Ideas to Improve Your Personal Cash Flow

One of the most common reasons businesses fail is due to lack of proper cash flow. The same is often true in many households. Here's how this concept of cash flow applies to you along with some ideas to improve it.

Cash flow defined

Cash flow equals cash coming in (wages, interest, Social Security benefits) and cash going out in the bills you pay and money you spend. If more is coming in than going out, you have positive cash flow. If the opposite is true, you have negative cash flow. Unfortunately, calculating and forecasting cash flow can get complicated. Some bills are due weekly, others monthly. A few larger bills may need to be paid quarterly or annually.

Create your cash flow snapshot

Before improving your cash flow, you need to be able to visualize it. While there are software tools to generate a statement of cash flow, you can also take a snapshot of your cash flow by creating a simple monthly spreadsheet:

  • Type each month across the top of the spreadsheet with an annual total.
  • Note all your revenue (cash inflows), then create a list of expenses (cash outflows) in the left-hand column.
  • Enter your income and bills by month. Create a monthly subtotal of all your inflows. Do the same for your cash outflows. Then subtract the expenses from income. Positive numbers? You have positive cash flow. Negative numbers? You have negative cash flow.
  • Create a cumulative total for the year under each month to see which months will need additional funds and which months will have excess funds.

Ideas to improve your cash flow

  • Identify your challenges. See if you have months where more cash is going out than is coming in to your bank account. This often happens when large bills are due. If possible, try to balance these known high-expense months throughout the course of the year. Common causes are:
    • Holidays
    • Property tax payments
    • Car and homeowners insurance
    • Income tax payments
    • Vacations
  • Build a reserve. If you know there are challenging months, project how much additional cash you will need and begin to save for this in positive cash months.
  • Cut back on annuities. See what monthly expense drivers are in your life. Can any of them be reduced? Can you live with fewer cell phone add-ons? How about cutting costs in your cable bill? Is it time for an insurance review?
  • Shop your current services. Some of your larger bills may create an opportunity for savings. This is especially true with home and car insurance.
  • Create savings habits to add to cash flow. Consider paying a bill to yourself in your cash outflows. This saved money is a simple technique to create positive cash flow each month to build an emergency reserve.
Ingredients of a Successful Business Partnership

Like a bundle of sticks, good business partners support each other and are less likely to crack under strain together than on their own. In fact, companies with multiple owners have a stronger chance of surviving their first five years than sole proprietorships, according to U.S. Small Business Administration data.

Yet sole proprietorships are more common than partnerships, making up more than 70 percent of all businesses. That's because while good partnerships are strong, they can be a challenge to successfully get off the ground. Here are some of the ingredients that good business partnerships require:

  • A shared vision. Business partnerships need a shared vision. If there are differences in vision, make an honest effort to find common ground. If you want to start a restaurant, and your partner envisions a fine dining experience with French cuisine while you want an American bistro, you're going to be disagreeing over everything from pricing and marketing to hiring and d├ęcor.
  • Compatible strengths. Different people bring different skills and personalities to a business. There is no stronger glue to hold a business partnership together than when partners need and rely on each other's abilities. Suppose one person is great at accounting and inventory management, and another is a natural at sales and marketing. Each is free to focus on what they are good at and can appreciate that their partner will pick up the slack in the areas where they are weak.
  • Defined roles and limitations. Before going into business, outline who will have what responsibilities. Agree on which things need consensus and which do not. Having this understanding up front will help resolve future disagreements. Outlining the limits of each person's role not only avoids conflict, it also identifies where you need to hire outside expertise to fulfill a skill gap in your partnership.
  • A conflict resolution strategy. Conflict is bound to arise even if the fundamentals of your partnership are strong. Set up a routine for resolving conflicts. Start with a schedule for frequent communication between partners. Allow each person to discuss issues without judgment. If compromise is still difficult after a discussion, it helps to have someone who can be a neutral arbiter, such as a trusted employee or consultant.
  • A goal-setting system. Create a system to set individual goals as well as business goals. Regularly meet together and set your goals, the steps needed to achieve them, who needs to take the next action step, and the expected date of completion.
  • An exit strategy. It's often easier to get into business with a partner than to exit when it isn't working out. Create a buy-sell agreement at the start of your business relationship that outlines how you'll exit the business and create a fair valuation system to pay the exiting owner. Neither the selling partner nor the buying partner want to feel taken advantage of during an ownership transition.

 Taming Monthly Bill Creep 

Paying bills is inevitable, but paying too much is not. Here are some tips to help you get a handle on your recurring monthly expenses.

  • Investigate your recurring services. Start by taking stock of every service you are currently using. Review your bank and credit card statements and highlight all the charges that look like a subscription. Some examples to look for are streaming services (video, music and games), magazines, news subscriptions, digital storage services, gym memberships and financial services. Determine if you have redundant subscriptions, such as two music-streaming services. Finally, ask yourself if each service is still providing value to you. If it's not, cancel it.
  • Review bills for unnecessary fees. Once you trim your list down to the services you want to keep, locate the most recent bill for each. Read through all the charges and make notes of those that are questionable. You might be paying for services you aren't using, such as a video streaming service on your cell phone bill. Or maybe you are paying replacement insurance coverage for something you don't need. For every charge that doesn't make sense, call and ask the provider to cancel it.
  • Bundle expenses when you can. Many suppliers provide multiple services and will offer discounts if you sign up for a few of them. Bundling your cable TV, internet and home phone is a common example of this. Other places to look for bundling opportunities are cell phone providers and insurance companies.
  • Negotiate for lower rates. Call each provider and ask for a lower rate or discount. Most companies want to keep your business, so often times they will work with you. Service providers routinely change the way they package their products, so saving money might be as simple as changing to a different level of service. It's rare for companies to reach out and offer savings, so you need to make the call!

It's easy for your bills to spiral out of control if you don't keep close tabs on them. Go through a review exercise every few months to ensure you aren't paying more than necessary.