With bills, rent/mortgage, student loans, credit cards, savings, and much more, how do you keep track of all of it? And is there a free budget software that makes it easy?
Someone recently told me, “I know exactly how much I spend each month. I keep track of it in my head.”
Keeping track of your finances in your head, may not be the most effective. Especially if you’re not a budgeter!
The good news is, you don’t need to keep a running tab stored in your brain. We all know what happens when you miss a payment.
Many years ago, I met with a financial planner who wanted to help me set up my first investment.
He said, “We take care of all the confusing stuff for you. You don’t need Mint or other budget software.”
I thought, “what’s Mint?”
After the appointment, I went home, set up an online account, and never spoke with him again.
Since then, Mint has become a huge part of my life and has done more for me than the gold based annuity he was trying to sell me.
I want to share with you why I’ve used Mint so much and the benefits it’s brought to me.
What is Mint and Why Should You Use It?
Mint is a free money management software that was acquired by Intuit in 2009, the same company that owns Quickbooks and Turbotax.
It’s super easy to use with a clean user interface. It gives you a clear overview of your finances.
It connects to all of your existing accounts to help you stay on top of managing your money in one place.
“Every time you visit their site, your financial data gets updated automatically. It presents your financial information in a slick easy-to-use web interface, with pretty graphs and all.”
– Investor Junkie
Mint has helped over 10 million Americans reduce their debt, pay their bills on time, and increase their overall net worth.
You’ll find boatloads of other great software to use for your money, but none of them really come close to Mint.
So, what are the features?
It’s incredible that Mint offers this budget software for free!
They receive their funding through companies that offer deals such as credit cards, investments, and recently, loans, and many other offers.
You can ignore the advertising links, but if you really are in the market for different products, it’s a great place to shop around.
With the amount of online fraud, it’s common to worry about your personal information being stolen.
It’s usually a concern for people to connect a third-party to their bank account. However, Mint uses bank-level security.
They cannot transfer funds or access your account. They can only view it as read-only. Kind of like taking a picture of your bank account balances and putting it all in one place and giving you a quantitative analysis.
Mint is also analyzed and certified by prominent third-party providers like TrustArc, VeriSign and other trusted professionals in online security.
We love having everything in one easy-to-see dashboard. Mint gives you a complete overview of your finances and having it in one place brings peace of mind.
Imagine the days before Walmart when you went to multiple stores to buy what you needed.
Now you get everything at one store.
Mint does the same. No need to go to each bank, loan, or credit card website separately to view your balances.
Free Credit Score
Mint gives you a free credit score!
But you’ve probably heard of free credit scores and how they are not really accurate.
Let’s be honest, what credit score is actually accurate?
Once you sign up for the free credit score, it may be off, but the biggest benefit is the summary of your overall credit situation.
From payment history, credit limit and usage, inquiries, and more information that explains why your credit score sucks or is really good.
Although it may not be your exact credit score, it’s smart to have a rough ballpark estimate of where you are.
How easy is it to forget when your bills are due?
It’s a good idea to set up automatic payments, but for those bills that are variable, set up an alert to be sent to your phone or email a number of days in advance so you’ll never miss a payment.
Mint has more than 20 types of alerts to notify you of fees, warn you if you’re going over budget, or let you know if something seems suspicious.
I get an alert every time a purchase of $200 or more is made with one of my credit cards, in case it get’s stolen.
One of my favorite things about Mint is the Trends section.
Have you ever had these questions?
How much did I actually spend last month?
What categories do I spend the most on?
Or how has my net worth changed over the past year?
You can answer all of these questions and many more in the Trends section.
“You can’t manage something you don’t measure”
A few years ago, I was asked to write down all of my expenses for the month. I wrestled with myself to think of everything I spent my money on. It seemed like things changed every month.
When I finished with my expense sheet, I knew in my mind that it was not accurate.
With trends, you can take the average amount spent each month throughout the entire year, or multiple years. This gives you an idea of the actual amount of money that is spent on different categories each month.
This is a great way to get started with a budget and setting goals to spend less and save more. Which brings me to my last point.
Each of us has goals:
Going on a vacation
Saving for a home
Paying off student loans
Saving money for Christmas gifts
Mint helps you reach those goals by assessing the amount the goal requires. It then gives you a specific date in the future and tells you how much money each month needs to be allocated to that goal.
It will let you know each month where you put enough or not enough money towards your goals and whether or not you are on track to achieve it.
With all the services this free budget software offers at no cost, why wouldn’t you use it?
I’m not affiliated with Mint, I’m simply a raving fan. Whenever they release an update, I get excited. And I love it when other people tell me they started using Mint and that I was the one that introduced them to it.
The only downside with Mint I’ve found is the investments section.
I haven’t understood how my investment accounts are aggregated and how I did compared to the market.
Mint is great for basic money management and budgeting but if you’re looking for something a little more in-depth that gives you a clear idea of how your investments are performing, I use Personal Capital. You can read more about my review of Personal Capital.
If you haven’t opened a Mint account yet, I urge you to do so.
Stick with it for a few months or years and I hope to hear from you on how your experience has been.
It’s safe, free, accurate, easy to use, and convenient. This free budget software has many more capabilities and features that I didn’t mention, but that you’ll soon discover.
Taking a business leader approach and managing your finances like a Chief Financial Officer could change your future.
Because of my background in business, I tend to look at my finances as if I’m the Chief Financial Officer of my household. I look at it this way instead of the perspective of being cheap or a tightwad.
I’m always trying to optimize my personal financial situation as if it is a business so the outlook on the future is bright.
What is a Chief Financial Officer (CFO)?
“A Chief Financial Officer is a senior executive with responsibility for the financial affairs of a corporation or other institution.”
In all businesses, someone has to be in charge of the business finances. How this person operates could depend on the success or failure of that business.
Think of it like driving a ship. The ship is only as good as the crew members aboard and without any clear purpose and direction of where they want to go, they will end up wandering aimlessly.
The captain of the ship has to set the direction.
Becoming the captain of your finances requires the same intentionality and focus. If you’re not on top of your game, it’s easy to get thrown off course and it will take time to recover.
You become the Chief Financial Officer of your finances by setting clear goals, charting a course, managing your money, and doing what it takes to get to where you want to be.
If it’s not you, who’s it going to be?
For example, if you signed up for a subscription last year and forgot about it, that’s bad business on your part.
You’re paying for something that you no longer use and no longer serves a purpose. It’s the Chief Financial Officer’s responsibility to catch these.
One of the main functions of a Chief Financial Officer is decreasing business expenses to increase cash flow.
This all adds to the bottom line which is the only number anyone cares about at the end of the day.
Why Should You Think Like a CFO?
You want to think like a Chief Financial Officer because you’ll look at your money with different eyes.
If you’re not happy with where you are, it’s probably because you haven’t taken ownership of your situation or you have no idea what you’re trying to do.
The Chief Financial Officer has to get results.
Results mean decreasing expenses, increasing cash flow, and hitting future financial projections.
If they don’t do this, they don’t have anyone else to turn to and could end up losing their job.
When you approach your finances with a business mentality you’re going to get results.
Managing Your Finances Like a Chief Financial Officer
Manage Cash Flow
Cash flow is the lifeblood of every business. Without it, the business dies.
They’re responsible for directing funds so the business can function. The same goes for your personal finances.
When you get paid and the money hits your bank account, does it all just sit in your checking account until bills are due?
If it does, you’re not being a efficient and proactive Chief Financial Officer.
Divide it up into investments, savings, paying off debt, etc. Do something other than letting your cash sit idle!
The Chief Financial Officer is responsible for the long term success of the company.
Along with other executives in the company, they set cash flow projections and try to be as accurate about the future as they can be based on sales projections, market demand, the economy, etc. They then base their goals on these numbers.
“A man without a purpose is like a ship without a rudder.”
Monthly or Quarterly Board Meetings
When cash flow projections are complete and goals have been set, the board gets together as often as possible to monitor their success, talk about challenges, and adjust numbers and goals if needed.
This is a high-level view of what it takes to operate a successful corporation.
Meeting with your team, whether that be you and your spouse/partner frequently is a must.
The Chief Financial Officer constantly considers the risks the business may be exposed to.
They then make sure they have adequate insurance and liability coverage in case something were to happen that would be catastrophic to the company. They also make sure they’re not overpaying for coverage.
As the Chief Financial Officer of your finances, you should be reviewing your coverage on policies such as homeowners insurance, car insurance, renters insurance, health insurance, and life insurance each time the policies renew.
Last but not least, The CFO focuses on paying as little in taxes as possible.
Perhaps not only focused on paying the least amount possible but focusing on increasing after-tax net income. If it means paying more in taxes but it increases the bottom line, it’s a good decision.
Chief Financial Officers don’t just think of taxes once a year, everything they do should be centered around how to minimize taxes by getting deductions, expanding the business, writing off bad debt, etc.
The CFO has some say in how the company pays taxes but it’s mostly up to the accountants who report to the CFO.
Ultimately, the CFO is focused on the future while accountants are focused on the past.
When it comes to tax planning, you should be keeping track of receipts or online transactions, understand which purchases are tax write-offs and deductions, and maximize the after-tax return of your capital.
That way when you go to file at the beginning of the year, it’s not a headache getting everything together when you file your taxes.
If you think of your finances from the perspective of a Chief Financial Officer, you’ll look at money differently.
Instead of getting to the end of the month and wondering where all of your money went, take responsibility and narrow everything down to the penny.
If you do, you’ll have a better grasp of the overall health of your financial household.
Turns out there’s an actual book written about this subject. If you’d like to read more on this subject you can check it out on Amazon: How to Be the Family CEO.
Because of my passion for finances at a young age, in high school, I submitted a One-minute Public Service Announcement on Financial Literacy to the Utah High School Film Festival and ended up taking second place receiving a $2,775 scholarship to the school of my choice. I attended Utah Valley University and took a course in Personal Finance that didn’t count towards anything. I simply wanted to learn more about the subject. My ultimate plan was to get a business degree from the University of Utah.
In 2014, I returned from an LDS mission. While there I decided I wanted to help people with their finances. My first week of being home I sat down with an independent financial advisor and he told me if I wanted to get into the financial planning world I needed to take the Utah Health and Life Insurance exam. I studied hard for the exam and failed the first time. I studied it some more and failed it a second time. Insurance was my interest which may have been why I didn’t grasp the concepts. I decided to look for other opportunities.
I interviewed with many companies in the financial services. Transamerica, Primerica, Northwestern Mutual, Fidelity, New York Life, etc. and many more. None of them were a good fit. I’m not saying they are bad companies I just didn’t see myself fitting in there. Each wanted me to start contacting friends and family and sell insurance. Other bigger companies wanted me on the phone Sunday’s and graveyard shifts. I wasn’t into that.
My second semester at the University of Utah, I noticed a flyer for a workshop hosted by the Personal Money Management Center. I thought it sounded interesting. So I went. Afterward, I set an appointment with Tiffany. She helped me create a budget;). She mentioned the IDA program at the end of our appointment. I went and I qualified. After the eight hour workshop, I spoke with Ann and asked her how to manage a credit card properly (little did I know I would be teaching an hour section of the IDA on credit within a few months).
It was October 2015 and I had a feeling to see if there were open positions for the upcoming semester. What I liked about the PMMC was I could tell Ann, Tiffany and the peer mentors simply had a desire to teach and educate about personal finances. I didn’t have to sell anything to help people. That attracted me. I didn’t care how much money I would make, I simply wanted to help others and I felt like I could do that there. I also wanted to deepen my own understanding of money and become a better presenter. So I began as a peer mentor on Jan. 6th 2016 at $10 an hour.
I started out running the front desk, setting appointments, and answering phone calls. I went around campus and gave presentations and spoke with other students at events. This helped my organizational skills, my soft skills and my ability to public speak. After a few months, I mentioned to Ann I wanted to meet one-on-one with students. I sat in on appointments to get a feel for becoming a financial counselor. I studied for the AFC exam. I read books on counseling, debt and bankruptcy and a textbook on personal finance. I strangely enjoyed reading them because I learned so much for myself.
The summer of 2016, I barely passed the exam. It was a hard test but I passed it! But, I needed to complete 1500 hours of counseling in order to get my certification. May of 2017, I became an Accredited Financial Counselor®. I plan to always keep this certification. It gives me credibility as I work with my other people. During my time counseling, I met with 218 students, all from different backgrounds and financial situations. I learned so much helping peers my age with their money problems. At the same time, I gave over 25 presentations reaching over 600 students. Some of my highlight speeches being the football team, women’s basketball team, women in prison, Physical Therapy students, and all types of college students and staff members.
Opportunities that came from working at the PMMC was first and foremost, all of the relationships that I’ve built with people. From those that I’ve worked with to those that I’ve counseled. In the end, this has been the best opportunity. At the same time, if I didn’t work at the PMMC, I wouldn’t have received the Student Union Leadership Scholarship for my involvement in the Union. I wouldn’t have attended conferences in Louisville, Kentucky, Minneapolis, Minnesota, and San Diego, California. I wouldn’t have met people at these events and explored different places. I wouldn’t have worked on campus in a job that was flexible with my school schedule. Which allowed me to hit two birds with one stone by going to classes and working up on campus on the same day.
Even though the income wasn’t enough to support my wife and son, I continued to work there and find other ways to make money because of the opportunities that it gave me. I learned how to operate the PMMC, from the marketing, evaluation, counseling structure, meetings, and getting the word out about financial literacy. I had the opportunity to book some of the best financial educators in the country and get to know them as they came to campus to present to our students. Speakers including, David Bach, Adam Carroll, Phil Town, and Anthony O’Neal. Many have inspired me to know that it’s possible to teach financial literacy and make a decent living. These opportunities are what made working at the PMMC worth it to me.
I plan to follow my passion for financial education. Too many people in our country go throughout life without thinking about how to make better financial decisions. They fall into debt by going on vacations they can’t afford, borrowing too much in student loans, and waiting to save and invest so they don’t look back later in life and wish they had started sooner.
To help people to the best of my abilities I decided to pursue a Master’s in Personal Financial Planning at Texas Tech University. It’s a two-year program that begins this fall (2018). I’m taking my wife and son to Lubbock Texas to live for a few years. I don’t believe I need a master’s degree to be successful nor am I doing this to just do it. I wouldn’t recommend everyone do a master’s degree in order to make something of themselves. But I love options and I love to learn. There is more to learn and I want to be the best financial planner I can be.
I’ve secured $10,000 in scholarships and qualified for in-state tuition. If I work for the university, it will cover ⅓ of the cost. It’s an affordable degree I probably wouldn’t do if I had to borrow tens of thousands of dollars to complete it. But I should be able to graduate debt-free. We’re willing to take some risks in our lives and we’re treating it as an adventure. Plus, we’ve been looking for an excuse to move back to Texas:)
I recently began working for a financial planning firm that’s based out of Lubbock, Texas. I’m going through training and when we move to Texas I’ll have a place to work on day one. I’m excited to work with this firm. The firm is Amicus Financial Advisors who specialize in financial and settlement planning. From what I’ve learned, they’re a different type of financial planning firm with a great mission. One that aligns with my values. I’m excited to work there while I complete my master’s degree and see what it turns into.
My long-term hopes and ambitions are to continue to educated underserved younger people and middle-class Americans. There’s a gap between people who need sound financial advice and those that are able to pay for it. I want to reach a large audience of people at no cost to them through writing and speaking while at the same time having a few good clients that work with me on a regular basis. I’m sure things will change but these are my plans as they stand.
If you’ve made it this far reading … I’m proud of you! I invite you to check out my blog at www.simplifinances.com. Follow along on my journey and join a community of people that are striving for financial independence!
Hi, I’m Scott. Welcome to my website! I’m an Accredited Financial Counselor, husband, and father. I love writing and learning about personal finance, fintech, simple living, and sharing my personal story. I hope you’ll join me on our journey to financial independence!