Financial Math III: Diagramming Cash Flows

This post will wrap up my series on Financial Math. I’ve previously written about:

In this article, I want to go over a fundamental mechanism any investor should at least be aware of: Cash Flow Diagrams. If you look to the right, you’ll see a common example.

The first line, that goes upwards, represents a burst of positive money you receive. The following payments, or negative cash flows, are essentially used to payback the initial cash flow. Do you recognize what common financial structure it is where you get a big chunk of cash up front, and then make small payments over a certain time period? That’s right, a loan.

For another cash flow, check out this one. It is the opposite. It shows a big chunk of cash being put out, followed by several small cash flows coming back. Can you think of any examples that match this? Buying a rental property and receiving monthly rent checks. Buying a big chunk of stock and then receiving dividend payouts.

At the heart of any financial transaction, investment, or purchase, you can probably see one of these two diagrams. When you are trying to make a choice on whether to buy a big chunk of stock OR put the money into a rental property, its useful to sit down and chart all the cash flows. Then, you can compare the two. The ratio between the┬áthe periodic payments and the invested cash is known as the cap rate, and it’s important to understand the cap rate for each usage of your money. When one opportunity yields less than the other, we refer to it as opportunity cost.

When you are about to pick a certain investment vehicle, it’s good to also make a list of the risks involved. Real estate has certain risks. Stocks have another. And paying off your mortgage early may carry fewer risks, but also consider the loss of opportunity if you don’t build up any positive cash flows in the future. Are you painting yourself into a corner of being house rich/cash poor?

Ever see those commercials where you can “get your cash now?” They are all about taking over your tiny positive cash flows, and swapping them with a big one right now. Believe me, those people make money. They simply calculate your cap rate, plug in a profit factor on top, and essentially calculate a smaller amount of cash to hand you than if you had kept the cash flows for yourself.

Hopefully, this series will have alerted you to the benefit in understanding some financial basics. Happy investing!

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