We all get bills in the mail or in our email inbox. Some are recurring and some are totally unexpected; well maybe a little expected. But when those semi-unexpected bills do come through, it’s important to first make sure it’s accurate and then figure out an efficient way to pay it. An efficient way to pay a bill means it doesn’t break your bank account. In order to avoid breaking your bank account, proper cash flow is required.
Cash flow comes from budgeting and tracking how your cash is coming and where your cash is going. I used to think that budgeting is tracking, but it’s actually two separate things. I won’t get into it in a lot of detail here, except a short definition that I myself have come up with from experience.
Budgeting means taking an anticipated expense and estimating how much it should be the in upcoming cycle or month. A cell phone bill can be $50-$55 per month, so you can budget for $55 for your cell phone. This estimation can help you control your cash flow and see where it is needed. My free budget template may be a great way for you to get started on simple and effective budgeting.
Now that we have a simple understanding of budgeting, let’s move to the tracking part.
Tracking your expenses means to simply take expenses you have already paid and documenting them without further planning and thought. It is a fruitless exercise if you don’t use the information to anticipate, estimate, and plan.
With those two concepts in mind, it’s always ideal to pay your bill in full. But this isn’t always an option. Sometimes we may be strapped for cash. This is a reality for many of us. But don’t let this affect your ability to pay some because extreme consequences could include detriment of your credit score and the inability to acquire funds when you need them.
Big Hospital Bill
You or a family member got a medical procedure done and then a couple of months later you get a bill in the mail. It’s the coinsurance portion – maybe 10%. But 10% of several thousands of dollars is still, well several hundreds of dollars you have to pay.
It’s a bummer right?
Well to soften the blow, many hospitals will offer payment plans. This can help you control cash flow.
Let’s say the procedure cost $6,000 and your coinsurance is 10% which is $600. If you decide to enroll in a 1-year payment plan, that’s $50 per month. It’s still better than paying all $600 at once especially if there is no interest involved. You can still continue your savings plan(s) with a little hiccup, which is saving $50 less for a short period of time.
Keep in mind that even if you have an emergency fund established paying the whole hospital bill is not an emergency.
If a payment plan is offered, why not take it? You don’t want to be in a situation where you suddenly lose your job, which qualifies as a true emergency and are kicking yourself for paying hundreds from your emergency savings that you could have used for essentials like groceries or part of your mortgage payment.
Low or No Interest Car Loan
Normally, I’d recommend paying a car off in full. Specifically, I recommend buying a slightly and gently used car because it has depreciated significantly. And then pay for it with cash.
But very few people are actually able to pay off a car in full, myself included. So the alternative is to work on obtaining a very low interest or zero interest loans. Because guess what, a zero interest loan is free money. Sometimes zero-interest loans are only zero interest not for the full term of a loan, but only for a short period of time. This is the foundation of an awesome payment plan for your car.
For example, a 60-month loan may have a zero interest introductory rate for the first 12 months. That means you are borrowing free money for the first 12 months of the loan. If you can pay if off in 12 months, that’s fantastic! In this scenario, you’ve established payment plan to help control cash flow and it didn’t cost you a dime.
Bill Pay Options And Flexibility
Some bills are fixed and some are variable. And some are variable that can be fixed. For example, my energy company offers budget billing. In this option, you can choose to have the same bill amount spread over 12 months based on your usage history.
A budget billing system may work for you if you have extremely high bills in hot summer and freezing winter months. In these high billing months, a home’s energy bill can easily double even if you make minor adjustments to the thermostat. It may also be appropriate if you are on a fixed income situation such as the recipient of pension payments.
A few years back I sign-up for budget billing myself. This was when I was living with my parents and brother in a larger home and the energy bill fluctuated a lot. Since that time, I have moved into a smaller home with a more efficient energy system and the bills are not nearly as volatile.
Plus, it’s all about anticipation. You know when it’s sweltering or freezing outside and the fact that your home has to work harder to keep up with the temperature you’ve set. Anticipate a larger bill and you’ll be proactive in making sure you have the funds to pay for it.
Increase Incoming Cash Flow
It goes without saying that the best way to tackle cash flow problems is work on ways to increase your cash flow. Cutting expenses may be easier, but can only do that to a certain extent. It’s even more important to find ways to increase your incoming cash to support your lifestyle choices. This includes asking for a raise or promotion, investing in high yield funds, or starting a small business on the side.
And don’t forget, controlling cash flow also means to flow some into your savings and your investing accounts. The objective is to make sure you have the cash to pay yourself first for you and your family’s future. At some point, you will want to stop working and controlling what you put into your future for matters more in the long-run.
- Do you use payment plans to control your cash flow?
- Have you paid for something in full and later regretted it?
- Do you have a budget to control where your cash is going each month?
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