Freelancing Finances: Getting Your Shit Together
Oh money. We love it, we hate it, we need it, and we’re supposed to magically teach ourselves how to handle it by the time we’re adults. I’ve made and spent lots of money, but I’ve done a pretty poor job of handling my personal finances for many reasons, namely – unsteady income, no budgeting and impulsive spending. Still, even as a free spirited freelancer, I’ve always wanted security. Savings, investments, assets are all very appealing yet elusive concepts to me. If you can relate to this, I believe there is hope for us.
For the majority of my life I’ve worked in an off the books capacity. For years I hustled my survival, bringing home cash. My income was as erratic as me. After I turned 18 I was reporting my taxes wild inaccurately not because I wanted to, but because there was hardly any paper trail to the money I had made and spent. All I really had was bank statements with cash deposits and debits made to cover the bills I was paying. Any simple accountant could look at my statements and know I was up to small time shady shit in my teens and early twenties. Instead of trying to track my income I said “fuck it”, deciding I was too small of a fish for the IRS to care. Nowadays, I don’t care about getting audited, I care about knowing my financial behavior. That being said, the most important lesson I learned is: Just because my income is erratic, does not mean my money habits and finances have to be too. I may not know exactly how much I’m going to make every month like Sally Salary, but I do know that whatever I do make will be recorded so that I can analyze, budget, save and invest.
I use financial apps on my iPhone to make things easier. Mint plugs in all my bank, credit, and loan accounts and gives me a financial analysis. Foreceipt lets me snap and save my receipts quickly so I don’t have to hoard paper receipts. I also keep track of everything in a spreadsheet. I made the spreadsheet template I use available here. Basically the spreadsheet tracks your different sources of income, your expenses, sets a budget for spending and a goal for earning. You can customize the pay periods and pretty much anything else about it that you want. Simple and basic, but filling it out will give you a lot of insight into your financial habits. Taking an Adderall before you do it will also help A LOT. When I did this for the first time, I was APPALLED at myself. The amount of money I spent on eating at restaurants was atrocious, there were months where I spent more on shopping than on all my other expenses combined. I realized I was a hot financial mess. But I didn’t let it discourage me, I let go of judging and berating myself for the past and focused on what I could change and set goals and budgets.
I think the best way to stick to a budget is to establish a realistic one. A realistic budget takes into account any regular vice expenditures that may not show up on traditional budgets. Meaning if you smoke hella weed or buy drinks at bars every weekend or spend money on sex workers or get lots of tattoos, and you have no plans to stop, put it in your budget. Leaving out shit you know you will spend money on is setting yourself up to fail at budgeting. I’m realistic about my weed and shopping habits, so I allow myself an allotment to indulge. Setting a budget for your vices seems tricky but it’s easy once you’ve analyzed your finances and know how many shady ATM withdrawals you make every month.
When budgeting be forgiving and give yourself some wiggle room, I give myself a $200 “whatever comes up” allotment in case I overspend on any of my budget items or shit happens i.e. traffic tickets, phone bill overages, medical emergency, car problem, you get the idea. Ideally, for every month that shit doesn’t happen, you roll over that $200 into an emergency fund that you keep growing, IDEALLY.
As a freelancer, having financial goals is just as important as having a budget IMO. We don’t have a guaranteed income and we don’t have external forces pushing us to work so we need to create internal forces (goals) to push us to work and earn what we want. A good way to set financial goals is to set larger life goals. In order to do this I make a “Passion Roadmap”.
I learned this trick from the instructions in my Passion Planner. You can either buy a physical version (and use firstname.lastname@example.org as your reference!) or if you follow this link the planner is available for download for free. Download it and read the third or fourth page that’s titled “Your Passion Roadmap” and do the activity. Basically you spend 5 minutes making a comprehensive list of goals, short term and long term, realistic and far fetched. Once you make the list you pick 4 goals that would have the most immediate positive effect on your life. You take those goals and then map out how to achieve them. It’s an easy and practical approach to figuring out what you desire out of life, what desires are best for your life, and how to achieve those desires. Here’s how it looks in action:
My big long term goal is to become a sex therapist, in order to achieve that I need to achieve these smaller goals
- Save money for grad school application process & tuition
- Study for and pass GRE’s
- Research & visit universities
- Apply to grad school
- Finish grad school
- Do my certification hours
Notice the building block to making any of these goals happen is MONEY, thus goal number 1 is the most important. Take your building block goal and do the same thing you did to your long term goal, extrapolate the smaller steps needed to achieve the goal. How it looks in action, again:
Save money for grad school application process and tuition
- Work/hustle/whatever you do to make money
- Spend less on XYZ
- Start a savings
- Put at least $XXX in savings every month
Notice the pattern? You can do this ad infinitum, breaking down goals into smaller goals into even smaller goals, do this until you reach a tangible step you feel you can take. Using this method you can turn the biggest mountain of a goal into tangible baby steps that are easy to take. Like my budget, it is crucial for me to keep my goals easy to meet. By setting the bar low I don’t defeat or discourage myself. To counteract the complacency that comes with setting the bar low, I get competitive with myself and try to beat my financial goal by a certain percentage. Trying to beat my own record every month becomes a personal game after a while.
SAVING AND INVESTING
I am by no means a financial expert on saving and investing, I cannot recommend the best savings plan for you, I cannot tell you about what stock options are hot. What I can tell you, is how you can go from being a financial mess to saving and investing small sums of money. The key for savings and investing to work for me personally is, it has to be automatic and it has to be small unnoticeable amounts with the option for me to invest big chunks when I feel like it. So, given these parameters this is what I did.
Instead of opening a savings account which requires $XXX to open up and maintain, I opened a Google Wallet account and hooked it up to my checking account. From there I set up a regular deposit to my Google Wallet from the app, a tiny amount, an amount I wouldn’t even notice, $1.50. Sometimes when I’m feeling baller I’ll transfer double digits into my Google Wallet. I plan on doing this until I feel I have enough money to move to a more substantial and permanent savings routine.
For investing, I opened up an account with one of the many financial investment apps out there. I use Acorns (if you use my Acorns referral link, you get $5 free to start your investment account). Basically, the model of these apps is simple. It links to your bank account and either makes a tiny investment every time you spend, or you set it up to invest $X dollars however often you want. The people who run the app invest the money for you and you can withdraw the money at anytime. Acorns has a feature where you can set the aggressiveness of your investment strategy. So far it’s been going well and I can happily report my investment is in the triple digits without my even realizing it’s gone from my account.
You will fuck up. You will not stick to your budget all the time. This is okay. Keep going.