Budgeting & Voiceover (or, how to survive a fluctuating income)
Howdy y'all, from the great nation (I know, I know...) of Texas!
It's been a minute since my last blog post, and for that I apologize. As my business has picked up I haven't found as much time to write, and I'm sure I've lost the attention of many people.
With that said, I could write a fancy introduction to this blog post to try and hook you in, but the reality is that I am writing this post only because I have been asked to, so I figure if you need it you'll find it, and you'll want to read it. So let's get to it. Today's question is -
"Is it possible to write an effective budget with fluctuating monthly earnings? If so, how do I do it?"
I'm glad you asked!
The short answer is - YES, it is entirely possible to write a meaningful budget plan when you aren't guaranteed a specific monthly income. What's more, it's actually very easy to do so! How you do this can be condensed into a single sentence: Prioritize your spending, understanding the difference between a necessity, an important expense and a luxury, and set aside extra funds for emergencies.
(Disclaimer: Before you read on, you may wonder why I think I'm qualified to write about this sort of thing. That's fair, and important, as not everyone who writes should be writing. Before becoming a voice actor, I worked for 4.5 years in retirement and personal finance at a Fortune 500 brokerage firm. During that time I earned and held my series 7 and 66 brokerage licenses, which gave me "all the smarts" about investing and quite a bit about personal finance. I had well over 20,000 (not an exaggeration) conversations about debt, budgeting, investing, etc. during that time due to my position(s). And I like to think people came out on top after those conversations.)
Practically speaking, here are some steps. Grab a sheet of paper and follow along:
Write down all of your recurring monthly expenses. Separate your personal expenses (rent, food, car insurance, etc.) into one list, and all of your business expenses (domain hosting, recurring training, p2p memberships, etc.) into another list. If you aren't sure which is which, see the points below. (And as a quick disclaimer, what I include in the example tables I share may not cover all of your expenses, so don't just write these items down if you do have other obligations):
Personal - Necessary expenses to live your day-to-day life independent of your business. Could include Rent, Groceries, Car insurance, Utilities, etc. Some expenses, like fast and dependable internet, can be either a personal or business expense.
Business - Expenses necessary to run your business. Could include domain hosting, ongoing coaching, quarterly tax pre-payments, etc.
Your sheet of paper may look like this:
*Emergency Savings: every month you should be setting aside some amount to a separate savings account to remain untouched unless you find yourself in a true financial emergency - which means being unable to pay for required expenses.
*Gear replacement savings: You never know when your gear will suddenly break. It's a wise idea to set aside a small amount each month into a "gear replacement savings" account (separate from your emergency savings) to cover sudden replacement purchases.
Group these expenses into three categories - "Necessary," "Important" and "Luxury." To help you identify what goes where, please see the fancy guidelines below:
Necessary - Non-negotiable items which are required to live and operate your business. Pay items in this category FIRST every month. Items may include rent, food, and financial debts with interest (or interest-free debts nearing the maturation date). Items will not include Netflix, gym memberships, alcohol.
Important - High priority items which help you to live and do business more effectively, but which are not 100% required to function as a baseline. Pay items in this category SECOND every month. Life is harder without them, but you'll survive. Could include organic food, gym memberships, or paying someone to source voice-over leads for you. I recommend listing emergency savings in the # 1 spot in this category until you save up 3 months of living expenses; then, you can move it to the last slot in this category.
Luxury - The fun stuff! Only pay for these items once Necessary and Important items are covered. I know...it's the last category, which means you'll sometimes have to skip these items. But if you want to run a successful business it's going to take self-sacrifice. This category includes things like Netflix, eating at restaurants, alcohol, etc.
Once you categorize the items, you may end up with a sheet that looks like this:
Within each group rank items in order of importance. This will dictate the order in which you pay your way down the list. For help with ordering, see the guidelines below. Understand that these are guidelines that I've found most effective, not hard and fast rules:
Deadlines - Items with specific deadlines take priority over items without specific deadlines. If rent is due the 1st, it goes at the top of the list. If a credit card is due the 15th, it will rank higher than a credit card due the 25th (another option is to list debts with higher interest rates before debts with lower interest rates). You can create false deadlines for truly important items which don't have them (such as food) but don't go crazy or it will undermine the effectiveness of this hierarchy.
Emergency Savings/Gear Savings - I suggest putting both of these items at the top of their respective categories until you reach certain thresholds. Once you've saved up 3 months of minimum living & operational expenses, move emergency savings to the bottom of its category. Once you've saved enough gear replacement money to replace your most expensive single piece of gear, move it down as well.
When you finish your sheet may look like this (or it could look very different as you decide what is most important for your life and business):
Congratulations, you've created a budget that can accommodate fluctuating income! Whenever you are paid, you know what needs to be paid first, and you know what you can do without. This can alleviate some of the stress from missing payments on things which feel important, but may not actually be. You can also use this hierarchy to help you make a few important notes about spending:
Minimum income goals - Add together the total $$$ figure from your "Personal - Necessary" and your "Business - Necessary" categories. This represents the minimum income you will need to generate each month to cover your baseline expenses. This can be a motivational number, an administrative number, or all of the above. If you do not earn at least this amount in a month, you can use your emergency expenses to cover the difference between income / obligations.
Emergency savings - Multiply your minimum monthly income goal x 3 to determine your emergency savings goal. Continue to prioritize emergency savings in your "Personal - Important" category until you reach 3x this figure. Ideally you should be able to hit at least 1x this amount within 6-8 months of saving (in my experience, this is how long most people go between financial emergencies), but if you can't do this just put away as much as you can. Better something than nothing!
Re-assessing your expenses - If you find that your necessary expenses are outpacing your income, that may be a sign to re-assess the services you're using. Are they really necessary? Is there a cheaper way to do XYZ than what you're currently doing?
I hope that this blog is helpful. I realize not every question will be covered, so do please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any follow up questions you may have. While I'm not here to give specific financial advice anymore, I can point you in the right direction to the best of my ability.
Please also leave a comment below with your thoughts. Too much info? Not enough? What other topics would you like to see covered in the future?
Have a great week, you business-person you!