If you haven’t read part 1 of my Mint.com tutorial, you can go here to learn all about adding accounts.
To me, the heart and soul of Mint.com lies in the categorizing of my transactions. Categorizing is how Mint goes from being a general budgeting tool for the masses to a one-of-a-kind tool that is fine-tuned for me and my family.
Categorizing takes a bit of time – about an hour to set up the right categories and then another couple of minutes every few days to go in and make sure all my recent transactions have been properly categorized.
So, here’s what you do to get started:
- Log into your Mint.com account
- Click on Transactions (it’s the second tab, after Overview, on the menu across the top)
- Since you have already set up your accounts, all your transactions will automatically be entered into your list of transactions; however, Mint.com will have categorized them the way they think makes sense.
- If you really want Mint to “work” for you, you need to categorize these expenses the way that makes sense for YOU.
For example, we just got back from our trip to Cape Cod and have a ton of expenses in our transaction rosters. We took out cash for incidentals, but most of our expenses actually were put on our credit and debit cards.
For example, see the above three transactions:
- The Captain Freeman Inn was our B&B
- The Cape Cod Potato Chip was the Cape Cod Potato Chip Factory, where we took a factory tour (free) and bought some souvenirs for our kids
- Mrs. Mitchell’s Gift Store was a store in Hyannis where we got more souvenirs (ha! lots of tchatchkes!)
Mint.com categorized these expenses as “Hotel”, “Fast Food” and “Gift”, respectively. This is quite logical – but it’s not the way I want it done.
You see, I want my transactions to align with my budget categories (*hang tight if you don’t yet have budget categories – I’ll be talking about how I do that soon).
I don’t actually have budget categories called “hotel”, “fast food” and “gift”. Instead, I want all of our Cape Cod expenses to go into one category – TRAVEL.
Travel is a category I have in my budget (we set aside money every month for our vacations).
In order to change these transactions from “hotel” or “gift” to “travel”, I just need to click on the arrow in the Categories section, and then scroll to the category I want. In this case, I categorize all three expenses as Travel.
If you haven’t set up your own categories yet, you will only see the Mint preset ones. There are categories (e.g. Travel) and subcategories (e.g. Hotel, Air Travel, Rental Car). You can select either a subcategory or an overall category for your transactions – both are fine in Mint.
How to Create Your Own Categories
What if you have a category that Mint doesn’t have? Never fear, you can add it yourself. Here’s how:
Scroll to the category you want – eg. Education.
When you roll over the category, the pop-up menu with the sub-categories will automatically open up on the right.
Scroll down to the link that says Add/Edit Categories and click on it.
The pre-programmed Mint categories are already there, but underneath that, you can add in your own categories.
Click on the Add a New Category button, fill in the name of your category and click Save it.
The only negative I have discovered about Mint categories so far is that you can’t delete the pre-programmed Mint one (or at least I haven’t figured out how) – which can lead to your pull-down menus looking a little sloppy. However, you don’t see unused categories anywhere else but here, so it doesn’t bother me too much.
How to Set Category Rules
One of the best things about categorizing is that you can tell Mint to set a rule, so that it was always categorize certain purchases in a pre-set way. This is a huge time saver!
Here’s an example of how this works for me: Target.
At Target, 85% of the purchases I make fall into my “groceries” category. For us, Groceries refers both to food we consume at home, as well as to household items, personal care items and beauty supplies. A streamlined budget (more on this next week) makes my life easier, which is why lumping all of this together into one category makes sense. I’m buying most of it at the same stores (and usually in the same trip) anyway.
Mint’s pre-programmed category for Target is “shopping” (ha, as if my budget could survive with amorphous categories like that!). I, however, have told Mint to always categorize Target as “groceries”.
Then I clicked the orange I’m Done button and all my previous and future Target purchases get categorized as “groceries”.
But what about when I get prescriptions meds or clothing at Target – two items that don’t fall under the broad “groceries” category? Since this post has already gotten long, I will address Splitting Transactions in a follow-up early next week. Stay tuned…
Hopefully this clears up the most important part of making Mint.com work for you – categorizing transactions. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask!