Some professional freelance writers earn a whopping $10,000 a month, while others earn that much in an entire year. Regardless of earnings, saving money as a freelancer may seem impossible, especially when you don’t know how much your paycheck is going to be from month to month.
There are ways to build a nest egg and reap the benefits of a rewarding career as a writer, as long as you’re being strategic right now. Here are four ways to help you prioritize your money:
Most experts recommend keeping at least three to six months worth of expenses (rent, bills, food, other necessities) in a separate savings account to cover any emergencies or losses of income. Twelve months would be even better.
“As a freelancer, you might as well double this amount to account for the added risk of being self-employed,” writes Carrie Smith of Wise Bread.
She’s referring to all of the unexpected costs, not just the bare essentials. This could include costs like car and home repairs, vet visits, and doctor’s bills. It’s those unexpected emergencies that can do you in. Freelancers need to be even more astute in budgeting because of the various income levels per month.
If you want your budget to work, you’ll need to earn double the amount of what you spend monthly on all bills. If you can’t do that, it might be time to reevaluate your housing or car situation. Emergencies happen, life happens, so it’s best to be prepared. What if you had to pay for a $5,000 brand new heating system in your home, for example?
If you are unsure where to start in determining how much emergency savings you need, online tools such as savings goal calculators are easy to use and can help you determine how much and how long to save for you to achieve a financial goal.
Save for retirement
Fifty-three million Americans are now freelancers of some sort, which means without the backing of a full-time employer, the onus is on freelancers to handle their own retirement.
One thing freelancer Laura Shin recommends is opening your own IRA with an investment management company like Vanguard, which offers low-cost investments. Also, sign up for Freelancers Union because free membership there gives you access to a 401k and will allow you to contribute an additional $17,500 per year toward retirement on top of the $5,500 permitted for an IRA.
You’ll need to figure out at the beginning of the year how much you need to earn in order to set aside that $5,500 to put into a Roth IRA. Some of the wealthier freelancers also make contributions to a SEP IRA because you are allowed to contribute a larger percentage of your income instead of being limited my Roth’s maximum.
Many freelancers are so busy writing articles and securing clients that they aren’t investing time in understanding how to properly file taxes. You wouldn’t want to end up paying penalties, fees and interest on your tax return. There are plenty of tips out there to plan for income taxes on your freelance business earnings.
Also, it never hurts to ask a CPA for help or use a professional tool like QuickBooks Self-Employed. Set yourself up for success by filing an accurate tax return.
Shin, who is a freelance personal finance journalist, says she saves specifically for taxes and keeps good track of the expenses she can write off. Throughout the tax year, she keeps a cash flow document that shows the balance at the beginning of the month, the money coming in, regular money going out and those one-time expenses.
Affordable places to live
Unless you’re doing really well as a freelancer, you’re probably not living in a highrise in NYC or San Francisco. In fact, you should only be paying about one-third of your monthly income on rent or on a mortgage.
If your rent or mortgage is outrageous, consider moving to a cheaper place. No “creative type” wants to be a “struggling artist.” Take it with a grain of salt, but an article from the Thrillist says the cheapest and coolest cities to live include Nashville, Albuquerque, Baltimore, and Charleston. These are places you can actually afford to live and even save money, according to the article.
At the end of the day, freelance writers need to be able to depend on reliable gigs and some income coming in at all times, otherwise, you may finding yourself moonlighting with a part-time job outside the home. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that either.