In this blog, I provide a few tips to help you better manage your money as a freelancer.
Having a revolving door of gigs is not always a sure thing for freelancers which puts many of us at risk of staying afloat with bills and expenses. This is doubly risky for full-time freelancers who might not have a full-time or part-time job that takes a bit of the load. For this reason, words like budget and cash flow management should be a must in your freelancer dictionary! And although many might find this intimidating, all it takes is that first step and the rest shall follow. Plus, there are ways that we freelancer folk can manage our finances efficiently and successfully, and my aim is to introduce a few tricks that can go a long way in establishing a healthy relationship between your freelance business and your income.
- Separate Your Accounts
- Pay Yourself First
- Financial Planning and Budgeting
- Decide: Asset or Liability
- Record & Save Bills
- Know Your Tax Laws
- Be Disciplined and Consistent
Separate your accounts
Personal finances and ‘business’ finances can easily get mixed up if you’re using the same bank account for both. This can be easily solved with having two separate bank accounts for each. You don’t have to let anyone know that one is a business account since this is solely for your benefit. Doing so gives you a clear overview of the ins and outs of your accounts without the hassle of doing extra calculations or having to double check yourself when you’re at the grocery store. It also makes it easier for you to manage freelancing and personal expenses and savings.
Pay yourself first
Set a suitable monthly salary for yourself that is paid by your ‘business’ account. Not only does this help you know the minimum amount of work you will need to do to cover your expenses, which includes salary and other expenses, but it also helps you control the money you bring in. You will not find yourself unable to pay for a new mouse or screen if it suddenly broke or was damaged, or having to pay for that expense from your personal account. Obviously, you can increase your salary, but don’t do it if you can’t cover your working costs for a good period of time.
Financial Planning and Budgeting
In order to determine the right monthly salary for yourself, create a budget for the entire year. A budget refers to an estimate of income and expenditure over a set period of time, you can do this budget on specific apps or simply use one of the excel sheet templates found online. The important thing is to have one!
In this budget sheet, include your fixed monthly expenses such as bills, insurance fees, loan payments, vacation time, school fees..etc, furthermore set an amount to cover your social activities. Include also any ‘business’ expenses such as office rental payments, maintenance, or travel, be sure to identify those as non-personal expenses. The more payments you can anticipate ahead of time the better for your plan. Once you’ve set your budget, you can decide on a suitable freelancer salary for yourself, you can read more about this in “Pricing”.
A budget is not only useful to help set up your rates, it can also be used to prioritize and stretch out your expenses throughout the year to minimize their impact on your budget. If you’re set for a new expensive monitor to improve your work quality and are planning for a vacation this year, a budget will show you these major expenses in reference to how much money you have. You can choose to prioritize the expensive monitor and pay for it in February and postpone your vacation until fall or late summer. That way, you’ve maximized the number of months you can save up for that vacation and recover from the expense of the monitor.
Decide: Asset or liability?
By choosing to spend a lot of money on the monitor in the previous example, you are making a major decision that’s affecting the quality of your work, albeit for the better. When asking yourself “Will this purchase improve my workflow or output?”, before making any purchase, you decide how much you need this item. If the answer is yes, then it can be considered an asset and therefore makes sense to pay for it. However, if the answer is “no, this purchase will not improve my work in any way” then this purchase is a liability and therefore unnecessary and wasteful.
Many freelancers learn to be thrifty over time, for example they use free trial periods to try out products and see how they affect their workflow. If they don’t like the product or it doesn’t do much for the workflow, the subscription is removed and they don’t pay anything.
Record & Save Your Bills
There are times where I think to myself, “where did my money go?!”. Half the time I have a good idea of where my money went and the other half I’m scrambling to know where it is and how it was spent. Don’t do the latter. Make it a goal to always know where your money goes. This is true for your freelance work expenses and your personal expenses. While there are many who don’t do this on a personal level and don’t think it’s that important, almost everyone will agree regarding your work expenses, especially your accountant! Document your spending, write them down on a piece of paper or fill up an existing expenses sheet, make these sheets accessible and easy to find. Get receipts for all your payments, including purchases, transportation costs, and work dinners; anything you spend for your business should be accounted for with a receipt. These receipts will come in handy when you’re calculating your taxes, especially if you’re registered as a company.
Know Your Tax laws
Because many freelancers work without being legally identified as a working entity, they can unknowingly become vulnerable to violations in tax laws, therefore I believe it is crucial that freelancers are knowledgeable about their tax laws and how their countries respond to freelancers. No one wants to get into trouble with the Income Tax Department, the IRS, or whatever name this department goes by around the world! Knowledge about your tax laws might pay you back that 5% tax fee your employer had to extract from your payment, or give you a heads up about how the US government is requesting money payment systems to report on any of your earnings and are therefore tax-monitored. These laws will influence financial decisions like where to cash out your FLAN tokens or which payment channels to instruct your clients to use, so make sure you stay in the loop. Apart from knowing the laws yourself, it can be useful to hire an accountant. While some might find this extravagant, especially freelancers who are just starting out in the market and not making big numbers, accountants often provide insights that end up saving you a lot of money and keep you away from any tax evasion and are therefore worth their price in gold.
Discipline and Consistency
The above-mentioned tips will be brought to naught if you are not devoted to maintaining a healthy relationship with your money. You have to make an honest effort to fulfill these steps and stick to them, develop the discipline and maintain consistency to create a healthy habit out of money management. It is easier said than done, but it must be done. You can get around this hardship by making money management tools more accessible to yourself such as setting up reminders about going over your budget, or contacting your accountant at set times of the month to double check everything. Identify your spending habits such as splurging after a good pay out, and substitute them with a reward system, like an end-of-year bonus. The bonus will be a good way to redirect your focus on your freelancing goals and achieving target client and project numbers.
While I’m sure that money is not everything for you as a freelancer, it still plays a big part in your career. You want to make enough money to continue living a healthy lifestyle and create more work that you are passionate about. For this reason, it’s important that you learn these techniques to develop healthy money habits; believe me when I say, they go a long way in creating healthy and financially sustainable freelancing careers.
If you’ve tried any of the techniques above, already do, or have other habits that work for you, share your ideas with us! Connect with our FLAN community on our discord channel and stay updated for more about FLAN on any of its social media platforms LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram. You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any comments or thoughts you’d like me to talk about!