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A good way to learn respect for the concept of cash flow is to compare it to the idea of profit. As a business owner, you understand and strive to make a profit. If a retail business is able to buy a retail item for $1,000 and sell it for $2,000, then it has made a $1,000 profit. But what if the buyer of the retail item is slow to pay his or her bill, and six months pass before the bill is paid? Using accrual accounting, the retail business still shows a profit, but what about the bills it has to pay during the six months that pass? It will not have the cash to pay them, despite the profit earned on the sale.
As you can see, profit and cash flow are two entirely different concepts, each with entirely different results. The concept of profit is somewhat narrow, and only looks at income and expenses at a certain point in time. Cash flow, on the other hand, is more dynamic. It is concerned with the movement of money in and out of a business. More importantly, it is concerned with the time at which the movement of the money takes place. You might even say the concept of cash flow is more in line with reality! If you use the accrual accounting method, it is helpful to know how to convert your accrual profit to your cash flow profit.
To fully understand the difference, you need to become familiar with:
- accrual accounting vs. cash accounting
- converting accrual profit to cash flow profit
- changes in accounts receivable
- changes in inventory
- changes in accounts payable
- changes in notes payable
- case study profit vs. cash flow