Oh, the infamous tax season!
For some, it's a time to celebrate the possibility of having a little extra in your bank account to
save spend at your leisure, but for the self-employed, dealing with taxes can be a bit of a headache. Unless you're a stickler for paying your taxes monthly or even quarterly, you may have gotten hit with the possibility of emptying out your life savings (because of course you should have some!) in effort to keep the IRS from hunting you down.
I'm often asked about how to stick to a budget and save for taxes as a person who's self-employed. For many entrepreneurs, there is no guarantee that each month will yield the same profit as the one before. So what do you do when your paycheck fluctuates just as much as the stock market?
As a self-employed sista myself, I know just how hard it is to budget and save with sporadic income. The first year of self-employment was rocky for me on the money front too, so you're not alone. I'm happy to tell you budgeting while self-employed is much easier now that I have a system in place.
Here are the tips I recommend to help you budget while self-employed.
1. Add Up Your Basic Needs
The basic needs include food, shelter and anything that keeps you alive. Drinks with your girlfriends or Friday night takeout are not basics. They do have a place in your budget, just not here. Add up all of the bare essentials and it'll give you how much income you need to make from your business (after business expenses like taxes) to maintain your life.
2. Use Percentages to Budget
People that get a regular check can allocate a certain amount of money to each line item of their budget. That doesn't work for us self-employed folk because our income is variable. Use percentages instead, here's the breakdown I use:
- 40%: Expenses - Both essential and nonessential expenses.
- 30%: Taxes - As advised by my accountant due to business expenses. Remember, every tax situation is different. You need to speak with a tax advisor first before choosing your own tax percentage. This all depends on your tax bracket and how much you spend on business expenses. Make sure you're setting aside a percentage of your income each time you get paid to avoid a future tax bill you can't afford.
- 15%: Retirement & Investments - It's critical that you set aside money for your future self, especially since you don't have a job sponsored retirement plan.
- 10%: Give - Donating and giving back. I believe to whom much is given, much is required. I've also found that giving activates abundance is all areas of my life, but this is a personal choice, so do what you feel is right.
- 5%: Travel - Leisure - Traveling is important to me, so I give it its own budget category. Decide what category is important to you. Then each time you get paid (big payment or small), allocate your income based on the percentages you choose.
3. Keep Multiple Accounts
Keep your money separate. It's easier to keep track of your funds this way. Setup and label a few online bank accounts for taxes, bills, everyday spending and savings goals. (You can find online accounts with no fees at MagnifyMoney). Divvy the money up into each account when you get paid.
The account for spending can be your regular checking account. Your bill money should be in an account you can't touch, same with your savings and tax money.
4. Pay Your Quarterly Taxes
I've been asked about saving for taxes specifically, so I'm touching on it a little more in this section. Each fiscal quarter self-employed workers are supposed to make estimated quarterly tax payments to the IRS. I'm going to be honest with you, it's easy for solopreneurs to spend money that trickles in and put off saving for taxes entirely. This never ends well. Believe me. I didn't stay on top of quarterly tax payments my first year as an entrepreneur. Then when tax season rolled around, I had to scramble for money to pay my tax bill. To say it was stressful is an understatement.
Now I consider quarterly tax payments a godsend. You can't spend tax money if it's already sent to Uncle Sam. Commit to the percentages we talked about above. Pay your taxes in smaller installments to avoid a huge tax bill later. You'll be thankful you did.
5. Stockpile Excess Cash
Moving on to the perils of feast and famine. Money won't come in for weeks and then a $10,000 check will appear mail; that's the life of an entrepreneur. My business is the busiest during summer months, so I work hard during that time to stockpile cash in a business savings account. This way, I don't have to panic during the winter when the checks slow down. Instead, I use the money from my savings account to pay myself. If you have a peak season make sure you're putting in work and saving large windfall payments that come in.
6. Give Yourself a Paycheck
You may wonder where your income disappears to each month right now and that's okay. Get serious about dispersing your income from each client into your budget categories like we discussed, and cut back on nonessentials so you can start saving more. Your ultimate goal is to get to the point where you can pay yourself a “regular" paycheck. Once you have enough cash in your business account to give yourself wiggle room, pay yourself a weekly or biweekly check from the savings. This way you're no longer at the mercy of irregular checks from clients.
In closing, Sista girl… It's a challenge to budget in the traditional sense when you're self-employed, but it can be done. Good luck!
Have more money questions? Ask below! I'm here to help you to live richer.