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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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Last Updated on January 2, 2019

How Personal Finance Software Helps You Get More Out of Your Money

How Personal Finance Software Helps You Get More Out of Your Money

Do you know what mental health experts point to as the biggest cause of stress in the United States today? If you said “money,” then ding, ding, we have a winner!

Three out of four adults today report feeling stressed out about money at least part of the time. People are either worried about not having enough money or whether they’re putting the money they do have to use in the best possible way.

Your money is either in charge of you or you’re in charge of it, there’s no middle ground. Using some type of personal finance software can help alleviate some of that money stress and better allow you to manage your money effectively. Without it, you may just be setting yourself up for constant financial worry. Life is already tough enough and there’s no need to make it more difficult by simply hoping your money issues will all work out in your favor. Hint: they won’t.

This guide will help you to understand how personal finance software can better assist with both accomplishing long term financial goals and managing day-to-day aspects of life.

Whether it’s tracking the savings plan for your child’s college fund or making sure you won’t be in the red with the month’s grocery budget, personal finance software keeps all this information in one convenient place.

What Exactly is Personal Finance Software?

Think of it like the dashboard in your car. You have a speedometer to tell you how fast you’re going, an odometer to tell you how far you’ve traveled, and then other gauges to tell you things like how much gas is in the tank and your engine temperature. Personal finance software is essentially the same thing for your money.

When you install this software on your computer, tablet, or smartphone, it helps to track your money — how much is going in, how much is going out, and its growth. Most personal finance software programs will display your budget, spending, investments, bills, savings accounts, and even retirement plans, levels of debt, and credit score.

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How It Leads to Financial Improvement

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but people who regularly monitor their finances end up wealthier than those who don’t. When you were a kid, keeping track of all of your money in a porcelain piggy bank was pretty easy. As we get older, though, our money becomes spread out across things like car payments, mortgages, retirement funds, taxes, and other investments and debts. All of these things make keeping track of our money a lot more complicated.

Some types of personal finance software can help make things a little less complicated, setting you up to meet financial goals and taking away some of the stress associated with money.

Even if you already have a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) some type of personal finance software can be of great benefit. Whereas CFPs focus on the big picture of your money, they don’t handle the day-to-day aspects that determine your overall financial health.

It’s also not nearly as complicated as you might think and can take out a lot of the tedium that comes with doing everything on an Excel spreadsheet or with a pad and pencil.

Types of Personal Finance Software

When it comes to personal finance software, it generally fits into two categories: tax preparation and money management.

Tax preparation software such as Turbo Tax and H&R Block’s software can help with everything from filing income taxes to IRS rules and regulations and even estate plans. Plus, there’s the benefit of filing online and getting your refund check a lot faster than if you were to mail off your forms after waiting in line at the post office.

For the purpose of this article, however, will be focusing more on the personal finance software that aids with money management.

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Money management personal finance software will help you to see the health of your cash flow, pay down debt, forecast for expenses and savings, track investments, pay bills, and do a host of other things that 30 years ago would have practically required a team of accountants.

When to Use Personal Finance Software

So far we’ve gone over what exactly personal finance software is and how it can be a benefit to your money. The next logical step in this whole equation is determining when it should be used and how is the best way to go about getting started using it.

Below are four of the most common and practical ways to use personal finance software. If all or any of these apply to you and your money, then downloading some type of personal finance software is going to be a smart move.

1. You Have Multiple Accounts

There’s a good chance that when it comes to your money, it’s in more than one place. Sure, you probably have a checking account, but you may also have a savings account, money market account, and retirement accounts such as an IRA or 401k.

If you’re like the average American, you probably have two to three credit cards as well. Fifty percent of Americans also don’t have loyalty to just one bank and spread their money across multiple banks.

Rather than spending hours typing in every detail of every account you have into a spreadsheet, many programs allow you to easily import your account information. This will help to eliminate any mistakes and give you a bird’s eye view of everything at once.

2. You Want to Automate Some or All of Your Payments

Please don’t say that you’re still writing out paper checks and dropping each bill in the mailbox. While it’s noble that you’re doing your part to keep postal workers employed, we’re 18 years into the 21st century and you can literally pay every bill online now.

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There’s no need to log into every account you have and type in your routing number either.

With personal finance software you can schedule automatic payments and transfers between all of your imported accounts. Automatic transfers will help to make sure you have the necessary funds in the right account to ensure all bills are paid on the appropriate date. Late fees are annoying and do nothing but cost you money. It’s time that you said goodbye to them once and for all.

3. You Need to Streamline Your Budget

Perhaps the best feature of personal finance software is that it allows you track everything going in and out of your virtual wallet.

Nearly every brand of personal finance software out there has easy-to-read graphs and charts that allow you track every cent you spend or earn, should you choose. You might be pretty amazed when you see just how much you spent on eating out last month or if you splurged a little more than you should have on Christmas gifts last year.

Every successful business on the planet has a budget and using personal finance software can help you trim the fat on your spending in ways that affect your everyday life.

4. You Have Specific Goals to Meet

Maybe it’s paying off debt or saving for up something like a European vacation. Whatever your financial goal is, whether it’s long-term or short-term, personal finance software programs are one of the savviest ways to go about reaching those goals.

You can do everything from set spending alerts to notify you when you’re over budget to automating what percentage of your paycheck goes to things like retirement investments. The personal finance software that you choose should show you exactly how close you are to hitting those goals at any given time.

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How to Get Started

From AceMoney to Mint and Quicken, there ’s no shortage of personal finance software apps out there. Many of these programs are free to download and will allow you to pay bills, invest, monitor your net worth and credit profile, and even get a loan with the swipe of a finger.

Other programs may only offer you limited services and will require a one-time fee or subscription to unlock all that they offer. These fees can often vary from as little as two dollars to 50 bucks a month.

It’s best to start off with the free version and then gauge whether you’re able to accomplish everything you’d like or if it’s worth exploring one of the paid options. Often times the subscription programs come with assistance from financial planning and investment experts — so that can be a real benefit.

When deciding which personal finance software program to use, it’s also important to look at how many accounts you wish to monitor. Certain programs limit the number of accounts you can add. Be sure that if you have checking, credit card, and investment accounts to monitor, that you choose a service that can monitor them all.

Finally, when looking around for the right personal finance software that meets your needs, make sure that you’re comfortable with the program’s interface. It shouldn’t be expected that you recognize every single feature instantly, but if the features don’t seem readable and manageable to you, then you’re not as likely to use it and get the full benefits.

Final Thoughts

Personal finance software can go a long way in helping you to take control of your money and meeting your financial goals. It’s important to note, however, that some focus more on budgeting and expense tracking while others prioritize investing portfolios and income taxes. Explore several different programs and read reviews to find the one that’s right for you.

In this day and age, managing one’s personal finances in a secure manner that allows the user to have a real-time visual representation of their money is easier than ever before. With the numerous applications that are out there — both free and subscription-based — there’s no reason that every person can’t take control of their money and ensure they’re making smart money moves.

Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

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