How to Budget and Manage Your Finances on a Variable Income

How to Budget and Manage Your Finances on a Variable Income

Ask an entrepreneur about the perks of running their own business and you’ll typically see them light up. They’ll be eager to share about the advantages of entrepreneurship, which include freedom, flexibility, independence, and control of your work life balance. These are serious benefits – and studies show that no matter what kind of money entrepreneurs are making, the personal satisfaction and freedom that their path grants makes people who started their own ventures some of the happiest among us.

It’s important to note however, that money is a part of the equation, and creating good money management habits as an entrepreneur can be difficult due to the lack of a steady, reliable paycheck that employees get to take home on a regular, known basis.

Volatile Income Can Make Managing Personal Finances Difficult

Entrepreneurs (and freelancers) don’t have the luxury of pulling in the same amount of money on a bi-weekly or monthly basis. While not knowing exactly what your monthly income will look like makes managing finances more difficult, it’s not impossible.

Having a volatile, variable income really underlines the importance of tracking all your cash flow. That includes money going in and money going out, down to the last cent. Maintaining a budget is another important step toward personal finance success for anyone, but it’s especially crucial for entrepreneurs.

Make your budget as flexible as your income can be each month. Create a budget where it’s easy for you to see what can be cut if funds are short one month. In other words, get serious about separating your wants and needs so that in tight months the wants can quickly be eliminated if necessary.

For example, break down everything into detailed categories that make sense to you; you can have a “meals out” category and an “entertainment” category as part of your discretionary spending. If your income is lower than expected one month, you know you can easily and painlessly eliminate these two budget areas to pare down your spending. In this way, you can make sure the smaller amount of cash coming in is allocated to your real needs, like bills, utilities, and groceries.

Accept a Slightly Leaner Lifestyle

As an entrepreneur with a variable rather than fixed income, you need to be particularly careful to guard against lifestyle inflation. Your income may allow you to live like a king one month – but the next month could see a slow-down and a subsequent painful drop in earnings.

Prioritize your spending and ensure that any money going out is being used to acquire things you truly value, and ensure you’re paying yourself first by contributing to savings goals, retirement accounts, and rainy day funds.

Be Prepared By Planning Ahead

Entrepreneurs on a budget need to be proactive about unexpected expenses and savings. Although everyone should have money set aside for emergencies, those who are freelancers or who own their own businesses should consider building multiple fallback funds (or having an emergency fund that is much larger than the average recommended amount).

When you have a volatile income, you’re at a higher risk of coming up short when you need money to cover something unforeseen. Aim to set aside three to six months’ worth of household expenses that can help you get by if you experience a few months of low earnings. Once you have this fund established, work to build a separate fund that will help cover emergency situations.

After building a comfortable cushion should things head south, you need to think about your future. Entrepreneurs need to be diligent about saving for retirement, as there aren’t any employers to offer you sponsored plans or company matches.

Note: You do still have a lot of great options (you just need to take the initiative). Opt for one a SEP IRA, a Solo 401(k), or a Simple IRA.

How to Automate Your Savings and Stay on Track (Even with a Volatile Income)

It’s not enough to know that you need to save – you need to actually make those contributions to your accounts! However, that’s really difficult when you don’t know exactly what each month’s income will pan out to be.

Take a look at your past earnings and calculate an average. Based off this number, you should be able to determine a pretty safe guess for what you’d be comfortable contributing to your savings monthly. Try to set up an automated payment to your accounts (it’s easy to forget or let it slide if you have to do it manually every time).

Because your income will change, follow up this action by making time to sit down on a bi-weekly or monthly basis to review all your finances. This will allow you to adjust spending and saving as necessary – but still have that automated foundation to work from.

Managing your personal finances as an entrepreneur with a volatile income can be tricky, but it is possible. Plan ahead for emergencies and unexpected slow months, make your spending as flexible as your income, and continue to enjoy your freedom and independence while you build your business. Want more information on taking control of your financial life? Get on the Workable Wealth Insider List for instant access to 9 Steps to Workable Wealth, a guide to getting in your best financial shape yet!