Over on the Financial Independence subreddit, Redditor sol1 published a thoughtful review of Tiller along with a comparison to Mint. It’s a fascinating read, especially since many people use Mint as a companion to the spreadsheet-based financial command center they’ve customized in Tiller.
As Sol1 notes, he’s not affiliated with Tiller, and we didn’t compensate him for writing this post. We did, however, grant him Reddit Gold as a thank you after discovering his review. We asked him permission to share it with our readers and customers.
To start things off, I’m not associated with Intuit, Tiller, Stacking Benjamins, Yodlee, or any other organization mentioned in this post. I’m just a dude who likes spreadsheets and personal finance.
I’ve been a user of Mint for 10 years and for the most part, I think it’s a great service that helps a lot of people improve management of their finances. However, Mint has some frustrating quirks that have bugged me forever (such as the terrible category editing functionality), and limitations that have bugged me since I became more interested and diligent in my own personal finance journey 5 years ago (such as its lack of accurate investment and savings rate tracking).
A few weeks ago, I heard about Tiller on the Stacking Benjamins podcast and decided to check it out. Tiller is a platform that aggregates your financial transaction data into Google Sheets for $5/month. It uses Yodlee (the same data integrator that Mint uses to pull data from your bank accounts), Google oAuth, and AES-256 encryption, so I feel comfortable that my data is secure. I also appreciate the fact that Tiller does not sell or share your data and it’s never used for any advertising purposes. Of course, privacy advocates will point out that all of my transaction data is now going to Google, but I already store my budgets in Google Sheets anyway and I’m pretty sure Google manages to get their data-hoarding hands on this kind of information anyway.
I’ve posted my budget spreadsheet here before (I’ve since built a FAR more advanced version that does significantly more than the original on if anybody is interested. Also, mods, the link in that post is to an anonymous Google account – no need to worry about doxing). I’ve spent a few hours over the last couple of weeks doing a little proof of concept to integrate my budget with Tiller. I thought I’d share my experience in the event that anybody else is interested in graduating beyond Mint while still keeping the budgeting/tracking process heavily automated. My old process involved creating spending categories in Mint that correlated to categories in my budget. Once a month I’d spend 30 or 45 minutes ensuring all of my transactions were categorized correctly, drilling down into the Trends function of Mint, and copying the amounts spent on each category into my spreadsheet. I’d then update account balances to track assets, liabilities, and net worth over time. This worked fine, but it seemed that Tiller could offer far more functionality, with less time invested.
Here’s a summary of the pros and cons of my little experiment:
- Security is solid
- I have unprecedented real-time data about my finances, budget, and spending all in one place
- Transactions are copied daily into a Google Sheets document that Tiller shares with you. The transactions can be dynamically pulled into your own spreadsheet so you’re free to customize things however you like.
- Tiller provides a handful of out-of-the-box budgets and trackers for those that don’t want to go the DIY route.
- There is plenty of data and metadata about each transaction and a “suggested category” feature that seems to categorize spending about as well as Mint does (though I haven’t used it extensively myself).
- Account balances are updated every time transaction data is pulled and are stored in a running history. This makes it easy to track assets, liabilities and net worth over time.
- Spending categories are far easier to add, edit, and remove, which allows me to more easily track what’s important to me vs. what Intuit thinks I should feel is important. This has also allowed me to be much more granular tracking my spending as I do not have the patience, for example, to separate various utilities while copying/pasting from Mint, but updating a transaction to reflect that it was for gas vs. electricity takes about 2 seconds which is fine.
- This is one of my favorites. I can build scripts in Google Sheets that allow me to trigger alerts to myself when specific things happen. For example, I probably over-index on paying off my credit cards monthly – I like to pay my balances to $0 every time my wife or I get paid. I also charge everything I can on credit (shoutout to /r/churning). Using scripts, I can detect when my credit card balances reach 75% of my next deposit and send my wife and I an email to let us know we need to take it easy on the spending for a week or two.
- I can also build scripts to do some basic automated reporting. My wife is wonderful but she can’t be bothered to care much about our day-to-day finances. We agree on our financial goals, she’s not a big spender, and she’s comfortable giving me full control over everything, so it works. That said, she does like to know periodically where we stand so I have built a script to send a little month-over-month report that reassures her we’re on track without her having to, you know…invest any actual time to check herself. Happy wife, happy life!
- Tiller has what appears to be a very active support staff, though I haven’t needed to contact them for anything thus far in my experimentation.
- Triggering the Tiller service to update your transaction data seems to work best when opening the sheet through their website vs. opening it directly in Google Drive. This is an extra step.
- I have one credit union that, while supported by Mint, I can’t connect to directly through Yodlee. This is annoying, but fortunately, it happens to be my bill payment account. I considered that money spent the second it gets direct-deposited anyway, so it’s not that big a deal.
- Dynamic refreshing is difficult to trigger via mobile. I’ve built some mobile views of the data that I look at on a daily basis (mostly account balances), but refreshing this data on-demand is cumbersome.
- There are still a few things that I choose to track manually. For example, I can track deposits to my 401k automatically through the Tiller transaction data, but I break my 401k deposits down into my own contributions vs. company matches in my budget, so I enter those manually every month. This is self-inflicted, so hardly a con, but I thought it was worth mentioning.
In all, using Tiller, I have far more visibility into what’s happening with my finances and I get updates on my progress as often as I want vs. waiting until the end of the month when I updated all of my data from Mint. The time I spend managing my budget has dropped from 30-45 mins a month, to about 10-15 seconds a day to categorize new transactions.
I can do this easily via Google Sheets on my laptop or phone. I’ve chosen not to use the Tiller auto-categorization feature for now, but I will reevaluate that over time – for now I like remaining more “connected” to my spending. The $5/month fee to use Tiller is more than worth it to me as I spend a lot less time for far more insight into where my money is going. I also like knowing that my personal transaction data isn’t used to market products to me. I haven’t shut down my Mint account just yet but plan to after I’ve had another month or so with my new method of expense tracking.