These days, many people have been forced by rampant corporate downsizing and the tight job market to work freelance or take jobs that have undependable hours. Although these types of jobs can be amazing learning experiences and can even become the first steps toward a new career, they do take a little time to get adjusted to.
The biggest problem with working odd hours or getting paid by the job is that it's really difficult to budget monthly expenses. As a freelancer for the past few years, it was certainly the one thing that I really had to work to learn. Since you can't count on having more work in the future, or even that your employer will schedule you the same amount of hours next week, it's hard to predict what your income will be throughout the month.
If you've begun working side jobs or taking on freelance work, here are a few budgeting tips that can help you make the most of you income.
Have some emergency savings. I know that it's easier said than done, but I can't stress the importance of having at least a meager amount of savings to carry you over if you have a tough couple of weeks. I know that times have been tough for almost everyone lately and if you can't set aside a big cushion right now, at the least commit to putting a small portion of each paycheck into an emergency fund. Even if you can only afford $25 every week or two, it can really add up.
Stick to a strict budget. Make a plan for how you will spend your money. There are so many resources available to help you create and stick to a budget. For example, Mint.com offers mobile apps and online banking integration so that you can see all of your accounts at a glance. In addition, there are many sites that offer ideas for using the envelope budgeting system, which really works great for people who have never budgeted, who don't have savings, are struggling financially or who need a more visible way to manage their money. Find a method that works for you and stick with it.
Don't put your eggs in one basket. Especially if you are working freelance, don't count on just one client. Try to get several different clients so that if one of them no longer needs your services, or doesn't have enough work for you right now, you won't starve between jobs. It's so easy to find one really great client and focus all of your energy toward them. But, remember, you aren't an employee and they can stop working with you at any time – often without reason.
Have a Plan B. Some people find that freelancing or working part time is simply a good way to pay the bills while they're looking for a more permanent job, while others view freelancing as the start of their own small business. In any case, it's important to have a backup plan just in case things don't work out. Even if you've been working this way for a year or so, don't ignore the signs that it's time to find a more secure job. Even if you are happy working this way, don't stop looking for the job you really want until you have a financial safety net of at least 6 months pay.
Freelancing can be a great way to make money and be your own boss. The key is to plan ahead and prepare for all sorts of emergencies. With some smart budgeting, working for yourself can be fun and rewarding.
How do you budget? Do you have a regular income? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
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