How Mint made my friend (almost) divorce her husband - practical advice inside


It's the end of January, and many people are recovering from their New-Year-Resolution feats of activity. One of the most popular - getting finances in order. You've asked for systems-meet-emotion stories so here's one. Shared by permission,  names changed, of course.

Jenna is a friend and client of mine. The responsible adult that she is, Jenna decided to, you guessed it, get her finances in order  - review and sum up 2017 and make grown up money decisions for 2018.

She and her husband checked out a few financial apps and settled on Mint. It’s a great tool -  it allows you to track your income and expenses, and pay the bills in the same place.

They connected all their bank and credit card accounts, set up budget categories, and settled down with a cup of chamomile tea to, drumroll please, analyze the stats.

If you aren’t familiar with Mint, this is a place to say Mint is pretty smart. If it sees a credit card transaction from Gulf or Shell, it’ll automatically categorize it as “gas”. If it sees a payment to Stop and Shop or Market Basket, it’ll put the $187 dollars you spent there in the “Groceries” category. And so on.


Now picture our heroes look at the numbers and realize they are barely making it even. In fact, they've spent slightly more than they made in 2017.
They both make decent money, and up until this point never thought of themselves as big spenders. They are people living well within their means, they even have a saving account! What’s more, the biggest spending categories are Groceries and Credit Card bills.
Holy @#$%, what’s happening here?

Brian, Jenna’s husband, panics and starts blaming his freelancing career. He should be making more money,  he should’ve never left corporate! This is why we don’t earn enough to support our, not-at-all luxurious lifestyle. Jenna protests - he hated it in corporate!.. But she secretly doubts her own words, and it’s not lost on Brian.

Horrified by the $1300 monthly grocery bills, Jenna looks accusingly at Brian who’s responsible for grocery shopping. He retorts with an unkind question about the credit card debt.

Who are these two ridiculous people, Brian thinks, that were planning to have a baby this year? How can they raise a child if they can barely support themselves?! Apparently they are far less competent at adulting than they previously thought. 

At this point Jenna is crying quietly in the bedroom and Brian is pacing up and down their small living room, desperately wishing he hadn’t quit smoking 2 months ago. At night they go to bed without a word to each other - the shock, the guilt, the tension are too great.


Next afternoon Jenna calls Brian from work. She has checked their savings account, and you know what? They somehow managed to save 20% of their income last year. How can this be if Mint claims they’ve spent it all? Something’s not right.

Brian decides to dig deeper and look at their spending - what is it there, in the credit card bills? How come the groceries cost such a ridiculous amount? It’s not like they are buying caviar every week.

So he looks. Then he calls Jenna, tells her that he loves her, and that they are both idiots. They should have looked closer before fighting over money.
Turns out, Mint counted the credit card transaction TWICE. Yes, twice. A soon as he fixes it, poof! A nice 5-figure number is added to their positive balance.
It's really easy to do too - the credit card bills have to be flagged as TRANSFER.

Groceries? Oh yeah, it’s not $1300 a month. Jenna has a little side gig with one of those food supplement companies. While Mint correctly put her profits in Income category, the investment, aka the supplements she buys, are marked as groceries. Oops.
Fixed that - hallelujah, grocery bills look sane again.

I can’t know it for sure, but it’s possible Brian and Jenna have started working on a baby that very evening.
And they're using Mint to this day. Once tuned correctly, it works really well for them.


Moral of the story and practical advice, as promised:

1. Systems often make us confront a painful reality. Reality about the way we spend money, the time we (don’t) have for doing the stuff we want, the areas of “mess” in our lives. It can be a highly emotional, sometimes unpleasant experience. Being aware of this ahead of time can spare you significant pain.
Being warned = being armed.

2. In light of the fact in the previous paragraph you need GOOD, reliable systems.
Systems that reflects TRUE reality, rather than a twisted version - positively or negatively.

3. Mint is awesome, but pay attention to the correct tuning. You can’t blindly trust it to put your transaction in the right category from the get-go. It’s especially important for credit card bills, because this is a really common mistake. But it’s true for categories in general.
When you’re just starting, it’s a good idea to review ALL your transactions over the last few months, and make sure they’re categorized correctly. Otherwise you may end up with a fake $1300 grocery bill.

So... how are your finances doing today?

You Can On Operate One Man At A Time. Where Do You Start?

“You know, they give this test to all novice field medics...
Say, that you get three wounded men: one with a belly wound, one with a serious thigh wound – open break, blood loss, shock, the works – and one with a glancing shoulder wound. You can only operate on one at a time –  where do you start?
Surely, all the novices say, it’s the belly wound.
Bad guess, says the examiner. While you’re busy with him, and it’s nine out of ten that he’s going to die anyway, the guy with the thigh wound will get complications; he will at least lose his leg, and most likely die, too. So you have to start with the most serious wound among those with a decent chance of survival – in our case, the thigh wound. As for the belly wound, well … give the man an analgesic and leave him to the One’s will. “
-- The Last Ringbearer, K.Eskov


This morbid scene from an excellent fanfic illustrates a decision many of us struggle with daily. Well, not literally, unless you’re a medieval field medic. But deciding what’s the next thing to do, even if it’s not a life-or-death matter, can be overwhelming to the point of paralysis. Either there's too much to do, or the stakes are too high, or the task is too unfamiliar, or it feels too long, or too tedious. Or all of the above.

Ever noticed that a to-do list is much easier to write than to actually do the to-dos?

The Steven Covey quadrant (the urgent-important grid) isn’t always a good solution, because you might get stuck in placing the tasks into their quadrants. Is cleaning my house really more important than settling that medical 4-digit bill with my insurance company? Is booking an hotel for my vacation more urgent than writing to my subscribers? My readers would be expecting an email next week, and my vacation is in a month. But maybe there won’t be any rooms left, because we travel in high season?

This can go for hours without anything getting really done.

So... for those who get stuck choosing a task, here is one handy tactic:

1. Choose ONE "thigh wound". In productivity jargon it's often called MIT - Most Important Thing. I find a "thigh wound" to be more emotionally charged, and therefore more likely to stick. So let's use that.

What the ONE thing you can do today that will give you/your job/your business/your relationship the best chances of... well, a better tomorrow?


2. Start operating. START operating. Don't think about the entire surgery, don't look at the poisonous arrow (yet), don't plan the neat bandage bow at the end. Wash your hands and pick the best scalpel for the job.

In other words, find the first tiny step to heal that thigh wound. Do it. Now. Seriously, this very moment, your patient is bleeding.

What's your "normal"? (from Mostly Dead to Fairly Functional, part 7)

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Welcome to the final piece of “Getting back to Normal”!
I have a single question for today: What’s your “normal” pace?
How do you measure it? Spend a moment giving it a thought.

What does your “fully recovered” look like?
Are you going to get back to writing 3 posts a week, or just to working 6 hours a day, finally?
Is it simply having the energy to plan more than an hour ahead?  
Or maybe recovery in your case means that you're ready to dive head-first into your next project?

It's easier to do anything, make any kind of progress, if you know where you going. 


What  are you expecting of yourself?
Once you know, you can map the way, and celebrate small wins. Big wins too, actually. You wrote a post? You worked for 3 sprints of 15 minutes? You rock!

It’s been a week. That went fast!
Any chance you’ve rested enough to take a moment, and ask yourself “when do I consider myself fully recovered?” It’s OK if right now it’s not the time. But be sure to do this soon. Put a reminder to ask this question a week from now. (“OK Google, remind me to ask myself “what it means to be fully recovered” a week from now”).

This way the road to that blissful state of “normal” would be much easier, or at least much clearer.

Hope you loved this series. Let me know what you think!


P.S. If you missed the other pieces of "Mostly Dead to Fairy Functional" series, no worries. Life happens.

I put together a handy list below for you to catch up. I think you'd like it.
P.S. If you missed the other pieces of "Mostly Dead to Fairy Functional" series, no worries. Life happens.
I put together a handy list below for you to catch up. I think you'd like it.
Day 1: You survived the Big Crunch Time. You're "only mostly dead". Now what?
Day 2: Let go of inactivity guilt during "still time". Cap it! 
Day 3: The trick to planning your return to "Fairly Functional": Big or Granular
Day 4: The big impact of Small Wins. With examples
Day 5: Skype coffee? How working with others helps you focus your internal resources
Day 6: The un-work "back to life" hack: Get your gym clothes

The un-work "back to life" hack (from Mostly Dead to Fairly Functional, part 6)

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Today we are not going to talk about work per se, because it’s the weekend.
This post is focusing on gradually getting back to your exercise routine.

This is not a straight up productivity hack, but at this point there's plenty of evidence that exercise is one of the best things a person can do for their, well, productivity. 

Let me repeat that and bigger letters:

Exercise is one of the best things you can do for you productivity.

If you have an exercise routine in place, I don't need to convince you. You already know how essential your physical activity is to your well-being. So just remember to slowly renew your regimen if you have neglected it during crunch time. 
"Slowly" being the operative word. You’re recovering, it’s not the time to push for personal records.

If you don't, how about using this time to build a beginners exercise routine? You're useless anyways! It'll do wonders for your mental and physical state, I promise. 

It doesn't mean that you need to run a marathon. It doesn't mean that you need to lift weights, if you hate it it. It absolutely doesn't mean that you need to do yoga, if you can't stand any kind of yoga. (I was in that camp until recently, I know how it feels).

The only thing it means that if you don't have an exercise routine now, find some kind of exercise you enjoy, and experiment with it. 
Good luck! Tell me how it goes in that Skype coffee we're planning.

Skype coffee? (from Mostly Dead to Fairly Functional, part 5)

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It's day 5 of "Mostly Dead to Fairly Functional" series, and today we won't focus on you.
We'll talk about people around you. Mostly.


One of the biggest factors helping us get back on track is the support from human environment. Your teammates, your clients, your family , your coworkers, your boss or coach. 

In other words, get together with people. Start scheduling social commitments, small ones at first. A session in your mastermind group, a coffee date,  may be a one-on-one with your supervisor or a coaching session.

Why is that important?

Because even the most introverted introverts, tend to be more focused, energized, and say smarter things in conversation with another human being. 

We tend to mobilize our internal resources when we communicate LIVE.

If you're fortunate to be surrounded by supportive and positive people, first - you’re probably a wonderful person yourself. Want a Skype coffee?

I digress.
What I meant to say - you know, you can straight out ask a friend or a colleague “can I work with you sometimes? Can we Skype for half an hour, and just be present, each doing her own thing?” If you need to collaborate on a project, even better.

The presence of another human being gives us the focus and the accountability to perform. I was going to write to "perform much better", but when you're mostly dead, it's often "to perform, period".
If you’re a solopreneur, this is truer by an order of magnitude.

So use your social environment, use your network, work with people. You might be surprised as to how much results it provides.


What Small Wins? Could you be more specific? (From Mostly Dead to Fairly Functional, part 4)

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As you may remember,  last time I mentioned creating a repository of small wins. What are these small wins, exactly? And how do you make them work for you?

We are on day 4 of "Mostly Dead to Fairly Functional" series. 
Let’s take a closer look.

Small wins usually have to do with somewhat mindless work. 

That's because they're, well, small, and don’t require too much mind power. 

 - For example, sorting through your bills will make you feel highly accomplished.
 - If that idea makes you cringe, make a short to-do list.  Short! 3-5 entries max.
 - Schedule a doctor's appointment. 
 - Read an article for 15 minutes, then stop. 
 - Look for cute animal pictures for your next post. (Like these adorable pandas in parts onetwo, and three. You're welcome).
The idea is to convince you that you can plan and execute.
See? You've just done it. You have the power.
Go look at baby elephants!

A side note: the idea to look at baby animals to help you write, and to feel productive in general, came from the amazing Maria Granovsky, a writing coach, and all-around brilliant overachiever. 


Feel free to let me know what other simple tasks you can use for small wins. 
Always love hearing more ideas :).