The last few years as a freelance stage manager have taught me a lot about weird budgeting techniques, make or break numbers and saving for a rainy day.
Before I was a freelancer, saving for a rainy day meant saving for something fun. Nowadays, I think of saving for a rainy day more like stockpiling money like a winter-crazed squirrel for when I can’t find work.
The most interesting thing to me is what it’s done with my desire to splurge on something fun. It’s really rare that fun gets a “budget line.” At the beginning of each year, I try to set up several savings goals I hope to achieve and usually there’s a fun goal in the mix too – that one big goal (like going on a trip with my best friend in 2016) can claim a little of my regular income – but for the most part, splurges really have to be monitored.
And this sucks. As a matter of fact, it sucks so much that I realized very quickly that I needed a better method than NO SPLURGES EVER once I switched to the fully freelance life.
For me, it’s the splurge/hustle balance.
Out of my “regular” stage managing income I pay for my health insurance, car insurance, Roth IRA, emergency savings, down payment savings, new car savings and any normal monthly expenses like food, gas and necessary maintenance for my car, work supplies, etc.
When something fun catches my eye though, I need to up my hustle. Fortunately, I’ve got a few irons in the fire that I can access at most times.
- brokeGIRLrich usually brings in a little extra money each month. I often use it to get ahead of my savings goals, but I don’t really have any problem with repurposing it for some fun.
- There are a few places that I freelance write for, and if I really needed to, I could put effort into trying to find more clients.
- I can always declutter and sell stuff on eBay (if I’m home).
- Or substitute teach (if I’m home).
- I can drive for Uber or Lyft (if I’m home).
- I can rate websites on UserTesting (from anywhere with internet).
- I can transcribe captioning (from anywhere with internet).
I wouldn’t want to rely on any of these things as a main source of income, but they work perfectly to balance out wants. Pinterest sucked me in last year with their amazing advertising for Tieks (IT’S A TRAP – THEY ARE NOT THE MOST COMFORTABLE SHOES IN THE WORLD), but who can justify dropping nearly $200 on a pair of shoes?
Well… actually, a lot of people do. For me, however, that wasn’t the case. They were like a Siren’s song though, calling to me. Facebook realized I’d spent hours perusing the site and started advertising to me too… all hope was lost.
The main reason I was uncomfortable buying the shoes was that my income was so unpredictable at that point in the year. I started drooling over Tieks in January and had no idea what I’d be doing for work after April. I knew that any extra income should go into savings to weather April-August, when I knew that it would be easier to find work.
Around this time, I found UserTesting, which is a site that pays you $10 for 15 minutes of your time reviewing websites. There isn’t always a website to review and you have to have certain qualifications to review some, but I found I could bring it like $40 a month pretty easily by leaving that site running in the background whenever I was online and checking to see if I qualified to review a site every time I heard the ding the site makes when a new opportunity is posted.
It might take me 5 months, but I felt like I could totally, guilt-free, purchase those Tieks with this extra effort. Also, since I now had a goal, I put more effort into remembering to use the site and earned even more.
(Full disclosure: Some of you might remember – of you were following my obsessive Tieks stalking of 2016 – I also picked up a quick extra stage management gig that fit into a few weeks off from my regular job that I pilfered some cash from to get those shoes even quicker – but even in that case, it was more like a side hustle gig than my “regular” job.)
Even just this month, I went on a spur of the moment weekend road trip to Nashville with my cousin. While this example isn’t perfect, because I couldn’t cash flow it in advance with hustle money like I mostly try to do, when I got home, I realized that if I substitute taught for the rest of my vacation between stage management jobs (about a week), I could fix that damage without having to dip into any savings or living on Ramen until my next regular paycheck. And if I did a little driving for Uber in the evenings afterward… I could rebuild the buffer amount of money I prefer to keep in my checking account.
Even silly things, like I saw a really pretty nail polish in an advertisement for Sephora that I couldn’t stop thinking about, but spending $12 on nail polish when I had 3 unpaid weeks off from my job seemed stupid. Until UserTesting dinged in the background twice in one day and I realized that if I really wanted that nail polish, at least I had managed to make enough to cover it that day.
If you have variable income from your primary job, I can’t emphasize enough what freedom having a few accessible side hustles can provide you. I used a lot of material examples here, but it can also make it easier for you to grab dinner with a friend or hit up a networking event and have a drink when you otherwise would’ve felt inclined to avoid the expense.