Track Your Cash Flow


This is a guest post by Kelley C. Long.  She is a a nationally sought-after personal finance expert.  You can find and follow her on her KCL Money Coach website or at @kclmoneycoach on Twitter.


Are you one of the 63 million Americans who now banks online? I am known to snark a bit about online banking and how I think that it’s the reason many people live paycheck to paycheck. Don’t get me wrong, I love the convenience of checking my account balance anytime just as much as the next person. However, online banking has, in many people’s eyes, done away with the need to keep and balance a checkbook because they can just look online to see their balance then make spending decisions based on the number shown. That is a misconception.

 

Track Your Cash Flow

 

 

 

Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane /FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Your online bank balance does not reflect checks that haven’t yet been cashed, automatic payments that haven’t yet been processed or money you’ve spent at places like a gas station, where swiping at the pump puts a $1 hold on your account until the gas station process their payments and withdraws the full amount that you put into your tank, which can take several days. Neither does it verify that the amount you entered for a tip at a restaurant is the amount that was actually charged. Relying solely on your online balance to tell you how much money you have available is a first-class ticket to overdraft fees and bounced checks. Not fun! 

I am realistic enough to realize that saving receipts, and recording spending in a checkbook register, Excel spreadsheet or another software is a habit – it is not the kind of thing that someone is just going to suddenly start doing. However, I do think that it is important to use some tool to keep tabs on your bank balance outside of just logging in online.

 

Cash Flow Projection

To help with this, I teach my clients a different kind of tool to help them get a better sense of how much money they’ll have available today and in the future. I call it a “Cash Flow Projection.” However, don’t let that fancy finance term scare you - it is just a Futuristic Checkbook Register.

The Cash Flow Projection gives a hard dollar look at truly how much money you have available to spend on any given day, today and in the future. It allows you to plan ahead for big bills, see when you might be able to afford a large expense like buying a plane ticket or booking a pet’s veterinary service, and tells you when you might run out of money, giving you a chance to make some adjustments in the meantime. It also gives you a sense of how much money you could really have if you kept your spending in check for a few months.

Yes, it is an Excel spreadsheet. However, you do not have to be an Excel wizard to do it, and you don’t have to update it on a daily or even weekly basis. Depending on what your bill paying habits are, you may only need to update it monthly.

 

Here’s how it works:

  1. List all of your paydays for the next six months, using one column for the date, one column for the description, one column for the amount and one column for the balance.Column Headers
  2. Next list your mortgage or rent payment for the next six months on the day it is due. (use a minus sign before amounts that are going out)
  3. Continue listing other monthly bills such as cable, electric, cell phone, etc. (use your online banking statements to look back and make sure you are not missing anything!)
  4. Move on to listing quarterly or semi-annual things such as auto insurance, oil changes, membership dues, etc.
  5. Finally, get out your calendar and add in the estimated costs of things you already have planned such as travel, holidays, entertainment, etc.
  6. Once you’ve gotten all those things listed, sort by date. (highlight all of the cells then go to the Data menu and choose Sort -> Smallest to Largest)
  7. In the Balance column enter the formula: “=D2+C3” 
  8. Copy and paste the formula down all the cells in the Balance column.
  9. Voila – you can see exactly what day you might have a cash shortfall and can do things now to fix it.
 
Here’s what your list might look like pre-sorting:
Finance Presort
And after:
Finance Post Sort
Obviously, this projection does not take into account discretionary spending on things like food, clothing, transportation costs, etc. It is designed to help you figure out how much you have to spend on such things. Moreover, hopefully motivate you to save more as well!
 
My favorite part about this tool is that it gives me peace of mind that I can afford to pay my bills into the foreseeable future and keeps me from wasting time worrying about making ends meet. It is fun to see that if I avoid spending on things that I do not need, I could have thousands of dollars in the bank!
 
If you have questions about this tutorial, PLEASE reach out to me – I am happy to answer any questions and help you get set up with this tool. I think it is a key component of getting on the road to financial security!
 
 
Question:  How do you manage your budget?  

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