2021 Financial Tune-up

We’re at the top of the year, after closing out a particularly trying nine months of the previous. It seems that rough sailing will continue but we know what to expect now, more or less, and our experiences will enable us to brainstorm and identify strategies to help ride out the storm.

Whatever you’d like to achieve this year, money is likely to be necessary. In fact managing money may be the singular focus of your plan for the new year. For example, a practical goal for your business enterprise may be to conserve cash as a risk management strategy as the pandemic economy grinds on and on. Alternatively, saving money that will make it possible to take aim at your personal bucket list, which may include buying a home or trading up, or becoming more diligent about retirement savings, are or her motivators for managing and saving money.

Create a budget

The ultimate money-tracking and management tool is the budget. A budget accounts for anticipated revenue, which Freelancers are advised to conservatively estimate, and balances that amount against expenses that will be due, be they predetermined obligations such as rent or mortgage, transportation and groceries or discretionary expenses, such as new clothing purchases.

It’s also necessary to factor into your budget room for mundane expenses such as routine or emergency auto maintenance, technology needs and occasional home repairs and accessories, as well as allowances for fun expenses such as holiday and birthday gifts, occasional dinners out, or a weekend trip.

If one is both prudent and fortunate, revenue will exceed expenses most of the time and you’ll be able to save a few dollars every month. So budgeting should not be viewed as punishment; to the contrary, your budget is your friend. Why wouldn’t you want to know how much money you can expect to earn in a month or quarter and compare that amount to the typical expenses you expect to pay in that time period?

We all need to keep close tabs on cash-flow. The idea is to make money and avoid deficit spending. Budgets can be monthly, quarterly, or annual but a personal budget probably works best on a monthly cycle.

Get started by finding your 1099s and adding them up to identify the previous year’s gross revenue. Because 2020 was a year of diminished revenue for most Freelancers and we don’t know how much of a bounce forward 2021 will bring, income averaging 2019 and 2020 revenue could be a reasonable predictor of 2021. If you have dividend paying investments or interest bearing accounts that actually amount to something, be sure to include that income as well. Who knows, maybe you have a modest trust fund to include as well (it must be nice!).

Next, document 2020 expenses. Consult credit card statements, ATM withdrawals, mobile payment apps and checking account statements. Be honest with yourself about all the little ways that you spent money, from impulse purchases in the grocery store check-out line to chocolate therapy ice cream emergencies.

You will soon need to consider how to format your budget. Some will like an Excel spreadsheet and others will download a budgeting app such as what’s shown here. https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/finance/budgeting-saving-tools/ I find The Balance website to be very helpful. https://www.thebalance.com/how-to-make-a-budget-1289587

Watch your caffeine

In life, so often it’s the little things that matter. Small expenses can easily add up to a bigger drain on your income than you realize. In other words, beware the $5.00 caffeine drinks. The most frugal option is to buy a good coffee maker or tea kettle + accessories and make your own brew. However, if stepping out for a break helps you to be a more effective work from home professional, find a local restaurant to visit. You may be able to save money as you have the pleasure of supporting a local business.

Monitor other expenditures as well. Not all of your small but life-enhancing pleasures will have to end, but making note of their impact on your finances may change your mind about a few things. If possible, maintain a couple of indulgences that mean the most and let the rest go.

Pay on time

Late fees for many bills are $25.00 or more and some companies consider them to be a line of business. You don’t want to go there. Late paying clients can force a Freelancer into that trap and I’ve been there. Help yourself by invoicing on time and finding the courage to send a gently worded reminder email to collect unpaid receivables that are approaching 60 days.

Moreover, when discussing a project with a client, ask for 20% – 25% of the total fee before you commence work. Tie subsequent payments to successfully completed project milestones. Avoid leaving more than 30% due at the project’s completion and therefore leaving yourself vulnerable to an unscrupulous operator who decides not to pay the full amount, now that s/he has want they want.

Finally, you may notice that planning to save money may inspire you, Freelancer Friend, to become more ambitious and disciplined about keeping your sales pipeline filled, enacting client retention strategies and even devising a campaign pitch to move regular clients to retainer agreements. When you make a commitment to yourself to manage money, you’ll want to be able to predict, and ideally increase, your revenue in order to achieve the savings target.

Thanks for reading,


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