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Mint Data: More Than You Care to Know About Other People’s Spending Habits

This article was written by in Personal Finance. 5 comments.

The trend of financial over-sharing continues, and I’m glad to have been on the leading edge. I’ve been sharing the details of my finances, including spending habits, since I created Consumerism Commentary in 2003. The idea of social net worth continued with sites like NetWorthIQ, which allowed the public to post family net worth and compare numbers with others.

Mint has since become the most popular way for tracking finances online, and this website has been collecting spending data for some time, analyzing and categorizing each transaction.

Once Mint crossed the million user mark, the data was collected in aggregate to get a better look at the country’s economic condition. Now, with a user base expanded even further, Mint has opened its data vaults to the public with the ability to drill down to the city level. You can now see, for example, the most popular restaurants in New York City (based on number of transactions) or the most expensive clothing shops in San Francisco (based on average purchase price).

The city-based data is interesting for drawing conclusions (or making assumptions) about the most populous areas of the country. Unfortunately, there is only enough data to compare three cities in my state. In New Jersey, the only cities available are Jersey City, Newark, and Trenton. Don’t expect to find data for suburbs like Ewing or Princeton within the Trenton data; it appears to include the city proper only, defined presumably either by zip code of merchant or zip code of Mint user.

Mint Data fulfills a certain financial voyeuristic intention. There is some value in determining whether the amount you spend at McDonald’s every month is more or less than the average New Yorker, but these type of comparisons are generally unsatisfying past the surface. The type of comparison that is more worthwhile is a look at the change over time for an individual or a location, and Mint Data offers this option.

The services produces attractive charts that can be embedded in websites. Here is how spending at Bubba Gump New York, a restaurant apparently inspired by Forrest Gump, has changed over the past few months and how it compares with overall spending on restaurants in the city.

The key to improving your finances is to forget about these comparisons. What does it mean if you spend $200 a month in clothing stores while the average spending in your city is $100? It doesn’t necessarily mean anything other than that. Different people have different financial situations and different needs. None of this is apparent in aggregate comparisons. Without drilling down on the demographics to a very fine level of detail, the only relevant analysis is a comparison with the earlier you.

Check out Mint Data or sign up to track your finances on Mint for free.

Updated March 21, 2011 and originally published October 28, 2010.

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About the author

Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar 1 Anonymous

Very true; although micro-level data is interesting, macro-level will reveal trends that are important to our financial future. Unlike our government Americans have spent less, saved more and paid down debt. Even as we put the last recession behind us, these three thrift-like trends will be important. Should FOMC quantitative easing (money printing) continue and we all begin to face inflationary pressure, good thrift characteristics might ease the strain… or pain… whichever you prefer.

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avatar 2 Anonymous

The only problem with the data is you have to make a certain assumption about those that sign up for the service. It isn’t like you have you a clean slate of users – these people had to have been into finances and smart enough to sign up and connect their info.

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avatar 3 Luke Landes

Very true. Though I would point out that the set of Mint users is now much more mainstream than the set of, say, NetworthIQ users, and thus the data better reflect the general public than any other publicly available data ever has.

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avatar 4 Anonymous

I have been using Mint for several years now, and I love looking at how I compare to the “norm” and other people in my city. They rolled out the city comparison about a year ago, but I haven’t checked out individual restaurants or shops! Thanks for the info!

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avatar 5 eric

Just read about this a bit earlier on Consumer Reports. Interesting data to go over but nothing too exciting in my opinion. I’m still not sure if people’s personal finance meeting social media is turning out to be a good thing or not…

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