Mismatched Timing of Cash Inflows and Outflows: Learnings From a Resource Mapping Exercise

When household members are paid at different times and with differing frequencies, households are forced to manage income and expenditures, potentially resulting in cash flow misalignments. However, household cash outflows, such as utility bills and grocery purchases, are typically consistent. To manage liquidity, households must account for various income streams, expected payments, and unexpected payments due to income or expenditure shocks, such as health emergencies and funerals. The latter is a significant issue, especially for the resource-constrained.

Researchers at Good Business Lab and the Busara Center of Behavioral Economics performed an extensive qualitative survey–including a resource mapping exercise–to understand how female garment factory workers and their households manage monthly cash inflows and outflows. The qualitative research sample consisted of 25 female garment factory floor workers in the south Indian city of Bengaluru. The average age of women in the sample was 30 years old, and more than half of the sample (n = 17) were married. Twenty-one women reported having moved to Bengaluru for work. All eight unmarried women were migrants.

Female garment workers filing out of the factory after their shift in Bengaluru, Karnataka

Resource mapping: A participatory approach

Resource mapping is a participatory exercise with survey respondents that captures the cash flows of a household over a recallable period. This method has been previously used to understand the financial lives of women in low or middle-income countries (LMICs).¹ In this study, interviewer facilitators presented women with index cards (Figure 1) that contained different categories of cash inflows and outflows that they may have had during the month prior. The categories were designed based on official consumption surveys by the Government of India and further contextualized based on the lives of women who work at garment factories. For example, index cards for hostel costs and remittances were included.

Once the respondent recalled a cash inflow/outflow incurred in the previous month, she was asked to categorize it using the most appropriate index card. A facilitator helped identify cash inflows and outflows. For instance, the facilitator placed the ‘My salary from factory’ card on the left side of the setup (Figure 1) and explained that this signified a cash inflow. Then the facilitator placed the ‘Food expenses’ card on the right side and explained this as a cash outflow. Next, the participant indicated how much money was spent on or received from that particular category, as well as the timing and frequency of the financial transaction.

Spending and saving patterns

On average, a woman in the sample generated 50% of her household income. Forty percent of women in the sample were the primary earners in their households. As expected, the magnitude of household expenses was highest at the beginning of the month due to payments toward rent, utility bills, loan repayments, remittances, etc. 

Figure 1: Resource flow setup and index cards

Rent, travel, and utility bills represented the primary planned expenses and constituted the largest proportion of household cash outflows, at 22% of expenditures, on average. Expenditures on food (17%) were the next largest portion of household cash outflows. Around half of the workers interviewed had remitted money to their relatives. Those remitting were primarily single women, whose remittances to their parents accounted for an average of 25% of their total cash outflow for the month.

The researchers also found that certain expenses were lumpy in nature and could be either planned or unplanned.² For instance, some workers reported that 50-60% of their total household expenses were dedicated to their children’s education in the month prior to the survey. Other workers’ households faced health shocks or participated in family occasions that claimed as much as 35% of their total cash outflow for the month. Households that were able to save at the beginning of the month relied upon these savings heavily during times of resource crunch. However, most of the respondents shared that they typically utilized their incomes as needed and saved any remainder, indicating that savings are mostly unplanned. Thus, many households did not save systematically, and this has implications for meeting their emergency needs and building assets and wealth over time. 

Sources of credit

Approximately 40% of all women workers in the sample reported repaying principal, interest, or both for loans taken in the past. Thirteen percent of the respondents borrowed in the month prior to the survey. Some households were so deeply entrenched in debt that 50% of their monthly expenses were dedicated to equated monthly installments or interest payments. 

Single women reported relying upon friends or colleagues for financial support during emergencies, while married women relied upon their family or neighbours, moneylenders, and pawnbrokers. Some women in the sample reported that they had no role whatsoever in financial decision-making, and their spouses or parents were responsible for arranging money in times of need. Given these demand-side constraints, reducing the supply-side constraints only through access to financial products may have a limited impact on certain women.

The resource mapping exercise prompted women to intentionally consider nuanced aspects of the timing and magnitude of incomes and expenses, as well as consumption smoothing patterns. Thus, this approach can help researchers fine-tune quantitative survey instruments to effectively capture aspects of women’s financial well-being, resilience, and budgeting patterns. We intend to apply the learnings from this experiment to design financial instruments that can help workers meet their financial goals, like easing their liquidity constraints through a zero-cost flexi-salary option and enhancing micro-savings. 


  2. Lumpy expenses are those that fluctuate, generally from month to month.

Apoorv Somanchi is a Research Associate at the Good Business Lab, Simranjeet Dhir is a Research Manager at the Good Business Lab and Sowmya Dhanaraj is a Senior Research Fellow at the Good Business Lab