Minty Green

As you know, I have been keeping a bullet journal since February. I absolutely love my bullet journal and I swear I am going to do a post about it soon. I am trying to coerce my daughter into doing the photography for me, as all my photos of my journal turn out blurry and uninspiring.

ANYWAY, my absolute favorite and most useful spreads in my bullet journal are my monthly spreads. I have a habit tracker, health tracker, monthly tasks, meditation log, gratitude log, daily log, and an unbudgeted spending log. I only added the unbudgeted spending log last month after reading an article by Cait Flanders on her blog. I can’t even remember what the article was about, but the idea of tracking unbudgeted spending caught my eye. I don’t consider myself a shopper, and I also consider myself to be fairly frugal, so I decided to track all my unbudgeted spending for a month so that I could reinforce to myself how angelically good at I am not spending money. I categorize unbudgted spending as anything that was paid for with a credit card, or anything not specifically budgeted for in my super-awesome color-coded Google spreadsheets that I use for my budget.

At the end of the month, I happily tabulated all my unbudgeted spending and found that it was over $1700! But, but … I don’t like to shop! I never go to the store! I hate clothes shopping and I am always so careful with purchases! I am angelically good!

Well, the truth is, I apparently do like to shop, particularly at Amazon and Home Depot. I tend to buy things for the house. After all, when you live in a 100-year-old house, there are always improvements and renovations that have to be made. Right?

I will say that during the month of March, the bulk of the expenses were either for the coat closet or for our new electric car charging station in the yard. And I bought a new pair of running shoes because my old ones are wearing out and I just started training for a marathon. But we also ended up paying for a couple of weeks worth of groceries on credit cards because we had blown our food budget on eating out. (Also, why are spending so much on groceries?! More about that in another post.)

In an effort to rein in my spending and keep better track of what is going on with my finances, I decided to start tracking my bills, expenses, and purchases in Mint. I have been hearing about Mint for years, and know several people that use it and really like it. So given my obvious inability to get a realistic grasp on my finances, I headed to mint.com to sign up for a free account. I thought, I’ll just poke around and see if it’s something that looks like it might be useful.

The first thing I noticed is that you can now pay most or all of your bills through Mint. This is a major selling point for me. I spend several hours every month paying bills. When I get paid on the first of the month, I log into each online account to reconcile the latest statement with my budget spreadsheets. I then roll all my payments into my debt reduction spreadsheet. Only then do I pay all my bills, based on the amount calculated by my spreadsheets.

However, Mint allows you to link to all your accounts, and each time that you log in, it pulls in the latest transactions and information for each account. Credit card accounts and most loan accounts are available to be paid through Mint. When each new statement becomes available, I receive an email. Then I can go into Mint and schedule my payment. On the first of the month, when I get paid and the funds become available, all my bills just get paid by Mint! It’s so lovely! If I am on vacation or sick or something, I don’t have to remember to log into a bunch of websites and pay bills.

You see, I have a lot of credit cards. I don’t actually use any of them, other than my Amazon and Home Depot cards. They are all cards that I have transferred debt to in the past (under attractive 0% for a limited time plans), and I am now just paying down the debt. Some of the debt includes practical things like our new heat pump, but honestly I don’t even remember what most of it is. That probably should have clued me in that I didn’t have a good handle on my finances! We currently carry … are you sitting down? … $39491.71 of debt on credit cards.

At the same time that I set up my accounts in Mint, I also set up automatic reoccurring payments for all the accounts that offer that option. So my mortgage, auto loan, veterinary insurance, loan for the new heat pump, and auto insurance are all deducted automatically each month. These accounts have the same payment each month, so there will not be any surprises.

The only payments that I still have to make manually are my local water and garbage bills.

When the transactions are pulled into Mint, there is some manual curation involved to make sure everything is in the correct category. I have also set up budgets for each category to get a quick snapshot of my spending in each area. Basically, if I find that I am spending $100 a month to make home repairs, I need to budget $100 a month, not put those expenses on a credit card.

At the end of March, I got all kind of cool and useful monthly reports that showed spending in each category, as well as a particularly useful chart showing how much I spent in finance charges! Eek!

So far, I am finding Mint extremely convenient to use, as well as useful. I am starting to get some insights into where our money goes, and where our spending could definitely be reduced. Mint even offers a “Goals” area to provided debt payoff schedules, vacation savings plans, and things like that.

I am still using my Google spreadsheets to track when bills get paid, and how much should be paid on each, etc. I am planning to eventually phase out my spreadsheets, hopefully, when our debt has been paid off and I no longer need that level of complicated tabulation.

Steve and I have also started scheduling a monthly meeting to go over our finances. We were both shocked to see how much off our money was going to finance charges each month. We have plans to reduce our spending and get debt paid off, and we are both on the same page about our goals, which is a very good thing. I have also set myself milestones for paying off certain accounts, reducing debt my a certain amount, and things like that. I tend to make better progress when I have a concrete goal, as well as interim goals, to work towards.

I finally feel like I am really on top of my finances. I really don’t think that I would have gotten this level of insight and inspiration if I had not start using Mint.

So in addition to my journey into minimalism and my home improvement adventures, I am now going to document my journey towards a debt free life on this blog. It’s going to be my biggest adventure yet!

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