Mint for OS X Provides Eagle-Eye Scrutiny for Personal Finances
Keeping a close eye on your finances can be tricky in the age of credit cards. Online banking sites help, but Mint.com's OS X application keeps all sorts of personal financial details about your life accessible via a handy menu bar icon. It's out of sight when you don't want it and there when you do, showing you where your money is coming from and how it's being sucked away.
08/20/12 5:00 AM PT
Back in the days of coin and cash, you could see your money. You could hold in your hands, put it in your wallet, and hang onto it. When it was time to spend it, you could feel about how much was leaving you in exchange for something else. Was the transaction worth it? Maybe, maybe not.
Then came physical paper checks with a running balance and a little ledger. To write a check, you had to think about the amount, and maybe, just maybe, you'd write it down in your ledger and keep track of your running balance. Then came credit cards, which removed us from our finances, abstracting the acts of purchasing and buying. Debit cards sort of re-connected us to a specific account, but it's still a wispy sort of way to spend.
And online banking? It's partially good because it's suddenly possible to see your accounts online, from any computer or mobile device. And yet, with automatic bill pay, it's also out of sight, out of mind.
Enter Mint QuickView
A fundamental problem for me and most people I know is visibility into their finances. There are lots of strategies for this, including creating monthly envelopes of cash to help you visualize and follow a budget. Mint.com is a Web-based service that lets you create a consolidated view into all of your accounts. It also helps you do things like create a budget and plan your financial strategy. Mint.com has various mobile device apps, like Mint.com Personal Finance for iPhone, that let you access your Mint.com service.
Extending that reach is the job of Mint QuickView, a Mac OS X app that I'm running on Mountain Lion on a MacBook Pro. It's very lightweight and runs from my toolbar. Like iOS apps, it has a little badge with a number that discreetly alerts you to new account activities.
If you simply click on the icon in your toolbar, you'll get an instant drop-down window with a visual picture of the your recent financial activity, including a "Spending" wheel graph. Below your spending activity, you'll see a running list of recent transactions, followed by a horizontal section you can flip through that shows you various reminders and alerts, like bills that are due or activity that's out of ordinary.
For instance, one of my recent alerts showed me that, in the last 30 days, I had spend $400 more on groceries than usual. That's right, $400! At first glance, that's pretty astounding ... until you realize that I've taken one vacation and two major weekend trips in the last 30 days, resulting in the buying of a lot of food on the go, as well as shopping in out-of-the-way places that sell groceries at higher than my usual home-town prices. I'm often buying for a larger group of people than usual, too.
Easy, Immediate Access
What makes Mint QuickView particularly cool is that it's not just a Web-portal window app -- it's a native OS X app that is designed to give you a quick peek into your transactions and account activity. And that, it turns out, is part of the whole point -- the easier it is to pay attention, the more you pay attention, and hopefully the more you learn about your own finances and how to make them better.
In another Mint QuickView, I noticed what seemed to be an erroneous transaction hit my credit card account for a recent hotel stay. Hmm. I logged into my credit card account directly to investigate and learned that it was just a preliminary charge levied by the hotel, which is typical of how some lodging facilities bill credit cards -- with a placeholder amount until the final amount is nailed down. Nothing to worry about, nothing to see here. Nice.
The Search Is Amazing
My favorite feature isn't the pretty wheel graph, it's the Search, which lets you type in a keyword or several and see a list of transactions that match the search term.
It's so fast.
In an instant, I can type in a term and see a list of how much I've spent -- or have been charged automatically via recurring payments and automatic bill pays -- with a certain company. It's easy to see if you've been overcharged, if everything is humming along just fine, and how crazy it is to be spending so much on something you don't really care about.
Along this line of visibility, it turns out, is the fact that you can share visibility with a spouse or partner, meaning you can both see your financial activity at any time, even from different preferred Mint.com portals or apps. That's simply cool.
Sometimes you'll see a transaction that Mint.com tagged to the wrong category -- you can easily edit the transaction via the app, which launches a lean and mean portal window, extending the functionality of the little Mac app.
How about the security? Can't anyone just click on your Mint QuickView icon and see your whole financial picture unfold? If they have access to your Mac, that's possible, but Mint QuickView also lets you enter in a passcode that you can use. It works great because it's so fast and easy.
All in all, the most important thing about Mint QuickView is that it's gone when you want it to be gone and immediately in front of you on your Mac's screen when you want it. The key is seeing where your money is going, what it's doing or how it's sucking away from you -- where you're spending, the ungodly interest you get nailed with when you have credit card balances. Mint QuickView helps you see it all, good or bad, and that's the key here.