Cash flow is the ‘hardest part’ of personal finance, advisors say

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The following is an excerpt from “This week, your wallet,” a weekly audio show on Twitter produced by CNBC’s Personal Finance team. Listen to the latest episode here.

Being a “master of cash flow” is a key element of household finance — and also one of the most challenging, said certified financial planner Douglas Boneparth.

What does mastering that skillset mean? It’s a two-pronged concept: Knowing what it costs to fund your lifestyle and understanding what you can consistently save and invest, said Boneparth, president of Bone Fide Wealth and a member of CNBC’s Advisor Council.

“Balancing these two things [is] arguably the hardest part of all of personal finance,” he said.

Often, people are too quick to invest without having this foundation, he said.

While investing for long-term goals is important due to the power of compounding, “what good is investing if you can’t stay invested?” Boneparth said. Without discipline around cash flow, an unforeseen life event may arise that causes you to dip into those investments that you’d hoped not to touch for years, he added.

Once households have a grasp on cash flow, they can set and prioritize measurable goals: building an emergency cash reserve and saving for retirement, a down payment or a child’s college education, for example, Boneparth said.

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Households that feel financially stretched can examine if they engage in any “thoughtless spending,” said Carolyn McClanahan, a CFP and founder of Life Planning Partners in Jacksonville, Florida.

She recommends examining what households spend on necessities like housing and transportation (and ensuring that spending in these categories is as cost-efficient as possible) and “wants.” Comb through the latter category to ensure you’re using the services on which you regular spend, like gym memberships and subscriptions to music services such as Spotify and Pandora, McClanahan said.

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You can divert any savings — even if it’s just $5, $10 or $25 a month — into a savings account, she added.

“That adds up quickly,” she said.

Savers should make sure these deposits happen automatically, ideally the day after a paycheck hits their bank account.

“If you don’t see [the extra money], you don’t miss it,” McClanahan said.

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