How can you make a budget when you are never sure how money will be coming in? It's a dilemma that many entrepreneurs, artists, and commission-only salespeople face. If doing the work you love to do is important to you, here are four things you can do to manage an unsteady source of income:
1. Minimize fixed expenses
Decide what is important to you and make choices that support your decisions. For instance you can:
- Choose to live in a smaller house or apartment
- Drive a used, economical car with lower insurance payments
- Eat meals at home
- Revise your phone plan
The idea is to make your monthly bills as small, yet dependable as you possibly can. This gives you more freedom and flexibility to deal with unsteady income.
2. Save some of every check—big or small
In addition to living fairly lean, save when the money's good so you can pay the bills when money is not so good. How much to tuck away depends on you; perhaps a certain percentage of every check you receive, a percentage you can revise as necessary. A good rule of thumb is to have enough money on hand to cover three or four months of living expenses; more if you can.
3. Plan for taxes
Many who are new to working for themselves fail to save enough to cover income and self-employment taxes. With all that's involved in starting and maintaining a business, taxes are often the last thing on your mind - if they're on your mind at all.
So when tax season rolls around, it's easy to be surprised at how much you owe. The last thing you want is to get hit with a huge tax liability without having planned for it. Make a point to keep accurate income and expense records, write down important estimated tax due dates, and work with an expert to develop a tax plan for your business.
4. Get better at budgeting
It takes time to figure out a plan and budget that will work for you. When you're struggling to make ends meet, it's easy to make quick decisions that lead to exorbitant credit card payments and other forms of debt. The importance of a budget is often a lesson learned the hard way. So get started. You'll take your lumps and make some mistakes -- but you'll learn what works and what doesn't.
If you've never done a budget before, download our Build-A-Budget eBook to help you get started with the basics.