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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|
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.