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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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Last Updated on September 2, 2020

How to Set Financial Goals and Actually Meet Them

How to Set Financial Goals and Actually Meet Them

Personal finances can push anyone to the point of extreme anxiety and worry. Easier said than done, planning finances is not an egg meant for everyone’s basket. That’s why most of us are often living pay check to pay check. But did anyone tell you that it is actually not a tough task to meet your financial goals?

In this article, we will explore ways to set financial goals and actually meet them with ease.

4 Steps to Setting Financial Goals

Though setting financial goals might seem to be a daunting task, if one has the will and clarity of thought, it is rather easy. Try using these steps to get you started.

1. Be Clear About the Objectives

Any goal without a clear objective is nothing more than a pipe dream, and this couldn’t be more true for financial matters.

It is often said that savings is nothing but deferred consumption. Therefore, if you are saving today, then you should be crystal clear about what it’s for. It could be anything, including your child’s education, retirement, marriage, that dream vacation, fancy car, etc.

Once the objective is clear, put a monetary value to that objective and the time frame. The important point at this step of goal setting is to list all the objectives that you foresee in the future and put a value to each.

2. Keep Goals Realistic

It’s good to be an optimistic person but being a Pollyanna is not desirable. Similarly, while it might be a good thing to keep your financial goals a bit aggressive, going beyond what you can realistically achieve will definitely hurt your chances of making meaningful progress.

It’s important that you keep your goals realistic, as it will help you stay the course and keep you motivated throughout the journey.

3. Account for Inflation

Ronald Reagan once said: “Inflation is as violent as a mugger, as frightening as an armed robber and as deadly as a hitman.” This quote sums up what inflation could do your financial goals.

Therefore, account for inflation[1] whenever you are putting a monetary value to a financial objective that is far into the future.

For example, if one of your financial goal is your son’s college education, which is 15 years from now, then inflation would increase the monetary burden by more than 50% if inflation is a mere 3%. Always account for this to avoid falling short of your goals.

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4. Short Term Vs Long Term

Just like every calorie is not the same, the approach to achieving every financial goal will not be the same. It’s important to bifurcate goals into short-term and long-term.

As a rule of thumb, any financial goal that is due in next 3 years should be termed as a short-term goal. Any longer duration goals are to be classified as long-term goals. This bifurcation of goals into short-term vs long-term will help in choosing the right investment instrument to achieve them.

By now, you should be ready with your list of financial goals. Now, it’s time to go all out and achieve them.

How to Achieve Your Financial Goals

Whenever we talk about chasing any financial goal, it is usually a two-step process:

  • Ensuring healthy savings
  • Making smart investments

You will need to save enough and invest those savings wisely so that they grow over a period of time to help you achieve goals.

Ensuring Healthy Savings

Self-realization is the best form of realization, and unless you decide what your current financial position is, you aren’t heading anywhere.

This is the focal point from where you start your journey of achieving financial goals.

1. Track Expenses

The first and the foremost thing to be done is to track your spending. Use any of the expense tracking mobile apps to record your expenses. Once you start doing it diligently, you will be surprised by how small expenses add up to a sizable amount.

Also categorize those expenses into different buckets so that you know which bucket is eating most of your pay check. This record keeping will pave the way for cutting down on un-wanted expenses and pumping up your savings rate.

If you’re not sure where to start when tracking expenses, this article may be able to help.

2. Pay Yourself First

Generally, savings come after all the expenses have been taken care of. This is a classic mistake when setting financial goals. We pay ourselves last!

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Ideally, this should be planned upside down. We should be paying ourselves first and then to the world, i.e. we should be taking out the planned saving amount first and manage all the expenses from the rest.

The best way to actually implement this is to put the savings on automatic mode, i.e. money flowing automatically into different financial instruments (mutual funds, retirement accounts, etc) every month.

Taking the automatic route will help release some control and compel us to manage what’s left, increasing the savings rate.

3. Make a Plan and Vow to Stick With It

Learning to create a budget is the best way to get around the uncertainty that financial plans always pose. Decide in advance how spending has to be organized

Nowadays, several money management apps can help you do this automatically.

At first, you may not be able to stick to your plans completely, but don’t let that become a reason why you stop budgeting entirely.

Make use of technology solutions you like. Explore options and alternatives that let you make use of the available wallet options, and choose the one that suits you the most. In time, you will get accustomed to making use of these solutions.

You will find that they make it simpler for you to follow your plan, which would have been difficult otherwise.

4. Make Savings a Habit and Not a Goal

In the book Nudge, authors Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein advocate that, in order to achieve any goal, it should be broken down into habits since habits are more intuitive for people to adapt to.

Make savings a habit rather than a goal. While it might seem to be counterintuitive to many, there are some deft ways of doing it. For example:

  • Always eat out (if at all) during weekdays rather than weekends. Weekends are more expensive.
  • If you are a travel buff, try to travel during off-season. You’ll spend significantly less.
  • If you go shopping, always look out for coupons and see where can you get the best deal.

The key point is to imbibe the action that results in savings rather than on the savings itself, which is the outcome. Focusing on the outcome will bring out the feeling of sacrifice, which will be harder to sustain over a period of time.

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5. Talk About It

Sticking to the saving schedule (to achieve financial goals) is not an easy journey. There will be many distractions from those who are not aligned with your mission.

Therefore, in order to stay the course, surround yourself with people who are also on the same bandwagon. Daily discussions with them will keep you motivated to move forward.

6. Maintain a Journal

For some people, writing helps a great deal in making sure that they achieve what they plan.

If you are one of them, maintain a proper journal, where you write down your goals and also jot down the extent to which you managed to meet them. This will help you in reviewing how far you have come and which goals you have met.

When you have a written commitment on paper, you are going to feel more energized to follow the plan and stick to it. Moreover, it is going to be a lot easier for you to track your progress.

Making Smart Investments

Savings by themselves don’t take anyone too far. However, savings, when invested wisely, can do wonders.

1. Consult a Financial Advisor

Investment doesn’t come naturally to most of us, so it’s wise to consult a financial advisor.

Talk to him/her about your financial goals and savings, and then seek advice for the best investment instruments to achieve your goals.

2. Choose Your Investment Instrument Wisely

Though your financial advisor will suggest the best investment instruments, it doesn’t hurt to know a bit about the common ones, like a savings account, Roth IRA, and others.

Just like “no one is born a criminal,” no investment instrument is bad or good. It is the application of that instrument that makes all the difference[2].

As a general rule, for all your short-term financial goals, choose an investment instrument that has debt nature, for example fixed deposits, debt mutual funds, etc. The reason for going for debt instruments is that chances of capital loss is less compared to equity instruments.

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3. Compounding Is the Eighth Wonder

Einstein once remarked about compounding:

“Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it… He who doesn’t… Pays it.”

Use compound interest when setting financial goals

    Make friends with this wonder kid. The sooner you become friends with it, the quicker you will reach closer to your financial goals.

    Start saving early so that time is on your side to help you bear the fruits of compounding.

    4. Measure, Measure, Measure

    All of us do good when it comes to earning more per month but fail miserably when it comes to measuring the investments and taking stock of how our investments are doing.

    If we don’t measure progress at the right times, we are shooting in the dark. We won’t know if our saving rate is appropriate or not, whether the financial advisor is doing a decent job, or whether we are moving closer to our target.

    Measure everything. If you can’t measure it all yourself, ask your financial advisor to do it for you. But do it!

    The Bottom Line

    Managing your extra money to achieve your short and long-term financial goals

    and live a debt-free life is doable for anyone who is willing to put in the time and effort. Use the tips above to get you started on your path to setting financial goals.

    More Tips on Financial Goals

    Featured photo credit: Micheile Henderson via unsplash.com

    Reference

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