• Finance

A comprehensive introduction to retirement planning as a freelancer

As one person doing all the work for multiple entities, you probably think retirement is out of the question for you. No one is going to set up and pay into a 401K for you, matching the contribution you put into it each month. You have to do it all yourself, right? Wrong.

There are many resources available for freelancers who are ready to plan for retirement. The first step is to just get started. The sooner, the better. The second is to stop thinking that freelancers can’t retire. Pamela Capaland wrote in February that you should never retire, and in a way, she’s right. Many freelancers do so because they’ve found an art or a trade that they love and have made it a mission to do that without the confines of an organization.

That doesn’t mean, however, that you shouldn’t plan for the financial freedom to step away from your freelancing whenever you want, especially later in your career, to do other things. This could be traveling to sit on a beach without that laptop designing graphics, or it could be going back to school to finish a degree you never started. Retirement looks different to each of us, but we all have to have money to do it. How, then, do we prepare for this stage in our careers as freelance retirees?


Remember you’re a business

Don’t presume that just because you’re one person doing contract work for others, you’re not a business. You can and should register yourself as a business entity, likely a sole proprietorship. Registering as a sole proprietorship will help you for tax purposes, and it is also a simple and cheaper way of forming a business for a sole owner and operator such as yourself.

You could register for limited liability, but as a freelancer, you are indeed liable for most of your work. Once you have decided on whether or not to register as a business, you should still execute your work practices as if you are. Take care to keep an eye on the different types of cash flows coming in and out of your coffers. Because you’re freelancing, you won’t have to factor in all the overhead costs an organization will. At the same time, you should still think about raising capital, especially for retirement.

Businesses use other means than revenue to raise capital for unforeseen circumstances, capital expenditures, and free cash flow. One of the most common is by investing in the stock market and other money markets. If you haven’t started investing in stocks, you should start now. It’s not expensive, and it’s one of the easiest means of building retirement savings. You can even do so online yourself.

Don’t forget a traditional retirement plan. Remember that one that an organization would pay into for you if you weren’t a freelancer? As a freelancer, you might not have access to a traditional plan, but there are resources available. Freelancers Union has recently partnered with Honest Dollar, a firm that offers retirement services for independent workers set up retirement savings accounts. Learn more here.

Freelancers Union members can also purchase insurance, including health, life, and even liability.

Remember the Kids

One of the biggest expenses you’re going to have, if you don’t already, could be kids. They’re great, but they can be expensive, especially when it’s time for them to go to college. If you’re planning for kids, one way or another, you have to factor them into your retirement plans.

If you’re managing your cash flows properly, you will have more free cash flow to invest in savings and retirement plans. Even if you’re not sure if you’re going to have kids, you might want to go to college again yourself. It’s never too late to invest in a 529 Plan. These are great ways to pay for college tuition, either for yourself or for a student.

The 529b is the most common, acting much like a hybrid savings-market account from which you can draw funds tax-free for use for educational funds. If you or your student is ambitious enough to get scholarships to pay for tuition, the funds in this account can still be used for advanced degrees or even some room and board expenses.

As with the basic retirement accounts, the sooner you start saving for kids, the better.

Remember to Ask for Help

If you look at all of this and start to feel overwhelmed, it’s okay. Financial planning as a whole can be daunting, especially if you want to do it yourself. Freelancers are, of course, prone to doing even their most complicated bookkeeping and accounting on their own.

Sometimes, though, that’s not always the best practice. The more you treat your freelance work as a business, the better it is for you to seek out the services of an accountant. Within the last year, more accountants have started working as counselors and consultants.

These financial counselors and consultants can help you set up your business, your bookkeeping, even prepare your taxes. They can also recommend savings and investment plans so that you can retire however you see fit. Don’t forget to go prepared when you visit your financial counselor the first time. The more information you have, the better she can help you plan.

If retirement for you is life on a beach or it’s life with a part-time job sharing your knowledge, you still have to be financially fit for it. Remembering these tips should help you on your way.