A cash flow spreadsheet helps you track the amount of real money coming in and going out. Things like your salary or savings account interest are examples of money coming in. Your expenses (whether one at a time or regularly scheduled) are money going out.
Why should we even care about creating a spreadsheet to track every single dollar? Isn’t that something only a boring accountant would want to do? Probably yes about the “want” part. But it will help give you a full picture of your finances. So I’m hoping I can get you to want to do it too.
How to create your own cash flow spreadsheet
First, let’s look at a simple example of a Monthly Cash Flow Spreadsheet. [NOTE: This is set up as if cash flows were all regular to help give you the idea, but they are not. More on that later.]
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You’ll see I have listed some examples of money that comes in (income / revenue of some sort) and money (cash, checks or credit) that goes out. The idea is to track every item from either side of the equation to figure out how much you are gaining or losing each month. We want to gain.
Take a moment to see what the sample categories are so you can recognize the kinds of things in your own daily life that you would want to include in your projected (near future) cash flow spreadsheet.
How to make the cash flow spreadsheet work for you
You will, of course, need to adapt this sample cash flow chart for your own ins and outs. Guess as best as you can what your total yearly amount would be for each item that isn’t a fixed monthly amount, and divide by 12 to come up with a monthly estimate.
But as I will explain later, since this is about keeping track of your actual cash flow, your own version will also include any large, out-of-the-ordinary expenses you might know of now that could put a strain on you that month.
MONTHLY CASH FLOW = How much I make (minus) how much I spend.
(See section on timing below for handling unexpected blips in flow.)
What to list in your monthly cash flow chart
That’s kind of a trick heading. You should list everything — the same as you would do for your budget. The two charts go hand-in-hand when it comes to helping you see the whole picture of where you get your money and where you spend it.
Once you know the real story, you can begin to find ways to pinpoint savings and plan for the future. So think carefully about everything you spend money on — whether you use cash or not. Even things like lottery tickets, your coffee or tea, a newspaper. All of it.
You don’t need to set up a category for each and every item unless it will help you. Most people just group them within larger categories. But if your miscellaneous gets too big or you simply would prefer to do so — you can certainly separate out the larger items. At least until you get a real feel for your actual cash flows.
IMPORTANT: Beware of timing!
I can’t emphasize this enough … cash flows are not as smooth as the sample above. You may for example have an emergency doctor’s visit (for you or your car). Or you may pay your insurance quarterly or annually, as opposed to monthly. Think about any things like that you know may be coming up.
The sample is meant to help you look at your money and the way it flows in and out in general. But the real end-of-month state of your cash depends on whether there were any unexpected extra expenses — or hopefully unexpected extra revenues.
One thing that might help would be to look at last year’s expenses (using your checking account and credit statements). See how many unexpected things showed up. Or how often your normal expenses became abnormal. It can help you project your cash flow for this year.
Some final thoughts
For some people, just the idea of numbers and charts can feel overwhelming. One of those things that give you brain freeze. My best advice is to take a deep breath and give yourself permission to do this slowly. One beautiful, “take back your freedom from debt or low (no) savings” step at a time.
You can even start with a plain piece of paper and a pencil, rather than going right for that online spreadsheet. Jot down everything you spend money on by thinking about your day and looking around your home. Again, check your previous checking account and credit card statements.
You might also want to carry a notebook for a month and keep track of things. There’s no rush. You’ll need it for your budget anyway. You’re taking steps that will last a lifetime. So doing it right up front is way more important than doing it fast. And you might be amazed by what you learn.
Most of all, remember that this as not just one more thing to worry about. It’s something good that you are doing for yourself. And for a future where money becomes your friend!
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