Being a freelancer comes with a lot of perks. However, it also comes with many responsibilities. From the financial side of things, you have to be prepared to handle all of the nuances involved with managing your money.
Mastering Your Money as a Freelancer
Freelancing offers a wealth of opportunities, freedoms, and benefits that you simply don’t have access to as a W-2 employee working a 9-to-5 job for a large corporation.
You’re basically able to set your hours, choose your clients, and build the kind of business you want. But to be successful, you also need to manage your finances well and make sure you’re setting yourself up for long-term success.
As you think about managing money as a freelancer, here are several helpful tips to keep in mind:
1. Open a Separate Business Account
If nothing else, make sure you follow this first tip. Open separate checking accounts for your personal use and business use. This is extremely important and will make accounting so much easier.
When you have a business account, everything runs through it. This includes every business expense and all earnings. This allows you to reference one set of statements when balancing your books or filing taxes.
It also protects you. If you run an LLC, you’re required to have your own dedicated account. Even a single personal transaction on your business account (or vice versa) can do what lawyers call “pierce the veil” and compromise the integrity of your LLC.
2. Build an Emergency Fund
When you’re a freelancer, you have to plan for peaks and valleys. Unlike a salaried employee, you can’t count on the same consistent paycheck month after month. Some months will be feast and others will be famine. One way to account for these fluctuations and protect your family’s finances is to build up an emergency fund.
An emergency fund is basically three to six months of cash reserves that you set to the side in case you need it. It’s like a cushion that you can access when there’s an emergency or bill that you can’t pay. (The key is to fill the emergency fund back up as quickly as you can after drawing from it.)
3. Keep Budgets
Budgeting may sound boring, but it’s necessary. Be meticulous about keeping budgets in both your personal life and business. You’ll have to decide what kind of budget you want to keep, but it’s a good idea to build what we’ll call a “reflective budget.”
A reflective budget is a budget that’s built on the previous month’s income (it reflects what you earned in the past). In other words, if you made $10,000 in May, you use that as your top-line budget number for June. Then if you make $7,000 in June, you budget $7,0000 for July, etc. When you use this approach – as opposed to one that projects your future earnings – you ensure you’re always budgeting correctly down to the penny.
4. Know Your Options
Make sure you know your options when it comes to things like financial relief and bankruptcy (should you find yourself in a situation where you’re struggling to keep up).
“Most freelancers don’t realize that if you’re a sole proprietor – meaning you and your freelance business are legally the same entity – you may actually have access to both Chapter 7 bankruptcy and Chapter 13,” bankruptcy attorney Rowdy G. Williams says. “But if you have an LLC, Chapter 11 is your only option.”
Hopefully, you don’t reach a point where you need to explore bankruptcy, but it’s nice to know there are always options.
5. Pay Quarterly Estimated Taxes
As a freelancer, there’s nobody taking taxes out of your paycheck each month. This means you are 100 percent responsible for paying your own taxes. And guess what? The IRS doesn’t want you to wait until the following April to settle up. They want their taxes along the way.
Freelancers are required to pay quarterly estimated tax payments. You can find the IRS schedule here. Meet with your accountant to figure out a plan. However, as a general rule of thumb, you’ll want to set aside roughly 25 percent of your monthly earnings for estimated taxes.
Set Yourself Up for Success
It’s not enough to bring on a new client or close a new deal on a high-ticket project. In order to be successful as a freelancer, you have to master the art of managing your finances and maximizing your earnings. Let this article nudge you in the right direction, but never underestimate the importance of partnering with the right financial professionals and advisors!