Mint.com Can’t Cut It In A Cash City

Mint.com Can’t Cut It In A Cash City

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As much as I love the flexibility of my own budget spreadsheet, I do appreciate Mint.com for it’s automatic tracking of finances to help folks starting to budget.

Unfortunately, the advantage of using your credit/debit transactions is also a disadvantage.

While you don’t have to enter each transaction manually, this means Mint is only recording your credit/debit purchases.

For bills, checks and fixed items, this is fine.

But the problem appears when you start using cash.

The majority of bars and some restaurants are cash-only in New York City. Trips to the ATM are frequent. Paying for dinner in cash is common.

Unfortunately, tracking ATM withdrawals is difficult. These transactions often show up in your bank record as the address of the ATM, which I rarely take note of if it’s not an ATM I use regularly.


In the screenshot above, this transaction might be an ATM withdrawal. In context of the date and other purchases around this, I am fairly certain it is.

However, I know that I took money out of an ATM then went to a bar and spent $14. Where and when I withdrew the money makes no difference to my budget as long as I know how I spent the cash.

Mint.com lets you “mindlessly” track your finances but when it comes to divvying up how you spent that ATM withdrawal, you might not remember and Mint certainly is not aware of anything after the debit transaction.

To handle tracking ATM withdrawals in Mint, you need to first assign each transaction as “ATM” in their system. You could just leave the transactions like that, but it would not be helpful in showing you exactly how you spend your money. It will also cause some of your other spending to be skewed. If you want to track how you spend the cash, it’s a bit more complicated.


Mint does let you split up transactions but it’s rather tedious and non-malleable.

Let’s take a look at a common scenario.

I am going to a bar with a friend tonight so I take $20 out of ATM X on my lunch break. Then later, my friend asks if I want to get dinner first and I accept. On the way to the restaurant I stop and take out another $20 at ATM Y.

I spend $28.75 in cash on dinner.

Then I spend $10 in cash on booze.

In Mint, this affects both ATM transactions and results in some awkward splitting. The full ATM X withdrawal ($20 of my $28.75 dinner) would be categorized into “Restaurants”. Then the ATM Y withdrawal would be split into $8.75 in “Restaurants” and $10 in “Bars”. Then I would have to continue to remember how I spent the last few dollars.

Now keep in mind, you are probably going through this a few days (if not weeks) after these ATM transactions. Trying to remember not only the ATM’s you went to, but then how you spent the cash is much more difficult in practice. If you are used to Mint just recording everything, you might not stay on top of mentally tracking your own spending.

Cash, in general, is even harder to track since we often throw away (or don’t even take) our receipts.

Using a custom spreadsheet is a smoother solution for dealing with cash.

In my custom spreadsheet, I manually input my expenses regardless if they were credit or cash. Of course, this involves remembering where I spent the cash, which means I am more aware of the cash I spend because I know I need to input it later.


In my budget spreadsheet I can just input “$28.75” in “Eating Out” and “$10” in “Alcohol”. I don’t need to record the ATM withdrawal, I just track what I actually spend the cash on.

Readers…

How do you feel about Mint.com? What is your preferred budgeting tool? Do you keep track of your cash purchases?

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4 Replies to “Mint.com Can’t Cut It In A Cash City”

  1. I will have to remember that for when i visit NYC!

    My online banking (which is how I track my spending) has the same issue with cash, and also, with electronic transactions, if a purchase involves different things (for example we might buy groceries at the supermarket, PLUS beer to take to a party, but we can’t split the transaction to reflect that).

    In terms of cash, no, I don’t really track it. We take out cash occasionally when needed (farmer’s markets, certain entertainment-type stuff) but generally cash is only when the BF takes out his fun money for the week, and I don’t track that.

  2. That drives me a bit mad about every auto-tracking system – most of them simply don’t have that flexibility that you would think might be obvious the minute the designer becomes the user for a variety of real life scenarios. It’s a shame because they’re so close to just about right, most of the time.

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