Tips for Managing an Inconsistent Income as a Freelancer
You know, there’s not a lot that I miss about working a standard full-time job. But, if there’s one thing that I miss the absolute most, it’s a steady, regular, and predictable paycheck.
That’s one thing that I know I took for granted when I was still employed full-time. I knew exactly when I could expect a check, and I knew almost exactly how much I’d be getting. Budgeting was simple. Managing my finances was a breeze. Being an adult was a total piece of cake. OK — not really — but you get where I’m going with this.
Now that I make my living as a freelancer, my income is a rollercoaster that I can never get off of. Some months it’s a smooth, relaxing ride. Other months, it sends me flying down a steep hill or around a sharp curve, and my stomach jumps up into my throat.
I’m fortunate to have a lot of steady gigs that I work on a monthly basis. But, my income can still fluctuate pretty greatly. There are plenty of months where I’m actually making more than when I worked full-time. But, then there are other months (ahem, like when I went on a honeymoon for over a week without any paid vacation) that make you squirm a little bit.
I’m someone who loves predictability and routine. So, learning to live with the constant income swings has been a challenge and a learning experience for me. I think it’s an important thing to talk about, so I’m sharing a few tips for how I live with an inconsistent income right here! Let’s get to it, you go-getters!
TIPS FOR MANAGING AN INCONSISTENT INCOME
1. GET A ROUGH LOOK AT YOUR FINANCES — INCLUDING YOUR BOTTOM LINE.
First things first, you need to get a rough idea of what your take-home income is — no matter how inconsistent. Sit down and write down all of your current projects and the average income you make from them. Again, I know this can vary greatly, but do your best to get a rough idea.
Next, do the same thing with all of your expenses to figure out exactly how much you need to earn each month in order to make ends meet. This activity isn’t meant to discourage you. It’s actually insanely helpful.
Let me tell you why! If you have no idea what your bottom line is, you’re essentially just floundering and playing a very scary guessing game with your finances. For example, let’s say that I need to earn approximately $2,000 each month in order to pay my bills. Now, let’s imagine that I actually end up taking home $3,200 in the month of August. Awesome, I’m way ahead of where I want to be!
But, I also know that September will be a light month due to some client setbacks and a vacation, and I anticipate only taking home $1,500. So, I won’t go on a major spending spree, and will instead save that extra $1,200 to help fill in the gaps next month.
Yes, your income is inconsistent. But, having at least a general idea of the big picture will really help you!
2. SET FINANCIAL GOALS.
Alright, having an inconsistent income is really scary. And, it can be so terrifying that it almost causes you to coast along without ever setting any sort of financial goals. Instead, you just let your money pile up in your business checking account, because you have no idea where else to even put it.
Just because your income fluctuates doesn’t mean that you can’t set any sort of goals for yourself. Don’t pressure yourself into thinking these goals need to be lofty and earth-shattering. For example, I’m making an effort to put $200 of my income into savings every month. It’s not huge — but it helps me feel like my money is going somewhere other than my living expenses. Plus, I’m building up a nice cushion if I ever go through a rough patch.
3. HAVE A BACKUP PLAN.
Depending on your industry, this may not always be an option for you. But, I like to have a project that I can fall back on if I ever need to fill in some income holes.
For example, I work with a large organization to help people write their resumes and improve their competitive standing in the job market. As someone who loves writing on career topics, this job as a “career counselor” of sorts is fun for me. But, admittedly, it’s not something that I do too often. In fact, I’ve been so busy with other larger projects, that I haven’t written a resume in months.
But, this outlet is a great fallback option for me. The company has no requirement for how many projects I need to complete to stay active in their system. So, if my regular client work ever slows down, I can simply log back in and start accepting orders and payments again.
See if you can find something like this for yourself. It really helps your sense of security when you know you have something steady to fall back on!
4. PRIORITIZE SPENDING.
I’ll just say it — I’ve never been great at budgeting. Luckily, I have Mr. Math (aka my husband) to help me through. But, one thing I have learned to do is prioritize my spending.
Write down all of your monthly expenses on a list — both the things that you need to spend money on (car payment, student loans, insurance, gas, rent, etc.), and the things that you want to spend money on (clothes, haircuts, dinners out, etc.). Then, rank these expenses. At the top of the list, put the things that absolutely need to be financed. From there, continue towards the bottom of the paper with the more frivolous things.
This way, you’ll know exactly where your money should be going when you get it, and you’ll save yourself from not being able to pay the water bill because you just had to have that new purse.
5. OPEN A SEPARATE BUSINESS ACCOUNT.
I’ve talked about this many, many times. So, I’ll just touch on it briefly here. But, you absolutely want to set up a separate business account for all of your business income and expenses.
Not only does this save you major headaches come tax time, it also helps you keep a close eye on all of your business finances.
6. SAVE, SAVE, AND THEN SAVE SOME MORE.
You knew this had to be on the list somewhere. I can’t say it enough — saving is so important!
I don’t know if there’s anything more rewarding than making money from your own business. With every check I get, I think to myself, “I did this! I made this money all by myself!” I swear, it never gets old. So, every now and then I’m tempted to reward my hard work and go splurge on something.
But, I always need to come down off cloud nine and remind myself that there will undoubtedly be rainy days in the future. It’s important to build a bit of a safety net to fall back on in case you find yourself in a tough predicament. Enough to cover four to six months of your living expenses should be good!
Remember my story about being dropped by my biggest client? Well, if that ever happens again (and let’s cross our fingers that it doesn’t), I want to be prepared.
Are you a freelancer or business owner that needs to manage an erratic income? I’d love to hear your tips!
Until next time!