Getting Ready to Invest

Calculating Cash Flow

The next step in evaluating your present financial status is to look at your monthly cash flow. Begin by looking at your monthly net income—the money you take home every month after taxes. This includes your salary and other steady and reliable sources of income, such as income from a second job, child support or alimony that you receive, or social security. If you already own some investments, you may be receiving dividend or interest payments; factor that amount into income, too.

Then calculate your average monthly expenses. These include your rent or mortgage, car lease or loan, personal loan, credit card and child support or alimony payments. Also include money for groceries, utilities, transportation and insurance. Don't forget money that you spend on items that are "discretionary," rather than necessary—for example, cable television subscriptions, gym fees, clothing, gifts, and the like. Average your actual expenses over a three month period to come up with a reliable monthly estimate for your total expenses. Subtract your monthly expense figure from your monthly net income to determine your leftover cash supply. If the result is a negative cash flow, that is, if you spend more than you earn, you'll need to look for ways to cut back on your expenses. Similarly, if the result is a positive cash flow, but your spending nearly equals your earnings, it might be too soon to start investing right now.

To invest, your net income must exceed your expenses—with some to spare. If this is not the case, look for expenses you could eliminate or reduce. Maybe some of your discretionary expenses are luxuries that you could give up. Perhaps a debt refinancing or consolidation could reduce your monthly payments. A financial professional may be able to help you with these matters.


Monthly Income and Expenses Sample Worksheet

 After-tax Salary $ ________________
 Investment Income $ ________________
 Savings $ ________________
 Investments* $ ________________
    Rent or Mortgage $ ________________
    Electricity $ ________________
    Gas/Oil $ ________________
    Telephone $ ________________
    Water/Sewer $ ________________
    Property Tax $ ________________
    Furniture $ ________________
 Food $ ________________
 Transportation $ ________________
 Loans $ ________________
 Insurance $ ________________
 Education $ ________________
 Recreation $ ________________
 Health Care $ ________________
 Gifts $ ________________
 Other $ ________________
 Total $ ________________


Adapted from "Get the Facts: The SEC's Roadmap to Saving and Investing," available on the Web site of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission at

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    Assessing Net Worth
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    Dealing with Credit Card Debt