If you get paid every two weeks, you’ve probably noticed extra money coming your way certain months. Maybe you even thought your company’s payroll made a mistake! But it’s no mistake. You get two magical months like this a year: when you suddenly have a third paycheck andâthe best part isâyour monthly bills stay the same. Yes, it’s appropriate to jump for joyâprovided you have a plan for that extra income.
Why does this happen in the first place? If you’re paid biweekly, you get 26 paychecks throughout the 52-week year. That means two months out of the year, you end up getting three paychecks instead of your regular two.
Those two extra paychecks can go a long way. But without a plan in mind, they can also disappear. Fast. The first budgeting trick to saving two paychecks is to find out when they will hit your account. Grab a calendar and write down your paydays for every month in a given year and highlight the two extras. Maybe even put calendar reminders in your phone so you can track when the additional funds will hit your account. The extra paychecks will fall on different days every year, so tracking them in advance is key.
Samuel Deane, a founding partner of New York City-based wealth management firm Deane Financial, says there isn’t one correct way to budget with an extra paycheck, but that it should depend on your personal situation and financial goals. You could decide to give yourself some extra room in your budget throughout the year, for example, or use the extra money for something specific.
How can I budget for an extra paycheck? Consider these 5 budgeting hacks if you’re paid biweekly:
1. Pay down (mainly) high-interest debt
Once you’re done jumping for joy at the realization of the third paycheck, consider how your budget with an extra paycheck could help you pay down debt. “The first thing I usually tell my clients is to get rid of high-rate debt, which is usually credit card debt,” Deane says.
Before paying off debt with your new budget with an extra paycheck, make a list of all of your debts organized by balance and annual percentage rate (APR). Paying off the debt with the highest APR could save you the most money because you’re paying the most to carry a balance. Paying down a few low-APR, low-balance debts can also help you gain momentum and bring other financial benefits. For instance, if you owe close to your credit limit on a credit card, the high credit utilizationâor card balance to credit limit ratioâcould negatively impact your credit score.
If your budget with an extra paycheck includes debt repayment, you’ll start to owe less and have less interest accruing each month, freeing up even more cash from subsequent paychecks.
“The first thing I usually tell my clients is to get rid of high-rate debt, which is usually credit card debt.”
2. Build an emergency fund
Paying down debt isn’t the only way to budget with an extra paycheck. “Taking a look at whether you have a sufficient emergency fund is pretty important,” says Dan Stous, director of financial planning at Flagstone Financial Management.
An emergency fund of three to six months of your regular expenses can help you weather financial setbacks, such as a lost job or medical emergency, without having to take on new debt. Keeping these funds separate from your regular checking and savings accounts can help you keep them earmarked for the unexpected (and reduce the temptation to dip into them for non-emergency expenses). Places to keep your emergency fund include a high-yield savings account, certificate of deposit or money market account.
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If creating an emergency fund or adding to an existing one is on your to-do list, a budgeting trick to save two paychecks is to automatically transfer your extra paychecks into your emergency fund account.
3. Save for a big goal
If you want to save for a goal like a new car or home, or contribute to tax-advantaged retirement accounts, contributing two full paychecks out of 26 can be a good start. “If a client is debt-free and doing well, they might be able to focus on other goals,” Deane says. If you’ve got a financial goal in mind, a budgeting hack if you’re paid biweekly is to transfer your two extra paychecks from your checking account to a savings or retirement account right away.
If you have a 401(k) through an employer and already contribute enough to get your maximum annual match, Deane says you may want to consider a Roth IRA. A Roth IRA is for retirement, but it also allows first-time homebuyers who have held their account for at least five years to withdraw up to $10,000 to buy a home, Deane says. Your budget with an extra paycheck could then go to either major goal.
Even loftier, “you could put aside money to start a business,” Deane says. If you plan on starting a business someday you could put away the paychecks annually and let those savings build as start-up capital.
4. Get ahead on bills
If you already have an emergency fund, are currently debt-free and are making good progress on your savings goals, try this budgeting hack if you’re paid biweekly and get a third paycheck: Pay certain monthly bills ahead of time.
“If you have the ability to prepay some of your bills, it can ease anxiety in the coming months,” Deane says.
Before using this budgeting hack if you’re paid biweekly, check with your providers to confirm that you will not be met with a prepayment penalty, and get up to speed on any prepayment limitations. Some providers may even offer a discount or incentive if you pay something like a car insurance bill all at once. You could also explore whether or not prepaying your bills makes sense for utilities, your cellphone or rent.
If you’re looking for budgeting hacks if you’re paid biweekly, consider that managing money isn’t only about dollars and cents. Emotions often play an important part in personal finance, and they’re often the root cause of people’s decisions. Accepting this fact could be an important part of successfully managing your money.
“From an emotional and behavioral standpoint, people should reward themselves for being responsible,” Stous says. “Basically, treat yourself.”
Perhaps you need a vacation from the daily grind, want to enrich or educate yourself or your family or simply want to get a date night at your favorite restaurant on the calendar. A budgeting trick to save two paychecks could be supplemented with some spending on yourself.
“If you have an extra paycheck and a debt reduction goal, then maybe you apply the whole thing toward that goal. On the other hand, maybe you have a goal to retire in 10 years and you’re off track. Then, it’d be wise to put that money, or at least a portion of it, toward that goal.”
There’s no one-size-fits-all budgeting trick to save two paychecks
When you’re deciding how to budget with an extra paycheck, you might find yourself going back and forth between options.
“If you have an extra paycheck and a debt-reduction goal, then maybe you apply the whole thing toward that goal,” Stous says. “On the other hand, maybe you have a goal to retire in 10 years and you’re off track. Then, it’d be wise to put that money, or at least a portion of it, toward that goal.”
Even though budgeting solutions are not the same for everyone, being disciplined and proactive about the savings opportunity of a third paycheck can help you form a strong foundation for your financial future.
The post The Magical Third Paycheck: 5 Budgeting Hacks If You’re Paid Biweekly appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.
Summer camp is a rite of passage. A place where traditions begin and memories are made. A unique venue with a structured opportunity for kids to grow and learn new skills. As enriching as it may seem, embarking on the process each year can be intense: How do I choose a camp? Should it have a philosophy? How do I know my child will have fun? But often the question at the top of the list is, “How do I budget for summer camp?”
Whether you’re scrambling for camp arrangements for this year or getting a jump-start on next summer, you’re in need of a working budget for summer camp. “As a parent who sent several kids to summer camp for many years, I know how expensive it can be,” says Leslie H. Tayne, author and founder of debt solutions law firm Tayne Law Group.
Read on for expert budgeting tips for summer camp and how to save money on summer camp so you can make the best decisions concerning your wallet and your child’s wish list:
1. Get a handle on camp tuition
According to the American Camp Association, sleep-away camp tuition can range from $630 to more than $2,000 per camper per week. Day camp tuition isn’t too far behind, ranging from $199 to more than $800 per week.
One of the best ways to budget for summer camp and prepare for tuition costs is to understand your needs for the summer as well as your child’s interests. This will help you determine ‘how much’ and ‘what type’ of camp you want: Is day-camp coverage important all summer because of work? Does your child want to experience sleep-away camp for a portion of the time? Is a camp with a specific focus (say a sport or hobby) on the list?
Depending on your circumstances and child’s expectations, it’s not unusual to be looking at a combination of campsâand tuition costsâin one season. If you have multiple kids at different ages, with different interests, creating a budget for summer camp and understanding how much you’ll need to dish out in tuition becomes especially important.
Once your camp plan is in place, assess how much you’ll need to pay in tuition for the summer months with school out of session. The sooner you’ve arrived at this figure, the easier it will be to work the expense into your household budget, says Heather Schisler, money-saving expert and founder of deal site Passion for Savings. “It’s much easier to set aside $30 a month than it is to come up with $300 to $400 at one time,” Schisler says.
Sleep-away camp tuition can range from $630 to more than $2,000 per camper per week. Day camp tuition ranges from $199 to more than $800 per week.
2. Plan for expenses beyond tuition
One of the biggest budgeting tips for summer camp is planning for the many costs outside of tuition. Tayne points out that sleep-away camp usually comes with a longer supply list than day campâsuch as specific clothing or gear and toiletries to cover the length of stay. If your child is heading to a sleep-away camp far from home, your budget for summer camp may also need to factor in the cost of transportation or the cost to ship luggage. Day camps can also have fees for extended hours or transportation if your child rides a camp bus each day.
Once you’ve selected a campâday camp or sleep-awayâcheck its website for camper packing lists and guidelines. Most camps offer checklists that you can print out, which can be good for tracking supplies and costs as you go. After you enroll, your camp may provide access to an online portal that can help you manage tuition and track additional expenses, like canteen money, which is cash your child can use for snacks and additional supplies while away.
3. Create a year-round savings strategy
By calculating the necessary expenses ahead of time for the camps you and your campers have chosen, you’ll be able to determine an overall budget for summer camp. A budgeting tip for summer camp is to save money monthly throughout the year. To determine a monthly savings goal, divide your total summer camp costs by the amount of months you have until camp starts. If camp is quickly approaching and you’re feeling the budget crunch, you may want to start saving for next year’s costs once it’s back-to-school time so you can spread out your costs over a longer period of time.
Once you start saving, you’ll need a place to put it, right? When it comes to budgeting tips for summer camp, consider placing your cash in a dedicated account, which will keep it separate from your regular expenses and help you avoid tapping it for other reasons. “Then you can have your bank set up an auto draft [for the summer camp money] so it automatically goes into your account each month and you will have the money you need when summer rolls around,” Schisler says. If you use a Discover Online Savings Account for this purpose, you’ll also earn interest that can be put toward camp expenses.
âIt’s much easier to set aside $30 a month than it is to come up with $300 to $400 at one time.â
4. Find ways to fund your summer camp account
To boost cash in your summer camp savings account, consider asking relatives and family friends to gift your children cash for camp in lieu of birthday and holiday gifts, says Tracie Fobes of budget blog Penny Pinchin’ Mom. “If your child has his or her heart set on sleep-away camp, they may be willing to forgo a gift or two,” Fobes says.
Another budgeting tip for summer camp is to put your cashback rewards toward your budget for summer camp. For example, if you open a checking account with Discoverâcalled Cashback Debitâyou’ll earn 1% cash back on up to $3,000 in debit card purchases each month.1 You can enroll to have that cashback bonus automatically deposited into your Discover Online Savings Account so it remains designated for camp costs (and can grow with interest).
Say hello to cash back on debit card purchases.
No monthly fees. No balance requirements. No, really.
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Lastly, if you don’t have your tax refund earmarked for another financial goal, you could use the windfall to kick-start your summer camp savings fund. Depending on the refund amount and your total camp costs, it could reduce your monthly summer camp savings goal significantly.
5. Reduce camp-related costs
Despite having your budget for summer camp in full view and planning in advance, camp can still be expensive. Here are some ways to save money on summer camp by cutting down on camp costs:
Ask about scholarships and grants: “Some camps offer scholarships or discounts for children and families,” Fobes says. Research your camp to see if they have anything similar to help offsetâor even pay forâthe cost of tuition.
Use a Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account (DCFSA): A Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account is a pre-tax benefit account that can be used to pay for eligible dependent care services. You can use this type of account to “cover dependent care [costs], and camp may qualify,” Fobes says.
Negotiate price: “Many people don’t think about negotiating the cost of summer camp, but it is possible,” Tayne says, and more and more camps are open to it.
See if there’s an “honor system”: Some camps have what’s known as an honor system, where the camp offers a range of costs, or tiered pricing, and parents can pay what they can comfortably afford. Every child enjoys the same camp experience, regardless of which price point, and billing is kept private.
Take advantage of discounts: Attention early birds and web surfers: “There are sometimes discounts offered when you sign up early or register online,” Fobes says.
Volunteer: If your summer schedule allows, “offer to work at the camp,” Fobes says. If you lend your servicesâperhaps for the camp blog or cleaning the camp house before the season startsâyour child may be able to attend camp for free or a reduced rate.
Don’t let summer camp costs become a family budget-buster. Plan ahead and look for money-saving opportunities and work your budget for summer camp into your annual financial plan.
To save money on summer camp, remember that you only need to focus on camp necessities. “Don’t spend a lot of extra money on new clothing, bedding, trunks or suitcases,” Schisler says. “Remember, summer camp is all about the experience, not the things.”
1 ATM transactions, the purchase of money orders or other cash equivalents, cash over portions of point-of-sale transactions, Peer-to-Peer (P2P) payments (such as Apple Pay Cash), and loan payments or account funding made with your debit card are not eligible for cash back rewards. In addition, purchases made using third-party payment accounts (services such as VenmoÂ® and PayPal, who also provide P2P payments) may not be eligible for cash back rewards. Apple, the Apple logo and Apple Pay are trademarks of Apple Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries.
The post Your Guide to Budgeting for Summer Camp appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.
Having a baby means countless changes in your life, and they can happen very quickly. Diapers. Day care. Days running on little sleep. While it may not be on the top of your parenting list, budgeting for a new baby can help prepare your family for the excitement that’s ahead.
Kelsa Dickey is a financial coach and co-owner of Fiscal Fitness, a financial coaching company based in Phoenix. For her and her husband, budgeting has helped reduce money stress since they had their daughter in 2015.
“I absolutely worry less about finances because we budget our money,” Dickey says. “I find budgeting incredibly liberating.”
How do you prepare financially for a baby so you can worry less about finances as a parent? Here are four tips that expecting parents can use to help figure out their new financial reality and learn how to budget for a baby:
1. Prep for pregnancy expenses
Budgeting for a new baby often starts long before the baby arrives. You may have to account for medical bills, prenatal vitamins and maternity clothes, for example. Budgeting for a new baby can become easier if you account for these new expenses before you even need to make the purchases.
Alli Wittbold, a former teacher and blogger at Mom Smart Not Hard, and her husband, were able to save a significant amount on their medical bills when they had their daughter in 2016. Before they were even pregnant, they thought about ways to save money and researched the maternity coverage on both of their insurance plans. They found the coverage on her husband’s plan was much better than hers. By switching their coverage to her husband’s plan before getting pregnant, they were able to save thousands of dollars in maternity-related medical expenses.
While not all pregnancy expenses can be so well-planned in advance, sit down with your budget and make a list of all the new, common costs you’ll need to account for as you prepare for your family’s newest addition. Talking with other parents can help you get a sense for costs that may creep up higher than expected (for Dickey, it was maternity clothes, including new shoes and compression socks), as well as those not even on your radar.
“You can’t plan for everything, but if you can plan for even 75 percent of what you’ll need, the other 25 percent will be that much easier to tackle.”
2. Save for baby-related costs
For the Dickeys, budgeting for a new baby meant accounting for increased monthly spending on things they’d anticipated, such as diapers, wipes, baby food and day care. But they also encountered plenty of unexpected expenses. For instance, Dickey planned to nurse and found that nursing supplies and support took a big chunk out of their budget.
“Paying for one-on-one help and consulting was not something I anticipated,” she says.
The Wittbolds also encountered unexpected costs when budgeting for a new baby. They didn’t plan for supplies for when their baby got sick. “During our daughter’s first cold, we ran out to buy a humidifier and nasal aspirator,” Wittbold says.
To cope with unexpected expenses related to their daughter, the Dickeys adjusted their budget and began putting a set amount of money into a specific savings account each month. “I highly recommend doing this because you don’t necessarily know what you will or won’t need, so this allows for some flexibility,” Dickey says.
If you’re looking for additional strategies to learn how to budget for a baby, consider starting an emergency fund to help you better budget for a new baby’s unexpected expenses.
“You can’t plan for everything, but if you can plan for even 75 percent of what you’ll need,” Dickey says, “the other 25 percent will be that much easier to tackle.”
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3. Get creative with your purchases
While baby items can be fun to shop for (think cute little onesies), paying full price on everything can make it nearly impossible to budget for a new baby. The Wittbolds were gifted a lot of the things they needed at their baby shower, but they also shopped secondhandâa great tip for those worried about how to budget for a baby. They perused local classifieds and online marketplaces, and they even picked up hand-me-downs from friends with older children.
The Wittbolds also found creative (and fun) ways to save money by pooling resources from their friends. “My husband had a ‘daddy diaper party’ with all of his guy friends. As a gift, each friend brings a box of diapers,” Wittbold says. “We didn’t have to buy diapers for months.”
4. Account for income changes
Whether you intend to take a parental leave from work or have one parent stay at home to care for your child, you may have to figure out how to budget for a baby with less income than you’re used to.
Dickey and her husband own their financial coaching business, and they were worried about loss of income since they don’t work for an employer with maternity or paternity leave benefits. She knew she wanted to take six weeks off after having her daughter, so they started saving for the drop in income as soon as they knew they were pregnant.
“It made it so I didn’t worry and knew I could enjoy that time off with my daughter,” she says.
Wittbold decided to cope with her time off work as a school teacher by enacting a spending freeze once she was no longer earning an income. “For us, this means no spending aside from grocery store essentials, baby essentials like diapers, gas and of course bills,” she says. “To prepare for this, I stocked our freezer with homemade meals that could be dumped in the Crock-Pot or popped in the oven.”
Not long after her daughter was born, Wittbold decided to continue staying at home rather than return to her teaching position. She needed longer-term solutions to account for one less full-time income. After seeking out online opportunities, she found a remote position where she could teach English online. This helped her start earning enough part-time money to make staying at home possible.
“I teach every morning from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m.,” she says. “This change meant an additional $1,200 for our family every month.” This kind of flexible side hustle that you can maintain while parenting is a great way to bring in additional income if you’re budgeting for a new baby and looking for ways to save money when you have a baby.
“Budgeting has forced us to do things like meal plan, create cleaning schedules and use our time more effectively in order to earn money from home. This all results in less stress and more time with our baby because we are using the time we have more intentionally.”
Sleep soundly (well, eventually) thanks to your budget
While you might not be able to sleep through the night anytime soon, budgeting for a new baby will help give you peace of mind. Knowing you have a plan for expected and unexpected expenses, as well as understanding ways to save money when you have a baby, can allow you to make the most of your time with your family.
“Budgeting has forced us to do things like meal plan, create cleaning schedules and use our time more effectively in order to earn money from home,” Wittbold says. “This all results in less stress and more time with our baby because we are using the time we have more intentionally.”
The post Budgeting for a New Baby? Babyproof Your Budget in 4 Steps appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.
Months (and months) of grading papers, bringing work home on the weekends, staying on-point for all those young minds you’ve been charged with educating and finally… summer is here! It’s time to put your feet up and relax for a well-earned break from your awesome, and often intense, teaching career. But wait. How do teachers budget with no paycheck during the summer?
The summer paycheck gap doesn’t need to be a cause of stress for educators. You just need to put a plan in place to cover your finances for the months that school is out of session. You can follow these guidelines to create a summer budgeting plan that works for you:
Spread your income over 12 months
Bobby Hoyt, a former teacher and personal finance blogger at Millennial Money Man, says the beginning of the school year is always a “crazy time” for teachers. Your best bet to cover the summer paycheck gap is to have a budget in place well in advance of the bell on the first day of school.
To start, check to see if your school offers a year-round payment option. This would allow you to opt-in prior to the beginning of the school year to have your paychecks spread out over 12 months instead of the 10 or so months that you are working. “That way you’ll have a consistent paycheck no matter what time of the year it is,” says Kristin Larsen, personal finance blogger at Believe in a Budget. Even though your monthly pay will be lower with year-round paychecks, it could be easier to create a financial plan and manage the summer paycheck gap with the predictable cash flow.
If your school doesn’t offer this type of program or if you prefer to collect your standard paychecks and spread them out to accommodate summer, you can create your own 12-month paycheck plan to manage the summer paycheck gap. First, divide your annual income by the amount of months you receive paychecks. If you earn $57,000 a year and work for 10 months, for example, you’ll arrive at $5,700. Next, divide your annual income by 12 months, which in this example, would be $4,750. Finally, calculate the difference between those numbers. In this case, it’s $950. This is how much you would need to set aside from your monthly income to provide for two months of the same pay during the summer. You’re essentially putting money aside so you can give yourself a paycheck during your time off.
“Then, you’ll want to sit down and create a budget and find where you need to cut back and where you can still do the things you enjoy,” Hoyt says.
See if your school offers a year-round payment option. This would allow you to opt-in prior to the beginning of the school year to have your paychecks spread out over 12 months instead of the 10 or so months that you are working.
Calculate your standard expenses and summer extras
If you’re a teacher living with no paycheck during the summer, Hoyt suggests figuring out how much money you’ll need in the summer months to cover your standard living expenses. Think housing, utilities, groceries and transportation. The stuff you can’t live without. If you don’t have a baseline for your essential expenses, keep track of what you spend for at least three months, or sort through old credit card transactions and bank account activity by month. This should help you get a clearer idea of the minimum amount needed to cover your bills and and basic living costs. A summer budget tip for teachers is to use your highest expense month to forecast your summer costs so you don’t have to stress about coming up short, Larsen says.
Another summer budget tip for teachers is to anticipate discretionary seasonal expenses. Let’s face itâthere’s a lot of fun to be had over the summer, and the cost of extra activities and travel can really add up. Quickly. Luxury vacation or the summer festival circuit, anyone? Estimate how much you’ll need for your summer extras, and add those to the living expenses mentioned above. If any of your summer expenses recur annuallyâlike a standing trip with family or friendsâuse what you’ve spent in past years to arrive at how much you’ll need this time.
Whether you receive summer income from a year-round payment program or set aside money monthly to combat the summer paycheck gap, there’s a chance that your total summer expenses may exceed your summer paychecks. Read on for more summer budget tips for teachers that can help you plan for this difference.
Stash summer expenses in a separate account
If you’re stashing money away monthly to avoid the summer paycheck gap, creating a separate summer fund to contribute to throughout the year can be an effective summer budget tip for teachers. You could hold the portion of your paycheck you have set aside for summer in this fund, and look for other creative ways to add savings to the account. Bonus: If you put your summer paychecks and additional summer savings in a separate account, it may be easier to avoid the temptation to withdrawal for other expenses during the school year.
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Consider parking your summer funds in a high-yield online savings account so you can earn interest while you work your way through the school year. If you plan ahead and won’t need to withdraw your funds for a specific amount of time (say 12 months), you could earn even more interest with a certificate of deposit.
Create a financial cushion
In addition to the money accumulating in your fund for the summer paycheck gap, it’s important to also have an emergency fund, Hoyt says. An emergency fund is just thatâa fund that is set aside strictly for emergencies, like car repairs or medical bills you didn’t anticipate. “It’s always wise to have an emergency fund, but especially if you have gaps in income,” adds Larsen, from Believe in a Budget.
While experts typically recommend saving at least three to six months of living expenses in your emergency fund, you can start small and add as your budget allows. Any cash set aside in an emergency fund will be helpful if an unexpected bill or expense comes your way, especially if it’s during the summer paycheck gap.
Consider a side hustle
If you think your summer paychecks and extra savings are going to fall a little short of your summer expenses, “consider a summer side hustle to pay for the extras that can come with warmer weather,” Larsen says. With no paycheck during the summer, a side hustle can be a good way to funnel more cash into your summer fund account.
According to Hoytâwho actually started his website as a side hustle when he was a band directorâmany teachers can use their skill set for side hustles related to their profession. For example, teachers can offer private lessons or tutoring within their areas of expertise. Teachers can also pursue unrelated side hustles, like flipping items in online marketplaces to bring in more money in anticipation of no paycheck during the summer.
A side hustle may also be a perfect opportunity to explore a new venture, especially when there’s no paycheck during the summer. Hoyt says a side hustle can even provide a route to a new career path. “The skills that teachers pick up throughout their careerâdealing with people, managing a high workload, having high standards for excellenceâtend to translate extremely well into entrepreneurialism,” Hoyt says.
Make it a summer to enjoy
Teaching has its challenges, but it also comes with the major perk of having some of the best months of the year off. Planning ahead and implementing these summer budget tips for teachers will help make sure that these hard-earned months of vacation are truly an enriching time.
The post Teachers: How to Survive the Summer Paycheck Gap appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.
Could logging in to your computer from a deluxe treehouse off the coast of Belize be the future of work? Maybe. For many, the word freelance means flexibility, meaningful tasks and better work-life balance. Who doesn’t want to create their own hours, love what they do and work from wherever they want? Freelancing can provide all of thatâbut that freedom can vanish quickly if you don’t handle your expenses correctly.
“A lot of the time, you don’t know about these expenses until you are in the trenches,” says freelance copywriter Alyssa Goulet, “and that can wreak havoc on your financial situation.”
Nearly 57 million people in the U.S. freelanced, or were self-employed, in 2019, according to Upwork, a global freelancing platform. Freelancing is also increasingly becoming a long-term career choice, with the percentage of freelancers who freelance full-time increasing from 17 percent in 2014 to 28 percent in 2019, according to Upwork. But for all its virtues, the cost of being freelance can carry some serious sticker shock.
“There are many hats you have to wear and expenses you have to take on, but for that you’re gaining a lot of opportunity and flexibility in your life.”
Most people who freelance for the first time don’t realize that everythingâfrom taxes to office supplies to setting up retirement plansâis on them. So, before you can sustain yourself through self-employment, you need to answer a very important question: “Are you financially ready to freelance?”
What you’ll find is that budgeting as a freelancer can be entirely manageable if you plan for the following key costs. Let’s start with one of the most perplexingâtaxes:
1. Taxes: New rules when working on your own
First things first: Don’t try to be a hero. When determining how to budget as a freelancer and how to manage your taxes as a freelancer, you’ll want to consult with a financial adviser or tax professional for guidance. A tax expert can help you figure out what makes sense for your personal and business situation.
For instance, just like a regular employee, you will owe federal income taxes, as well as Social Security and Medicare taxes. When you’re employed at a regular job, you and your employer each pay half of these taxes from your income, according to the IRS. But when you’re self-employed (earning more than $400 a year in net income), you’re expected to file and pay these expenses yourself, the IRS says. And if you think you will owe more than $1,000 in taxes for a given year, you may need to file estimated quarterly taxes, the IRS also says.
That can feel like a heavy hit when you’re not used to planning for these costs. “If you’ve been on a salary, you don’t think about taxes really. You think about the take-home pay. With freelance, everything is take-home pay,” says Susan Lee, CFPÂ®, tax preparer and founder of FreelanceTaxation.com.
When you’re starting to budget as a freelancer and determining how often you will need to file, Lee recommends doing a “dummy return,” which is an estimation of your self-employment income and expenses for the year. You can come up with this number by looking at past assignments, industry standards and future projections for your work, which freelancer Goulet finds valuable.
“Since I don’t have a salary or a fixed number of hours worked per month, I determine the tax bracket I’m most likely to fall into by taking my projected monthly income and multiplying it by 12,” Goulet says. “If I experience a big income jump because of a new contract, I redo that calculation.”
After you estimate your income, learning how to budget as a freelancer means working to determine how much to set aside for your tax payments. Lee, for example, recommends saving about 25 percent of your income for paying your income tax and self-employment tax (which funds your Medicare and Social Security). But once you subtract your business expenses from your freelance income, you may not have to pay that entire amount, according to Lee. Deductible expenses can include the mileage you use to get from one appointment to another, office supplies and maintenance and fees for a coworking space, according to Lee. The income left over will be your taxable income.
To set aside the taxes you will need to pay, adjust your estimates often and always round up. “Let’s say in one month a freelancer determines she would owe $1,400 in tax. I’d put away $1,500,” Goulet says.
2. Business expenses: Get a handle on two big areas
The truth is, the cost of being freelance varies from person to person. Some freelancers are happy to work from their kitchen tables, while others need a dedicated workspace. Your freelance costs also change as you add new tools to your business arsenal. Here are two categories you’ll always need to account for when budgeting as a freelancer:
Joining a coworking space gets you out of the house and allows you to establish the camaraderie you may miss when you work alone. When you’re calculating the cost of being freelance, note that coworking spaces may charge membership dues ranging from $20 for a day pass to hundreds of dollars a month for a dedicated desk or private office. While coworking spaces are all the rage, you can still rent a traditional office for several hundred dollars a month or more, but this fee usually doesn’t include community aspects or other membership perks.
If you want to avoid office rent or dues as costs of being freelance but don’t want the kitchen table to pull double-duty as your workspace, you might convert another room in your home into an office. But you’ll still need to outfit the space with all of your work essentials. Freelance copywriter and content strategist Amy Hardison retrofitted part of her house into a simple office. “I got a standing desk, a keyboard, one of those adjustable stands for my computer and a squishy mat to stand on so my feet don’t hurt,” Hardison says.
Start with the absolute necessities. When Hardison first launched her freelance career, she purchased a laptop for $299. She worked out of a coworking space and used its office supplies before creating her own workspace at home.
There are a range of digital tools, including business and accounting software, that can help with the majority of your business functions. A big benefit is the time they can save you that is better spent marketing to clients or producing great work.
The software can also help you avoid financial lapses as you’re managing the costs of being freelance. Hardison’s freelance business had ramped up to a point where a manual process was costing her money, so using an invoicing software became a no-brainer. “I was sending people attached document invoices for a while and keeping track of them in a spreadsheet,” Hardison says. “And then I lost a few of them and I just thought, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t be losing things. This is my income!’”
Digital business and software tools can help manage scheduling, web hosting, accounting, audio/video conference and other functions. When you’re determining how to budget as a freelancer, note that the costs for these services depend largely on your needs. For instance, several invoicing platforms offer options for as low as $9 per month, though the cost increases the more clients you add to your account. Accounting services also scale up based on the features you want and how many clients you’re tracking, but you can find reputable platforms for as little as $5 a month.
When you sign up for a service, start with the “freemium” version, in which the first tier of service is always free, Hardison says. Once you have enough clients to warrant the expense, upgrade to the paid level with the lowest cost. Gradually adding services will keep your expenses proportionate to your income.
3. Health insurance: Harnessing an inevitable cost
Budgeting for healthcare costs can be one of the biggest hurdles to self-employment and successfully learning how to budget as a freelancer. In the first half of the 2020 open enrollment period, the average monthly premium under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for those who do not receive federal subsidiesâor a reduced premium based on incomeâwas $456 for individuals and $1,134 for families, according to eHealth, a private online marketplace for health insurance.
“Buying insurance is really protecting against that catastrophic event that is not likely to happen. But if it does, it could throw everything else in your plan into a complete tailspin,” says Stephen Gunter, CFPÂ®, at Bridgeworth Financial.
A good place to start when budgeting as a freelancer is knowing what healthcare costs you should budget for. Your premiumâwhich is how much you pay each month to have your insuranceâis a key cost. Note that the plans with the lowest premiums aren’t always the most affordable. For instance, if you choose a high-deductible policy you may pay less in premiums, but if you have a claim, you may pay more at the time you or your covered family member’s health situation arises.
When you are budgeting as a freelancer, the ACA healthcare marketplace is one place to look for a plan. Here are a few other options:
Spouse or domestic partner’s plan: If your spouse or domestic partner has health insurance through his/her employer, you may be able to get coverage under their plan.
COBRA: If you recently left your full-time job for self-employment, you may be able to convert your employer’s group plan into an individual COBRA plan. Note that this type of plan comes with a high expense and coverage limit of 18 months.
Organizations for freelancers: Search online for organizations that promote the interests of independent workers. Depending on your specific situation, you may find options for health insurance plans that fit your needs.
Speak with an insurance adviser who can help you figure out which plans are best for your health needs and your budget. An adviser may be willing to do a free consultation, allowing you to gather important information before making a financial commitment.
4. Retirement savings: Learn to “set it and forget it”
Part of learning how to budget as a freelancer is thinking long term, which includes saving for retirement. That may seem daunting when you’re wrangling new business expenses, but Gunter says saving for the future is a big part of budgeting as a freelancer.
“It’s kind of the miracle of compound interest. The sooner we can get it invested, the sooner we can get it saving,” Gunter says.
He suggests going into autopilot and setting aside whatever you would have contributed to an employer’s 401(k) plan. One way to do this might be setting up an automatic transfer to your savings or retirement account. “So, if you would have put in 3 percent [of your income] each month, commit to saving that 3 percent on your own,” Gunter says. The Discover IRA Certificate of Deposit (IRA CD) could be a good fit for helping you enjoy guaranteed returns in retirement by contributing after-tax (Roth IRA CD) or pre-tax (traditional IRA CD) dollars from your income now.
Prioritize retirement savings every month, not just when you feel flush. “Saying, ‘I’ll save whatever is left over’ isn’t a savings plan, because whatever is left over at the end of the month is usually zero,” Gunter says.
5. Continually update your rates
One of the best things you can do for yourself in learning how to budget as a freelancer is build your costs into what you charge. “As I’ve discovered more business expenses, I definitely take those into account as I’m determining what my rates are,” Goulet says. She notes that freelancers sometimes feel guilty for building business costs into their rates, especially when they’re worried about the fees they charge to begin with. But working the costs of being freelance into your rates is essential to building a thriving freelance career. You should annually evaluate the rates you charge.
Because your expenses will change over time, it’s wise to do quarterly and yearly check-ins to assess your income and costs and see if there are processes you can automate to save time and money.
“A lot of the time, you don’t know about these expenses until you are in the trenches, and that can wreak havoc on your financial situation.”
Have confidence in your freelance career
Accounting for the various costs of being freelance makes for a more successful and sustainable freelance career. It also helps ensure that those who are self-employed achieve financial stability in their personal lives and their businesses.
“There are many hats you have to wear and expenses you have to take on,” Goulet says. “But for that, you’re gaining a lot of opportunity and flexibility in your life.”
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