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How To Effectively Manage Your Freelance Income

How To Effectively Manage Your Freelance Income

One of the toughest things about freelancing is figuring out how to manage your freelance income so that you’re not standing in line at the local food bank during the lean times (although that’s an option, and it’s certainly happened!). Here’s a how-to guide to help you smooth out the roller-coaster ride of your cash flow.

Open a Separate Business Account With Multiple Savings Accounts

Let’s talk about bank accounts for a minute. In addition to your personal checking account, it’s a good idea to set up a separate business account. This makes it easier for you — and your accountant, if you have one — to manage your freelance income. This will make your accountant very happy, come tax season.

In addition to your main business account, most banks will allow you to set up multiple savings accounts for free, so why not take advantage of this ability? Even though you can manage your freelance income using bookkeeping software or spreadsheets, squirreling your savings away in separate accounts isn’t a bad idea, if for no other reason that it might make you think twice before getting your hands on money that you’re setting aside for stuff other than splurges. Especially if, like me, you put the checkbooks and debit cards in one of those “perfect” places that you can never find afterwards.

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Here’s a suggested list of bank accounts to consider opening:

  • Main Business Account: Make this the highest-yield savings account your bank offers, so that any cash that’s in there is earning interest while it’s sitting there. When a client pays you, this is where you deposit the check. From this account, you:
    • Pay yourself
    • Pay your business expenses
    • Set aside money for taxes, retirement and emergencies
  • Savings Accounts to Open Under Your Business Account: Open the following savings accounts under your main business account, and then once a month, after you pay yourself, transfer a designated amount into each of them. Think of these transfers simply as additional bills to be paid. I believe that most banks will even allow you to automate these transfers, which makes it a pretty painless and darn convenient way to manage your freelance income.
    • Retirement Savings: This can be a traditional retirement account such as a 401K, or you could even start doing a little basic investing with this money, since  (hopefully) it’s going to be in there for awhile.
    • Tax Savings: This is the holding area for yearly taxes
    • Emergency Savings: This is your buffer for lean times.

Set Up an Emergency Fund

Your emergency fund should be the first thing you think of when you have any cash left over after your expenses are paid. Having a year’s worth of expenses in reserve is a worthwhile goal for effectively managing your freelance income. Your emergency fund will be there for you in case your income drops below what you need to keep your commitments. In addition, having an emergency fund means that you can turn away clients who don’t quite feel right, or if a good client runs into a financial tight spot and can’t pay you immediately, you’ll have a cushion to carry you through. And of course, there are those unforeseen things that just happen — called emergencies — such as a pet getting sick or an unexpected car repair.

Treat yourself like an employee

Decide how much you can afford to pay yourself, then on a regular basis, either write a check to yourself or set up an automatic transfer from your business account and deposit it in your personal checking account. It is from your personal checking account that you pay things like rent, food, and other living expenses that aren’t related to the business.

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When deciding how much to pay yourself, it’s a good idea to stay on the frugal side and only pay yourself enough to cover your living expenses plus a little extra, then sock anything that’s left over at the end of the month into your emergency fund.

Project Upcoming Monthly Income and Expenses

Part of effectively managing your freelance income is figuring out how much money you’re making and spending each month, and then using those numbers to estimate what the next year might look like. When you’re calculating your projections, it’s a good idea to base your budget on your lowest monthly business income and highest monthly business expenses from the previous year. This is like assuming the worst-possible scenario, and hopefully, if your income’s trend is generally upward, estimating conservatively in this way should give you a bit of a buffer, which, once again, you can sock away in your emergency fund. It’s impossible to have too much money in that emergency fund!

Break Up Client Payments for Big Projects

If you’re working on a big project that extends over multiple months, consider billing your client on a time-interval or a “milestone” basis. That way, if your client flakes out or can’t pay you immediately, you’re only out a partial payment instead of the whole thing at once. It also smooths out your income curve, making budgeting easier. Also, if you need to exert a little persuasive power on a particularly recalcitrant client, you can calmly explain that they’ll get no more work from you until you’re paid from the last billing cycle. Hopefully you’ll never need to use this tactic, but it’s there if you need it.

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Be creative in finding ways to generate additional income.

There’s a whole movement called the Share Economy that you can tap into for additional sources of cash at little or no cost to you. If you have an extra room in your house, consider renting it out to travelers, or rent your car when you’re not using it. Or consider investing some of your leftover money in things that appreciate in value, such as musical instruments, that you can sell later for a profit. The more different streams of income you have, the less of a hit you’ll take during a dry spell in freelancing.

If possible, live on only one income.

If you have a partner with a job or other regular stream of income, do your best to live on that income alone, and either save or invest everything that you earn from freelancing.

Establish a foundation of thrift.

You never know when you’re going to have a lean month, or even a lean year, so make a habit of living on the cheap. Sign up for Netflix instead of paying for cable TV. Buy clothes at a thrift store, or check out local garage sales for things like furniture, sports equipment and appliances. Avoid buying fancy tires and rims for your truck that are going to cost a fortune to replace later. Trade stuff that you don’t want for stuff that you do want on Listia.

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Resist “lifestyle inflation”.

This is the temptation to increase your spending as your income increases. If you find yourself at the end of the month with money left over, stash it in your emergency fund or invest it back in your business by, say, paying for some online advertising or attending a seminar in your field of expertise.

Prioritize spending.

Many financial experts recommend sitting down and writing down your expenses. Prioritizie them according to importance and pay the most important ones first.

Pay down your debts.

Take a piece of paper and divide it into columns. List your largest monthly payment toward the left, then go smaller and smaller until your smallest monthly payment is at the far right. Double up on the smallest payments until that debt is gone. Then take the money that you’re no longer spending on that debt and start doubling up on payments on the next debt. Keep going until all of your debts are paid off.

Featured photo credit: Twister/Beyond Neon via flickr.com

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Published on September 17, 2018

How Being Smart With Your Money Leads to Financial Success

How Being Smart With Your Money Leads to Financial Success

Achieving financial success is not something that just happens. Maybe if you win the lottery or something, but for the average person like you or me, it comes from a series of small steps you take over a long period of time.

With each step, you form a new smart money habit. And with each smart money habit, you build towards financial independence.

So what sort of habits can you form to get on that path? Let’s take a look at smart money habits you can start today to get you closer to a financially independent future.

1. Avoid being “penny wise but pound foolish”

It’s tempting to try saving a couple cents here and there when buying small items. However, that’s not where the real money is saved. You’re putting in extra effort for something that doesn’t move the needle.

You get the most bang when you’re able to cut down on your bigger bills. For example, finding a lower interest rate for your mortgage could save you $50+ per month. And cutting your transportation bill by purchasing a cheaper car or taking public transportation can provide large gains as well.

So, look at your recurring expenses such as housing, transportation, and insurance, and see where there’s wiggle room. It’s a much better use of your time than trying to pinch pennies here and there on smaller purchases.

2. When you want something big, wait

Impulsivity can get you in trouble in most aspects of life. Finances are no different.

It’s human nature to see something and want it right then and there. It starts as a kid in the checkout line at the grocery store, and it continues on through adulthood.

We get an idea in our head of something we want, and it’s hard not to go out and get it right then.

A good example is wanting a new car. Perhaps you’ve had your car for several years. It’s crossed the 100k mile mark. Maybe maintenance is due, and you’re annoyed that you need to replace the timing belt or purchase new tires.

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So, you get the itch.

You start digging around online, and you realize you could trade in your current car for something newer and more exciting… all for a few hundred bucks a month. Then you get obsessed.

Here’s where you have to take a step back.

Your newfound obsession is clouding your judgement. Rather than giving into the impulse, wait it out.

Set a timeframe for yourself. Maybe you come back to the decision three months down the road. See if the obsession lasts.

It might, but often, a funny thing happens. Often, you forget about it. And often, you find that the new car wasn’t a need at all.

The impulse faded. And you just saved yourself a ton of money.

3. Live smaller than you can afford

You finally get that big raise. And you want to celebrate – and why not?

You’ve been looking forward to this forever. And after all, it was all due to your hard work.

That’s fine, splurge a little. However, make it a one-time deal and be done.

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Don’t get caught in the trap that just because you’re now making more money, you should spend more.

Too often, people get more money and feel like they that gives them the means to buy a bigger house, a bigger car… you know the drill. Resist.

The fact is that living smaller than what you can afford is one of the fastest ways to build savings.

But if you constantly upgrade as you begin to make more, then you’ll never get ahead. You’ll just build up more debt along the way and have just as little wiggle room as before.

4. Practice smart grocery shopping

Food… it’s one of the biggest portions of any budget. And if you’re not careful, it can be one of the biggest drains on your wallet.

But luckily, there are a few things you can do to ensure that you stay smart with your money when buying groceries.

Create a grocery budget

Set a strict weekly grocery budget. When you know how much you can spend on groceries, you can then plan your weekly menu around it.

Once you know what all you need, you can go shopping and keep a running tally as you shop to ensure you’re on track.

I tend to do this in my head, rounding for each item. However, writing it down as you go would probably work best for most people.

Make a list… and never deviate

Never go to the grocery store without a list. If you go to the store with a ballpark idea in mind, you don’t have a true ide of what you need.

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You’re not well-researched. You don’t know what the sales are. As a result, you’re going to make decisions on the fly.

These impulse decisions will lead to overspending, which will derail your grocery budget.

Eat before going grocery shopping

It’s also important to eat prior to going to the grocery store. Hunger is a powerful force.

If you’re shopping on an empty stomach, everything is going to look good. In particular, you may find a lot of ready-made, processed snacks will look enticing.

After all, you’re hungry now and that food is easily available. So subconsciously, you may lean towards those items.

Unfortunately, not only are those items typically less healthy, but they’re likely more expensive. You pay for convenience.

However, when you eat prior to shopping, then you’ll shop with a clear mind. Your hunger won’t cloud your judgement, influencing you to make poor decisions like a cartoon devil resting on your shoulder whispering in your ear.

This makes it much easier to stick to your grocery plan.

5. Cancel your gym membership

Now that you’re all set on your food, it’s time to get smart about managing your budget in terms of physical fitness. And let’s begin by avoiding the gym. The gym bill, that is.

The average gym membership costs around $60 per month. That’s $720 a year.

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Yet, two out of three gym memberships go unused. That means two-thirds of people who have a gym membership are literally giving away almost a thousand bucks a year. It’s crazy!

I recommend seeking an alternative. One good alternative is to look into fitness streaming services.

Streaming services allow you to stream hundreds of workouts like Insanity and p90x, right in your own home for around $10-20 a month. That’s $40-50 less a month than the average gym membership.

Of course, then there’s the free option. The internet is full of free workouts that you can do on your own with minimal or no equipment.

For example, there’s the Couch to 5K program, that I personally used a decade ago to ease myself from couch potato to running my first 5K race. If I could do it, anyone could.

Then there are free resources like reddit that have limitless information on workouts. The Fitness subreddit has done all the research for you, populating workout tips and detailed workout routines for anyone to use in their wiki.

There are several routines that require no equipment. And you can join in on the subreddit to become part of the community, making it easier for those seeking comraderie and encouragement in their fitness goals. All for free.

It’s baby steps… And baby steps can start now!

I’ve never met anyone that can’t stand to be a bit smarter with their money. And on the flip side, anyone can get smarter with their money. But remember, it doesn’t happen all at once.

Begin by fighting your impulses. Prepare for the week and be smart at the store. And cut monthly expenses like gym memberships that are overpriced and you probably aren’t getting your money’s worth out of anyway.

The devil is in the details. And the details can change your lifestyle and prep you for a financially independent future.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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