Mint.com

My dad is a CPA, as such he taught me early on the importance of tracking your spending and reconciling all of your credit card statements etc.  He and my mom always used Quicken to track all of their spending.  I remember every month when my mom would get have to go through and make sure they had entered all of their transactions and reconcile their credit card bills.  So, when I got old enough to have my own computer it also came with a copy of Quicken and I started to track my own finances as well.  I think i did pretty well through at least the first few years of college, and then when Eric and I got married I kept meaning to get us all set up with Quicken and never did.

Finally, after we’d been married for about a year I went online to see if I could get an updated version of Quicken.  It seemed like in the 5 years since I’d first installed Quicken there was probably a version that at least ran faster.  I was in for a surprise!  Not only did they have newer versions of Quicken, but they had an online version that could be used for free!  Since I’m a big fan of things that are online and free, and Quicken is a brand that I trust I decided to check it out.  I fell in love.  All I had to do was enter in credentials for our various bank accounts, 401ks, credit cards etc. and all of my transactions were imported instantly.  No more reconciling statements, my statements were imported, and categorized automatically!  I was thrilled.

Within a few months Quicken bought out a company called Mint.com and started having them take over their online financial tracking solution.  What was already awesome got even better, better budget tracking, setting up goals, better algorithms for automatically categorizing transactions etc.  I immediately started telling my family that they needed to get set up with Mint.com.  My brother and sister did so and also loved what they found.  I actually thought that my mom had switched over to Mint from their desktop Quicken solution until a few weeks ago.  I had spouted off to her many many times about how much I loved Mint and how wonderful it was, but apparently she hadn’t entirely believed me.  A couple weeks ago my mom called me up and said “Why didn’t you tell me how easy and useful Mint is?!?”  The answer was… I had 🙂  She had fallen behind on their Quicken tracking and it was time to either start over with Quicken or switch to Mint.  She decided to give Mint a try and was instantly hooked.  She had it all set up in less than an hour and was able to look at their budget in a whole new way!

So why do I love Mint so much?  Here’s a basic overview of what Mint can do:

Spending Trends – Have you ever looked at your bank balances and wondered where all of your money went?  Mint provides easy to read graphs that break down how your money is being spent.  When I first got this set up I was shocked to see that we had spent over $400 one month on eating out.  Granted I was working full time and pregnant and sick with Sam at the time, but I was appalled to see how the nights that I hadn’t felt up to cooking added up.

Budgeting – So, now you know how much you spend, how to fix places where you’re spending too much?  Mint makes it really easy to set up a budget and stick to it.  They even suggest amounts based on your current spending so you don’t have to guess what a reasonable amount is.  You can set up budgets that occur every month, or on any sort of schedule during the year.  You can set up your budgets to roll over each month or not.  They also keep track of whether your budget amounts exceed your monthly income.  Plus you can set up your account to email or text you if you go over budget in any category.

Goals – We all have financial goals.  Whether it’s paying off credit cards, saving for a house or building up your emergency fund there’s something that you want to do with your money.  Mint makes it super easy to track these goals and help you make a plan to achieve them.  Just decide what kind of goal you have, pick an account to associate it with and then make the plan.  Mint will help you decide how much you need to budget each month to achieve your goal and tell you if you fall off track.

Another reason I use Mint is it helps me detect any fraudulent charges on my accounts.  Back in February I was going through our accounts and noticed a charge from Match.com – which obviously if either Eric or I were signing up for was a bit of a problem.  Someone had gotten a hold of our credit card numbers and was making charges to fake companies.  They weren’t huge charges though so if I hadn’t been paying attention I probably wouldn’t have noticed $30 here and $15 there.  But because I was watching we were able to put a stop to those charges before they escalated.

One of the major questions I had when I first found Mint is how are they making money off of this?  Nothing on the internet is truly free, someone is paying for it somewhere, and before handing my financial information over to someone I wanted to know what the “catch” was.  Mint makes it’s money through targeted advertising.  They’ll notice if you have an old 401k account that’s charging you maintenance fees an make a suggestion for another company that won’t charge you fees.  Or if you’re spending a lot in a particular category they might recommend a credit card that gives you higher rewards for purchases in that category.  And of course, they’ll suggest using TurboTax when tax season comes around.

I could go on and on, I love reading their financial blog, their customer service is pretty darn good and they email me a summary of my accounts every week! But really, for you to understand how awesome it is, you’re just going to have to try it for yourself 🙂

Leftover Awareness Month

So I got this idea when I used to follow the $5 dinner blog.  Every so often I have what I call “Leftover Awareness Month” (she calls it “Pantry Challenge”).  Basically the idea is for a month (although sometimes just a week) I try to eat only what we have in the house and go to the grocery store as little as possible.  I decided to do it again this month for a few reasons:

  1. Next month here in Utah we have lots of case lot sales and I want to have some extra space in my budget and my kitchen to take advantage of those sales to  build up our food storage.
  2. Our freezer and pantry were getting seriously overloaded with random stuff. I sometimes end up buying random things at the grocery store that never get used so this is a good chance to force myself to use them.
  3. I’ve been analyzing our budget and noticing that we were spending more money each month on food than I had expected.  I was trying to figure out where the extra money was going and we noticed that we were throwing away too much food because our leftovers would go bad before getting eaten. So we wanted to focus on making sure we go through all of our leftovers.

So, this month my personal challenge is to make our meals as much as possible from food already in my home.  I’m going to the store for things like milk, bread and produce but the basis of our meals must come from things that we had in our pantry or freezer.  Since I’m finding things in our pantry and freezer that have gone through 6 moves with us I think it was probably time…

Anyone care to join us in cleaning out the pantry?

Amazon Mom

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Last night we had a little baby shower for my niece (yes, somehow I’m old enough to have a niece old enough to be a mom, weird huh?).  While we were there I let her in on the secret of Amazon Mom.  One of my sisters-in-law was so sad that I hadn’t told her about this sooner that I decided it ought to be my first “Smarter not Harder” post.  Here’s the secret – if you go to Amazon.com and go to their Amazon Mom page (or just click on the banner at the top of this post) you can sign up to have diapers auto delivered to your house, at a price cheaper than I’ve seen in any store.  Plus you get Amazon Prime benefits (i.e. Free 2 day shipping) for one year after you start your membership.  It doesn’t cost anything to join, they won’t auto-enroll you in an Amazon Prime membership at the end of your year or anything like that.  You just order the kind of diapers that you want and they deliver them to your home.  For me I’m signed up to get two boxes of Daniel’s diapers (Pampers Swaddlers Diapers Big Pack Size 1 92 Count – $17.14/19 cents per diaper) every month, and 1 box of Sam’s diapers (Pampers Baby Dry Size 4 Diapers Economy Pack Plus 192 Count – $30.73/$0.16 per diaper) every other month.  You get a 15% discount for enrolling in Amazon Mom, and another 15% discount for signing up for their auto-ship program.  If you don’t like it you can even cancel the auto-ship immediately after ordering.  It’s awesome, not only for the savings, but also because I never run out of diapers and I never have to sit at the store wondering if we have enough diapers to make it until our next Costco run 🙂

Anyways, that’s my cool trick of the day. If you have a child in diapers you really ought to be signed up for Amazon Mom. It’s way less hassle than couponing, and from what I’ve seen couponing doesn’t give you nearly the savings that this does.  Oh, and did I mention they deliver the diapers to your house?!  It doesn’t get much better than that!

Smarter, not harder

So I’ve been meaning for a long time to write posts about things that I use in my life to make it easier/cheaper/healthier or in any way better.  I finally have come up with a list of things to write about that’s so long that I could have a weekly post for 3 months before I even had to think again about what I was going to post.  And all of the ideas/products/services on the list are things that I’m so passionate about that if you live with me you know that I live by these things.  So I’ve decided it’s time to get these posts written up and posted.  I’ll try to post one a week until I run out of things to post about.

I’m calling these posts “Smarter not harder” because it’s one of the mottos that I live my life by – work smarter, not harder!  I feel like there are so many awesome resources out there and we tend to make our lives too complicated.  You’ll probably find that I post about lots of technology-type resources – websites, machines etc – but that’s probably about what you’d expect from me 🙂  I think it’s good to use the resources that are available to us to make all of our mundane daily tasks easier so that we can spend more time focusing on the things that are important.

I heard a story once that was attributed to Brigham Young.  I hate posting things that I don’t have sources for, but I so liked the principle that I’ve decided to post it anyways with the disclaimer that it’s likely false doctrine  🙂  The story goes that Brigham Young was talking to one of his daughters one night and she asked how the temple work would ever get completed for all of the spirits who had previously passed on.  There were just SO many people to do the work for and she couldn’t conceive of how the Saints would ever find the time to do the work for ALL of them.  Brigham Young allegedly told her that he foresaw a day when there would be many conveniences that would make people’s lives easier so they would have the time to do the work.

While I don’t always use all of my free time to do temple work, I still feel like by making my tasks in the home easier I open myself up to being able to do service for others, serve in the temple or spend time with my kids.  I almost feel like it’s my responsibility to use these resources so that I’m using my time wisely so that I’m available to do other good things.  It doesn’t benefit anyone for me to do things the hard way and I can benefit many others by doing things in an easier manner 🙂

Anyways, be on the lookout for future posts on this topic.  I have a few past posts that would go into this category as well if you’d like to whet your appetite:

P.S. – No, these posts aren’t all going to be gospel centered, so even if you aren’t a member of my church there are going to be posts that you’ll find interesting as well.  In fact, looking at my list I don’t see a single other church related thing on my list.  I won’t ever apologize for bringing things to a gospel tone, but the topics aren’t intended to necessarily be churchy 🙂