So, you don’t earn the same amount of money every month, and sometimes, your work is on pause. What’s a big deal – someone might say – so what? Fluctuating income and downtimes are two natural parts of a freelancer’s journey. You must just get used to it.
Not after you experience the dark side of irregular income. In fact, it is the second biggest challenge in freelancing after project acquisition. For as many as 36% of freelancers, having irregular income management is challenging.
If not approached adequately, it makes freelance finance management unbearable. Read on to discover some actionable tips on how to cope with irregular income as a freelancer.
Why Fluctuating Income Is Bothersome for Freelancers and Why It Shouldn’t Be
Irregular or variable income is one of the most challenging issues that may get every freelancer down, at one time or another.
Facing an irregular earnings pattern with downtime periods is troublesome and annoying. And here’s why:
- It makes you feel financially unstable.
- It teases you to develop bad money habits like letting debt accumulate or impulse buying.
- It creates the difficulty of effective budgeting.
- It complicates long-term financial planning.
- It doesn’t allow you to prepare for the “storms” in the economy.
However, as Tom Bentley, a freelance writer and editor, points out, “Downtime isn’t death.” And neither is variable income. Although these are rather disturbing issues for a freelancer, there are effective techniques for dealing with unstable income and downtimes.
How to Manage Irregular Income and Survive During a Downtime as a Freelancer
Apply these seven strategies to budget successfully when your income is erratic.
1. Determine your income and budget accordingly
To organize your freelance finances and prepare to handle fluctuating income, you should know your lowest and highest monthly incomes.
How much are you making per hour? Knowing your freelancer rates, have you ever calculated your highest and lowest income?
You can do that with ValueTime’s income calculator for freelancers by indicating the following variables:
- Your hourly rate
- Number of holidays per year
- Number of workdays per week
- Number of hours per day
- Billable time per day
Let’s look at the example of a freelancer’s monthly earnings.
Nikola Roza, a freelance writer and SEO professional, reveals his monthly income. It is $1,000–$1,200 when he’s working part-time. He earns double the amount when he tries to get as much work done as possible.
As you can see, his lowest income is $1,000, whereas his highest income is $2,400. The difference is noticeable, isn’t it? Under these circumstances, a wise decision would be to create two budgets based on the lowest and highest figures.
2. Prioritize essential expenses
Categorizing your expenses into fixed (essential) and variable (non-essential) and prioritizing the former is the key to managing irregular income as a freelancer. It can help you fulfill your basic living requirements and develop a smart monthly spending habit.
Your list of essentials may look like this:
- Utility bills
- Transportation costs
- Internet and paid subscriptions to freelancer tools
“If you have a freelance website, your essentials-only budget will have to be expanded,” warns Jonathan Elster, CEO at EcomHalo.
“You should allocate a dedicated sum for website hosting, maintenance, redesign, marketing, and other needs. Monthly website maintenance costs vary dramatically between $25 and $500,” he mentions.
Of course, you may consider some cheap options for a freelance website like Clippings.me, WordPress, or About.me. However, if you want to look the part—the professional part—then it’s best to get a custom domain and hosting. If you also plan to market yourself as a freelancer, you might have to pay for social media ads regularly.
Other things like new clothes, home décor, or entertainment are non-essential.
3. Optimize your billing process
Jim Pendergast, Senior Vice President at altLINE Sobanco, states, “A well-organized and optimized billing process makes you the king of your freelance finances. You get full control over those and navigate your irregular income more smoothly.”
Jim Pendergast provides some valuable pieces of advice on how to manage freelance billing like a pro:
- Set deadlines for payment
- Streamline your invoices with templates to get paid on time
- Ask for a percentage of your invoice to be paid upfront
- Schedule reminders
- Choose multiple payment types
Additionally, you may try out some billing software for freelancers like BillQuick, Invoicera, or Harvest, for example.
4. Save for emergencies
Picture this. You have an extended period of downtime. Say, about two or three months.
Or imagine another situation.
You’ve got downtime, AND you need an urgent water heater replacement that can cost you somewhere between $1,000 and $3,500.
This issue can leave you waking up in a cold sweat and thinking about where to get money. 😖
You have prepared an emergency fund, one of the financial planning basics for freelance writers. It’s a buffer that keeps you financially safe and sound for a while without having to take a credit or a loan.
“An emergency fund can save freelancers from financial emergencies and unplanned expenses like home repairs, to mention just one. The most expensive ones are HVAC system malfunctioning, flooded basement, leaky roof, sewer line replacement, etc.,” says Jesse Galanis, Content Creator at Real Estate Skills.
“A cut-and-try approach to building an emergency fund is to make it cover a minimum of three months,” he highlights.
5. Use tools to keep track of your freelancer finances
If you’re still using Excel to track your income, you might want to throw that “stick” away and walk out of the cave into the new age of technologies.
Volodymyr Shchegel, VP of Engineering at Clario, claims: “The era of smart tech tools has opened the door wide for freelancers with irregular income to manage finances effectively. If you’re a freelancer, you can’t miss out on this opportunity. Automated solutions for money management can help you eliminate human error and monitor your day-to-day progress and financial health.”
The best freelancer tools for managing finances are at your disposal:
6. Start small with investments
How can I possibly invest with variable income and downtimes dragging me into the abyss of financial uncertainty?
Quite a fair point.
Read the first two words of this strategy: start small. And slow.
You don’t necessarily need to go to extremes and create a hurry-scurry investment plan drawn on your lap or lump all of your savings into just one stock.
“Living on a fluctuating income, freelancers should apply two tactics when deciding to invest,” suggests Anthony Martin, CEO of Choice Mutual.
“Tactic #1 is starting small with two-month-long steps. At first, only 5% of your monthly income should go toward investing. After that, move to 10%, 15%, and eventually reach 20%. Then, you can meet the requirements of 50/30/20 – a realistic budgeting rule that actually works. 50% of the income goes to must-haves and must-dos, 30% for wants, and 20% for investments and savings.
Tactic #2 refers to choosing several investment types. For example, these may be stocks, bonds, real estate, cryptocurrencies, or retirement plans,” he enumerates.
Indeed, retirement investing is one of the fundamentals for effective financial planning as a freelancer.
7. Back up your budget with extra income sources
Harness the power of income diversification. Two incomes, even if irregular, are always better than one.
“To reduce dependence on a single source of variable income, freelance writing is often combined with such a side job as tutoring or teaching. Being proficient in foreign languages, for instance, you can become a part-time tutor and teach a foreign language to kids or adults via online or in-person classes.
Besides, it’s easy to monetize your freelance teaching business by selling lesson plans or materials, creating paid courses for other teachers, assessing tests, etc.”
Aside from teaching, there are tons of other side jobs for freelancers and creative ways to earn extra money, as follows:
- Social media management
- Survey taking
Concerning the latter, at PrizeRebel, for example, you can take surveys for money and get rewards such as free PayPal cash, bitcoins, and gift cards.
Why not dip your toes into affiliate marketing?
Check how Susan Shain, a journalist and freelance writer, adds affiliate links to Amazon on WheretoPitch to earn commission from this eCommerce giant.
Variable Income Should Not Be a Problem
Navigating the challenges of downtimes and fluctuating income can be daunting in the freelance world. However, with the implementation of these seven effective methods to budget for irregular income, you can find stability and resilience in the face of uncertainty.
By combining these techniques, you can not only survive but thrive, even under the toughest financial circumstances.
“Irregular income is not a limitation; it’s an adventure waiting to unfold.” – Isabella S. Lee
Make your freelance adventure enjoyable even with variable income in your hands.