Budgeting for freelancers
I was thinking the other day about a recent post I wrote about how I became a freelancer. I talked about the anxiety I felt not having a steady stream of income, but I didn’t talk about what I did to remedy the situation.
Last year I created monthly budgets like I normally do, but with irregular payments coming in (and no full-time salary to anchor my income), it ended up being a somewhat frustrating experience. I didn’t have enough cash flow to bridge the gap between payments, so sometimes I was caught a little short on cash. :| It would have been relatively easy to dip into my (non-EF) savings account, but with PC Financial, taking money out of a savings account takes one business day. Besides, I had to figure out a better way.
After the first few months, I realized I needed a better system that accounted for income fluctuation. The first step was to project my monthly income, and there are generally two methods to doing that:
- Average monthly income. Add up your monthly income from the past year, divide by 12.
- Minimum monthly income. Take the lowest earning month you have had in the past year.
When I was working a full-time job and freelancing, I based my budget on my minimum monthly income – which usually ignored any freelance income I earned. That way, I was sure I was satisfying my budget, without having to look at fluctuating secondary streams of income to compensate my spending.
However, as a freelancer, I didn’t have anchor income (or even many anchor clients) that would provide me a steady stream of money I could rely on. So I decided to change my approach and work my budget around my average monthly income instead. Then, I would pay myself a bi-weekly salary, as if I was still working for someone else – instead of just randomly spending/saving the money as it came in. So I went back and added up my freelance income from the past 12 months, and divided by 12 to get my average monthly salary.
That made me feel really good. I knew approximately how much I would bring in each month, and I felt secure that I could meet all of my financial obligations, and still have enough left over for the fun stuff – like travel. :) But my only problem was, if I was already starting short on cash flow, how would I build up a salary base so that I could start giving myself a bi-weekly salary?
It was then I realized why I’m always so overly cautious when it comes to my money – for exact reasons like this. I had about $5,000 set aside in a savings account (my $10,000 Emergency Fund is separate from this). I took out enough to pay me a bi-weekly salary to start, and started to used that savings account as my business account.
Related: Time management for the freelancer
This was a good short-term solution, but if I were going to make freelancing a full-time career, I would have done a lot of things differently:
- Set up a separate business chequing/savings account. I should have done it before I left, but it just wasn’t a priority (even though it should have been).
- Stay more on top of admin work. I’m still guilty of this. I have a really hard time replying to e-mails (especially advertisers/sponsors) in a timely manner – because all I want to do is write, write, write! But when I’m my own business, no e-mail can go unanswered.
- I would have cared more about making money from my blog. Monetization has never been a big thing for me. A lot of bloggers make a killing with sponsors and banner ads and affiliate marketing. Sure, the money would be nice. But it’s just not something I care enough about. I’d rather cultivate personal relationships with companies. That’s why I focused on my partnership with HostelBookers, and a few other smaller companies last year.
- I would have worked harder. Okay, well maybe. Last year I worked about 25 hours/week and earned about $57k. That’s a pretty decent salary, but if I were going to make freelancing my career, I would have gone at it harder. Pursued more opportunities. Said yes to all media interviews (I said no. Often.) Worked a full 40-50 hour/week. Of course, that was impossible to do while I was traveling so much… and that’s a choice I made.
- Saved up for a business emergency fund. The only thing that was keeping me calm was my $10,000 personal Emergency Fund. I should have had a savings account set up for my business – so that if I lost a big client (I did while I was away), I could supplement my bi-weekly income until I found a replacement income stream. Thankfully I had additional savings outside of my EF that I could use if needed.
Anyway, that’s how I dealt with money during my year as a freelancer. Like I mentioned in last month’s post, freelancing gave me so much anxiety. But, I think that if I had created a better game plan (aside from: yep, I make enough money to quit my full-time job!), I would have been more successful at being less stressed out about finances last year. :)
Freelancers – do you have any budgeting tips to share?
Author: Krystal Yee
I’m a personal finance blogger and marketing professional based in Vancouver. I’m a former Toronto Star (Moneyville) columnist, author of The Beginner’s Guide to Saving and Investing, and co-founder of the Canadian Personal Finance Conference. When I’m not working, you can usually find me running, climbing, playing field hockey, or plotting my next adventure.