How to budget for freelance anything

family-budgetAs a bartender and freelance writer, my income is now completely variable. From week to week, my tips and invoiced articles depend on the economy, strength of my pitches and market saturation. Recently, things have slowed down and made me antsy. When I get nervous about money, I obsessively crunch numbers. Since I was in college, spreadsheets and kept receipts have been a kind of financial security blanket. Tracking every penny I earn and spend gives me (at least) the illusion of control. Currently, my plan is based on the tricks I've learned over the years of saving my pennies.

  • Calculate your baseline income. Do you have a monthly column? Weekly blogging gig? How about a part-time job? This money defines your budget for your basic expenses. Keeping within this amount can ease your basic money worries.
  • Map your basic expenses. Chart your costs for rent, utilities, insurance, credit card payments, etc. When you get a check or tipped out, immediately set this amount aside.
  • Define other categories of costs. Food, gas, household items and personal care can be much more easily paid in cash. Divide the month up into manageable chunks and put the amount for each category into an envelope. Once the envelope is empty, you're effectively broke.
  • Give yourself an allowance. If you're used to earning and spending freely, having something to spend at your discretion can make even the tightest budget more manageable. But, as in other categories, once it's spent, it's gone for that period.
  • Save an emergency fund. Put $10 aside for every check or tip out you receive. Getting into the habit of saving even the smallest amount of money can add up quickly. After a few months, even the smallest amount of savings can provide a buffer if your income falls.
  • Save your pennies. Seriously. Adam and I have now gone on two vacations from saving our pennies and using reward credit card for baseline expenses. However, for those who are starting out budgeting, don't touch the plastic. Establishing a cash-based system gives physical reinforcement when the amount is spent.

Have any freelance budget tips of your own? Pass 'em along!

Make a Living Writing Link Party

Split a decision with long division


When I landed my first big girl job, I panicked. Taking over responsibility for my health and car insurance payments seemed more daunting at the time than finishing hundreds of hours of physics research. I had budgeted my time and money before, but needed more support and clearly outlined goals. I needed to invest money in envelopes or time in finding a web-based service.

My first instinct was to go back to Mint. I had first adopted this service two years ago after researching quite a few budgeting and business apps for my first freelancing article. Though the Mint app was free, its interface was anything but intuitive. To this day, I couldn't tell you how to set a budget or savings goals on that website. After a few months of bill reminders and weekly spending reports, I abandoned that account.

Instead of revamping my Mint account, I started googling. Several articles later, I stumbled across LearnVest. The web-based service was still in Beta testing, but the interface was clean and the budget center easy to navigate. In 20 minutes, I had set a budget, marked financial goals and enrolled in a budgeting boot camp.

I spent several hours surfing their Knowledge Center section. Reading stories from others in their 20s, 30s and even 40s who were starting from scratch has been a powerful motivator. The daily e-mails about articles and service updates keeps me engaged and reminds me that my money and debt exist. It also reminds me that I am not alone.

Since then, LearnVest has introduced an app that miniaturizes most of the services available on the website including the articles. Using a combination of the app and online services and the envelope system, I reached my first savings goal last month. At the same time, we have built up a vacation fund by saving loose change and using a rewards-based credit card for all grocery (6%) and gas (3%) purchases.

Even though money is tight, a modest beach weekend is on the horizon with plans to travel to points further afield this summer. None of it would be possible without a budget and a plan.

Today's title is from Bo Burnham's "New Math." Full disclaimer: I did not receive compensation for this review.