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Budgeting Tips for Freelancers

by Margaret Penney | June 22, 2016

As freelance designers, there can be those times when you have so much work that it’s almost too much and then there are times when the work ends and it’s just you and a can of beans. Okay, maybe it’s not that bad but it could be a little bad when the work stops, especially if you haven’t planned for it. One of the best ways to ride out those times is to know how to budget. A freelancer with a budget is an empowered one because, well, savings.

A budget mindful freelancer has a 360 degree perspective on their total financial situation—they know where the money is coming from and also where it is going down to the last dollar.

Many freelancers are adverse to the idea of budgeting because they are more interested in being creative but it can actually be kind of a fun and creative activity. A good way to think of budgeting is like a video or board game where the points you gain are in fact, cash. Becoming good at budgeting is a lot like becoming good at any game and if you approach it as something that could be enjoyable, you probably will be more likely to do it with aplomb.

If you are just getting started with budgeting, here are some effective ways to budget and save that can make a big difference for you right away.

Business Expense Credit Card

One way to start becoming budget-conscious is to have a credit card dedicated to only your business purchases. Try to choose a card that has a good Rewards Points system like the Chase Freedom card. Having a card that is only for business expenses makes it easier to keep track of these expenses for your taxes and also easier for you to create expense reports in an app like Freshbooks or Quickbooks Self-Employed—which brings us to the next topic…

Use an App for Budgeting

Many freelance small business applications come with budgeting features like financial reports and allow you to easily import your financial information and organize it into categories. A budget-minded freelancer makes use of these features to get a real handle on where they spend money, both professionally and personally, and analyze where they could spend less. You can use these features to keep track of commuting expenses and also your grocery bills, for instance. Being able to visualize your spending makes it easier to find areas where you can spend less.

Buy Bulk

If you are aware of where you are spending and you know you have things you buy regularly, like your favorite shampoo or cereal, you will save money if you buy it in the largest format possible. Invest in some food grade containers for cereals and grains you use regularly and if you have the space consider purchasing a large storage freezer for perishables. Seek out places like restaurant food and supply stores where you can find bulk frozen fruit and proteins like fish and chicken for a fraction of the cost. If you combine your bulk buying with some amazing recipes you find on sites like Pinterest, you could be eating like a king or queen at home for a very long time.

Energy Savings

Another effective way to save is on your energy costs. Even something as simple as buying energy saving bulbs can cut your costs. Invest in a digital thermometer if your apartment or home has the old-fashioned kind so that you have a more accurate and less expensive measurement of heating and cooling. Invest in insulation for your home if you need to, it can cost more upfront but will drastically reduce the size of your energy bill.

Ride your Bike or Telecommute

If you live near your job consider riding your bike, you’ll cut the cost of a gym membership and commuting in one fell swoop.

If you have the option to telecommute this is definitely a way to save on commuting costs and will also give you added peace of mind if you live in a congested city with lots of traffic, not having to navigate that everyday.

Don’t Snack

Snacking is a hidden expense that many a freelancer knows. You’re working on a project and you need a little break, why not go get a snack, a soda or a coffee?  You lose a lot of money by eating on the go, snacking and buying over-priced beverages. You deserve that treat but it doesn’t have to be so expensive. You can easily create snacks to have on hand by buying bulk trail mix, making your own sweet potato chips, or fruit fro-yo popsicles.

If you want to save on beverages, there are also so many ways to do this as well. Buy a glass water bottle like the Purifyou, fill it with filtered water and True Lemon—you’ll have lemonade all day for next to nothing—plus your choice is eco to boot. You can also make your own Orangina-style soda with frozen OJ and generic brand soda water. Like your coffee? Brew like a pro with the Barista Brothers Pour Over Coffee Cone and have coffee better than Starbucks anytime. Definitely ditch the Keurig—for your pocketbook and the environment.

A Tip Jar

The money you don’t spend on snacking and small expenses you can put in a tip jar for yourself. You can use this savings to buy something useful that you truly want at the end of each month. Having a jar like this can help you incentivize the value of saving and it can be a visible reminder of your progress with budgeting.


Margaret Penney is the Managing Editor of Notes on Design. Margaret is a teacher, designer, writer and new media artist and founder of Hello Creative Co.


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