|by Sean O'Neill||Before the Trip, Helpful Websites, Technology||37|
Budgeting is boring. But Mint.com's new travel-budgeting tool is (almost) fun to use because it makes it super-easy to estimate how much an upcoming trip will cost. The tool also encourages you to stick to a savings program and skip impulse purchases that can derail you from your travel goals.
Mint is Quicken's digital service used by more than 2 million Americans to track personal finance info via the Web and smartphone. Once you create a free account, you can set savings goals for things like retirement or children.
Starting today, travel is another goal you can save for. Type in your destination, the number of days you'll stay, length of stay, number of travelers, and other information. Ballpark how much plane tickets, hotels, rental cars, and other major expenses will cost.
The niftiest part is you can make good use of this info by linking up Mint with your vacation fund, such as an online ING Orange Savings Account.
As the money piles up in your account, Mint will update you on how close you are to being able to go on vacation. If you fall behind, set up alerts to prod you to get back on track. Mint will also suggest ways to juice up your returns by picking a higher-yielding account or by switching to a smarter travel rewards credit card.
Signing-up for Mint takes about five minutes, I've found. Punch in your account details for as few, or as many, bank and credit card accounts as you like. The service then downloads the records on how much you spend, tagging your expenditures by categories. For instance, credit card charges to Hyatt or Delta are instantly labeled "travel" expenses (or a custom label you choose to put on them). Mint gives you a snapshot of your spending habits. It's easy to see how if you cut the spending in some category, such as Dunkin Donuts coffee, you'll have more to spend.
What about the security of your personal data? I asked Aaron Patzer, the founder of Mint, about that. He pointed out that Mint doesn't reveal your account numbers or personal identifying information, so if anyone was able to break into your Mint account, they wouldn't be able to push a button and drain your savings. The encryption level is as strong as the security systems used by major national bank chains use for their online-banking tools. (Patzer says it's never been compromised.) What's more, Mint can actually help you fight theft by alerting you when there's unusual activity in your accounts.
A bon voyage for less? (15+ comments)