There have only been a few rare periods in my life when I’ve had an absolutely steady reliable paycheck for more than a month or two at a time. Instead, I’ve always had a variable income – often because I was using a day job to supplement my artistic endeavors, so my hours would fluctuate, as would the amount of “creative” money I was bringing in.
Living this way is not for the faint of heart. And my heart has not always been so strong in the face of it – having a steady paycheck doing something that I’m absolutely passionate about would be a welcome relief. Unfortunately, the things that I’m absolutely passionate about don’t often come with regular hours and a 401k.
The unfortunate result of having such a variable income was that I felt completely unable to build a budget. If I didn’t know how much money was coming in each week, how could I put together a regular plan for how to spend it? I ended up flying by the seat of my pants, trying to figure out each month how much extra money I had to put toward credit card payments. Stressful to say the least.
About six weeks ago, I finally put together a budget. It’s not perfect because my income stream is still variable – my hours at the newspaper fluctuate each week and I bring in a variable amount of money for building websites and doing speaking gigs each month. But I decided to go with the one constant that I knew I could count on – how much money I’ve already earned this year. I broke that down into an average weekly income and have used that as my base. There will be weeks when I bring in much more (when a big website check comes in), and there will probably be weeks when I bring in less (cross my fingers that those are few and far between). But it’s a place to start.
I’ve been keeping a too-the-penny spreadsheet of my budget and everything I spend. I find that this kind of structure helps to keep me focused and on track.
And here’s the brilliant part – when I balanced my checkbook this weekend, it was easier than it’s ever been. Every piece of paper was already entered, marked and filed. Every entry was already categorized. And everything worked out to the penny and was filed in less than 15 minutes. Total rock star!!!
November was a good income month. My next goal is to hold the faith that my income will continue to increase and the spreadsheet will keep getting better!