There’s nothing more empowering than being in full control of your finances. An inevitable part of being in control of your money is creating a budget—but all too often, that can feel easier said than done.
Creating a full-blown, in-depth budget was always something that seemed so overwhelming that I didn’t even know where to start. What’s a normal amount to spend on food a month? How do I navigate how much I should be putting toward retirement? I let it become, as I so fondly put it, an “anxiety thing.” Like making a call to schedule that dreaded annual exam or dealing with the packages I need to return that I end up shoving in the back of my closet and forgetting about, I dwelled on the task so much that it made it feel bigger than it really was. But the thing that finally made it doable for me? Downloading the Mint app.
Mint is a budget tracking and planning app that allows you to see all of your money in one place—from balances and bills to your credit score. It allows you to easily create budgets with tips tailored to you and your spending habits, and even gives you access to unlimited free credit scores—without harming your credit.
I had heard of Mint from some of my friends, all of whom swear by it—but I still didn’t know just how simply Mint would make it for me to be informed about my finances. As soon as I signed up, I was able to get a good look at all of my money, and exactly where it was going. Here’s how Mint helped me get in full control of my money:
I took a good look at my net worth.
The first thing I saw in the app was that, unlike other financial apps I had tried and deleted after, it calculated my net worth based on my savings accounts and credit card bills and clearly displayed it at the top of the screen. Having all of my financial accounts and cards synched up to one, cohesive system automatically made the process of keeping up with my various accounts feel simple; I no longer had to remember 10 different passwords and codes and numbers to access all of them separately. Instead, they were all viewable and easy to track from one, single place.
Once I was able to look at all my finances in one place, to my surprise, it actually allowed me to breathe a sigh of relief. All of my necessary monthly costs were rather straightforward—rent, utilities, student loans—and it still left me with some money I could budget into what I enjoyed. What I had been dreading seeing was actually good news, and I was able to easily calculate how much I wanted to put into savings every month, no matter what.
I set a realistic budget.
Next came budgeting. I had expected one, generic “budgeting” section that let me set a number that I wanted to spend each month, but instead, the app broke it down so I could set budgets for what matters to me.
Obviously, the big budgeting costs came first: my monthly rent, utilities, and student loans. Then came the other smaller necessities—things like groceries, the costs of my prescriptions, and a gas budget. Once I figured out exactly how much these were costing me a month, I was able to dive deeper into what I was spending on optional things. One of the biggest shocks? How much I was spending each month in subscription services (some of which I hadn’t even realized I was paying for.) I immediately cancelled the ones I wasn’t using, and factored that saved money into the budget that was left: money that I could spend on essentially whatever I deemed most important each month.
Obviously, creating a budget is specific to your income and what your necessary monthly costs are, but there are some universal steps you can follow to mastering how much you can spend each month. The first step is to figure out what your income is after taxes, and after any 401(k) and insurance deductions. You need to know exactly how much you’re getting deposited each year—not just how much it says you’re making on your contract.
Next comes tracking your spending and setting goals based on it, which Mint can help you do seamlessly. The key to this is knowing exactly how much you can spend each month while still reaching your savings goals, and having an idea of what you’re planning on spending it on. This will vary month by month—for example, December might have more spending because of buying gifts—but the amount you can spend should always be known to you.
Your budget should be something that is absolutely realistic for you to hit—it shouldn’t be so low that you end up dipping into your savings each month, nor should it be so high that you find yourself spending leftover money carelessly each month.
I made room for my lifestyle.
I’m an iced americano girl. Getting my coffee in the morning is something that I personally budget for, and that is worth the spend to me for what it brings to my day. With the help of Mint, I could set a category specifically for coffee shop spending, and each time I swiped my card, the amount would be removed from the monthly coffee budget I set. I don’t need to write down how much I’m spending or mentally do the math—Mint does it all automatically.
Another big expense that I realized I wanted to factor for is the cost of dyeing my hair. I go to my hair colorist once every three months, and since I am a faux blonde, the cost is relatively high. I decided that instead of paying for it willy-nilly and taking that hit for the month, I’d put a dollar amount away each month to save for it gradually.
Neither of these things are necessities by any means; but they’re two things that feel important to me and worthwhile to budget for. If getting my coffee in the morning means cooking lunch at home that day, that’s what I’m willing to do, because the coffee is more important to me. It felt so empowering to me to get to treat myself knowing I could afford to do it, rather than doing it blindly—somehow, the knowledge made my “fun” spending feel even better.
I started analyzing my spending habits, so I could prioritize what’s important.
If I go overboard and spend too much in one week, I can easily tell that I need to slow down to stay under budget for the rest of the month. Being able to see my spending broke down so specifically was not only empowering, but it made me enjoy the process of budgeting, rather than fearing it as I did in the past. So a big sale hit and I chose to invest in a few things—instead of receiving the packages and feeling sick about it, I could cut back the next couple weeks to account for it.
And the best part? I have alerts set for each of my budgeting sections to tell me when I’m nearing my monthly budget. Mint gives me a push notification on my screen that tells me how much I have left for the month, and I’m able to adjust accordingly. The notifications also tend to prompt me to go to check in on all my budgets, like clothing, parking, utilities, rent, and food. Everything is personalized to me to help me with my personal goal-setting and helps me budget for the things that matter the most to me—not what matters to everyone else (sorry Dad!).
I set goals for myself.
By paying close attention to spending through Mint, it was easy to figure out where I could save to make my money work for me in the ways that I want it to—be it through investments or saving to make an occasional splurge that I’ve had my eye on. Budgeting doesn’t mean cutting out all things I enjoy; it means moving my money to be spent in places that matter the most to me.
This January, I wrote down how much I wanted my net worth to be by the end of the year. The number was based on how much I make and had to spend, but has kept my spending intact throughout the year. As I see my net worth climbing and inching closer to that goal, it feels exciting; I love having something to work toward, rather than just feeling good if my bank account is climbing at all. Once I reach 2020’s goal, I plan to make 2021’s to be getting involved in investing my money, which I’ll be able to monitor through Mint as well.
I got to know my credit score.
Another former financial anxiety point for me was my credit score—the way everyone spoke about it, I was under the impression that checking it was bad, cost money, and would be the very bane of my existence the second I found out what it was. But Mint debunked that for me immediately.
I can access my credit score on the Overview page of Mint, and even got a free credit score check through the app. Instead of it being a random number I knew nothing about, I got informed on why it’s important: it tells lenders how likely you are to repay your debts, and can affect things like whether or not you’re approved for a mortgage. Mint also breaks down exactly why your credit score is what it is by ranking things like your on-time payments, credit usage, and credit inquiries, all of which contribute to your total score, and can be approved upon if your score is lower than you’d like. It also updates on the Mint app every seven days, so you can immediately see how your credit card bills and payments have affected your score. It was another debunked moment that made me want to care about my money in a new way, from a place of enjoying it, rather than fearing it.
Finances aren’t something that should be scary or overwhelming or avoided for anxiety’s sake. Knowing about your spending habits and saving goals isn’t just for people with an MBA—it can be easily accessible to everyone, and being in control sets you up for success. Mint empowered me to take control of all aspects of my finances and ensures that I never feel like I’m in the dark—nor will I again. My spending and saving is now fully in control and is something I look forward to rather than fear.
This post is sponsored by Mint, but all of the opinions within are those of The Everygirl editorial board.