"You can't hit a target you can't see."
I'd like to add that you can't pick a target unless you know where you're standing.
So, before I get into things like making smart financial choices, saving money, and all that sort of thing, we need to get you to a point where you know exactly where you stand financially. Over the next couple of weeks I'll share some different ways to keep track of your finances, because different people operate different ways. What works for me, might not be so great or useful for you, and vice versa. Feel free to add anything you have tried that works for you because you never know what will work for what person.
This week is a very brief, but helpful post to introduce you to a useful online tool. (Most of you probably have heard of it already, and may even be using it.)It's a website called Mint.com.
What Mint.com does is it links up all of your accounts that you have online access to. Credit cards, loans, savings, stocks, etc. And it adds everything up and gives you a total "Net Worth" (or how much money you actually have after taking into account all your debt).
Mint also keeps track of things like unusual spending, unexplained fees, when bills are due, and low balances in accounts. Now this can be useful, but honestly I find it annoying at times. Mint doesn't understand the automatic identity protection program I use and that it's not a 'fee' charged to my card for using my card. It also lets me know that my bank accounts have 'low' balances when they reach something like $200, which for a starving grad school student really isn't a 'low' balance.
What I like most about Mint is it has tools to help you calculate how much you need to save for retirement. It also has a tool that shows how long it will take to pay off a debt and allows you to enter in different payment amounts. It even calculates how much you'll save on interest with each payment option you try out.
My favorite however, is that Mint allows you to set financial goals for savings (like the retirement one), and links to an account. I set up a "House" account for a down payment on a house. Mint calculates how much I would need for a down payment, then keeps track of where I'm at on progressing toward that goal.
And I'm all about setting and reaching goals, and I think that's the best part of Mint, it gives you a visual look at how you are progressing on goals, and what you need to do in order to meet them.
(We WILL talk about setting financial goals later. Right now just focus on figuring out where you stand now, so you can set better goals later.)