The Topic: Spending and Saving
The Dish: I like to think that all of the little things I do, whether it's making coffee at home, thrifting, or dining out less, have a positive impact on my bank account. A lot of my daily choices are more affordable than they could be, but is it really helping me save? Or am I just spending the extra dollars on frivolous purchases? A few weeks ago, I couldn't tell you for sure (although I have a sneaking suspicion that I was). Now, I'm singing the praises of Mint and changing my ways.
To prevent myself from overindulging, I signed up for the free, web-based, money-management software Mint. It's been all over my radar lately, from friends becoming dedicated users to blogs and newsletters featuring rave reviews. "Why not?" I thought. Once I felt comfortable with its security precautions (I mean, entering all of my bank information did feel a little risky), I gave it a try. First revelation: Over the course of eight months, taking out money for San Francisco's notorious cash-only restaurants and bars has cost me $50 in fees. FIFTY DOLLARS? Just because I'm too lazy to plan a trip to my bank ATM ahead of time? Ouch. I mean, vegan Thai fried rice is good, but not that good.
In addition to pointing out nasty hidden fees and late charges, Mint provides a helpful breakdown of my spending, tracking transactions into categories. I can also set goals—pay off that debt, take a veg vacation—and come up with a real strategy for reaching them. Mint also sends weekly email updates to warn me of upcoming bills, low account balances, and all sorts of other sobering grown-up information that I may not want, but certainly need to know.
The Final Word: There are tons of features to help control spending, build up savings, and stay financially afloat. It may not be for everyone, but when it comes to balancing my penchant for on-the-fly spending and weak justifications ("Well, I didn't buy Starbucks this morning so I'll get a happy-hour special"), it's just what I need.