Guide to Using a Personal Cash Flow Statement

By Kayla McCormack · August 25, 2022 · 11 minute read

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Guide to Using a Personal Cash Flow Statement

If you’re often surprised (and not in a good way) when you open up your credit card and bank statements and see how much money you spent, you are not alone. Or perhaps your pain point comes when you check your bank balance and worry that your cash outflow may be exceeding your cash inflow. In either scenario, there could be a simple solution: a personal cash flow statement.

Creating a personal cash flow statement can give you a clear picture of your monthly cash inflow (money you earn) and your monthly cash outflow (money you spend). Armed with that intel, you can determine if you have a positive or negative net cash flow.

And while it may sound intimidating, creating a personal cash flow statement is relatively simple. All you need to get started is to gather up your bank statements and bills for one month (or more). Then, it’s a matter of some basic calculations.

Once you have your personal financial statement, you’ll know where you currently stand. You’ll also be able to use your personal financial statement to help you create a budget and goals for increasing your net worth.

Here’s how to start getting your financial life back into balance.You’ll learn:

•   What is a personal cash flow statement?

•   How can I create a personal cash flow statement?

•   What is the difference between a personal cash flow statement and a budget?

•   How can I use a personal cash flow statement to create a budget?

What Is a Personal Cash Flow Statement?

“Cash flow” is a term commonly used by businesses to detail the amount of money flowing in and out of a company.

Companies can use cash flow statements to determine how well the business is generating income to pay its debts and operating expenses.

Just like the ones used by companies, tracking your own cash flow can provide you with a snapshot of your financial condition.

You might learn, for example, that you have less leftover at the end of each month than you thought or that you are indeed operating at a shortfall.

Once you have the numbers down in black and white, you can then make any needed changes, such as cutting your expenses to save money, increasing income, and making sure that your spending is in line with your goals.

So, how do you set up one of these cash flow statements? You may find a personal cash flow statement template or a personal cash flow statement example online, but let’s walk you through how and why to create one, so you get the most benefit out of the process. These steps can simplify things.

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How to Build a Personal Cash Flow Statement

Listing All Your Sources of Income

A good first step when creating a personal cash flow statement is to get out all of your pay stubs, bank statements, credit card statements, and bills.

Next, you’ll want to start listing any and all sources of income — the inflow.

Cash inflows generally include: salaries, anything you make from side hustles, interest from savings accounts, income from a rental property, dividends from investments, and capital gains from the sale of financial securities like stocks and bonds.

Since a cash flow statement is designed to give a snapshot into the overall flow of where your money is coming from and where it is going, you might want to avoid listing money in accounts that aren’t available for spending.

For example, you may not want to list dividends and capital gains from investment accounts if they are being automatically reinvested, or are part of a retirement account from which you aren’t actively taking withdrawals.

Since income can vary from one month to the next, you might choose to tally inflow for the last three or six months in order to come up with an average.

Once you’ve collected and listed all of your income for the month, you can then calculate the total inflow.

Listing All of Your Expenses

Now that you know how much money is coming in each month, you’ll want to use those same statements and bills, as well as any for debts (such as mortgage, auto loan, or student loans) to list how much was spent during the month.

Again, if your spending tends to fluctuate quite a bit from month to month you may want to track it for several months and come up with an average.

To create a complete picture of how much of your money is flowing out each month, you’ll want to include necessities like food and gas, and also discretionary expenses, such as trips to the nail salon or your monthly streaming services.

Small expenses can add up quickly, so it’s wise to be precise.

Once you’ve compiled all of your expenses, you can calculate the total and come up with your total outflow for the month.

Determining Your Net Cash Flow

To calculate your net cash flow, all you need to do is subtract your monthly outflow from your monthly inflow. The result is your net cash flow.

A positive number means you have a surplus, while a negative means you have a deficit in your budget.

A positive cash flow is desirable, of course, since it can provide more flexibility. You can decide how to best use the surplus.

There are a variety of options. You could choose to save for an upcoming expense, make additional contributions to your retirement fund, create or add to an emergency fund, or, if your savings are in good shape, consider splurging on something fun.

A negative cash flow can signal that you are living a more expensive life than your income can support. In the future, maintaining this habit could lead to additional debt.

When creating personal cash flow statements, it’s also possible to have net neutral cash flow (all money coming in and going out is fairly equal).

In that case, you may still want to jigger things around if you are not already putting the annual maximum into your retirement fund and/or you don’t have a comfortable emergency cash cushion.

The Difference Between a Personal Cash Flow Statement and a Budget

A personal cash flow statement provides a comprehensive look at what is currently coming in and going out of your bank accounts each month.

A cash flow statement tells you where you are.

A personal budget, on the other hand, helps you to get where you want to go by giving you a spending plan that is based on your income and expenses.

A budget can provide you with some general spending guidelines, such as how much you should spend on groceries, entertainment, and clothing each month so that you don’t exceed your income — and end up with a negative net flow.

Creating a budget can also be a good opportunity to check in with your financial goals.

For example:

•   Are you on track for saving for retirement?

•   Are you interested in tackling the credit card debt that has been spiraling due to high interest rates?

•   Do you want to amp up your emergency fund?

•   How are you progressing on paying off your student loans?

Whatever your goal, a well-crafted budget could serve as a roadmap to help you get there.

Recommended: 9 Smart Ways to Pay Off Student Loans

Using Your Personal Financial Statement to Create a Simple Budget

Because a cash flow statement provides a comprehensive look at your overall spending habits, it can be a great jumping off point to set up a simple budget.

When you’re ready to create a budget, there are a variety of resources:

•   Break out a pencil and paper or buy a journal for this purpose

•   Use an app that’s part of your bank’s suite of tools, like SoFi Relay®

•   Download an app that isn’t connected to your financial institution but offers budgeting services

•   Try out spreadsheet templates and printable worksheets

A good first step in creating a budget is to organize all of your monthly expenses into categories.

Spending categories typically include necessities, such as rent or mortgage, transportation (like car expenses or public transportation costs), food, cell phone, healthcare/insurance, life insurance, childcare, and any debts (credit cards/loans).

You’ll also need to list non-essential spending, such as cable travel, streaming services, concert and movie tickets, restaurants, clothing, etc.

You may also want to include monthly contributions to a retirement plan and personal savings into the expense category as well.

And, if you don’t have emergency savings in place, put that on the spending list as well, so you can start saving towards that every month. How big an emergency fund do you need? Aim to cover at least three to six months’ of living expenses.

Recommended: Get a personalized estimate for your emergency fund by using our emergency fund calculator.

Once you have a sense of your monthly earnings and spending, you may want to see how your numbers line up with general budgeting guidelines. Financial counselors sometimes recommend the 50/30/20 budget rule, which looks like this:

•   50% of money goes towards necessities such as a home, car, cell phone, or utility bills.

•   30% goes towards your wants, such as entertainment and dining out.

•   20% goes towards your savings goals, such as a retirement plan, a downpayment on a home, emergency fund, or investments.

Recommended: Take control of your finances with our user-friendly 50/30/20 budget calculator.

Improving Your Net Cash Flow

If your net cash flow is not where you want it to be or, worse, dipping into negative territory, a budget can help bring these numbers into balance.

The key is to look closely at each one of your spending categories and see if you can find some ways to trim back.

The easiest way to change your spending habits is to cut some of your nonessential expenditures. If you’re paying for cable but mostly watch streaming services, for example, you could score some real savings by getting rid of that service and its bill.

Not taking as many weekend getaways and cooking more often instead of getting takeout could start adding up to a big difference. If you tend to be a compulsive or impulsive shopper, you might take steps to understand your triggers, change your behavior, and rein in the outflow of money.

Living on a budget may also require looking at the bigger picture and finding places for more significant savings.

For example, maybe rent eats up 50% of your income, and it’d be better to move to a less costly apartment. Or you might want to consider trading in an expensive car lease for a less pricey or pre-owned model.

There may also be opportunities to lower some of your recurring expenses by finding a better deal or negotiating with your service providers.

You may also want to look into any ways you might be able to change the other side of the equation — the inflow of funds.

Some options might include asking for a raise or finding an additional income stream (making more money is a key benefit of a side hustle).

The Takeaway

One of the most important steps towards achieving financial wellness is cash flow management — i.e., making sure that your cash outflow is not exceeding your cash inflow.

Creating a simple cash flow statement for yourself can be an extremely useful tool. It can show you exactly where you stand and help you create a budget that can bring the inflow and outflow of money into a healthier balance.

Creating — and sticking with — a budget that creates a positive net cash flow and allows for monthly saving can help you build financial security and future wealth.

If you need help with tracking your spending, a Checking and Savings account with SoFi may be a good option for you.

With SoFi Checking and Savings, you can see your weekly spending on your dashboard, which can help you make sure you are on track with your budget. What’s more, when you open an online bank account with direct deposit, you can earn a competitive APY, and you won’t pay any account fees. This combo can help your money grow faster.

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How do you create a personal cash flow statement?

To create a personal cash flow statement, gather information on how much you typically take in (income) after taxes per month and how much your outflow is. That captures the amount you spend on necessities, like housing and food, as well as wants and debt payments. When you subtract the outflow from the income, you’ll see where your cash flow stands.

What is the importance of a personal cash flow statement?

A personal cash flow statement is an important way to track your personal spending and see where pain points may be. It will also reveal if you are going into debt or if you have surplus funds you can put towards future goals. Also, a personal cash flow statement can be an important factor in establishing a personalized budget.

What is the difference between a personal balance sheet and a cash flow statement?

A personal balance sheet captures your assets (money in the bank and real estate, for instance) and liabilities (your credit card balance and any loans), which allows you to determine your net worth. A cash flow statement, on the other hand, tracks your spending versus your income, to see whether you are operating with a deficit, a surplus, or if you are breaking even.

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