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Five Reasons to Manage Personal Finances with Mint

Five Reasons to Manage Personal Finances with Mint

Virtual money management has been a real game changer in the last decade. With all of our personal finance data at our fingertips, it makes total sense to find the best tool out there to get on top of this area of life. In my opinion, Mint.com is by far the best application available for anyone interested in attaining financial freedom on their own terms. Here are the top 5 reasons that this is the case:

1. Full Integration

Mint is an incredibly powerful tool in that it allows you to bring all your financial relationships together under one roof. By integrating all of your bank accounts (i.e. checking and savings), brokerage accounts, retirement accounts, credit cards, store cards, loans, and practically anything else, Mint provides a solid platform to get a full picture of your financial situation and to continuously monitor all activity across that world. Long gone are the days where you need to balance your check book and go through credit card statements line by line. Mint’s automatic categorization of almost all expenses makes it super simple to go through and make minor edits to run all sorts of personal financial analysis.

In order to get the full benefit of an integrated personal finance platform like Mint, my strong suggestion would be to get in the habit of paying for everything with your credit card. While there has been much hype over the years that credit cards are dangerous and get you into trouble, with responsibility, they can be your most powerful asset. By paying for everything you can with credit cards, all transaction details get automatically ported over into Mint and roughly categorized for review at a later time (plus there are tons of other benefits like rewards points that come with using plastic!). If you find that you don’t have your credit card on you for some reason, reach for your debit card next as you will get the same information into Mint although without the rewards points. In my opinion, cash should only be used as a last resort for two reasons: it’s difficult to track spending and there are no rewards for using it.

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Oh, by the way, Mint provides seamless integration across web and mobile devices as well so all of your financial information is accessible wherever you go.

2. Trend Analysis

Once you have at least a month’s worth of data, you can start doing some informative analysis of your financial life. Here’s a general breakdown of the monthly routine that I go through:

  • Start by checking each spending activity item in the Transactions section.
  1. Modify the names of transactions noting specific information (e.g. item, place, etc.).
  2. Re-categorize any items that were not automatically filed correctly. My suggestion would be to only create subcategories for areas that will have multiple items per month.
  3. Split out any transactions that were lumped together. With cash withdrawals, I find it difficult to always account for where that went but try your best.
  4. Mark any transactions as duplicate to not include in reports. I prefer to leave out any small interest and investment activity all together.

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    • After modifying the underlying data, check out the Trends section.
    1. Start with Spending by Category using pie charts for exactly a month.
    2. Click through each category to check all Transactions are accurately filed.
    3. Pull up the Net Income report to see how your income for that month compared to spending.
    4. Compare your Net Income and each major Category for the Last Month with the Previous as well as some other custom time period (e.g. 3, 6, or 12 months).
    5. Make note of general trends and spending habits that can be planned for in your budget.

    3. Budget Setting

    Setting budgets for your monthly spending is a good habit in general. While budgets can be overly constraining, Mint does a great job of providing functionality to make budgets a helpful reference point for financial freedom. I definitely recommend using this part of Mint at least  to program some broad categories and a few subcategories especially for things like Food & Dining. My suggestion would be to only get more granular with subcategories with things like automatic payments (e.g. magazines, Netflix, Hulu, etc.) so you can quickly account for these when reviewing your budget. Caution: the “Everything Else” section conveniently hides the rest of your spending so you’ll need to be diligent about seeing how much money is slipping by your plan.

    Another helpful feature is that Mint rolls over budgets to the next month making it easy to make a few adjustments here and there over time. As part of a monthly review, definitely go through what has been carried over and project out your expected spending for the month to be prepared when things come through. After doing trend analysis and drawing some conclusions, I use the key takeaways to figure out how my budgets could be modified.

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    4. Alerts & Notifications

    On the Overview tab of Mint, there is a section called Upcoming Bills that is really useful for planning purposes. Rather than taking up mind space having to remember when all of your various bills are due each month, I highly suggest taking the time to go through and specify who needs to be paid, the amount and the approximate date for the recurring payment. Trying to figure out the best timing for paying bills in relation to income is always a bit of a hassle. Having Mint visually display spending patterns I find to be a nice feature that allows me to find ways to most efficiently manage my money. Once this information has been specified, Mint will automatically send you reminders that bills are coming due either through email and/or mobile devices. I’m also a fan of some of the other notifications that are sent out as well such as getting paid!

    5. It’s free!

    In my opinion, Mint provides a ton of value at zero cost to the user. There are a few different personal finance applications now available but they often times have a business model that requires subscription such as LearnVest. With so much to offer, I don’t see why everyone and their Mother isn’t using Mint at the least to help bring greater clarity to their financial situation.

    There are a lot of other good functions of Mint but I find some of it to be a little cumbersome and not as useful as one would imagine. For example, the investments section is rather temperamental so I prefer to stick with my actual brokerage or retirement accounts to monitor activity. Also, the goal setting module has not been something that I have not gotten in the habit of using but surely others  find this valuable.

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    As a pre-requisite for self-actualization, money is something that continuously requires our attention. However, the more freedom that we can attain in relationship to this area the more we will be able to place on our higher aspirations. For this reason, I strongly suggest implementing Mint.com in your life if you haven’t done so already!

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    Published on May 7, 2019

    How to Invest for Retirement (The Smart and Stress-Free Way)

    How to Invest for Retirement (The Smart and Stress-Free Way)

    When it comes to stocks, I bet you feel like you have no idea what you’re doing.

    Everyone who’s not a financial expert has been there. I’ve been there. But, time is passing and you need to be crystal clear with how you’re investing for your retirement.

    Otherwise, it’s back to work until you can afford not to. So, how can you invest for retirement when you’re not a financial expert?

    You take the time to learn the fundamentals well. If you do, you can grow your wealth and retire happy. The best part is that you don’t need to be a financial expert to make smart investment decisions.

    Here’s how to invest for retirement the smart and stress-free way:

    1. Know Clearly Why You Invest

    Odds are you already know why should invest for retirement.

    But, maybe you know the wrong reasons. It’s time you get clear on why you’d like to retire. Here are some questions to help you get started:

    • Will you spend more time with your family?
    • What does retirement mean to you?
    • Are you looking to launch that business you’ve been holding off for years?

    Everyone wants to retire but not for the same reasons. Once you’re clear for why retirement is important for you, you’ll focus on making it happen.

    Investing in the stock market allows you to take advantage of compound interest.[1] All this means is that your money earns money on top of its interest. A reason why investment in the stock market is one of the best ways to plan for retirement.

    2. Figure out When to Invest

    “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”– Chinese Proverb

    It’s true if you’d had started investing when you were 10 years old, you’d have a lot more money than you do today.

    The reality is that most people don’t start investing until it’s too late. So, if you’re currently waiting for the perfect time to start an investment, it would be today. Open your calendar and block out 2 to 3 hours to choose how you’ll invest for retirement.

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    A quick way to get a snapshot of where you stand is to use Personal Capital. Input all your personal information and spend some time setting your retirement goals. Once completed, you’ll know where you stand with your retirement.

    Having a savings account for retirement isn’t planning for retirement. Why? Your money loses value when you factor in US inflation.[2]

    3. Evaluate Your Risk Tolerance to Create the Perfect Portfolio

    Investing your money well depends on your emotions.

    Why?

    Because when the market drops most people panic and withdraw their money. On average, the US stock market yields an annual 6% to 7% ROI (return on your investment.) But, this won’t happen if you’re worried about short-term loses.

    Before you invest your next dollar, know your risk tolerance.[3] Your risk tolerance determines the number of risky and safe investments you’d have.

    Regardless of your investing style, you need to view investing for retirement as a long term game. Know that some years you’ll lose money but recoup this in the long-term.

    Avoid watching market-related new. Also, create a double authentication to log in your investment account. This way you’re less likely to withdraw your money.

    4. Open a Reliable Retirement Account

    Depending on your circumstance, you may need to open a new brokerage account. This is the account is where you’ll invest your money.

    If you’re currently working for a company, odds are that they offer a 410K investing account. If so, here’s where you’ll invest most of your money. The only problem with this is that you’re limited to the stock options that are available.

    You do have the option to open a separate IRA (individual retirement account.) Here are some of the best brokers:

    1. Vanguard
    2. TD Ameritrade
    3. Charles Schwab

    5. Challenge Yourself to Invest Consistently

    Committing to invest for retirement is hard, but continuing to do so is harder.

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    Once you’ve started investment for your retirement, you run at risk from stopping. Often you’ll want to contribute less, so you’d have more money in your pocket.

    That’s why it’s important that you create a budget that allows you to invest each month. If you’re working for a company, you can set a percentage for the amount you’d like to contribute each month. Most people by default contribute 1% but aim to contribute 10% to 15%.

    Be the judge for how much you can afford to contribute after covering important expenses. To stay motivated, use Personal Capital to view your net worth.

    A benefit to contributing money to your retirement account is not taxed. For example, if you earn $100 and invest 10%, you’d contribute $10, then get taxed on the remaining $90. As of 2019, the most you’re able to contribute towards your 401K is 19K but this can change.

    6. Consider Where to Invest Your Money

    The most common way to invest your money is in stocks, but it’s not the only way. Here are other ways to invest:

    Robo Advisors

    Robo-advisors[4] are fancy algorithms that’ll choose the best investments for you. Sites like Wealthfront make it easy for first-time investors to invest their money. You’d input information about yourself and set your risk tolerance.

    Then, set your monthly contribution amount and your robo-advisor would do the rest. Robo-advisors charge a fee to manage your money, but less than regular advisors.

    Bonds

    Think of bonds as “IOUs” to whomever you buy them from.

    Essentially, you’re lending money and charging interest. Like stocks, not all bonds are equal. Some will be riskier than others depending on their rating.

    Here are the different types of bond categories:[5]

    1. Treasury bonds
    2. Government bonds
    3. Corporate bonds
    4. Foreign bonds
    5. Mortgage-backed bonds
    6. Municipal bonds

    Mutual Funds

    Picture a group of people dumping all their money in a jar that’s managed by a professional. This is how mutual funds work. The fund manager manages the money looking to earn capital gains (interest.)

    One of the best types of mutual funds is index funds. Since these funds don’t try to beat the market and instead follow it, they need less research. Because of this they often charge the lowest fees and yield the best long-term results.

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    Real Estate

    Yes, buying a home is an investment when done correctly.

    Imagine buying a home and using it as a rental property. After repairing it, you receive a monthly surplus check of $100 to $200.

    This may not sound like a lot, but repeat this process enough times and you’d earn a large amount of passive income. That’s why real estate is one of the best investments to not only retire but become wealthy.

    But, it requires a lot of money to start and you should expect losing money along the way as you learn the process.

    Savings Accounts

    Your money can still grow in a savings account. Nowadays most online banks offer a 2% annual return. Although the average inflation is higher your money will be available when you need it.

    7. Master Disincline to Dodge Short Success

    Investing for retirement is a long-term strategy. That’s why you need to master delayed gratification. All this means is delaying short-term pleasure for something bigger in the future. Research shows that those who have delayed gratification are more successful.[6]

    So how can you master delayed gratification?

    By building your discipline.

    Think back to what retirement means to you. A clear purpose will help you avoid withdrawing your money during a market downturn. It’ll help you contribute more towards retirement when you’d want to waste it instead.

    Your journey towards retirement will be long, so reward yourself along the way. Choose a reward that’s relevant and meaningful, so that you reinforce positive behavior. For example, after contributing more towards retirement, treat yourself to dinner.

    8. Aggressively Invest on This One Investment

    I’ve mentioned several types of investments but haven’t covered the most important one.

    It sounds cliche but here’s why you’re your best investment towards retirement. The more you know, the more money you’ll be able to make. The more good habits you adopt, the more secure your retirement will be.

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    More importantly, investing in yourself is an investment that no one can take away. There’s no market downturn nor tragic circumstance that’ll wipe your knowledge and experience.

    But, how can you invest yourself?

    Reading books, blogs, and anything that’ll help you learn new topics daily. Listen to podcasts and audiobooks on your commute to/from work.

    Save money to buy courses and hire coaches. I used to believe hiring coaches was a waste of money when I could learn the subject alone.

    But, coaches see your blind spots and hold you accountable. Hiring the right coach will help you achieve your goals faster than you would’ve alone.

    Retire Happy with Excess Money

    The key to a secure financial future doesn’t only belong to financial experts.

    It’s possible for you and I. What if you were able to retire earlier than most people and weren’t a financial planner? What if you were able to focus on what you enjoy doing the most while your money was working hard for you?

    I know this sounds impossible now, but the truth is you’re capable of taking charge of your retirement. I’m not a financial expert but I’ve learned how to invest my money by reading books and learning from others.

    Investing your money is scary. So start small and invest a small amount of your money with a robo-advisor. Feel your money drop and rise for a month or two. Then, invest more and keep this up until you’re aggressively saving for retirement.

    One day, you’ll wake up with a net worth you’re proud of – confident about your retirement. You now know a few strategies you can use to invest in your retirement. Will you take action to retire happy?

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    Featured photo credit: Matthew Bennett via unsplash.com

    Reference

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