One of the key components of personal financial planning is an understanding of where your money goes each day, week, month, and year. Developing a personal cash flow analysis can be a very enlightening exercise, and potentially the starting point on the road to good financial health.
There are several ways to begin creating a personal cash flow analysis. The “old-fashioned” way involves manually tracking every dollar and cent which you (and your family) spend on any item – ranging from a bagel and coffee purchase, mortgage/rent payment to your utility bills. Although requiring the most effort, this method often provides the most accurate and useful results. You are not only tracking checks and credit card purchases, but also those small cash purchases that can add up over time. Be sure to also include purchases that may not recur monthly, such as insurance premiums, property taxes, vacation expenses, etc. Once you have tracked your outflows for at least a month or two, you can begin to allocate purchases to categories and learn where your money is going.
More modern methods of tracking spending include the use of Personal Finance software, such as Quicken, or via websites such as Mint.com. Both of these can link to your financial accounts (bank, credit cards, etc.) in order to easily assemble and categorize data.
Once you see where your “take-home” income goes, you can also start to add other items to your personal cash flow statement. These items include savings (such as 401k or other employer-sponsored retirement plans, savings accounts, individual retirement accounts, etc.), FICA taxes, and income taxes. Finally, you can add a row for “inflows”, i.e. the gross income coming in the door from employment, pensions, social security, etc. Ideally, you would like to see that your “inflows” are equal to or greater than your “outflows”, indicating that you living within or below your means.
Developing a current cash flow analysis can help you uncover ways to save more money on a regular basis towards future goals, or pay down accumulated debt. The statement can also be helpful in analyzing the impacts of any strategies under consideration, such as saving more money in a retirement plan, or refinancing a mortgage, or taking on any new expenses such as vehicle purchase or a planned vacation.
Getting one’s financial house in order starts with the basics. Creating a personal cash flow analysis is an excellent first step in the process. For further assistance and analysis please meet with your personal financial planner.
Douglas J. Bauer, President, and CEO of AllSquare Wealth began his career in the financial services industry in 1975 and is a Certified Financial Planner (CFP®) practitioner. His primary responsibilities include overseeing the direction of the firm, client development, and the servicing of existing client relationships.
AllSquare Wealth Management, LLC is a registered investment adviser.