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Mint Data offers an interesting, iffy peek at spending

Intuit's Mint personal-finance Web application has become a simpler, less-stressful replacement for desktop financial-management programs like its own Quicken or Microsoft's (discontinued) Money. This site has also allowed Mint to amass an impressive warehouse of data about the spending habits of its users -- which the company says it anonymizes before sharing in any way -- and now it's giving the public a chance to sift through it.


Mint Data, launched this morning, allows visitors to search for transactions involving a specific establishment or see city-by-city spending patterns. It's a pleasant little time-suck for individual consumers who can see whether they're above or below average in their expenditures; merchants might find it useful as a market-research tool.

But there may be some quirks in Mint's data and its presentation to work out first.

For example, its list of restaurant spending in the District is topped not by such high-dollar contenders as CityZen or Komi but Capital Q. The Chinatown barbeque joint had an average purchase of $381.41. But how? Has somebody been buying lunch for the office every day there?

Elsewhere, the site calls The Post the "2nd most popular provider of newspapers and magazines in Washington," but the chart below lists it on top, with an average monthly expenditure of $43.97 and a "popularity rank" of 8 on a 1-to-10 scale. (Dear readers: Thanks.)

(5:31 p.m. Um, never mind that. The Post ranks second because the second merchant listed in the chart--by default, ranked by average purchase and not popularity--has a popularity score of 10. This is why you don't want your caffeine level to drop too low in the late afternoon.)

Some entries can only be read with a knowledge of how some transactions show up on Mint under partial merchant names. The top travel merchant in Arlington, for example, is "Arlington Court House" -- as in the Hilton Garden Inn down the street from the courthouse itself.

Some businesses don't seem to show up at all, such as the Calvert-Woodley liquor store in Northwest Washington or the Northside Social coffeehouse in Arlington.

Have a look at the site yourself and let me know if you think its data match reality -- and if it told you anything useful about your own spending habits.

In other Intuit news, the Mountain View, Calif., company shipped a new version of Quicken for Windows two weeks ago ... and, um, I didn't even mention it here. Nor has any reader written to complain about the oversight. (For what it's worth, Intuit says Quicken 2011 downloads data "from nearly every bank" in the United States, is smarter about automatically categorizing transactions and provides a streamlined transaction-register interface, among other changes; it does not, however, sync with Mint or vice versa.) Would anybody like to critique that coverage decision -- or offer their own Quicken 2011 assessment? If so, the comments are all yours.

By Rob Pegoraro  | October 28, 2010; 4:24 PM ET
Categories:  Finances, Productivity, The business we have chosen  
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I use quicken as a checkbook register/passbook, my record of transactions that I can check against the banks' websites. Intuit seems to only want me to download the banks' record to either quicken or and let them keep track of it all for me. I don't like that.

Posted by: HardyW | October 28, 2010 5:06 PM | Report abuse

I received Quicken email update notice and promptly did so as I am a long time user. The update seems routine with incremental improvements but no paradigm shifts detectable. (I found Mint's inability to handle stock accounts a deal killer. And yes, the inability to link to Quicken is lame beyond belief.) Quicken handles stock accounts AND still updates to so I can watch my portfolio accounts daily or by the minute! Please note, is still working for me despite the announcement that it would be discontinued. What gives with that? This is a good thing.

Quicken cannot link to my small community bank due to the bank's decision to use a Verisign ID system. This requires a NEW number from a "mini token" be entered manually at each log in. At first, I objected to this but have become more comfortable with it. I just worry I might lose the darn thing. This would be a better problem than losing a lot of money via a scam and having to deal with that!

Posted by: wovose | October 29, 2010 8:14 AM | Report abuse

I to am a longtime Quicken user. The latest upgrade is one I won't go for, given how slow the last one turned out to be (2009). Add me to the list of frustrated users who need a way to have the online ( sync to the desktop version.

Posted by: mgoldenber001 | October 29, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

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