by Brian Hufford, CPA, CFP
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I continuously look for tools that can remove complexity from the busy lives of dentists. Most dentists would like a simple–to–use tool that, with just a computer mouse–click, would automatically track and organize home finances with no data entry necessary and no hassles. The perfect family accountant would be free, could track your credit card and check expenditures, organize deposits and bank withdrawals, alert you when something suspicious happens, and avoid nagging you about how you spend.
One of our favorite tools to help clients track home spending is the free Web site Mint.com. Most of us loathe family budgeting and the arguments engendered; however, most of us need to organize our home finances so we can see where the money is going.
Mint.com uses the latest Web–scraping technology to daily organize financial activities from family credit cards and accounts. You do not need to enter data. You supply Mint.com with electronic access to your family financial accounts, and choose how you wish to organize the data. Deposits and expenditures are automatically categorized any way you wish. Mint.com is a convenient way to see your various loan and deposit account balances and interest rates at multiple banks without logging in to each bank's Web site.
How do you avoid having to enter data? This Web site conveniently scrapes individual transactions from your accounts daily. The most time–consuming activity in budgeting is entering the data. Mint.com automatically records transactions from the electronic data supplied by bank or credit card companies. You decide how you wish to see the data organized, and the Web site automatically does the rest.
Think of the possibilities. Suppose you have a child at college and wish to know if overspending on the child's credit card is a problem. By linking your child's credit card to this site, you could track spending daily online or monitor it on your mobile device any time you wish. Studies show that most children learn financial habits from their parents. The software allows you a tool to teach children good financial habits. This family CFO is always on call — 24/7 — any time you wish.
I think what is needed in the 21st century is more wisdom and less data. We all suffer with data overload. But Mint.com allows you to be released from data overload by offering simple, yet powerful organizing tools.
Suppose that you undertake a major home remodel with multiple vendors and wish to keep the project within a predetermined amount. This Web site would allow you to keep one large budget for the entire project while also having sub–budgets for each vendor. Expenditures, whether by credit card or check, would automatically be categorized.
In addition to its organizing tools, the software lets you create alerts for critical payment due dates or certain types of fees or charges that are withdrawn from your accounts. For instance, suppose you wish to be alerted if your bank or credit card company charges an unexpected fee. The system can provide this notification automatically.
What about security? Mint.com is a “view–only” Web site. This means that transactions cannot be originated from the site. Electronic security is always an important issue. But unlike electronic banking or brokerage accounts, this tool is dedicated only to organizing and viewing.
Lifestyle spending is one of the “Five Ls” that must be controlled to maximize wealth creation in a career. The other Ls are Loan payments, Levies (taxes), Large purchases, and Legacy savings.
The latest Internet technology, available from Web sites like Mint.com, removes the time (and pain) necessary to see and control spending. With the complexity experienced with multiple family–member credit cards, checking accounts, direct deposits and withdrawals — not to mention ATM transactions — a family accountant would help organize and control financial outcomes. But few families can afford a family accountant.
This tool automatically records and organizes financial transactions for free, providing family decision–makers with the reporting needed to guide outcomes. Rather than spending valuable family time creating a family transaction history and organizing it, time is instead spent viewing outcomes compared to plans. Unfortunately, family counseling is not offered by the Web site. Why does there always seem to be one saver and one spender in every family?
If you wish to hire a family CFO, the best candidate could be free and just a mouse–click away.
Brian Hufford, CPA, CFP®, is CEO of Hufford Financial Advisors, LLC, an independent, fee–only planning firm that helps dentists achieve financial peace of mind. Contact Hufford at (888) 470–3064, or firstname.lastname@example.org.