How To

How to: Track Cash Spending and Checks

Mint.com is the go-to online app for tracking activity across multiple bank and credit accounts, but until recently, there wasn’t an easy way to handle cash or check transactions. While you could see what you charged, or the activity in your checking account, you couldn’t manually record the kind of day-to-day transactions that many still use cash and checks for.

That’s all changed with the addition of the new feature that allows you track cash or pending transactions (available in the Transactions tab). Using an intuitive entry-form, you can now record cash you’ve spent or received, checks you’ve written, and other transactions that haven’t cleared your bank yet. Mint.com has always been good at giving you a picture of your saving and spending activity. With the addition of cash and checks, that picture is now more complete

Entries in the Cash Only section of Transactions flow through to both budgets and trends, so using this tool regularly can help you narrow down your spending habits. Here’s how to get the most out of this new feature, along with some things to watch out for.

Cash Transactions

Consider a situation where you’re going out to lunch with a group of friends. Instead of forcing your waiter or waitress to run six credit card tabs, you decide to split the bill and pay with cash. With earlier versions of Mint, this cash would’ve gotten lost. Sure, you could always work-around this by splitting your ATM transactions but that took additional work on your part.

With Mint.com’s new Cash Transactions, you can enter your share of that group luncheon.

To create the transaction, click the “Add a Transaction” button. When the dialog appears, fill in the date (you can type any date you like; you don’t have to use the wheel), a description of the event, select a category, and enter the amount of the transaction.

Because this is a cash transaction, set the Type to Cash, and (assuming you spent money), click the Expense radio button. By default, Mint.com will mark the ‘automatically deduct this from my last ATM withdrawal’ box. Unless you have separately recorded cash income, it’s best to leave this checked–when checked, your cash spending will be taken from your uncategorized ATM withdrawal.

If you uncheck this box, then you may wind up double-booking your spending: you’ll see both the cash withdrawal and the cash spending, even though you can’t spend money twice that you only withdrew once (though it would be oh-so-nice if you could!).

There is one limitation to recording cash transactions in Mint.com: while you can enter cash transactions, and Mint is obviously aware of your ATM withdrawals, you won’t actually see a cash balance anywhere. The new cash feature is designed to help you track your spending, not tell you how much cash you’re carrying around at any point in time.

After completing the basics, you can enter as much or as little of the additional detail as you like. The cash transactions box supports Tags and has a Notes field, so you can further categorize and describe your spending.

With everything filled in to your liking, click the I’m Done button, and the entry will be added to your transactions‚ you’ll be able to see it in both the Cash Only tab and the Cash & Credit tab in the Mint.com sidebar.

Check Transactions

You can use check transactions to record checks you write, long before your bank becomes aware of them. Start the process as you do with cash transactions, but set the Type to Check. When you do, you’ll get a new Account menu and a Check # box. Select the proper checking account from the Account menu, and make sure you fill in the proper check number!

With a check number, Mint.com will auto-reconcile your check entries with your bank account, once the bank has processed the check. So you don’t need to worry about getting anything out of sync, as long as you provide the right check number each time.

Pending Transactions

Pending transactions are used to track non-cash spending that you’ve incurred, but that Mint.com is not yet aware of. For example, if you go on a shopping spree with your credit card on Saturday, you may find that it doesn’t show up in Mint.com for a few more days. In order to always have an accurate figure for your remaining credit card balance, you’ll want to enter such spending as pending transactions, by setting the Type to Pending.

The pending transaction form is much like the cash transactions entry screen, but with the addition of an Account pop-up so you can pick the proper account. When entering pending credit card transactions, try to be accurate with both the date and the amount. When your credit card is updated in Mint.com, we will try to automatically reconcile the pending transactions. We do this based on matching both the amount and the date range. If there’s no match, you’ll have to manually reconcile the pending spending to your credit card.

Of note:

As noted earlier, Mint.com won’t actually tell you how much cash you’re carrying around at any given time. For that, you’ll have to peek in your wallet. And despite Mint’s penchant for automating your finances, in those cases when Mint.com is unable to automatically reconcile your pending transactions, you’ll have to manually delete each unreconciled transaction.

You can’t use this feature to enter the cost basis of your investment activity, nor can you upload a file of containing your transactions.

Finally, while it might be useful to record your cash spending on-the-go, that feature didn’t make it into the latest version of the iPhone app. iPhone support for recording these kinds of transactions will come later.

With the ability to track cash spending and pending transactions such as checks, Mint.com provides a clearer picture of your saving and spending than ever before.

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