A freelancer’s guide to surviving the holidays without going broke

Nov 27, 2017

This is a post by our friends at SPENT. Book hotels at great rates plus an average of 25% cash back. Freelancers Union members get an additional $20 cash bonus for their first booking!

This season, the National Retail Federation predicts the average American will spend $967 on holiday-related purchases, which is a 3.4% increase from last year. The savvy freelancer can prepare for these extra expenses by picking up extra projects ahead of time. This can be challenging with November and December being the slowest months for freelance work as companies’ year end budgets vanish.

With some of these tips however, it is possible to have a fruitful end-of-year, keeping both your spirits (and your wallets) lifted.

Budget carefully

Unlike other unforeseen extra expenses that can arise throughout the year, we do have ample time to prepare for the extra dough that will be leaving our pockets at the end of the year. Use this foresight to set a clear budget and stick to it. Perhaps it's putting a $20 limit on each gift per person, or spreading out your purchases to fit into a larger weekly budget.

Sticking to a strict budget is made easier through careful expense tracking. Luckily there are a number of tools out there that can help. Some people might find taking pen to paper works best for them – if so, making notes of your daily expenses within your daily calendar could be helpful.

For the more digitally inclined, try an expense management app like SPENT Money, which automatically tracks credit and debit card purchases, filtering them into buckets so that you can easily visualize how much is going where and from which accounts. Using an app is also helpful in sending you notifications if you are getting close to, or going over your preset budget.

Gift wisely

It’s easy to get caught up with all the holiday advertising out there when shopping, but it’s important to remember the reason for the season. Gifts don’t necessarily have to cost a lot.

Consider some fun alternatives – perhaps your friends can do a “Secret Santa” gift exchange to cut down on the number of presents everyone has to buy. Show off your creative talents by making your own wrapping paper or cards. If you’re feeling extra talented, handmade gifts can go a long way, whether you're a knitter or baker, everyone appreciated mittens and cookies.

If you must hit the shops, put in the time to find the best deals. Look for email or mobile promotions or if shopping online do a quick Google search to compare prices or find online discount codes. It’s also worth tapping into cash back deals built into your credit card or expense management apps to maximize your shopping experience, and ultimately leave more money in your pocket.

Travel Smartly

It’s more than just buying presents that cause the holidays to be so financially draining. Whether it's by plane, train or automobile, everyone is trying to get home for the holidays, which means higher travel rates.

The more flexible you can be the more you can mitigate these costs. Consider flying on Thanksgiving or Christmas Day. Pack light so you don’t have to pay for checked luggage. Volunteer to give up your seat for overbooked flights – airlines will not only put you on a later flight free of charge but they will often pay you more than the cost of your ticket to do so.

Tap into your creativity yet again and consider alternative routes. Look into other airports a few hours drive from your destination – it could be cheaper to fly into a different airport and then rent a car. Last Christmas I saved a huge amount by flying into Memphis and then renting a car to head home to Little Rock.

Book through a site like SPENT Travel which offers cash back on travel bookings. Not only do you get the same deals and price comparisons as other travel booking sites, you get a little money back in your wallet as well.

Prepare for the new year

At the end of the day, it’s important to focus on the joy of the holiday season and remember that come January, it’s time to get back on track. Take the week between Christmas and New Years to get your professional and financial house in order, planning new jobs and projects to get excited about in the new year. Your bank account will be back in shape in no time.

Book hotels at great rates plus an average of 25% cash back. Freelancers Union members get an additional $20 cash bonus for their first booking!

Mark Scherzer is a writer and communications expert with over 15 years of experience. He’s worked for Fortune 500 companies, produced content for digital startups, written for television, created curricula for education companies and developed programs for non-profits. He is also the author of “Hire Me, Hollywood” published by Adams Media, a division of Simon and Schuster.