I hate watching our investments decline in value. And worrying about whether we're spending more than we should. But I love Mint, a free money management web service.
After reading about Mint in a news magazine, I fired up my MacBook this morning and decided to see how good it looked.
Sign-up was simple. Then came the part I was worried about, giving Mint access to our checking account, investment portfolio, and IRAs.
I've used Quicken for many years, and have had quite a few problems with its melding of financial data from various sources. Recently I tried to get Quicken Online to log into our checking account. It didn't even recognize West Coast Bank, much less our account.
So I was prepared to enter into some lengthy hassles with Mint after I signed up and the site started asking if I wanted to register various sorts of accounts: cash, investment, savings, and such.
Pleasant surprise. Everything went smoothly. No problems at all.
My experience was similar to that of a New York Times reporter, who said in "Where's It All Going? Find Out Online" that Mint worked better for him than competitors such as Wesabe.
But he quoted Mint's founder, Aaron Patzer, as saying that only 50% of users have a glitch-free experience getting their financial accounts registered. Lucky me, I guess.
I then explored the wonderful world of Mint's analysis and reporting tools. My wife and I aren't big on budgeting, but the financial meltdown has spurred me to study what we spend our money on.
Mint makes it easy. All of our recent credit card and checking transactions were listed, with a suggested category for most items (handwritten checks were an exception; I had to add those categories on my own).
Mint knew that Netflix was "DVDs," Shell was "gasoline," and Fred Meyer was "groceries." With other unfamiliar local businesses, it took me a while to edit mistakes in categorizing transactions.
I also had to figure out how I wanted to treat items like bird seed ("garden" or "pets"? I went with pets, even though the animals we're feeding are wild). Mint has a good built-in categorization scheme and allows modifications to fit individual circumstances.
When I was done cleaning up the credit card and checking transactions I rushed on to "Trends" to see where our money was going. Some remodeling work made the "Home" category stand out in February.
I was surprised that "Health and Fitness" comprised such a big chunk of the pie chart. Clicking on that slice opened up the details. Since our Blue Cross premium is on autopay, it's easy to lose track of how much we're paying for private health insurance. (Obama, help! Reform health care!)
On the "Investments" page I saw that Mint had retrieved data for our portfolio holdings back to September 2008 and presented me with a downward sloping graph of the total value.
That was depressing. But I was encouraged by how Mint also showed a trend line for the S&P 500, and currently we were 14% above it (mostly due to the mix of bonds we own in addition to equities).
I was eager to show Mint off to Laurel when she got home. Wifely worrier that she is, her first thought was "Is our information secure?"
After reviewing some privacy FAQs and watching a video of Patzer telling us how safe his web site is, we were reassured. The way I understand it, Mint doesn't store login names and passwords on its servers. Instead, they are kept on the sites of the financial institutions.
So if someone was able to hack into Mint, all they would find is information about the spending patterns of people. There isn't any way to get into the actual accounts.
Quicken is worried. As it should be.
A few months ago I got a letter from Quicken telling me that my 2006 version of my program soon won't support online access to our financial accounts, so I should fork out $50 or whatever for an upgrade.
I don't think so. Mint looks like it will fill our needs just fine. For free. Goodbye Quicken.