Mint.com- a tool for budgeting, saving, giving & more

During February the COMPASS blog is having “Faithful Fun with Finances.” We’re thinking about credit scores, budgets, planning, and other topics. In this post, new COMPASS team member Jessica Zackavec shares about a resource which she has found useful, Mint.com, as a tool for budgeting for Millennials. We share it here as a look at one potential tool and resource that can be used in the budgeting process.

Budgeting can be difficult, as most Millennials in this fast-paced world recognize. Most of us are always on the go which makes it hard to keep up with a monthly budget, or at least I know it’s hard for me. I’m a newlywed with a husband who has a busy work schedule (he works full-time and is a volunteer firefighter). Our time together is often limited, which makes it quite precious. Finding time to sit down and figure out the budget isn’t something either one of us really wants to spend much of our time on. I found Mint.com a while back, and decided to give this budgeting tool a try. (Mint.com is related to Intuit and Turbotax which most people have heard of, which increased the credibility for a new user like me.)

Budgeting using Mint.com

Budgeting using Mint.com

Set-up

When you start with Mint.com I recommend using Firefox as your browser to ensure a smooth experience. It will ask if you would like to connect your bank, credit card, and loan accounts. You can connect them to your Mint account by following the instructions and using your online bank, credit card, or loan logins and passwords. Some may find this a little scary, but we did our research and felt very at peace about using it.  You need to do whatever you are most comfortable with personally. Once you connect your accounts, Mint will categorize your spending. (Just note that you may need to go back in and re-categorize a few purchases here and there).

Budgeting

The Mint.com App

The Mint.com App

You are able to set up a monthly budget. Once you establish an account, Mint categorizes your spending; it will show you exactly what your spending looks like for the last month. Mint will inform you via email if your spending goes over budget in any category, which is a helpful reminder!  Also, Mint.com has an app which makes it great for me and my husband to see what’s happening with our money even when we are apart.  It’s very convenient to log in to one place or open the Mint.com app to view our finances. Logging in to each account separately was a time consuming chore for us. If you are on the go like we are, you will love what Mint can do for you and your budget!  It’s easy to forget some of those small purchases which add up by the end of the month.  It is quite beneficial to see what your money is actually used for.

Saving

One of the cool options we have both really enjoyed is the goal section. We are able to create our own savings goals such as for a down payment on a house and an emergency fund.  Mint will also give us an estimate of when we will reach our goal. It also has a visual tool to help us track our progress and see where we are in our saving process.

Giving

Mint.com’s help with our budget allows us to set giving goals too. Establishing our giving goal brought back fond memories of Sunday School when we would try to make a giving goal for missions.  We’d have a big thermometer that you got to color in every time you gave a bit more so we could see where we were with our end goal. Mint provides that visual motivation as well!

Ongoing Use

I have really enjoyed my month with Mint, and think my husband and I will continue to use it. It’s very easy to maintain, and by spending just a little bit of time here and there, you can easily keep track of your financial spending, saving, and giving too!

jessica headshotAbout the Author: Jessica Zackavec is a newlywed and the wife of a volunteer firefighter. She has a passion for stewardship, and enjoys budgeting. She also loves crafting and all things Pinterest, if there is an opportunity to make something amazing for cheaper she will find a way! Creativity is a big part of her life at work and home. She is the Church Relations Coordinator at Barnabas Foundation and works in Stewardship Education, as well as Marketing.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Image Credits: Mint Budget and Mint.com App.

A Thankful Heart is a Happy Heart

During November the COMPASS Blog is sharing reflections about Thanksgiving and digging more deeply into why we give thanks. Today we welcome back regular contributor Nicole Brennan who ponders the question for herself in sharing some pictures of what and who she is thankful for and in writing that “A Thankful Heart is a Happy Heart.”

Family Party. “I am thankful for the wonderful people in my family and for our crazy traditions. This is “Misfit Christmas” where anyone who doesn’t have a place to go on Christmas is always welcome.”

Family Party.
“I am thankful for the wonderful people in my family and for our crazy traditions. This is “Misfit Christmas” where anyone who doesn’t have a place to go on Christmas is always welcome.”

I had no idea that when Timothy posed the question, “Why do you give thanks?” it would be such a difficult question to answer. It feels like the answer is “Because… I do.” It feels natural and right to say “thank you.” I don’t think it’s just my Midwest upbringing or my Christian faith. I hope it’s instinctive in humanity to be grateful. As I reflect on it more, I guess it isn’t a “natural” trait to be grateful since it seems we have to learn it.

As a young child, I remember learning about being grateful. Like any good Christian kid of the 90s/2000s, I have watched nearly every VeggieTales episode repeatedly. One of my favorites is “Madame Blueberry.” I can sing you all the songs, including the “Love Songs with Mr. Lunt.” (For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, watch it now!) It perfectly encapsulates the reason we are not grateful (materialism), the reasons we should be (God’s goodness), and how to achieve it (being grateful)- by singing the “Thankfulness Song”:

I thank God for this day,
For the sun in the sky,
For my mom and my dad,
For my piece of apple pie!
For our home on the ground,
For His love that’s all around,
That’s why I say thanks every day!
Because a thankful heart is a happy heart
I’m glad for what I have,
That’s an easy way to start!
For the love that He shares,
‘Cause He listens to my prayers,
That’s why I say thanks every day!

As an adult, I’m still learning about gratitude. Last year at this time, I wrote about the importance of gratitude and four simple ways to practice it. I’m very blessed to have a job in a place that emphasizes stewardship and generosity. In the course of my work there, I have read several books about gratitude, generosity, materialism, and contentment.

Roommates at trivia. “I have been blessed with a great home, surrounded by caring roommates… who also love trivia as much as me! We just placed first!”

Roommates at trivia.
“I have been blessed with a great home, surrounded by caring roommates… who also love trivia as much as me! We just placed first!”

I recently read a book, “Enough,” that I want to draw your attention to. One particular chapter stuck with me- about how rich I am. I haven’t always considered myself “rich,” especially when I was living on donations during my year of service, but I always had enough. And by having “enough,” I was rich. The beauty of simplicity first got ahold of me then, and it’s a value I constantly strive for, but haven’t quite mastered. From all  I’ve read and witnessed—especially this time of year—many people realize they are rich, too. But we all just forget in the haze of more stuff. There is an overwhelming craving in our society (perhaps humanity) to “need more.” We need more clothes, toys, affection, attention, and approval. But we already have more than enough. We are inundated with stuff and rich with blessings.

Catherine and I eating sandwiches in Florence. “My beautiful (inside and out!) friends are a blessing for which I’m eternally grateful. Here is my friend, Catherine, who I have magnificent adventures with! We are eating the biggest, and most delicious paninis in Florence, Italy.”

Catherine and I eating sandwiches in Florence.
“My beautiful (inside and out!) friends are a blessing for which I’m eternally grateful. Here is my friend, Catherine, who I have magnificent adventures with! We are eating the biggest, and most delicious paninis in Florence, Italy.”

This brings me back to the reason why I give thanks- because I appreciate the numerous blessings of God. We are blessed beyond riches to be alive, to be able to think, and to have a functioning body. There are numerous immaterial reasons to be thankful: my family, my friends, the people I encounter, and the places I get to see. Regardless of my material wealth, I am always grateful that I have enough.

About the Author, Nicole Brennan: Hello there! I’m passionate about living a stewardly lifestyle, while being adventurous and frugal. I currently live in community with six other 20-somethings in downtown Chicago and work as a Marketing Assistant at Barnabas Foundation, a partner of ESC and COMPASS. In my off hours, you can find me volunteering at a nearby homeless shelter, enjoying live music with friends, or watching reruns of Parks and Rec. Email me at nicoletbrennan@gmail.com or tweet me at @BarnabasFdn.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

More Tips for Travel on a Budget

COMPASS has shared ideas, experiences and stories during the month of June of how to have fun on a summer budget. Recently, Nicole Brennan shared with us some of her cost-saving tips for travel. Here are some more helpful reminders on how to stay budget conscious and still have fun during your summer travels.

Like I wrote in part one, I relish in deals and money-saving tricks, especially when traveling. Summer can be expensive for travel (since gas prices are higher and it’s the typical tourist season) but with some handy tricks, it shouldn’t put a huge dent in your wallet.

Try to be flexible. When searching for airfare, check prices for three days prior and after your planned travel dates. Flying out on a Saturday morning rather than a Friday night can easily save you $100 a ticket. Create a list of various activities you’d like to try and rank them in importance, knowing you might not visit them all. The worst part about pre-planning is having too rigid of a schedule. Make allowances for weather, emotions, and exhaustion by having a few options available.

Having dinner in Vernazza

Having dinner in Vernazza

Splurge on lunch and save on dinner. One of my more practical tips focuses on meal planning. Dinner is the most expensive meal of the day for Americans. Lunch specials can offer the same great cuisine at a discounted rate. Make a reservation for that Michelin restaurant at 1pm, and eat pub food in the evening. A role reversal can save you a lot when dining out. (Be sure to share your food, too! You can split a few meals, try a bite of everything at the table, and not have to pay extra!)

Savor your surroundings. While on vacation or staycation, plan some nature time. A hike, picnic, or a walk down the boulevard or beach is a cheap way to waste a day and appreciate the beauty around you. Find some quiet time to marvel at God’s wonders before your next activity. (I find journaling during these times particularly eye-opening.)

Visiting the Niagara butterflies

Visiting the Niagara butterflies

Maintain a balance. I try to “highlight” one activity a day to help me balance out my frugality. Whether that is a great meal, a unique excursion, a special treat, or an unusual souvenir, I try to treat myself daily. Just like a diet, if you are constantly in a starvation mode, you are bound to act out. This is a vacation after all- Enjoy it! Allowing yourself a “cheat” every once in a while helps your psychology and your budget in the end. (Be sure to include extra spending money for your “cheats” in the plan. You do have a budget, after all!)

Above all else, remember people (and your experiences) are always more important than things. I learned this proverb at a young age, and incorporate it in my daily philosophy. It is easy while watching your pennies to become too focused on the spreadsheets and not what really matters. It is more important to spend money on the journey, the memories, and your travel companions than extra postcards, magnets, or other frivolous souvenirs. Have your priorities straight when planning and during the vacation and invest in them.

During your travel, be it an exotic destination, entertaining cruise, or a sparkling staycation, take time to enjoy the many blessings God has created: the scenery, the company, and the opportunity you have to travel and relax.

profileAbout the Author, Nicole Brennan: Hello there! I’m passionate about living a stewardly lifestyle, while being adventurous and frugal. I currently live in community with six other 20-somethings in downtown Chicago and work as a Marketing Assistant at Barnabas Foundation, a partner of ESC and COMPASS. In my off hours, you can find me volunteering at a nearby homeless shelter, enjoy live music with friends, or watching reruns of Parks and Rec. Email me at nicoletbrennan@gmail.com or tweet me at @BarnabasFdn.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Tips for Travel, Vacations, or Staycations on a Budget

During June, COMPASS is sharing ideas, experiences and stories for how to have summer fun on a budget. Today we welcome back Nicole Brennan, a marketing assistant with Barnabas Foundation who shares some budget-friendly tips for summer travel, in the first of a two part blog-post series.

School is out, long weekends abound, and the beautiful weather outside your window is beckoning… All signs point to vacation!

Everyone needs a little “TLC” or “R’n’R” (pick your acronym!) during these warm, lazy summer days, but sticking to a budget is still necessary. I enjoy being frugal and thrifty, and carry these values out to my travel plans, be it a vacation or staycation.

Enjoying a ride with my friend Catherine in a gondolla while visiting and experiencing Venice, Italy

Enjoying a ride with my friend Catherine in a gondolla while visiting and experiencing Venice, Italy.

First step’s first- Create a budget! Know who is going, where you will go, what you will do, and the approximate cost. (Of course not knowing where you go is always an exhilarating adventure!) Research and estimate the cost for transportation, meals, activities, souvenirs, and create a budget including a “miscellaneous” category. Stay within your means by finding discounts, planning free or low cost activities, and taking advantage of friends and family. (Why pay a hotel/hostel/campground when you can stay in a guest bedroom/living room/backyard for free?) I also keep my receipts and journal my expenses during the trip. This way, I know where my money is going and am more budget-conscious in the midst of the vacation.

Don’t be caught unaware… Be prepared! Preparation is crucial to budgeting. There’s an old adage in event planning that can be applied to a multitude of situations: “An event can be cheap, fast, or good, but you can only have two.” Since I want my vacation to be cheap and good, I can’t have fast, too. That’s where planning comes in. Spreadsheets are my best friend, and I highly suggest you become acquainted with them. Write out (or include hyperlinks) to various information you might need: sleeping schedules, packing lists, day plans, directions and maps, meal information, and your vacation budget. (On my recent trip to Italy, I had seven different spreadsheets and a “vacation folder” I traveled with containing printed versions.) I suggest planning to happen at least a month before the trip. A benefit to prior preparation- it builds the anticipation!

“Let’s make a deal” should be your catchphrase. If you are traveling, be sure to check airfare and transportation deal sites. Expedia, Booking.com and Airfare Watchdog are great sites for airplane tickets, but Hotwire, TravelZoo, Orbitz, and Travelocity provide deals on airfare, cruises, hotels, activities, etc. Try to check them all for deals and steals. Finding a great bargain can be daunting, but I get excitement from it. If that’s not you, pick your favorite “deal” site (or two) and go with those. If you only check one site, be sure to check Kayak.com because it compares various websites and has a “Confidence meter” that tells you when to buy your tickets. BONUS: Purchase airfare at least a month to two weeks in advance, and on a Tuesday afternoon when flight prices are their lowest.

On the famous Rialto Bridge in Venice, Italy

On the famous Rialto Bridge in Venice, Italy

Check with the vendor. A frequent tip I share is to check Groupon for deals, and before you make the purchase, call the vendor. Most of the time, they will honor the Groupon price without you having to purchase the Groupon. (Groupon makes their profit by taking a percentage of the purchase price from the seller.) By bypassing Groupon, you are still getting a deal, but you are putting your money in the hands of the local business. The same goes for airfare and transportation. Some budget airlines (Southwest, Spirit, Frontier, etc.) don’t list their flights on other deal sites, so you’ll have to check their websites individually.

Read the policy statements and customer reviews! I get so excited when I find an amazing deal that I sometimes buy it before checking the details. (There is always a reason why that good is on sale… find it out.) Budget airlines might charge you exorbitant fees for baggage. Hotel deals may not be available for weekends. There may be too many people in your party (or not enough) to qualify for the activity deal. Know the limits of the bargain and try to work within them.

In the next blog post, I’ll share some more helpful hints and budget friendly tips!

profileAbout the Author, Nicole Brennan: Hello there! I’m passionate about living a stewardly lifestyle, while being adventurous and frugal. I currently live in community with six other 20-somethings in downtown Chicago and work as a Marketing Assistant at Barnabas Foundation, a partner of ESC and COMPASS. In my off hours, you can find me volunteering at a nearby homeless shelter, enjoy live music with friends, or watching reruns ofParks and Rec. Email me at nicoletbrennan@gmail.com or tweet me at @BarnabasFdn.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Fun and Frugal Ideas for the Summer

During June, COMPASS is sharing ideas, experiences and stories for how to have summer fun on a budget. Today we welcome Nicole Brennan, a marketing assistant with the Barnabas Foundation who shares some fun and frugal ideas for the Summer. 

summer funThere are so many options for fun activities during summertime, and all those options can be expensive! I always find it amazing how quickly everything adds up, even when you watch your wallet. Since kids are home from school, it’s a surprising extra expense to keep them occupied, too.

I am one of four kids, and during the summer my parents would take us on several day trips. My favorite summer memories just happen to be budget friendly, as well. (Which is a necessity when you have multiple children!) Now, as a SYAC (single, young adult in the city) I need to mind my pennies, but have fun with my friends, too!

Here are my suggestions for fun and frugal summer ideas:

  • Day at the beach. Pack your towels, sunscreen and cooler for sandwiches for a cheap but long day! Go with another family, couple, or a few friends, too! Bring your shovels to build a sand castle, DIY lawn games (like Ladder Ball), and volleyball to keep you and kids occupied.
  • Picnics at the park. Parks (local and national) abound in the USA! Take advantage of them and the free equipment they have. Bring some leftovers, pasta salads, or summer fruit and enjoy the greenery around you. Be sure to pack a blanket and bug spray, too!
  • Free admission days to the museums or zoos. Most museums and zoos have free admission days during the summer. Be sure to check the websites of your local places for their schedules! Bonus: Heritage or cultural centers are usually free or accept a small donation, and are under-utilized by the general population. They are just as educational and most offer discounted programs, too.
  • Read at the library. Libraries are becoming increasingly unpopulated, but I sure don’t know why! Free air conditioning, summer reading programs, and free access to all the books in world… what else does someone need? Libraries also have CDs, movies, audio books, e-books, and apps for you to borrow! If you don’t have a library card, get one today!
  • Visit your city’s online calendar. Almost all cities (or villages, counties, etc.) have a website with a calendar of events. With a little research, you can find great festivals and free events in your community. I live in Chicago, and we have a wonderful city calendar, complete with notices about free concerts and weekly dance parties!
  • Attend summer/day camps. VBS (Vacation Bible School) was always a highlight of my summer, even though it wasn’t at my home church. I met new friends, learned a few verses, and stayed out of my mom’s hair for the week. Besides your church, try your YMCA, park district, and community college for day camps. Learning new skills is valuable at any age!
  • Plan a treasure hunt. Geocaching is my nieces’ favorite way to explore nature and find hidden treasures. There are over 2.5 million geocaches around the world and I assure you, dozens in your area. As long as you have a smart phone or GPS you can play this global hide and seek!
  • Check social media for DIY projects. Pinterest always has great DIY projects and games for the whole family and is budget friendly! You can easily spend a few days just finding them! Buzzfeed had a great list full of Pinterest activities for kids made out of dollar store items!
  • Google it! When in doubt, Google and Google Maps are your best friend. Find Meetup groups, free or cheap events and fests, and endless ideas to waste away the day. Learn a dance routine, try a new recipe, build a hammock, or play a new game. It’s all there on the amazing, free tool we call “the internet!”

Do you have other ideas? Something that really worked for you? Please share in the comments below!

profileAbout the Author, Nicole Brennan: Hello there! I’m passionate about living a stewardly lifestyle, while being adventurous and frugal. I currently live in community with six other 20-somethings in downtown Chicago and work as a Marketing Assistant at Barnabas Foundation, a partner of ESC and COMPASS. In my off hours, you can find me volunteering at a nearby homeless shelter, enjoy live music with friends, or watching reruns of Parks and Rec. Email me at nicoletbrennan@gmail.com or tweet me at @BarnabasFdn.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.