spending, with ATM withdrawals set to the default “Cash and ATM.”

Were I to check this against my bank balance on the Overview page, I would see that my bank account has indeed gone down by $60. But this is not what Mint is for. I want to know if and how I spend that $60—what Mint is for.

Here’s a look at my March Net Income from Trends (note: I’ve fudged the numbers so this is not actually how much I made/spent in March =) ) with Mint’s counting ATM withdrawals in Spending:

Imagine if I had withdrawn $4400 from the ATM over the course of March but spent none of it—Mint would say I net only $30.88! To prevent this misrepresentation, change the withdrawal’s category from “Uncategorized > Cash and ATM” to “Transfer > Transfer for Cash Spending.” Here is the refreshed Trends > Spending page after doing so:

The $60 has completely disappeared from my expenses, and in fact, my total expenses for March went down by $60:

Thus, my net income is better reflected to what I actually made vs. spent because I have yet to tell Mint if I’ve spent the $60.

Keep in mind that because these are transfers, but Mint does not have a wallet-type cash account, these transfers will not appear as an income anywhere and are gone from Trends. You can still see them on your Transactions pages, or if you search for “Transfer to cash for spending,” but they will have negative signs tacked to them to reflect their moving out of your bank account. But don’t trick yourself into thinking they are expenses because you see a negative sign—so stop looking at the Transactions page. Only use that page as a reference to see how much you withdrew at any given time.

Notice how, after adding a $40 cash expense (being sure the “auto deduct” box is UNCHECKED), my spending has increased, and my net income has decreased, by $40:

As long as you transfer all of your ATM transactions to “Cash for Spending,” and as long as your Trends page shows no ATM withdrawal expenses, you can add as many cash expenses as you like without double booking an expense. You can add a historical expense that you forgot to book and not have to worry about tying it to or splitting a certain ATM withdrawal. You can expense $97 after waking up with $3 in your wallet and no memory of where the rest of the $50 you withdrew and $50 in tips you got that afternoon went.

As for cash income, manually enter every cash income you get that you do NOT deposit in the ATM (which Mint would automatically account for). After you add cash into Mint, your total Cash will not increase on your Overview page. So to see what you made in cash, click Trends > Income. You’ll see each and every auto-deposited income and manually added cash income:

Here I have a bonus of $500 that I said I received in cash and did not deposit into an ATM. I’m free to expense from this cash, as seen above.

If I later deposit all or part of this money, I will have to manually subtract how much from this amount so as not to double-book an income. (Note that you would have to do this no matter what system of tracking cash expenses you use.) You can easily add a note identifying exactly how much cash you originally had on hand.

The downside to this system is that you must keep a diligent account of your cash earnings and expenses. (That is, if being knowledgeable about where your money comes from and goes to is a downside.) If you withdraw from the ATM and spend all of it, but record none of those expenses, then Mint will not know your true expenses or net income; it will only know your bank account balances and still think you have unspent cash on hand. If you earn cash and either fail to record it as income but record how you spend it, or record it as income but fail to record how you spend it, your net income will be either too low or too high, respectively. So the solution is to just be careful! (If you earn $50 cash and spend $50 cash but record neither transaction, your net income and bank balances will not change, but you won’t have an accurate account of your true earning and spending. But if I found $20 on the ground and spent it all of it at the movies, I might not even record either transaction. This would be incidental money, not a part of my usual, month-to-month budget.)

With the right diligence, know-how, and viewpoint, Mint will become your favorite tool for easily tracking your income and spending. If you did not know how to treat cash and ATM withdrawals before, I hope that I was able to help you get to know Mint a little bit better.

See my next post on manipulating Mint’s categories like a double-entry ledger. Easier than it sounds, and way powerful.

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46 thoughts on “How to Use Mint.com Like a Champ: Cash Transactions

  1. Pingback: How to Use Mint Like a Champ: Manipulating Categories « Nicole A Murray

  2. Thank you! I’ve been playing with the cash transactions for the past year, trying to find the best method of tracking what and how I spend it. I think this will work for me, as long as I do as your recommend and keep good records of who I spend my cash. For that, I use the ExpenseBook app on my iPhone, simply because the Mint app needs internet access to function, and the other app doesn’t.

  3. You could also manage your cash finances more accurately and split the “transfer to cash” itemizing the amounts into your own budgets. Its how I tend to use programs like this to maintain a cash budget. You could even create sub-categories called “cash-groceries” to further break it down if you really wanted specifics within the categories.

    • Thanks for the comment. Manually splitting a withdrawal is a good idea when you can track where you spent a specific withdrawal, but wouldn’t work when you spend the sum of multiple withdrawals. Either way you go, setting your withdrawals to “Transfer to Cash spending” certainly does not preclude you from splitting them as well.

  4. I’m interested in trying this system. Thanks for the advice. A question: if I have already entered a bunch of cash transactions with the “auto deduct” box checked, will I run into problems with your method? I don’t see a way to change the auto deduct status once the transaction is entered.

  5. I use the iPhone app. When I deduct $100 from an ATM and then use the iPhone app to indicate a $37 cash transaction at a restaurant, two transactions show: the $37 one I created with the app and then a $37 that Mint creates as is a “transfer for cash spending” in the same amount. What is going on here?

  6. Do you have a solution for transferring money from one account to another? I have automatic savings set up, and Mint calls the transfer to myself income. So that adds thousands of virtual dollars to my monthly income. I’d really like to set that up so the transfer is null. Thanks!

      • Hi Nicole, It’s an actual transfer. Money gets deposited into an account at Bank A. I transfer it to a savings account at bank B. But its the same if I transfer from savings to checking both at bank A. I haven’t earned any more money, just changed its location. But Mint tracks it as new income, so it looks like much more came into my account than actually did. It would be great if the addition to one account and the subtraction from the other cancelled out the “income” aspect of it.

    • what you describe is what is supposed to happen, actually. try doing a search for the amount that is moved, let’s say it’s $100. you should see a -$100 from your checking, and however many days later a $100 credit should appear in the savings account. manually categorize them both as transfers (you can tell mint to categorize this kind of transaction each time in the future as a transfer). the net is then $0, no new income.

      if you do not see negative transaction to counter each and ever positive, contact customer support.

  7. I want to love Mint. Every year I spend a frustrating couple of months trying to use it. Honestly, though, it’s just plagued by poorly-considered features and an unreliable user experience. So here I am, I’m trying to follow your method (same as what I had figured out on my own and tried to do previously). It just doesn’t work well because sometimes the system accepts my change of an ATM-categorized item to a “Transfer for Cash Spending”-categorized account, just as I expect it to. But other times it changes the category on-screen, but then presents a low-tech (i.e., generically styled) error message to refresh the screen, whereupon all items revert to “ATM,” or, in other cases, it entirely fails to allow the change in categorization, instead presenting a styled pop-up alert (“Alert: Cannot use category Transfer for Cash Spending on cash transactions. Please choose a different category.”). Ugh, ugh, ugh!!! I’m a software product manager and business analyst. I know technical sloth when I see it, and a system designed by folks who absolutely do NOT use the program in a robust way outside of work. Help?!

    • you should probably contact customer support. i do not have these kinds of issues (but I do have others). not only is the UX inconsistent, but errors and bugs are, too! i agree that mint could use a serious overhaul, if it is to be considered serious money-management software. i consider it useful only for people who have few to no investments or debts and a modest income.

  8. My wife receives SSI which is direct deposited directly onto a debit card (not a bank account) should I treat the card as if it was a cash account?

    • i would add it as an account and categorize the deposits as income (when they’re really credits) and the debits as regular expenses. don’t add transactions manually, it would be much more work to keep track of them all.

  9. Hi, love the article!! I am struggling with the budgeting item. Example, I have a credit card that is automatically paid from my checking account. My credit card account shows a transfer credit and my checking account shows a transfer negative. My budget then reflects $0 paid. I’m trying to use Mint to create a plan for a budget. What can I change to make the budgets reflect only 1 account? Thanks you are wonderful!!!

  10. Nicole,

    Thank you so much for this helpful article. I am still having trouble, I wonder if you can help. I am a bartender and most of my income is in cash. I started using Mint about 6 weeks ago. and was following the advice of a poster on another forum (http://goo.gl/TgjEh) in which poster brndo suggests that I enter my income at the end of a shift as cash income, and then, when I make an atm deposit the next day, categorize the atm transaction as a “transfer for cash spending.” While it initially made sense that I could enter all tip income into mint, and then enter cash deposits in this way, I have found that in mint it calculates both of those transactions as income. This is disappointing, as I thought this was an elegant solution.

    In your article, I am confused by how you propose handing cash transactions.

    I always have cash on me. If I make 500 combined on Friday and Saturday and Sunday, and I spend 150 dollars in 5 cash transactions over the weekend, and then I want to deposit the 350 I have let over on Monday, how can I use mint so it won’t be confused?

    In your article, I didn’t understand how I was to modify my original transactions.

    Your help would be SO appreciated, I can’t figure this out.

    • For example, you say “manually enter every cash income you get that you do NOT deposit in the ATM.” Doesn’t that require me to know the future? I haven’t gone to the ATM yet, I just have a wallet full of cash.

      Should I separate out money that I plan to deposit into my bank from money I plan to have in my wallet? I guess that would make sense…

      Maybe I answered my own question.

      • 1) enter your tip earnings as Income: Cash
        2) expense as you like using Expense: Cash; no need for anything special (just make sure “split from last ATM withdrawal” is unchecked)
        3) deposit some or all of that tip money into an ATM; mint will show you a credit (increase) to that bank account
        4) go back into step 1′s transaction, and subtract from it the amount you deposited in step 3

        So if you enter $500 in step one and then deposit $200 in step 3, you will subtract $200 in step 4. So your cash income will then be $300 and the bank account will be +$200, totaling $500.

  11. I wonder how I can go back and fix the last 6 weeks of transactions to reflect this. I guess it is too late for any accurate information for 2013 :)

  12. I think I found a way to reconcile your “cash in wallet” account.

    Go to “Transactions” and click on the “Cash Only” tab.
    If you subtract Total Out from Total In, that should equal how much cash on hand you currently have.

    Let me know if this works for you.

  13. Nicole,

    Love the article. What do you do when cash expenses are higher than ATM withdrawals but you have cash at home?

    Basically, I have several transactions where the expense was $100, but the ATM withdrawal was $80 and the additional $20 came from cash I had at home. What would you do in that situation?

    And as a general matter, do you prefer categorizing ATM withdrawals as “Cash&ATM” or “Transfer to a Cash Account”?

    John

  14. My answer: stop spending cash. Use your bank’s debit card so that it’s tracked accurately in Mint. Of course you’ll spend *some* cash, but limit it to $100 / month, so that it’s relatively inconsequential.

  15. Hi Nicole, happy to see these posts. I thought the cash issue was my biggest issue but, in now realizing that there are differences in spending that’ll show between the different categories, I’m now aware of the massive difference between how much my budget page said I spent and how much the trends page says I spent. We’re talking $1,700 difference in July spending between my budget page and the trends page. I was under the impression that the budget page, in addition to tracking my progress against the budgets, also was able to show me the accurate amount of total spending. Is this a problem with my account, or is this a known issue? Is budgets another tool that’s not really useful because it’s not trends?

  16. Ok, me again. I’ve tried several test transactions, and I think I’m going to make use of the “transfer from cash spending” method. What I am interested in though, which is what Don alluded to a few comments ago, is I’d like to find a way to know how much cash “disappears”. It’s similar to wanting to know how much cash is on hand (which would be a balance sheet issue) but I’m more interested in the income statement. I’m willing to allow that maybe $10 might be “lost” every month or in terms of change that made its way into a change jar, or some other random things. If it’s a small amount I don’t want to worry about it, but I kind of would like to just expense the unaccounted for money so I always have an idea of how much money every month is uncategorized.
    Also, right now, when I go to transactions and click on “cash only” it says TOTAL IN= $284.97, TOTAL OUT= -$154.97. $60 of that money is from a cash withdrawal tonight (I think that would be part of the total in. So, in terms of future reconciling of the accounts, I’d like to make an adjustment and create an expense of $70, book it to last week so it’s still in July, and that way I’d start this month even and would be able to then look it up at the end of every month to figure out how much to expense that month as uncategorized and even it out. I was wondering if you had any thoughts on that.

    • I feel like it’s not that wise. Your monthly expenses will be off by $70, showing an incorrect net income. I never look at my “cash only,” personally, because I just don’t care about the change that ends up in a jar or in the sofa or whatever. I only really care about where I’m spending my money. If you can start at $0 (you’re not too far off) then you can make sure that you’re not short whole dollars every month because you forgot to enter a few things, but other than that, leave the cash imbalances alone. IF you account for everything, then the difference between the In and Out numbers is your change left over, so technically it’s accounted for.

  17. Hi Nicole,

    Lately, I’ve been noticing a fair amount of duplicate transactions, it even duplicated one of my pay check deposits.. The amount in my checking account is correct, but my budget amount for a particular category gets doubled. I can’t find a way to delete the transaction, only mark it as duplicate transaction. Both transactions state that they were downloaded from my bank. Does anybody have any idea what might cause this, and how to avoid it?

  18. This is ridiculous. You say mint isn’t for tracking how much money you have but for how you spend it, yet the bank account balances are showing and updated. This online software is only to condition you to put all your cash in the bank and use your debit card, moving towards a cashless society. It would be a simple matter to provide you with a cash account in Mint but it doesn’t serve the ultimate goal.

  19. Hi Nicole, you’re cool. Thanks for the tips. I must be slow because I’ve read this page a couple of times and feel as if i need to read it again. But I’m feeling like your info will help me much. thank you.

  20. I have been using anMoney for a couple of years, but using it on multiple platforms is its only downfall and has me trying every cloud based solution I can find. I want to like Mint, the lack of the cash account is horrible. I want to be able to see balances of the accounts I choose on the homescreen and I want to be able to quickly add transactions from that homescreen. anMoney looks 1000% better, so much more intuitive than this. I just wasted 4 hours of my life trying this out. Maybe quicken 2015 will have a mobile app that is better than their previous versions that will solve my problems.

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