How I use Mint.com

I use Mint.com to track expenses. While it is not the only automated system available, it is one of the most widely used and the price is right (free). That being said, I have a bit of a love / hate relationship with the program. I don't like being bombarded with advertisements and irrelevant recommendations, but it captures all of my monthly transactions across multiple accounts and provides clarity on our household spending versus our budget. Here is how I use it: Weekly: I log into Mint and let the accounts update (this takes a few minutes). Once they are updated, I go to "Transactions". View recent transactions and confirm they are categorized correctly.

Monthly: I go to "Budgets" and see how we did with our spending in various categories versus the budget. I focus on discretionary items like eating out and shopping since our mortgage, car payment and utilities don't really change month to month.

Monthly: I go back to "Overview" which is the homepage. Scroll down to the lower left-hand corner to view the Net Income chart. Make sure you are earning more than you are spending. If your goal is to have $1,000 / month surplus, the net income should consistently show around that amount.

Do not upload business accounts to Mint. Keep them separate for accounting and cash flow purposes. I use Quickbooks Online for business accounts and find it easy and effective once it is set up.

Other solutions I have heard of: You Need a Budget (YNAB), Toshl and Mvelopes. What system do you use? Email me at linda@planningwithinreach.com.

Saving Money on Groceries

Groceries and eating out are a huge part of most people’s budgets.  It can also be one of the easiest places to cut.  Here are some suggestions I compiled from clients who have had great success saving money on groceries.

  1. Cook from scratch as much as possible.  It is healthier for us and better for the environment to reduce the amount of prepared food we buy in elaborate packaging.  Our family makes things like pizza sauce and soup in bulk.  We freeze it in small containers until needed.
  2. Grow as much as possible in your own garden.  Some things are incredibly easy to grow and need very little space.  Zucchini is a great example - one or two plants can be more than enough for a family of four.  Figs are another example.  We planted a fig tree in our front yard and two years later we get enough figs to make fig jam for the entire year.
  3. Find a local CSA.  If having a garden is not an option or you can’t grow all the fruits and veggies you need, look at a local farm that has an organic CSA option.  In many cases, the fruits and vegetables are harvested more recently than the food in the supermarkets so they tend to last longer.
  4. Plan Ahead.  This takes some practice.  I hear from families about how they are trying to reduce their dining out costs but without fail, they both come home at 6PM starving.  Eating out seems like the only option.  I find I can avoid this by planning meals out on the weekend.

What else?  Email me with your tips on reducing your grocery budget so I can share it with others.  linda@planningwithinreach.com