budget as artist

How do you budget as an artist?

No longer do we work at traditional 9-5 jobs for 40 years and then retire. We live in a gig economy of contract workers, freelancers, and solopreneurs.

We weave in and out of traditional jobs starting our own business and having side hustles for extra income. This new reality changes the way we’re paid and thus how we budget our money isn’t “normal”.

Most personal finance books are great–if you have a traditional job with a predictable income of 26 paychecks each year.

I’ve noticed there is a large gap for those trying to do money smart in the gig economy–especially when I was coaching artists and freelancers in Los Angeles.

That is why I’ve asked several financial experts: personal finance writers, financial coaches, and previous financial advisors to weigh in on the subject of budgeting and living on a variable income.

I hope this a helpful resource to begin budgeting on a variable income.

1. What Advice Do You Have for Someone Living on a Variable Income?

Joe Saul-Sehy: Budgets love similar expenses….the same payment every month makes budgeting a breeze. My clients with big income spikes faced a dilemma: make lots of money and eat filet mignon or make little and eat ramen noodles. This boom/bust cycle of income created huge spurts of unintentional spending that would destroy a budget. So, what did we do?

First, we got ahead of the game by putting money into a reserve. Second, we set up the income stream so it paid into the reserve account. Third, we created a “paycheck” out of the account that we knew was sustainable so that we could keep a consistent budget. In this way, even though money came in and out in spurts, the family was able to predict how much they’d have available for expenses.

Even better news? Whenever there was WAY too much money in the reserve account they could “bonus” themselves for large purchases, vacations, or extra savings. Listen to his Stacking Benjamins podcast

Matt Becker: In our family, I am the primary earner and my wife stays home with our son. But she also runs a part-time counseling practice and has recently started bringing in some meaningful income. We’re factoring this income into our budget in the same way I would recommend anyone with variable income should: by estimating on the low end.

We have budgeted in an amount that is fairly safe to expect every single month, and any extra is then available to put towards whatever savings goals we’re focusing on at the time (right now that’s a house). By estimating on the low end, we’re making sure that we’re not over-extending ourselves in either our spending or our saving.

It’s also a nice little mental trick, as any income above that amount feels a little like “free” money, which makes it exciting to put towards our goals in addition to our regular savings. It feels like we’re accelerating things, even if the effect is the same as if we had budgeted it from the start. Sometimes the behavioral aspect of personal finance is just as important as the practical aspect. Find Matt at Mom and Dad Money.

2. How Do You Budget With an Irregular Income?

Grayson: Budgeting when on an irregular income is one of the hardest things to do. Since you don’t have much of a constant, you will have to learn to budget without a constant. The only constants that you can keep when budgeting are the bills that don’t fluctuate each month.

If you have a mortgage, car payment, and any other regular monthly payments, then you will have to keep these constant. You first have to make sure that you can cover these expenses.  You should setup your budget based on your lowest take home income over the past 12 months. Yes, this is a guessing game, but if you can successfully budget based on the lowest amount that you have taken in the past, then you should be good to deal with any extra income.

Steve Stewart: My wife and I used a spreadsheet I created to manage our budget. In that budget there was an area for entering our expected income. When our income didn’t meet our expectations – or we received some unexpected money – we simply changed the income totals and adjust the spending/saving categories to match. Now we use YNAB which cause us to use this month’s income for next months expenses. We barely notice irregular income because the money is already there waiting for us to spend (no mid-month adjustments needed).

Miranda Marquit: I don’t have a set budget. I have a spending plan in which the most important spending priorities are taken care of first. I make sure I have enough to do things like pay the mortgage, contribute to my Roth IRA, and fund other important items. The rest of the money is just used until it’s gone (or there’s carryover to the next month). To me, it’s important to make sure the important things are covered, and then it doesn’t really matter what happens with the rest of the money.

3. How Do You Save Money With an Irregular Income?

Grayson: I am an advocate of saving money each and every month, but when you have an irregular income, this is usually not possible, or at least much harder to do.  If you can create a budget based on your lowest take home income that you had over the past 12 months, then you should be able to create a savings plan.
If you make more than your budget, then you need to save that overage.  You should save as much as you can because there will be months where it will be harder to save.  Focus on figuring out ways to save more or make more money on the side. How Can I Save Money?

4. What Personal Experience Do You Have Living With an Irregular Income?

Edward Antrobus: The biggest thing to remember to do when living on an irregular income is to base your budget and standard of living off the low end of your income, instead of the high end. Sometimes that just isn’t possible (my unemployment in the winter only covers 2/3 of my expenses).

In that case, use the excess in the high weeks to save for the shortfall in the low weeks. Put this money in a separate account that doesn’t have any debit card, checks, or any other way of accessing the money than going to the bank or online interface. If it is at another bank altogether, that’s even better. Read more from Edward about irregular income with seasonal employment.

Steve Stewart: I have been a part-time mobile DJ for over a quarter of a century. Wedding and Christmas seasons were always busy and the rest were often slow. This was a larger part of my income when I was single – which was also the time of my life when I didn’t know how money worked. My best friend and I shared a nice apartment but after 6 months I had to move back into my parents house. I just couldn’t afford the place my friend wanted to live in so I had to bail. It definitely strained the relationship even though we are still best friends. Listen to his podcast The Absolute Simplest Budget That Works.

Miranda Marquit: I’ve had an irregular income since 2005 when I went back to school for my journalism M.A. However, I’ve tried to land enough regular gigs that the survival basics are covered, so the irregularity of everything doesn’t impact as much. Since I’ve always been the primary breadwinner, an irregular income is pretty much a way of life for my family.

Do you live a gig life and have a variable income? How do you budget your money? 

Budget Spreadsheet picture

What is the oddest item in your budget?

The budget for your family will not look like your neighbor’s budget.

Why? You are different people with different values.

Every budget is unique and is a reflection of our values, goals, and dreams.

I’ll assume you have a budget and meet monthly with your spouse or accountability parter to hammer out the details of your spending plan. If not, I suggest reading How to Budget Like a Pro.

What is the Oddest Item in Your Budget?

All personal budgets have the same items like gas, insurance, food, and the like. But, what about those items you budget for that are unique?

I’ve seen a good number of budgets in my financial coaching career and I’ve never seen the same budget.

In fact, I’ve seen a good number of quirky items of which I’d love to disclose, but can’t due to confidentiality reasons.

Personally, our current odd items beyond the normal are:

  • Spending money for our toddler to learn about money.
  • Money to spend on gifts for each other. (Helps our marriage and avoid money fights)
  • Clothing–not crazy, but I’ve noticed not many people budget for clothing each month.

I know there is nothing too odd currently, but as our income increases I’m sure a few more exciting line items will appear–or at least the dollar amounts.

We budget what we value and what we plan to spend our money on before the month begins.

What do you budget for each month that is “odd”? What is the most unusual item in your monthly budget? 

Did you know that you can change the world?

Yep, it’s true. Your single decision to act can dramatically change the world for the better.

A few friends of ours had a crazy idea to build a house for someone.

Giving Big and Changing the World

Our friend Sam became involved in Habitat for Humanity in Los Angeles on his days off from saving lives as a local fireman.

Though his involvement a small group of friends were challenged to build a house, which they couldn’t afford to do by themselves.

The video below tells the inspirational story. (Sorry, ladies Sam is a married man)

View more videos at: http://nbclosangeles.com.

These couples are amazing! Their action is challenging my faith and humbling when I look at my selfish life.

I want to give big and change the world too.

If you want to give to this Habitat House, click this link to the Philippians House in Culver City. Or just find your own way to give big and change the world.

What if we all took on challenges like funding and building a house? What would the world look like?

Have you ever had a financial advisor who told you to NOT invest?

I did and I’m thankful for that guy who saw me as a person who needed wisdom and not as another monthly commission check.

An Honest Financial Advisor?

I was in grad school full time, working part time, and seriously dating my future wife.

Back then I was just learning about money and listening to Dave Ramsey while exercising or commuting.

I must have missed the whole baby step thing, because I had it in my mind that I needed to start investing.

You see I found my old retirement account from my day of being a teacher and thought I needed to do some investing with it.

One day I wandered into an Edward Jones office in one of the richest areas of San Francisco with the paperwork and intent of becoming a serious investor.

The main advisor happened to be in and agreed to meet with me there on the spot.

He proceeded to give me an hour long investing lesson using a white board, explaining load and no load funds, compound interest and more.

He talked to me like a person without condensation or judgement. This is an essential quality in choosing a financial advisor. 

At the end of his lesson his advice was for me to NOT invest my retirement in other funds, but to use a small amount to pay off my grad school loan and be debt free with a new degree and a bit of retirement saved.

I was astonished. Did he actually turn down my business? Did he tell me to not invest and do what I came in here to do.

He showed me the door and I was left to my own thoughts.

Not Investing Was a Great Decision

In retrospect, not moving my retirement around was a great decision that day. I had no idea what I was doing. Nor did my life situation warrant beginning to invest at the time.

I did end up cashing it out later to pay off my small graduate school bill, help pay for our wedding, and started our new married life with a little emergency fund.

I am thankful for the honesty and integrity of that financial advisor who told me “No”.

He chose to forego a quick commission check (though I’m sure small to what he was used to) in exchange for helping a misguided graduate student stay out of the market right before the great recession and market crash.

Had I invested, the money would have been reduced to 1/2 its value at the time I needed it most.

Thank you to honest financial advisors who understand their fiduciary responsibility and have their client’s best interest at heart.

How has your experience been with financial advisors?

It's patriotic to be frugal!

It’s patriotic to be frugal!

Happy 4th of July! While I’m shooting fireworks and doing some DIY projects this weekend, Melissa Schraiber of FatWallet.com is pitching in to help. And of course I was in no way compensated for this article–that would be against Google’s terms and agreements and my commitment to you

Stay safe my friends!

What’s More Patriotic Than Saving a Dollar? How Not to Overspend this Fourth of July 

If you’re like most people, you’ve got big plans for the July 4th holiday. Research from the National Retail Federation says nearly 90 percent of Americans will celebrate in some way – barbecues, fireworks, camping and travel are some of the more popular ways to recognize the holiday.

It’s easy to go overboard and blow your budget when you’re looking forward to blowing off some steam and relaxing while you’ve got several days off work. Rest assured, you can have fun, celebrate our nation’s independence and still have some money in the bank if you use these tips.

Food and Drink

Cookouts and barbecues are one of the most popular ways to celebrate Independence Day. And food gets pricey. Check out these statistics from the National Retail Federation that show how much Americans will spend during the July 4th holiday:

  • $92 million on chips
  • $60 million on dip
  • $194 million on hamburger patties
  • $70 million on buns
  • $86 million on cheese
  • $341 million on beer

While your spending will account for only a fraction of the total, hosting your family and friends for a cookout can get pricey. Instead of providing all the food and beverages, ask your guests to pitch in. You provide the meats, buns and toppings and ask your guests to bring side dishes and desserts.

For beverages, set up a small, inflatable pool in the yard or on the patio. Ask your guests to bring a six-pack of their favorite beer or soft drink. Dump the drinks in the pool and cover with them ice. Everyone gets to share in the wealth and try some new varieties. Plus, you’ll save on the overall cost.

Fireworks

According to the American Pyrotechnics Association, Americans spent $645 million on fireworks in 2012. But don’t break the bank by shelling out hundreds of dollars on fireworks that you might not even get to use. Go in with a few neighbors and split the cost so you can have a brief display on your street. Practice fire safety while putting on your show too. It’s certainly not cheap to go to the emergency room!

Camping

Getting back to nature is a fantastic way to enjoy the July 4th holiday. Save money on camping supplies by looking for deals online and using Kohls coupons for tents, canopies, sleeping bags, grills and other necessities to make your outdoor adventure memorable.

Travel

According to AAA, 40.8 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more over the holiday weekend. That’s slightly down from last year, probably due to July 4th falling on a Thursday. More people tend to travel when the holiday falls on a Wednesday and they have more time off from work.

Despite high gas prices, most people will travel by car. To reduce your gas usage, make sure your vehicle is in top working order. Change the oil and check the air in the tires. Using cruise control will also help you save gas on longer trips. And obey the speed limit, as this will also help you cut down on the amount of gas you use.

Don’t shell out too much cash over the long weekend. Using our tips, you can enjoy the traditional July 4th festivities and activities without burning a hole in your wallet.

How will you be frugal on the 4th of July? 

Melissa Schraiber tries her best to be as frugal as possible and helps others to do the same. With big life changes in her near future, it is more important now more than ever to save money.