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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 March 4, 2019

How to Use Credit Cards While Staying Out of Debt

How to Use Credit Cards While Staying Out of Debt

Many people will suggest that the best thing to do with your credit cards during these tough economic times is to cut them up with a pair of scissors. Indeed, if you are already in huge debt, you probably should stop using them and begin a payback strategy immediately. However, if you are not currently in trouble with your credit cards, there are wise ways to use them.

I happen to really love my credit cards so I will share with you my approach to how I use mine without getting into deep financial trouble.

Ever since about 1983 when I got my first Visa card, I continue to charge as many of my purchases as possible on credit. Everything from gas, groceries and monthly payments for services like my cable and home security monitoring are charged on credit. Despite my heavy usage, I have maintained the joy of never paying any interest fees at all on any of my credit cards.

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Here are some tips on how best to use your credit cards without falling into the trap of paying those nasty double-digit interest fees.

Do Not Treat Credit Cards as Your Funding Sources

Too many people treat their credit cards as funding sources for major purchases. Do not do this if you want to stay out of trouble. I use my credit cards as convenient financial instruments so I do not have to carry around much cash. In fact, I hate carrying cash, especially coins. When you buy things on credit, the purchases are clean and you will not get annoying coins back as change.

I do not rely on my Visa, MasterCard or American Express to fund any of my purchases, large or small. This brings me to my golden rule when it comes to whether I will pull out any of my credit cards either at a retail or online store.

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I never purchase anything with my credit cards if I do not have the actual cash on hand in my bank account.

If I really cannot pay for the item or service with cash that I already have at the bank, then I simply will not make the purchase. Remember, my credit cards are not used as funding sources. They are just convenient alternatives to actual cash in my pocket.

Make Sure to Always Pay Off Balances in Full Each Month

The next very important part of my overall strategy is to make absolutely sure that I pay the balances in full each and every month no matter how large they are. This should never be a problem if the cash has been budgeted for my purchases and secured in the bank. I have always paid my full balances each month ever since my very first credit card and this is why I never pay interest charges.

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Using Credit Cards with Rewards

Most of my credit cards are of the “no annual fees” type, including one MasterCard on a separate account I keep at home as a spare in case I lose my wallet or incur any fraudulent charges. However, I do use a main Visa card which does have an annual fee because all purchases on that card reward me with airline frequent flyer points. For me, the annual fee is worth it since I do travel and I get enough points to redeem many free flights.

You have to decide for yourself if you will charge enough purchases on credit each year without paying interest charges to warrant a credit card that rewards you with airline points (or other rewards). In my case, the answer is “yes” but that might not be the case for you.

I occasionally use a MasterCard or American Express card on small purchases just to keep those accounts active. Also, I have been to the odd retailer that accepted only a certain type of credit card, so I find that having one from each major company is quite handy. Aside from my main Visa card which earns the airline points, the rest of my cards are of the “no annual fees” variety.

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So this is how I use my credit cards without getting into any financial trouble with them. This strategy is recommended only if you are not in debt, of course. In fact, it is worth keeping in mind once you’re out of debt so that you can keep your credit cards active and treat them responsibly.

What are your credit card usage strategies? Let me know in the comments — I’d love to hear what methods you use.

Featured photo credit: Artem Bali via unsplash.com

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