What’s your freelance savings style? Ten tactics that could work for you
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Salaried workers only need to summon their savings discipline every once in a while. They know their income. They can run the numbers, set their savings goal, and divert that amount directly to their savings account from their paychecks. It may not be fun, but it’s straightforward.
In contrast, freelance workers face income volatility that can make our savings goal a constant moving target.
- You might be in the red this month, covering gaps with credit, and then flush with income the next.
- Or next month might always be the month you’re doing well enough to start good savings habits. The same way the White Queen in Through the Looking Glass told Alice it’s always “jam tomorrow.”
- Perhaps you’re alright this month, but not sure if you’re enough in the black to set some funds aside. That would take some figuring, which may or may not happen.
Savings calculations and discipline are much bigger challenges for freelancers. Income volatility breaks down into two main components:
- Getting work
- Getting paid
There’s an abundance of advice out there on good savings habits, and much of it is written for W-2 employees. As a freelancer, you’re going to need to be more creative. We understand the need for savings because income volatility is something we encounter at Joust every single day. And, unfortunately, swings in income are still an inherent part of freelance life. We have discovered the actually-getting-paid part added uncertainty on top of uncertainty. Our meta-advice is to keep trying various tactics — spanning technology and psychology — until you find an approach to savings that you can efficiently and consistently maintain. Here’s a short-list to get you started:
- Use all the tech automation within reach. For example, some debit cards offer a feature that rounds up the purchase totals to an even dollar amount and puts the “change” in savings. Turn it on. It’s a safe assumption that you can probably afford this.
- Every time you get paid, funnel a certain percentage of that income into your savings account. Make this as automatic as possible, either through default settings or habit.
- Define your pay period: How often are you going to sit yourself down to figure out how much goes to savings? Every week? Every quarter?
- Define your savings purpose: How do you know what your overall goal is unless you have a sense of what you want it to cover? (emergency fund, taxes, retirement, that campervan...etc). Reaching a sub-goal will give you a taste of success and keep you motivated to save more.
- Designate certain clients as a source of savings income. Maybe you have three steady clients and all the income from Client C goes right to savings. Maybe you have two steady clients and all the income from various one-off assignments goes to savings.
- Cue extra savings off your spending. Want to finally buy that nice thing? Put 30% of the price tag into savings on the same day as that purchase.
- Better yet, flip that tactic another way: Every time you hit a savings goal, reward/reinforce that behavior with a purchase. (Keep that a very low percentage, though, so as not to undermine all your good work!)
- Buddy up: Use social pressure/support to reinforce your savings behaviors. This could be via social media or a real-life friend. Think AA or WW, but for money instead of alcohol or food.
- Try the “Pay Yourself First” tactic and put a set amount into savings every month no matter what. That’s a big ask for freelancers, but if you were the kind of baby that did well with “Cry It Out” sleep training, it might be just what you need.
- Reward yourself whenever you do any of the above. C’mon, you earned that avocado toast!
As a freelancer, you’re an initiative-taker. Conceptualize savings as active. Your need to engage with it more than your W-2 peers, but unlike the related task of cutting costs, savings have the psychological advantage of being something you do, as opposed to something you need to hold back. You are a do-er, and you can do this.