Money

My 3-year obsession with one free budgeting app helped me save over $15,000

Benjamin Snyder

I've been fixated on Mint, the free Intuit-backed savings app available in the U.S. and Canada, for 1409 days, or over three years now. My four-year anniversary is this June.

I check the site pretty much every day. I pore over the amount in my checking and savings accounts. I worry about my rising credit card bill. I find solace in my diminishing student loan amount. And I feel comforted, a little, by my slowly expanding 401k.

As I've progressed in my career and have thought increasingly about saving for the future, my relationship with Mint has intensified.

And, as a result, I've saved over $15,000.

WHY I STARTED

The service was founded in 2006 by entrepreneur Aaron Patzer. In 2009, it was bought by Intuit for a reported $170 million. Last year, the site claimed to have over 20 million users. In June 2013, I became one of them.

I began using the site as a newly minted (no pun intended) graduate with a liberal arts education. The plan was to move back home to start a part-time job ahead of beginning graduate school in New York City.

Now, it's no secret that the city is one of the most expensive on earth, and journalism jobs, especially entry-level gigs, are known for paying little. I knew I had to act fast in order to make ends meet after college and grad school without too much help from mom and dad.

I moved back home to Brooklyn in May, but wanted to start saving to rent my own place by August. So I downloaded Mint.

I added my account information including my bank account, my credit card and my student loans, which had left me with a negative net worth in the thousands. And I got started.

WHY IT WORKS

Knowledge is power

It's been empowering knowing where every dollar from a paycheck goes.

I now know that my target budget for food is about $600 a month, and that includes groceries, eating out with friends, etc. My phone bill is $50. My Internet and cable sets me back another $150. Then, there's Netflix, gym expenses, subway fare and more.

Rent is my biggest expense by far, but at least now I can situate it in the context of my monthly net income.

Knowing more, I can save more

Mint helps me understand how much I spend on a monthly, weekly and daily basis. Now that I really get my spending habits, I'm confident enough to sock away a few hundred extra per month in my 401(k) and more into a personal savings account in case of emergencies. I feel comfortable paying off chunks of my student loans sooner than later, too.

Without the app helping me visualize the growth of my personal net worth and understand when I need to cut back to pay off a big bill, I'd just be guessing. With it, I've been able to save $15,000.

WHY IT MAY NOT WORK FOR EVERYONE

The app isn't perfect. Here are the potential drawbacks.

Security

You may feel squeamish about inputting passwords to a third-party service. I've never had issues with accounts being breached, but there have been a couple scares. For instance, I remember vividly when the amount in my 401(k) went to $0 overnight. I panicked and got in touch with Mint's customer support who assured me it would be fixed.

A week later, the correct numbers were restored.

Offers

The endless array of offers that appear on the main dashboard to get a new credit card or to refinance loans can be dizzying. There are also emails, which you can opt out of, berating you for overspending on budgets. (For me, that's mostly food!).

Usually I just close the pop-ups and hyperbolic emails and move on with my life.

Overall, although it's sometimes made me anxious — seeing savings dwindle and costs creep up can be stressful — this system has worked for me.

My savings put me in a good spot when compared with other people in the U.S. About 69 percent of Americans have less than $1000 saved, and 34 percent have no savings at all.

At 25, I'm already on track to exceed the average retirement savings for families, according to a Economic Policy Institute report, which states that the "mean retirement savings of a family between 32 and 37 years old is $31,644." On the other hand, my nest egg barely registers compared to this 26-year-old personal finance wizard who already has around $150,000 stowed away and plans to retire in a decade.

Still, I feel proud of how it's helped me feel empowered to save these last few years, and I see no reason to stop using Mint any time soon.