Ok, it’s only been a couple days since I said I was going to give Mint.com a two-week trial, but things are already looking a bit bleak in terms of Mint.com being my primary personal finance tool. Here are a few of the issues:
1. Budgeting feels like an afterthought
Budgeting and planning are pretty important parts of personal finance, but they feel like an afterthought in Mint.com. From what I understand, it launched without them, and then they were added later. It shows. Budgeting should probably have its own tab, but it’s just a box on the overview tab. Adding budget line items feels clunky and the list isn’t organized in any meaningful fashion that I can discern, so it’s hard to check a specific category without scanning all of them.
2. No way to enter manual transactions
Here’s another reason that budgeting isn’t terribly useful: transactions lag several days before they show up in Mint.com. This isn’t their fault, it’s just how the financial institutions work. But if I could enter a manual transaction and then clear it when it posts from my bank, I could keep my budget up-to-date. If Mint.com doesn’t know that I just dropped $300 on a new iPhone, it might think that I still have plenty of money left in my spending category, when it’s actually over budget.
Plus, I do occasionally spend cash and it would be nice to enter manual transactions for that. You can split ATM transactions into different categories, so perhaps that accomplishes the same thing for most people.
3. No way to enter manual assets or liabilities
I like tracking my net worth, and I currently enter all the numbers once a month into networthiq.com, but it would be great if the tool I use to track personal finances could tell me this. And Mint.com does have this feature, but the problem is that you can’t add manual assets or liabilities. This is a bit of a problem if some of your assets or liabilities are in institutions not connected to Mint, or if you’ve got real estate. Ironically, you can add mortgages, but not the underlying real asset that the mortgages are written against, so your net worth will be ridiculously skewed to the negative if you do this.
4. No custom categories
Mint lets you create budget tracking items and categorize your spending, but the categories are all pre-defined and there doesn’t seem to be any way to create your own categories. This is really annoying, because you spend a bunch of time hunting for the best category, and often end up using one that doesn’t fit super well. I’m guessing that one of the reasons they do this is that having every user on the same category taxonomy makes it much easier to automatically tag transactions based on how other users have tagged them. Still, it would be nice to have the option, even if you do give up some benefit.
5. No way to anticipate future spending
This is similar to #2, in that it prevents your budget from being a true picture of what you have available to spend. One of the best things about the envelope method of budgeting is that it allows you to allocate income for *future* expenditures that you anticipate. This is really handy, because if you have $15k in your checking account, it might be because you have a lot of free cash to spend, or it might be because your rent is $1500 and your taxes due are $13k and you’re paying them in two weeks, in which case you’ve only got $500 to spend. To be fair, this one isn’t completely Mint’s fault, as a lot of personal finance and budgeting tools work like this. However, it would be awesome if Mint could find some way to work it in.
6. No way to transfer money between budget categories
If you’re spending way too much in one category, and a lot less in another, it would be nice to adjust your budget temporarily for the month by transferring money from one budget category to another. You can do this with Mvelopes, but the only way to accomplish the same thing with Mint is to edit your budget and then remember to change it back at the end of the month.
So it’s looking like I’ll have to stick with Mvelopes for now, though I plan on checking Mint.com on a regular basis for its analysis tools. Perhaps they’ll get their act together on some of the points above, but for now, it’s just not that useful to me. Too bad, because the design and UI are one of the best I’ve ever seen on a web app.
If anyone from Mvelopes ever reads this, please listen to me: your model is awesome and your features are amazing. But your platform sucks. Ditch the flash, cut your price down, and you’ll have a customer for life.