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5 Steps to Automate Your Cash Flow

5 Steps to Automate Your Cash Flow

One of the most underrated elements of personal finance is behavioral in nature. Being human, we are emotional beings. While not a bad thing, it can lead us to make some poor financial decisions. Our financial decision-making processes, influenced by a mix of logic and emotion, can be structured to reduce the temptation to spend spontaneously.

A few years ago, I designed and implemented the following cash flow management process as part of my own financial plan. I’ve been extremely happy with how easily I’ve been able to reach some of my life goals and objectives by reducing the influence my emotions have on my financial decisions. I have a feeling that this cash management system will help you too.

1. Calculate and Categorize Expenses

The first step of any financial analysis and system design endeavor is to gather the relevant data. In this case, you will want to start by determining your monthly expenses and pooling them into different types or categories.

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One of the best ways to categorize your expenses is to lump all of your monthly household bills in one category and discretionary expenses in another. To accomplish this, you should take your mortgage, phone, utilities (water and electricity), and internet bill and determine what you pay for all of those expenses in an average month. Next, total how much you spent on coffee, clothing, food, gas, and any other day-to-day expenses on a monthly basis.

Once you have calculated your “fixed” monthly costs, you should make the decision to use what’s left over to invest, pay down debt, and accomplish your life goals.

2. Plan for Savings and Investments

With the understanding that life can throw some unexpected (and sometimes expensive) events at you, think about having a safety fund. Your safety fund should be denominated in cash and equal to three to six months worth of your total cash outflows. I’ve found that the best way to fund a safety net is by placing a few hundred dollars in a savings account every month.

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Once your safety net is completely funded, it would be wise to keep funding the account with the same amount of cash. This will allow you to save the additional cash needed to make additional payments on your mortgage principal. You can also decide to use the additional savings to fund an IRA or other tax advantaged investment account as well.

3. Create Separate Bank Accounts

To reduce the temptation to spend the money that you would rather save and invest, you can utilize a couple of separate bank accounts for each expense category. With this in mind, open a checking account with your mortgage lender and use that account to pay all of your household bills (mortgage, phone, utilities, etc.). This account can also be used to store your safety funds and additional savings.

Additionally, the income that is left over after funding your “household account” can be sent to a “day-to-day expense” checking account. This way, your income allotments match your expenses and you have built an automatic cash flow system.

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4. Use Direct Deposit and Automatic Allotments

In order to eliminate the burden of having to manually transfer funds between your various bank accounts, you can take advantage of direct deposit, automatic allotments and your bank’s online bill payment system. These tools will allow to reduce the time it takes to manage your personal finances.

To accomplish this task, estimate how much money you will need to send to your household account every month. Remember that you will need enough to pay your monthly expenses and still have some left over for your safety fund. Once the estimate is complete, set up an allotment to transfer half of those funds to your household bank account each paycheck.

The remaining funds (left over after the household expense allotment) should be deposited into your “everyday” expense account. These funds can be used to purchase food, clothes, gas and any other personal items that you might want.

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5. Implement and Monitor Your Progress

Once you have all of these pieces lined up (amounts determined, bank accounts opened and allotments made), all that is left to do is implement and monitor your new cash flow system. The best part about making the decision to automate your cash flow is that it reduces the temptation (usually emotional in nature) to break your budget.

A few months after implementation, you might notice that you have over or under-estimated how much you need for the various expense categories. Whichever the case, you will need to make adjustments to your allotments and/or your purchasing behavior.

Keep in mind that a great cash flow management system is worthless if it’s not implemented. The most important part in the financial planning process is putting in the work and taking action.

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Published on November 11, 2020

10 Best Ways to Save Money Faster and Smarter

10 Best Ways to Save Money Faster and Smarter

People love to talk about budgeting, reducing spending. and investing. But unfortunately, talk is cheap, and poor money management is expensive. It’s easy to talk about the best way to save money, but putting it into practice is a different thing.

What people need to talk about is the practical and efficient ways you can quickly save money to accomplish your goals. After all, they don’t teach this stuff in school.

Here are the 10 best ways to save money faster and smarter.

1. Cancel All Your Subscriptions

Yes, all of them.

Okay, you can keep your wifi and trash. But other than that, cancel all your monthly subscriptions for one month. You will survive, I promise. Better yet, you will realize you won’t miss all of them.

Now that you have had 30 days to examine what you really missed and what you never thought twice about, you can add some of them back in. The others? you never have to think about them again.

This is something you can and should do with every part of your life. If it’s clutter, cancel it. Being able to step back and see what is cluttering your life and what is excelling your forward helps improve your quality of life and financial standing.

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2. Automate Savings From Your Paycheck

Many of us are so excited about getting a new job that we rush through the paperwork during the hiring process. Good news for you, I have had lots of jobs so I have seen it a million times.

There is an option for a portion of your paycheck to go directly into a secondary savings account. This is by far the most effective way to save money every month. We tend to spend most of what we have. So, if we take it off the top first, then it’s less likely to be spent. Just head over to HR and ask. It will only take two minutes.

3. Cancel the Happy Hours for the Rest of the Pandemic

We are in the middle of a global pandemic, which means that there is no better time to buy some drinks from the local store and stop shelling out $5 a drink at the local cocktail bar. When we look back at our bank statements, we are always shocked that fast food and alcohol can add up so quickly. You can easily save a couple of hundred dollars just by taking this step.

A great exercise is to print out your last bank statement and highlight all the areas of alcohol and fast food. The amount may surprise you and make you think twice about that old fashion.

4. Online Grocery Shopping

Some people think online shopping increases the amount they spend. For the most part, I would agree—except for this category.

Online grocery shopping is now a no-brainer, though. Whenever you walk through a grocery store, two things always happen: you always grab impulse items, and you never know the total of your cart until you checkout. This means that we always spend more than we originally planned.

With online shopping, you can see your total as you add items to your cart. You are way less inclined to make those impulse purchases and because of that, I would venture to say that you could even pay to have them delivered to your door and still save money each month by choosing online grocery shopping.

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5. Get a Famzoo Debit Card

This is something my wife and I swear by, and it’s great for the entire family! Famzoo strictly exists to help families and kids budget their money better. Each month, my wife and I have an allotted amount loaded onto our pre-paid Famzoo debit card. This amount has changed every year depending on promotions, kids, stage of life, etc.

The important part is that when you give yourself the freedom to spend a certain amount, you are more likely to only spend the allotted amount. Think of it as a diet. If you are counting calories, you are more likely to stick close to the amount you set. You can also look for some tips online to better stick to your family budget.

6. Purge

This is actually my favorite to do, and it is actually one of the best ways to save money. Raise your hand if you have ever moved. Okay, so everyone.

When we move, we are always amazed at how much junk we have acquired. I have found that about every 6 months, I can find a couple of boxes to sell online of things that we never use. This not only gives you so extra quick cash, but it also keeps your house more tidy and organized.

Now, go clean out that garage!

7. Amazon Subscribe and Save

32! That is how many items I have setup on amazon subscribe and save. Let me explain.

This sounds expensive, I know. But it actually saves us hundreds of dollars per year! We all need toothpaste, shampoo, razors, laundry detergent, toilet paper right? This feature is truly a triple threat. When you have more than 5 items on subscribe and save, you automatically unlock the max savings for every product on your list. This can be up to 20% per item!

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Now, even better is that it ships straight to your door on the exact day you want the item, maybe monthly or maybe you only need it every 4 months. This way, you never have too much or never run out. Either way, it’s totally customizable.

Lastly, there is no contract for any items, which means you can switch brands or items at any given time at no cost. My advice: every single staple item should be on your subscribe and save.

8. Rewards

This may ruffle some feathers, but if you are using your debit card for purchases, you are missing out on free money! We have this notion that credit cards are evil but in reality, they are the same piece of plastic as your debit card.

How you use it can be bad, don’t get me wrong. But if you want my opinion though, ditch the debit card and get a rewards credit card. Use it just like you would your debit card and make sure to pay it off as soon as the statement comes in!

Just to give you an idea of how powerful this can be in terms of money, here are some things that our miles have paid for:

  • 4 nights in Vail with Flight
  • Rental car in Vail (convertible might I add)
  • Flight to Ireland
  • Flight to Hawaii
  • Multiple staycations at very nice Hotels

That’s roughly about 7 thousand dollars in travel expenses so far! Remember that the credit card is just a tool and can be one that benefits you if you use it wisely. Ironically, this can be an effective way to save money.

Pro tip: If you don’t trust yourself carrying around a credit card, then set up all your monthly bills with your credit and leave it in a drawer at home. This way, you rack up miles but don’t get tempted to overspend.

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9. Vacation With Friends

Now, I know travel is hard right now but what a perfect time to go grab an Airbnb in the woods with a couple of friends and detox from the world right now!

Vacationing alone can be pricey and get rather boring quickly, but if you split lodging and set out for a road trip, it can become affordable quickly! For a couple of hundred bucks apiece, you can have one of the most relaxing vacations ever. Don’t forget to pick up your food at the local grocery store to avoid eating out every meal!

10. Make a Budget

When is the last time you updated your budget or made one for that matter? Making a budget is like writing down your goals. If you don’t make a budget, then you will struggle to save.

How can you know if you are spending wisely if you are not tracking everything?

Our advice would be to get a finance app like Mint, Every dollar, or personal capital. All these apps are free and do a tremendous job of tracking spending and budgeting. I still am old-school and have an excel spreadsheet which I do highly recommend.

Work Smarter, Not Harder

The entire goal is to boost your bank account while reducing the effort required. Efficiency is the name of the game, and automation is the key player. Luckily, we live in a world that has more perks than we can ever take advantage of. But if I were to choose a few, it would be the ones above.

Taking on all 10 of these steps may seem a little daunting. You can first try to pick three of your favorite and start there. Saving money doesn’t have to be a chore as long. As we use the tools correctly, it can be quite effortless. And now, you have a great blueprint to get started!

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Featured photo credit: Sharon McCutcheon via unsplash.com

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