This is a guest post by Julia S., who is a second year graduate student at a prominent business school in the Northeast. Prior to school, she worked for four years in finance in New York.
I recently created a personal finance account on Mint.com and it may be just the answer to my 2011 New Year’s resolution: “put my personal finances in order.” Personal finance was hardly my activity of choice on a cold Thursday night last week (there was a new 30 Rock on TV and a quality Office rerun) but it had been on my “To Do” list for weeks and I wanted to finally cross something off. I am currently a student in business school and have been juggling multiple bank accounts, tuition bills, phone bills, etc. for years. I always thought that I had a pretty strong grasp on my personal accounts. I tracked my spending at a “high level”, made sure I pay my Amex bill on time — the usual. I just needed a way to “clean things up” and keep my accounts organized.
After finally aggregating my finances in one place on Mint.com, I realized that this new year’s resolution was many years overdue. For example, while many of us regularly review debit or credit card bills to make sure there is nothing out of the ordinary, we rarely take a close look at every line item. When I aggregated my accounts on Mint, I finally took the time to review a month’s worth of line items. The review process only took about 15 minutes, but to my surprise, it revealed some pretty upsetting details:
1. I am still being charged for a gym membership I had cancelled in 2009
2. I am being charged $14.95 a month by a scam company called Easy Save that had found my account through an order on ProFlowers (I was just trying to send my mother some flowers!)
3. I was never reimbursed for a dress I returned to Nordstroms
4. I was overcharged for shipping on an Ebay order
I was stunned by these oversights on my part. I realized that I had grown complacent about my expenses over the years and as a result, was literally making monthly payments to scam companies like the one below:
Next, I looked at an aggregation of my spending patterns that Mint provides. Again, I had a general sense of how much I spend a week at Starbucks or Whole Foods — but these numbers really come to life when you see spending patterns over multiple months. The Mint.com tool automatically creates pie charts, bar graphs, you name it to help you visualize your spending buckets. The pictures don’t lie and from the looks of my “bar graph”, I need to seriously reconsider my Whole Foods purchases.
I could go on, but I think the takeaway for me was quite simple: “you don’t know what you don’t know”. Even if you have a general sense of your budget and spending habits, personal finance is, unfortunately, all about the details. Luckily there are some pretty easy tools that make tracking as painless as possible. So if you’re like me and really can’t recall how much you spent on restaurants last month (let alone six months ago), take just TWO MINUTES and check out the site. You can set your account up in less than 20 minutes and perhaps even cross a “to do” off your list.