• Finance

How to budget for self-care

This is a post from a member of the Freelancers Union community. If you’re interested in sharing your expertise, your story, or some advice you think will help a fellow freelancer out, feel free to send your blog post to us here.

Autumn is here and the relaxed pace of summer has disappeared. The kids are back in school and it seems that every weekend is quickly filling up with must-do activities. These closing months of the year can seem to fly by very quickly.

Autumn may also be the time of year when you look at your income and realize that you’re not on pace to make your financial goals for the year. Perhaps you feel your shoulders tighten or your stomach churn in response.

Alternatively, you might realize that you’re actually doing a great job with those goals—but the process of expanding your freelance workload has left you exhausted. You don’t know how you’re going to keep up the pace in the months ahead.

And speaking of those months ahead… back when you worked in corporate America (and if you never have, bear with me!), autumn also meant the start of the dreaded Budgeting Season. This meant an additional set of meetings to wrestle with financial projections and lots of late evenings spent shoving numbers into columns that just wouldn’t cooperate….

Budgeting doesn't end with the 9–5

So—as a freelancer, did you happily leave the world of budgeting behind? Do you even have a budget for your business? It’s a good idea, and there is a lot of good information out there to help you. It could seem daunting at first, but there’s a good reason to do this. It has to do with giving focus, at least once a year, to elements of the freelance life that usually get forgotten.

In this post, I’m going to focus on one part of your business that’s very likely to get left out: self-care.

Making room for self-care

As a freelancer, investing in the sustainability of your business is intimately related with investing in you! You are your business. If you don’t take care of yourself, there’s not likely to be any business.

How do you budget for self-care?

Here are a couple of scenarios you can use.

First, there’s an old religious concept that carries ancient wisdom with it. It’s the idea of a sabbath day, and I talk about it in a recent post. “Sabbath” refers to one day a week when no work is done, and I’ve chosen to adhere to that tradition. It means that one-seventh of my time, at least theoretically, is spent resting (or worshipping or having a big meal with family or whatever feeds the soul).

What if you were to designate a sabbath day’s worth of income—one seventh, or 14 percent—toward self-care?

For most of us, that works out to a pretty reasonable number. It also gives you the funds to do something special for yourself. I’ve written before about some low-cost ways to relax and unwind. Those can be life-giving, but it’s even more special when you can actually designate some dollars toward doing something special for yourself.

If the sabbath theme doesn’t appeal or if 14 percent of your income feels like too much, consider this. Financial planners have set some standards about how budgeting should work. They state that housing shouldn’t cost more than 30 percent of your monthly income, while groceries and personal items should range between 10 and 15 percent, and utilities around 10 percent.

That’s half of your household budget right there. After funding retirement (another critical component of your budget), your child’s education and your own professional development, there should still be enough money left for you to devote 5 percent to self-care.

What might you do with those funds?

How to spend your self-care budget

There are various ways to approach those self-care funds. You can use them for maintaining your physical health. If budgeting (or meeting a deadline) gets you stressed out, get a massage afterward. If sitting at the computer too much of every workday gives you a sore back or tight muscles, invest in an adjustable standing desk (which you can also write off as a business expense) or use it to pay your portion of physical therapy (and learn new ways to take care of your body).

If having fun is key to self-care for you, use those funds for weekend getaway with friends or an overnight at a posh resort. You can have lunch with friends (freelancing can be lonely work) or commit to a monthly lunch with another freelancer (and yes, you can write off that lunch as a business expense if you trade ideas or client suggestions while you eat; you just can’t write off their lunch).

The point is to think creatively: What does self-care look like for you? What will help you relax and recharge?

Invest in that, budget for that, and you’re investing in the long-term sustainability of your business.

Shirin McArthur is an editor, writer and writer coach who lives in Arizona and specializes in spiritual works and memoirs. She is also a photographer, spiritual guide and retreat leader who focuses on self-care for busy ministers and freelancers.