For many, creating a spending plan is a mildly pleasant chore at best and a painful, tedious necessity at worst. Unless you are a spreadsheets ninja or hardcore money nerd, chances are budgeting doesn’t top your list of fun-time activities.
If you’re one of the estimated 57-million freelancers and gig economy workers in the U.S., you’re faced with a host of different challenges when it comes to budgeting. There’s money that drops in your account at different times of the month, additional expenses and taxes – not to mention the ugly, hairy monster that is fluctuating income. Whether you are a full-time gigger or do it to supplement income, here are a handful of pointers on creating a spending plan:
Save for Taxes
When you work for someone else, you get a W-2 form and taxes are automatically deducted from your pay. But if you are an independent contractor or freelancer and receive a 1099 form, it’s on you to figure out how much taxes to pay.
It’s complicated, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. That being said, it’s generally recommended to save 30% of each paycheck. For more details, you can check out the IRS’s Form-1040, Estimated Tax for Individuals. You might also want to talk to a tax professional.
According to the IRS, if you earn at least $1,000 during the tax year from your gigs, you’re required to pay estimated taxes. These are due quarterly, so you’ll need to save a percentage of each paycheck to pay these taxes – lest you incur an underpayment penalty. How much you should save depends on a number of factors: your marital status, where you live, deductions, and whether you have any income from employers that issue a W-2.
Have a Business Budget
Just like how you factor in expenses for your living expenses, create a separate budget for your gigs. This includes any money you expect to spend in supplies, equipment, marketing, professional mixers and travel to conferences. You’ll also want to include meals and entertainment that are related to work. If you use your car for your gigs in any way, you can include vehicle maintenance and expense costs, too.
Because I’m a full-time freelancer, I include health and dental insurance in my business budget.
You’ll also want to keep track of any business-related expenses so you maximize your tax deductions when tax season rolls around.
Map Your Flow
This is the headache-inducing part. However, not knowing exactly when your money drops in your account from different gigs makes it super hard to plan for anything. It’s only when you have a solid cash flow roadmap that you can keep better track of your finances.
The first step in mapping your flow is knowing how much you’re earning from each gig. For instance, you might earn roughly X amount per month from a writing client, then X amount each week as a dog walker. The next step is figuring out when the money might land in your bank account. Does the client pay you by way of check or PayPal? Then you’ll need to factor in several days for that payment to make its way into your account.
Get One Month Ahead
This is my favorite money tactic for gig economy workers. Once I transitioned to freelance a few years ago, I thought I would have to stop all my automatic payments and pay each bill manually.
However, by getting one month ahead of my living expenses, I was able to continue automatic payments on most of my bills. How this works: at the end of a given month, you have enough in savings to cover your bills for the following month. So at the end of June, for example, you can cover your bills for July. If you can keep this up, you can set bills on autopay. When you set bills on autopay, that’s one less thing to worry about.
Once you figure out how much you need to cover your bills for a month, save that amount along with other living expenses for one month. That’s all you need to get the ball rolling. I started getting one month ahead in my 20s shortly after I landed my first full-time job. And to this day it’s helped me think and worry less about my money situation.
Link Payments to Bills
If you’re not in a place to get one month ahead on your bills, sync up payments to certain bills. Consider starting with payments that are larger, that you receive on a regular schedule, and you can receive direct deposit for.
For instance, if you typically get paid in the middle of the month from a client, and the amount is about $400, you can use that to make payments on your credit cards. And if you can get paid about $200 every Friday from dog walking, you can use that to pay for another bill, or toward food for the week.
Save Based on Percentages
How can you ever save for anything, despite cash flow woes? It is indeed possible. After your living expenses are covered, allocate whatever remains toward your money goals. This money can go toward an emergency fund, (the more, the merrier), investing, saving for a home, or toward retirement. I also like to divvy up some of that money to go toward a splurge or “fun” fund, to spend on whatever I please.
While working in the gig economy can help you explore different ways to make a buck or help you make extra income, it’s a different beast financially. Hopefully these pointers can help you create a spending plan and better manage your money.
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