I love budgeting (No, seriously)

How one website completely changed my outlook on personal finance.



Online only.


I’m not very good at saving money. It’s difficult and unpleasant and requires sacrificing things I like, such as beer and cookies.

However, I realize that in order to control my finances, I need to know exactly where my money is going, identify areas that can be improved, set targets and stick to them. It’s not rocket science. It’s called budgeting.

And I can’t stand doing it.

I’ve come to realize that I’m physically incapable of tracking my cash expenditures. I’ve tried keeping all my receipts, writing down each purchase, using smart phone apps and a few other methods. None of them worked because I’m not a details guy.

If I was important enough to have an assistant, he or she would take care of all that stuff and tell me at the end of the month, “Jody, you bought $128 worth of Tim Horton’s trail mix cookies. We need to bring this down into the double-digit range.”

Unfortunately, I’m not that important. However, an editor here at MoneySense recently told me about an online service called Mint.com that acts as your own little assistant. It keeps track of your online finances, including bank accounts, credit products and investments.

And the best part is, it’s free.

I signed up in early October and I have to say, I LOVE this site. I can set budgets, track transactions and see how much I’m paying in fees. It even breaks down my spending by category, which I can have represented in various charts and graphs, which is good. (I like pictures.)

Mint.com will also analyze your finances and suggest ways to save money, such as switching to a lower interest rate credit card or a higher interest savings account. However, this is how they make their money (they get a referral fee when people act on their recommendations) so a little due diligence is required.

So I can now track my spending on coffee, books, groceries or whatever I want. And when I go over budget, it sends me an email alert. It also sends me an alert whenever I’m charged a fee by my bank or credit card vendor, which can be very handy. If you have a problem with the fee, you can immediately call the institution to discuss it, as opposed to searching your monthly statement and possibly overlooking it.

So how does it work? Well, the initial setup was a big hurdle for me, and likely will be for most people. You have to provide your online banking information—including your password—in order to create an account. I had a real problem with this, so I spoke with Stewart Langille, Mint.com’s director of marketing. Here’s what I found.

Mint.com’s parent company Intuit (makers of Quicken, QuickBooks and TurboTax) actually house the data on their own servers in a secure facility, protected by 24/7 security guards and biometric scanners.

“The physical security is comparable to Fort Knox,” says Langille. “You have to pass through multiple barriers, and should you fail a security test you’re locked in a corridor with no escape. James Bond would have a hard time with it.”

The company uses bank-level data security for the transaction information they store. The website has received the VeriSign security seal, is tested daily by Hackersafe and uses the same 128-bit SSL encryption the Canada Revenue Agency uses to transfer personal tax information with NETFILE.

Because it’s a “read only” service, there’s no way to move money with Mint. And users register anonymously, which makes it that much tougher for would-be thieves to identify their victims should they actually succeed in stealing user data, which has yet to happen.

“That would be something that would be potentially devastating to the business,” explains Langille. “It’s never happened in the history of Intuit.”

If you’re still skeptical about handing a company your banking info—and you should be—consider this: Four of the Big Five Canadian banks allow Mint access to their clients’ accounts (CIBC is the lone holdout). While you won’t hear them trumpeting the virtues of the web site from the rooftops, their permission is an implicit endorsement of Mint’s security measures. Just imagine the resulting headaches for the banks if the site resulted in a slew of security breaches.

In my view, if it’s good enough for the big banks, it’s good enough for me.

Mint.com currently has no real competition in Canada, but RBC has its own version of the service called myFinanceTracker. However, it only works for RBC products. I imagine the other banks have similar ideas.

In any event, once my security jitters were overcome, the layout of Mint.com actually made personal finance (and budgeting) fun. (I know, I’m having a hard time believing it too.) But I’m engaged. I look at the site several times a day. And I’m even starting to re-think my cookie intake, which is just short of miraculous. The beer budget, however, is a different story.

More on that next week.

80 comments on “I love budgeting (No, seriously)

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention I love budgeting (No, seriously) | MoneySense -- Topsy.com

  2. Great article! Looking at one's financial situation is just as painful as trying on bathing suits! After reading this article, I just might give it a go


  3. As Jody said in the article, Mint.com does support most Canadian Banks. If you create a profile you can then do a search for your bank. For example, if you enter "Bank of Montreal", both the Bank of Montreal and Bank of Montreal Credit Card show up as options! Just give it a try!

    As a financial planner, I think that it is a great tool for clients that would like to track their spending and save for short and long term goals.


  4. Unless all your banks are supported, Mint is not a good tool.

    What is annoying is that you get some credit cards and bank accounts working, but yet there are plenty others don't work. CIBC, PC, Penson Financial, to name a few.

    Then what happens is that you only get part of your transactions, which is the same as having no information at all.

    The worst part is, mint expects YOU to work with them to solve any connecting issues while they should have worked with the banks. It is like they are trying to build the product by trial & error.

    In any case, mint has good potentials, but so far, it has been executed poorly.


  5. Anything that limits the paper (receipts, bills, post its and scribbled notes) in my bag is worth a look to me. This seems like it might be a good fit, especially being on a tight budget.


  6. I believe as time goes by like everything else they will improve, and become more user friendly,
    but for now it will work for some and not so god for others.


  7. Pingback: Mint.com launches in Canada, and an interview with its founder | Wealthy Boomer | Financial Post

  8. 3 weeks ago I started up with Mint.ca, and have already closed my account. Couldn't get my BMO mastercard account online, I use a credit union which isn't available and I gave up. I am not interested in spending too much time on calling customer service lines and telling my story over and over. Meanwhile I read in the G&M that many, many people are having technical problems with Mint, and Mint can't seem to solve them.

    I like to track spending to keep my spend-happy husband responsible, but will have to continue to just show him the statements and threaten to take away his debit and credit cards. I made him move to cash to control his 'allowance' spending and that works better. As a non-working CFP, I am very concerned about budgeting, but hate typing the info into Excel manually. I am always looking for well-functioning and free programs, but Mint is not currently on my list.

    Phooey to Mint – it does not work as advertised and was a waste of my time.


  9. you don't need mint.ca; rbc on-line banking has a FREE software call financial tracker that do the same automatically for all rbc accts incl. visa..but anyway I hate reconciling..so I guess budgeting is not my cup of tea 😛


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