Wait, what the hell is a cash flow calculator on a calendar (besides the obvious tongue twister)?
A cash flow calculator is the digital version of how I used to predict my cash flow as a bartender.
My income was always in flux, but from experience, I could consistently ballpark how much I was going to bring home on any particular night. I would plot my future expected tips on a paper printout of a 30-day calendar. Jotting down the estimates for a regular Friday night, or a special event like opening day for the Colorado Rockies (baseball). On average, I was printing out 3 months worth of calendar sheets to “pencil-in” my future income and expenses. All so I could plan for bigger ticket items like a beach vacation, tattoo work, tires for my car, downpayment on a house, a fancy night out on the town. I was fairly flush with cash back then, but the bigger ticket items required a little more planning. I also liked knowing how healthy or slim my bank balance was going to be on any given day. It didn’t have to be perfect, my intuition got me close enough. By forecasting on a calendar, I could spot potential cash flow issues or opportunities (like that opening day) to make the most out of either situation.
In my twenties, being flush with cash also meant I made some poor decisions about money. For example, I should have saved for emergencies, but I never did. After all, making ends meet was hard enough. I knew I could always make more money, so why bother? Boy did I learn the hard way. Sure, I could pick up shifts, work at multiple bars, land the occasional odd job when cash was tight, but the problem was always timing. Timing when I’d secure that extra shift or gig and how much it was worth. I was constantly scrambling at the 11th hour, and at most in two-week increments, to manage my money. It wasn’t until a fellow bartender taught me to forecast on a calendar (rather than in my head or on the back of a napkin) that I got better with money. Turns out, all I needed was better visibility. In a context that made sense to me — a calendar. Because as a bartending gig worker, my time was money, and my schedule dictated my livelihood.
I still didn’t handle money the way my parents wanted me to. I was in my twenties after all. Emergency savings and retirement? Pffft...could not have been further from my mind. The only thing I cared about back then was enjoying my twenties. But even enjoying my twenties was not without stress and constraint. My income was always in flux and that made sticking to a traditional budget burdensome at best, and totally unrealistic at worst. However, the “fly-by-the-seat-of-my-next-shift” plan wasn’t serving me well either. I would often find myself in a cash bind. And even when I wasn’t in a cash bind, I was scared of a cash bind. I would take any and every shift available, working myself to death. It was a vicious feast-or-famine cycle that cramped my style and seriously limited my trips to Cabo San Lucas with the girls.
When I started looking forward, things changed. I could plot my basic forecast of cash (regular shifts I could count on and basic living expenses) and then start plotting my “what-if’s”. What if I moved my vacation plans back by two weeks? What if I picked up Sunday brunch shifts for the next three months? How would those decisions change my future bank balance? Once I started mapping my options on a calendar, I was empowered to answer those questions. If something didn’t go according to plan, I’d immediately run home and rework my calendar forecast to make a new plan. When I started looking forward (farther than next week’s schedule), I felt empowered to start saving for those emergencies my parents were always nagging me about (after I saved for the epic vacations of course).
I was an independent worker, but this was the first time I started to feel independent. Where I was in the driver’s seat of my time and money. And this was a big effing deal to me. My parents’ answer to being good with money was to plan out every dollar and stick to that plan. Traditional budgeting always felt like dieting to me. Hard to stick to, super restrictive, and demotivating AF. But forecasting was different. Looking forward was motivating. It helped me be reasonable about my money.
You’re not a spreadsheet. You’re a person. A screwed up, emotional person. It took me a while to figure this out, but once it clicked I realized it’s one of the most important parts of finance.
With it comes something that often goes overlooked: Do not aim to be coldly rational when making financial decisions. Aim to just be pretty reasonable. Reasonable is more realistic and you have a better chance of sticking with it for the long run, which is what matters most when managing your money.
— Morgan Housel, The Psychology of Money
I could make a mistake (too many impulse buys at the mall) and look forward to how I was going to make up for it. With a budget, I mostly just failed at sticking to the same plan month over month. In my defense, sometimes sticking to the plan wasn’t what I needed. Sometimes, enjoying a well earned night out made all the difference in my life. It’s why I chose to be an independent worker in the first place. So that I could have control over my time and work-life balance. Don’t get me wrong, budgeting is an important skill, and we should all know how to live within our means. But if you have agency in the what, when, and how you earn your money day-by-day — then you should be forecasting.
We started with a cash flow calculator on a calendar because it’s simple, effective, and familiar for the independent worker.
It’s our Alpha Baby 👶 and we’re stoked to share it with all of you. From this point forward, we grow together. Feedback is how we build great product. I hope you’ll join us as we #buildinpublic the Balance product, company, team, and most importantly — our community of users. We’re on a mission.
We have big plans and we’re just getting started. Balance will sit at the intersection of all the levers an independent worker can pull. Taking inputs from every aspect of their lives and helping them instantly map the impact of today’s decisions on their financial futures.
If you’re an independent worker I want you to imagine forecasting endless scenarios based on the shifts you can pick up, the overtime you can earn, the credit card terms you’re under, and the bank accounts you hold. Balance will help you model the the right mix to achieve your goals. And we’ll grow with you as those goals evolve over the different stages of your life.
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