Mint.com: An Alternative to Cash Envelopes When Your Life is Chaotic

Guest post by Elisha

My husband and I are huge fans of Dave Ramsey. We became debt-free after we got married and used the cash envelope system to stick to our budget.

We strongly believe in the cash system. But when my husband started getting his paycheck directly deposited, I would have to go get cash out to put into the envelopes. It became one more thing to do.

After we started having kids, it became more of a hassle and struggle to count out the cash, get my coupons, make sure I had my price-matching items organized, and control the tots.

Some other issues we began to have with the envelopes:

  • My husband or I would need a specific envelope, only to realize that the other one had it. This mainly happened with the restaurant envelope! (Most of the time, we’d just take out how much we thought we’d use. Then, we wouldn’t use it all, and we’d forget to put it back — which meant cash that we then didn’t know what it was earmarked for.)
  • If we had to use money from one envelope, only to reimburse it because we used it for something other than it’s purpose, we’d often forget.
  • If I forgot to grab the envelope (which started happening a lot after having kids) I’d have to remember to hold on to the receipt, which often got trashed while the kids were helping me put groceries away.

This probably sounds like I’m really unorganized — but I’m not really! It’s just that with our 3 kids under 4, life somehow gets a little more chaotic.

A few months ago, we discovered Mint.com. Boy, has it made life easier! Now, we pay for nearly everything using our debit card. No more envelopes….just the checking and savings accounts to keep up with.

If you’re not familiar with Mint.com, it’s is a great, free website that helps you manage your money. There is also an fantastic free app you can download.

Some of the wonderful things about Mint.com:

  • You can enter your budget, it shows how much you are spending and warns you if you are about to over spend.
  • You can categorize every purchase, then it breaks down your spending so you can see exactly where your money is going.
  • It creates a beautiful pie chart (for those who love to see numbers in picture form!) to show what percentage of your money is going where.
  • The app lets you see how much is in your account and how much you’ve spent from your budget.
  • When you enter your budget, it shows what the national average is for spending in that category (which is so interesting, and exciting when you see you’re spending a lot less than everyone else!)

Like I said, the cash envelope system helped us tremendously for several years! But this system of only using our debit card and Mint.com is so much easier — especially for this season of life we’re in. If you’re trying to get out of debt and working to follow a budget, this is another great option.

Elisha is more than happily married to her husband of 6 years. They have 3 kids: 3, 2, and 8 months — and she loves being a stay-at-home mom! Her family enjoys the outdoors, gardening, and snuggling.

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Comments

  1. says

    Hi Elisha! I have a question. I tried Mint.com a couple of years ago but I stopped using it. I couldn’t figure out how to allocate funds in my budget: $200 for groceries, $50 for travel, etc, from every paycheck… with some paychecks being allocated differently than others. I’m not sure if it didn’t have that capability then, or if I just didn’t know how to do it. Do you know if it will allocate funds this way now? Thanks!

    • Bridget says

      With each catagory you can choose “every month” “every few months” or “once”. You can’t choose “half the month” or something like that. You can’t split up 2 different grocery budgets in one month.

    • says

      Jamie – I have a longer post below, but yes! They let you roll over unused or overspent budgets month to month, and they let you adjust budgets within each month very easily. And that is a more recent feature – it didn’t work very well for planning before.

  2. Meredith says

    Thanks for sharing. We still use cash but our delimma is that my husband just doesn’t want to carry around our envelope. And I don’t blame him. He gets invited to eat out with his boss at least once a week. While out, he doesn’t want to pull out a cash envelope. Or, if he is picking up groceries after work, he doesn’t want to deal with an envelope all day. So, I just leave 50 in the bank and then use our banking software to keep tabs on what has been spent. I will check out mint.com!

    • says

      I, too, feel disorganized when it comes to budgeting. I have used Mint and the envelope system in the past year. Often, I just don’t find time to tool around with Mint and I had the same problems as Elisha when I used the envelope system. In fact, a bill came yesterday that we are certain was paid last year, but likely with cash, so there is no record of payment. My latest budget plan has been to simply spend as little as possible and pay off debt with what’s left! However, I think I will give Mint one more go round after reading this.

  3. Jessie says

    We have been using mint.com for over a year and a half now, and we love it! It has helped us save so much because it has helped us stay organized. My husband and I both have the mint app on our phone, so it’s really easy to see if we have money left in categories even while we are out. It also was really beneficial to have when we filed our taxes because we could see how much we gave to church last year, and how much I spent on certain things for my business. My only complaint is that I wish the goal setting part was set up differently, so I just use our own system for goal setting.

  4. Cheri A says

    I struggle with using cash for everything also. I recently found this cool, free site that does the same thing, I think, except you don’t have to have it connected to your bank account and make the entries yourself. It has phone apps also. It just makes me uncomfortable to have all my financial numbers linked up to Mint. They do have paid versions that do more, but I am starting with the free one first to track some things.

    Here’s the link:

    https://www.eebacanhelp.com/login.php

    • Becky says

      I have been using Mint.com for about a year now. I started using it when my husband’s salary decreased by almost $20,000 annually. I needed something that would keep me on a budget. It has been a great tool, but I am still trying to figure out everything it can do for me. Also, I am not as organized as I’d like to be so I forget to go in to check on it. ..lol. Thanks for your post, it has motivated me to step it up. :)

    • Jackie says

      Thanks for the link Cheri. I have heard of mint.com, but I am not keen on giving out the passwords to my accounts. I will give this site a try.

      • Cheri A says

        Jackie, that’s exactly why I didn’t like Mint. I hope you like EEBA. It’s perfect for us, and once it is set up, it’s super fast to do.

    • says

      I just started with EEBA! I can use it on my phone to immediately record receipts as soon as I buy something. I have heard great things about Mint, but it does not work with our bank, so I never got started on it. EEBA is a simple way to do this. The version I use (free) does not have all the bells and whistles, but I can record expenses and see right away where I am with my monthly budget in that category. It also rolls over amounts to the next month (manually with the free version).

      • Cheri A says

        Kristy, yay! I’m glad that there’s someone else using EEBA here. :) I just got the phone app recently when I got a smart phone. I’m loving it! And the free version is all I need also. :) I’m still playing with it and learning new ways to tweak it. My new love is the tags. I am going to start tracking my daughter’s gluten-free foods this month to see how much of my food budget goes to that.

  5. says

    I don’t think you sound unorganized at all. Just busy. I had three kids in four years too and it was insane for quite awhile. Now things are a little better. I realized yesterday that everyone can now get themselves dressed and just that little bit of progress is going to make a huge difference in my life. Good for you that you are so responsible and aware of where your money goes and what you are doing with it. Thanks for the new idea!

  6. M says

    I like that Mint helps us see all of our accounts in one place, but I got annoyed with the setup after a few months. We recently set up an itemized budget in Excel and I like it much better. It took a little time to figure out the categories and the layout, and it’s still a work in progress, but I like that it is all completely in my control. With Mint I still felt like I didn’t know where our money was going.

    • denise says

      I use excel! It works for me…less stuff to fiddle with than Mint.com. I love Mint.com it is a great website but a couple of my accounts don’t load properly so I just typed up my own budget in excel! Glad I’m not the only one!

      So many of our bills are pretty much set in stone the only place I can really try to save money is groceries and eating out :( But I’m trying!!!

  7. Christie says

    I feel like Mint is great to use when you don’t already have a budget set up. My husband wanted to start using Mint because he liked the app and online capability. However, we have had a budget for years. Mint didn’t allow us to allocate funds we already had to carry over in certain budget line items. From other comments on Mint, it looks like others had the same problem. So until Mint changes that aspect, we will stick to using our current system!

  8. says

    We have been using Mint.com for over a year now and have been very happy with it. The key to successfully using this program is that it is best for those who just need help keeping track of what they are spending. I wouldn’t think it would be very helpful for someone who has a problem saying “no” to purchases they don’t have the money budgeted for, because Mint.com keeps track of what you have spent, but you are still using your credit/debit card/s. The cash system is a better option for someone who is used to overspending and needs to not have the opportunity to do so. That said, we really like this free program. It’s fairly easy to use, and you can even “exclude from Mint” transactions that might not necessarily reflect your personal budget (such as when my husband makes a company purchase with our debit card & is then reimbursed, we exclude those two transactions). You can make categories, sub-categories, and customize to fit your personal budget. A great way to stay organized!

    • Jenn says

      I use Mint and the cash system! We use debit cards for things like medical bills and gas; automatic payments for utilities, insurance, etc.; and cash for groceries, clothing, toiletries, eating out, entertainment, and household supplies. You can designate cash withdrawals for cash spending, and then you can manually enter in all your cash expenditures and have it go against the cash you took out. Mint does a great job of keeping track of everything, and using cash for most of our non-fixed budget categories helps us save more than just using a debit card for everything.

    • Vickie says

      I am just curious. We have not had success using our debit cards everywhere. There has been numerous times that it has been compromised and we have had to get a new one. I have had friends who had over 4000 k spent from their account before the bank notified them. You do not have the protection with a debit card like you do other instances. We have a dedicated account for our debit card…not our main account and only move money over when we want to use it like around Black Friday or online shopping. I can’t imagine using it at a grocery store or restaurant anymore with the issues that have plagued us. I am just not willing to put my hard earned money open to thieves. So curious how many of you use your debit card and if you have had the same problems. In our city we have had several rings of thieves that have wreaked havoc on debit card users. I am just gun shy and yes we still use checks or cash.

      • says

        Vickie,
        I worked in banking for over 12 years and debit cards are very safe! Yes they do get compromised and if there was a ring in your area it can happen but all of that money is protected and will be put back in your account. So even if they do get the funds it will all be replaced. I use my debit card everywhere, grocery, gas, online and have not had it compromised although my husband did get his compromised a few years ago but our bank promptly put the funds back and issued him a new card. The truth is checks are more unsafe then debit cards because all of your banking information is on the bottom so all someone needs is one check and they can make many more and pass bad checks all over the place which is much harder to clear up then debit card fraud.
        As for as your friends with the 4K spent from their account it is very hard for a bank to know what is not legitimate transactions because they happen very quickly usually within an hour or two. They really do the best they can in spotting fraud quickly.

      • denise says

        Yikes! I hate to say it but it sounds like your bank may not have a secure enough system! I work at a bank in Ohio and we rarely have customers complain of this sort of thing!

        I would STRONGLY suggest that you not necessarily have just a separate account for your debit card itself but for online purchases. Online purchases are when cards are most compromised. Especially if you use Paypal or do any subscriptions online. My husband uses paypal a lot for buying/selling things online and we have a totally separate checking account just for his online activities and we only keep a very limited amount of money in there!

        I’m so sorry you’ve had trouble with debit cards. I love mine. But I track everything we spend so we don’t overdraw :)

        • Vickie says

          Thanks for your reply! Yes, we never do ANYTHING online with Paypal and only use a dedicated account for online purchases. As I said it has been a problem in our city and with NUMEROUS banks not just our bank. After the first time it happened over Memorial weekend three years ago we went to a separate account and only keep a small amount of money in there so that if it happened again it would not drain our main checking account like what happened to our friends. They banked at a different bank entirely. We track everything, everyday…I used to be in banking. I have been a stickler with our accounts since I was a young adult at the age of 20. Thank the Lord overdrawing has never been a problem for us. We live within our means and many think we are weird but we live like no one else so we can later live like no one else. Thanks again!

          • denise says

            Yikes! So many different banks! Makes me thankful that your accounts weren’t accessed and that you are so careful! So many people aren’t careful as you know! We have people come into the bank all the time just noticing 6 months later there was a fraudulent charge! It makes me so crazy that they don’t check at least once a month!

      • Sam says

        I share the same fears as you do, Vickie. I never use my debit card for anything other taking cash out. Even though many people frown on using credit cards, I use them both for rewards and for tracking in Mint. I am very disciplined and check Mint almost daily to make sure I’m not even close to reaching my budget. To me, this is no different from using the envelope system but I know it’s not for everyone.

    • MK says

      I am also a fan of mint.com. I have not been terribly good at keeping a budget, but I like how easy it is to adjust your budget according to your needs for the month. Since using it I have been much better about balancing everything. Yes, I would love to use the all cash system, but sometimes it’s just too much hassle when you are too busy. For me I use a combined system of debit and cash and that seems to have worked out well so far. I am about 95% debt free and really loving it!

  9. says

    I’ve been using Mint.com for years now, and I love it overall. I just started Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, so I decided to try the cash envelope system for groceries only so far. It has been largely a nightmare. I’m heavily pregnant, so my husband has been doing a lot of the grocery shopping for me. If I have him stop off on his way home from work, he doesn’t have the envelope with him. Also, my husband is paid twice per month, and because our mortgage payment is taken out of the first paycheck I cannot withdraw a full month’s grocery money in cash, so I take out half. That really cuts down on my flexibility with my shopping trips (like if there are great stock-up deals), and makes sticking to the budget so much more difficult, especially if I have to send my non-coupon savvy hubby to shop. ARGH! It’s been really frustrating. I thought using cash would mean less waste, but to be honest we were pretty good at sticking to our budget when we used Mint and a credit card (that we pay off each month). I’m not sure if cash is worth it…maybe it will get easier once I have the baby and can get back into my routines.

  10. says

    The one caveat to all this is that Dave Ramsey advises using cash because you spend less when you strictly use cash. When you use plastic, even a debit card, you tend to spend more.

    If you’re able to stay within a budget using plastic, I say go for it. If not, stick with cash.

    (That being said, I really like this idea.)

    • says

      I was just about to say the same thing Wanda! Dave always says that when you use cash, you spend less.

      Yes, the cash envelopes might be a pain, but they do keep me from spending more because I know that I only have a certain amount in my envelope and I can’t go over it. I need that accountability :)

  11. Jodie says

    We’ve been using Mint for almost 2 years, and I love it! My husband is self-employed, so it not only helps us keep track of what is going out, but also how much income is coming in. I also really like the fact that you can “carry over” any category into the next month. This is really helpful for categories like “Gifts.”

  12. says

    I love mint! It also works for longer term envelope budgeting and saving since you can ‘carry over’ the leftover (or overspent) budget amount every month.

    For example – if you start out with 1,500 dollars already saved in your account. You say that 1,000 is your emergency fund and 500 is your car fund. Then, you budget the rest of the money you expect that month as usual (down to zero), making sure everything is set to roll over every month. You can adjust your budget if you have unexpected expenses or income.

    The next month, you can contribute, say, 200 to your emergency fund, showing that you have -1000 out of 200, or 1200 total. If you only spent 250 out of your 300 grocery budget, it will read as -50 out of 300, or 350. Or, if you spent 350, it will read like you’ve already spent 50 out of 300, with 250 left.

    After that first month where you allocate the money you already have, you just have to keep your budget at zero, and it lets you save very easily for irregular purchases or goals. The trends are incredibly useful over time to see what you’re actually spending over the course of the year in each category, which can help you find realistic budget numbers for the future.

  13. April says

    I have been using Mint for over a year now, and it has been wonderful for a FREE app!! There are a few hiccups, but nothing that has caused us budgeting pain or any nightmares, just lack of having enough money to budget! :)

  14. Paula says

    Another aspect about mint I love. IF I go over in a budget area, my husband gets the email! This helps keep me on my toes and have the accountability I need.

  15. Tami says

    We tried Mint, but it didn’t work for us. We use mvelopes.com (actually signed up through Crown Financial’s website) and they have a free version now. What I like about it is that it links to all of our credit/financial websites and downloads all of our transactions. Also, you fund the envelopes before you spend out of them, so you always know how much you have left to spend from your checks. You can also fund different amounts from each check that you use. We use it along with cash for our ‘everyday spending’ items like gas, food, and clothing.

  16. Jeannine says

    I have a question about Mint.Com. It sounds great what you are saying however I am concerned about privacy. It seems like this is a lot of information to share about yourself. Has anyone had any privacy issues with this website?

    • says

      I have been using mint for over a year and have not had any issues. I had the same thoughts before I signed up. In whatever forum I was reading at the time when I first heard about mint, no one was advising not to use them because of security issues, so I signed up.

    • Elisha says

      so far we haven’t had any issues, and i haven’t heard of or read about anyone having any. it has a privacy policy just like other sites that are similar.

  17. lisa says

    I also use mint and have simplified even more by creating subcategories (under uncategorized) for wants, needs, giving and saving using the balanced money formula.

  18. Kim says

    The purpose of Dave Ramsey’s cash envelope system is that paying cash hurts more. Cash is more emotional. Using plastic, a debit or credit card, does not have the same emotional impact. The pain of spending prevents a person from spending as much. Cash helps you think more before spending. I was able to cut the grocery budget in half using cash, & have cut it even more using coupons & MSM techniuques.

    I deposit cash from the envelopes into the smaller bank account (separate from & not linked to the main account) & use that debit card for online purchases). I set it up after a company I had previously ordered from withdrew money from my account without my permission.

  19. Laura says

    Crown Mvelopes is another great system for “virtual” envelopes. I have used Mvelopes for years and absolutely love it. And their customer service is awesome!

    • Kristin says

      We use Microsoft Money to track all our purchases. Does anybody have an opinion if Mint would be a better alternative? Does Mint keep track of credit card and bank balances?

      • Ellen says

        I used Microsoft Money for a few years, then switched to Quicken when Microsoft announced it was discontinuing online service for Money software. There was a learning curve with Quicken, but now I like it MUCH better than Money. It does everything people are describing with Mint.com, plus I can track multiple accounts (checking acct., credit cards, business acct., etc.). I’ve also created accounts within Quicken to save for specific goals, and I use the planning feature to compare our spending with our budget. Very useful. I like Quicken a lot, and I like that the information isn’t stored online.

  20. says

    we have used mint for a couple of years now. i use the app on my iphone as well as the toolbar app on my mac. i don’t use cash. ever.

  21. Susan says

    I tried Mint.com and didn’t like it. It wasn’t helpful to me at all. I’m not sure if I’ve just been doing this budget thing so long that it didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know or wasn’t already doing or I just didn’t know how to use it all. At any rate, I closed our account.

  22. says

    So, say I make a purchase at Walmart. E.g. $100. $50 was groceries, $20 was paper goods, $15 was clothing, and $15 was personal toiletries. Does mint grab the transaction, see ‘walmart’ and declare it all one category? or does it somehow get your receipt and split up the transaction into the categories? or do you have to do that manually? If you have to do that manually, can you put stuff in, mark it and it calculate the sales tax? (because some items have sales tax and some don’t and I want the sales tax to come out the category that the item was)

    Hubby used mint.com a few years ago, but it would never connect with our accounts, so he quite using it. He started using another one, but stopped it too, as it was easier to just input stuff into a spreadsheet manually. So, I’ve love thoughts on this now. See, he deals in the big picture and tracking all our accounts. I track our spending and daily costs. Thus, our needs are different.

    • Kristine says

      You can set the merchants’ names to be automatically associated with specific categories but only with one category each. So if you shop for things under multiple categories at Wal-Mart and want to put sales tax under a separate category as well, you have to manually split them, and they are then listed as if they were all separate purchases. Also, if a merchant comes up that you haven’t categorized yet, it may or may not be recognized under the correct category or just be uncategorized. I’ve found it to be kind of a pain to have to go through and check all of the categories for each purchase manually. I used to use Mint more often but haven’t much recently.

  23. Lynne says

    I have never heard of Mint. I have been looking at Crown Mvelopes. I am very new to budgeting (as in I have never had one before), and I think that the cash system would be very difficult and even unrealistic for our situation. Does anyone have experience with both who can share which they prefer and why? Thanks.

  24. says

    I love using Mint! There are some things I’d like to see changed, like the ability to begin working on next month’s budget before the first of that month. But overall it works for us. I know every one says you save money if you use cash, but personally it doesn’t work that way for me. I see cash and my brain goes “Oh, free money!” But when I use my debit card, I mentally see the amount in that budget (since Mint keeps track of it) and I know about how much money I have left to use. Plus my hubby can check it at work and know how much money a particular budget category has left. It works for us, but I can see how it wouldn’t be for everyone.

  25. Nikki says

    Arent ya’ll fearful of identity theft? You have to give your bank account personal id and password for Mint.com to connect to your bank account. I am leary. Anyone had issues with this?

  26. Jennifer says

    My husband and I tried mint, but stopped. While the idea is good, we just did not feel comfortable with having mint linked to our accounts at all times. While nothing happened to us, we did not want to take that risk. We are now using You Need A Budget http://www.youneedabudget.com/ You can enter your info on the go (though the free app) or send the info from your bank, but it is not always connected, you do the bank connecting.

  27. Skinnytree says

    I love Mint!

    The first step after you create a free account is to link your bank accounts. Once all your transactions appear in Mint, I recommend taking a little extra time to categorize them all. Categorize your transaction history – at least one months worth.

    Then in the future, as your transactions upload, automatically they are appropriately marked! This will make “checking Mint” an easy, manageable task.

    I check Mint every morning as a habit. And on Mondays I spend a little more time paying bills and making sure we are in track for our budget.

    Happy minting!

  28. says

    I use Mvelopes from crown financial and it is amazing – it has budget envelopes – so it is like cash budgeting without cash. It is free too!