Deia Schlosberg had been working as an environmental educator, teaching students about issues concerning conservation and sustainability. While she loved teaching, she wanted to reach people on a larger scale about the importance of protecting the environment. So she decided to follow her dream of becoming a filmmakerâa dream that would require her to return to school for a graduate degree. She had no idea at the time that it would lead to becoming an award-winning documentarian.
While Schlosberg’s choice may have paid off, learning how to pay for grad school as a working adult can be a challenge. There are various benefits to getting an advanced degree: You can learn more, you can earn more, you can further advance in your current job or prepare for a career change. However, you might also find yourself stressed by the expense and resulting debt of it all, especially if you have kids, a home or other financial commitments. So a big question on your mind could be, “How much should I save for grad school?”
Below are some lessons on how to financially prepare for grad school to help you determine if and when you should go back to school. If you haven’t yet decided if graduate school is right for you, see section 1 for tips on how to decide. If you already know you want to go back to school, skip to section 2.
1. Decide if going back to school is right for you
Getting an advanced degree may seem like a ticket to success, but depending on your chosen area of study, the outcome may vary. For Schlosberg, it was a bit of a risk. It can be difficult to get a break in the film industry, and going to grad school could mean carrying around debt for a long time. Is this the type of outcome you would be willing to accept?
According to Emma Johnson, best-selling author, career consultant and founder of Wealthysinglemommy.com, there are a few things you can do to help you decide whether or not going back to school is right for you:
Do your homework. When considering how to pay for grad school as a working adult, research your degree options and the jobs to which they might lead. Compare cost and compatibilityâfor instance, will classes for the program align with your work schedule? Once you’ve determined what kind of occupation you may pursue after grad school, search online for information about that occupation’s average earnings.
Solidify your goals. You may find clarity in writing out your goals for going back to school. Some benefits are tangible, like earning more money, building a professional network and gaining skills. Others might be less tangible, such as finding personal fulfillment. Once you know your goals, it will be easier to determine if a graduate degree makes personal and professional sense.
“Your savings should not only depend on tuition but also what the degree isâi.e., how easy it will be to repay once you are working in the desired field.”
Give your degree program a test run. Consider taking classes that relate to the degree you are interested in getting in grad school. These classes can give you a taste of the subject matter you’ll be studying and help you meet people involved in the field. Also, if prerequisites are required for your advanced degree, they often cost less online or at a community college, which is important to remember when thinking about how to prepare your finances before grad school. Make sure the course credits will be accepted at the graduate school you plan to attend.
Take a hands-on approach. To level up in your existing career or find out what it’s like in a new field before making the change, get some work-related experience first. For instance, to learn more about moving up in your own field, get out and meet those higher level professionals by attending conferences and networking events. The same tactic applies if you want to change careers.
2. Know how much you need to save
How to pay for grad school as a working adult can be complicated, but you’ve decided you’re ready for it. Plus, hitting the books at a time when saving for retirement or your child’s education could be at the forefront makes the task of how to prepare your finances before grad school even more critical.
Figuring out how much to save for grad school begins with determining the cost of attendance. Here are a couple ways to do that, according to Johnson:
Do the research. Once you have found a school and degree that you like, visit the school’s web site. Some schools may provide the cost of tuition, fees and estimated costs for books, supplies and transportation. Costs can vary tremendously, depending on various factors: whether you attend full or part time, whether you attend a public or private school, whether you are an in-state or out-of-state resident and the time it takes to get your degree.
Determine your budget. Once you have a handle on the school-related costs, build a spreadsheet that accounts for these costs and projects monthly income and living expenses. Working through a savings plan beforehand can help you financially prepare for grad school by showing just how much you’ll need to budget for monthly on tuition plus living expenses. Once you determine these factors, you’ll get a better idea of what you need to save up.
Create a savings buffer. After you determine your monthly costs, pad that number. “Your savings should not only depend on tuition but also what the degree isâi.e., how easy it will be to repay once you are working in the desired field,” Schlosberg says. She saved a little more than she estimated, giving herself an extra cushion to cover some of the potential risk to her finances.
“You may have to downscale your career and current lifestyle to go back to school, which may be a worthwhile investment of time and resources.”
3. Allow yourself a flexible timeline
One key factor in planning the timeline for earning your graduate degree: Don’t be in a rush. If you need to, create the time to save. It may not be necessary to go back to school full time or finish on a particular schedule, Johnson says. She mentions these possible paths to earning your degree when planning how to pay for grad school as a working adult:
Consider a side hustle. One option is to go to school full time and take on a side hustle. You may not make as much as you did as a full-time employee, but the income can complement your savings. It may also allow you to concentrate more on your degree and finish faster.
Attend part time. Go to school part time (nights and weekends) while working. It will take longer, but it will also minimize your debt, which could be better in the long run.
Take it slowly. Only sign up for a class or twoâwhatever you can affordâand continue to work. This part-time “lite” approach may take even longer, but could help you avoid overextending yourself financially or sliding into debt.
Take online classes. Consider online programs that could lower the cost of tuition and allow you to continue working full time.
4. Take advantage of potential cost-saving benefits
So you’ve done your research on how much you need to save while determining how to prepare your finances before grad school. But there are ways to potentially cut or eliminate some of those costs. What comes next are some solutions that may help pay your grad school bills:
Consider loans, financial aid and scholarships. “I took out some student loans for living expenses, but I tried to pay off my tuition as I went by working through school,” Schlosberg says. Graduate students may also be eligible for different types of scholarships and grants, which is aid that does not need to be paid back. Depending on your area of study, scholarships and grants can also be obtained through federal and state organizations, private foundations, public companies and professional organizations.
Ask your employer to pay the tuition. One way to financially prepare for grad school is to talk to your manager or human resources representative to find out if your current employer would help pay for, or fully fund, your degree through tuition reimbursement. This is most likely if you plan to move up the ladder and use your new skills on behalf of the company.
Take advantage of in-state tuition. Some people move to the same state as their desired school to try to get a break on tuition. “I moved to Montana and worked a couple jobs for a year before applying so I could get in-state tuition,” says Schlosberg. Whether you are already a resident or you move to a new state, be sure to determine how long you need to be a resident to qualify for in-state tuition at your desired university.
Cut back on discretionary expenses. Seemingly small things like adjusting your lifestyle to lower your monthly costs, which could mean fewer lattes and dinners out, might go a long way in resolving how to prepare your finances before grad school. “You may have to downscale your career and current lifestyle to go back to school, which may be a worthwhile investment of time and resources,” Johnson says.
Financially prepare for grad school and get a new start
Answering the question of how to pay for grad school as a working adult requires significant research and preparation, but some say it’s worth it, including Schlosberg. It not only gave her a whole new start, but a wealth of knowledge going forward to nurture her future endeavors. “Getting a graduate degree gave me the confidence to jump into a new career. I met an amazing network of people,” Schlosberg says.
But an advanced degree may not be a necessity. While it could look impressive on a resume, for many employers, a master’s degree is not a requirement. “Whatever you do, don’t go back to school just for the sake of getting a degree,” Johnson says. When thinking about how to financially prepare for graduate school, make sure it fits into your financial picture and that you’re able to âweigh your sacrifices against future gains,” she says.
The post Hitting the Books Again? Here’s How to Financially Prepare for Grad School appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.
To make sure they were financially on the mark, Hynd, a marketing executive for HR software company Youmanage, decided to do some research on how to afford a dog on a budget, shortly after Chewie settled in. He was glad he did: He found that the costs of dog ownership added up to much more than he originally anticipated. Fortunately, there was still time for him to adjust.
But Hynd’s foresight is not always top of mind for new dog owners. Getting a dog can be an emotional, knee-jerk decision, and you may not think about the expenses that go along with it or how to budget for a dog. The cost of owning a dog over the average lifespan of 12 years ranges from $5,000 to $20,000. The majority of dog owners underestimate this figure.1 That’s the kind of misunderstanding that can leave you short on funds for things such as vaccinations and preventative careâeven food and toys.
So when asking yourself the question, “How much money should I budget for a dog?” you’ll be glad to know that a little financial preparation can go a long way toward making sure you’re ready for the responsibilities that come with pet ownership. The information that follows can help you and your new pooch share a happy, healthy friendship for years to come.
Welcome home: First-year costs for your pup
“Before getting my dog, I made sure to save as much money as possible,” says Danielle MÃ¼hlenberg, a professional dog trainer and blogger at PawLeaks, a site that focuses on dog training and dog behavior. MÃ¼hlenberg paid $1,300 for her 115-pound rottweiler Amalia. A safe approach when thinking about how to budget for a dog is to “always put away more money than you’ve calculated in your budget, so you won’t be overwhelmed by any surprise costs,” she adds.
MÃ¼hlenberg outlines the first-year expenses new dog owners should expect as they resolve how to afford a dog on a budget and some suggestions on managing costs:
Purchase/adoption fees and dog license
The purchase of a purebred puppy from a breeder can cost anywhere from $800 to $1,500 or moreâwhich makes a pure-blooded hound the most expensive type of dog to own. At the other end of the spectrum are the many shelter or rescue dogs in need of a home; they can generally be adopted for as little as a few hundred dollars. You will also need a dog license to bring home your pup, which runs from $10 to $20 on average (and needs to be renewed annually).
Pro Tip: Once you bring your tail-wagger home from the shelter or breeder, research local vets. Offices in one neighborhood or town can be much pricier than what you’d find if you’re open to a commute.
Upfront medical costs
It can cost between $200 and $800 to spay or neuter a dog at a veterinary clinic. You can typically pay less at a shelter or humane society, where such procedures are often subsidized by donations. In other costs, puppies need an initial exam and special vaccinations that typically run between $75 and $100 (rabies is the only shot required by law, however). Microchipping, while not mandatory, is recommended to help identify your pet if it’s lost or stolen. This procedure costs around $40.
Pro Tip: Plan to have your dog spayed or neutered. Otherwise, you may pay higher boarding fees and license fees, as well as release fees if your pup is taken in by animal control.
Comfort, training and grooming supplies
Expect to spend another few hundred dollars for a collar and leash ($6 to $50), food bowls ($10 to $50), waste bags ($6 to $20), a crate and bed ($25 to $250), doggie shampoo and brushes ($5 to $10), training pads ($16 to $35), toys ($10 to $200) and the first month’s supply of food ($40 to $60).
Pro Tip: Supplies like a dog crate or bowl can be found secondhand for a lower cost, sometimes for free. Check online listings for yard sales and giveaway events, where used or unwanted items are given away instead of being sold or thrown away.
Lost time at work
A new puppy needs a lot of attention, which can add to the cost of owning a dog. One in five dog owners took time off from work to care for a new puppy.2 Some puppies have a harder time on their own and can chew up your home and belongings, so it’s worth knowing this upfront in case your pup needs a sitter.
Pro Tip: Prepare for “puppydom” ahead of time by banking extra personal days or asking about short-term, work-from-home opportunities.
Ongoing expenses for your furry companion
Annual, ongoing costs of owning a dog can vary widely depending on your situation. Why the disparity? It’s due mainly to dog size. For instance, larger dogs eat more food, and if you’re the type of owner that chooses premium kibble over a lower-cost option, that can really add up. Groomers also charge more for larger dogs because of the extra time and care needed to handle them.
MÃ¼hlenberg spends about $1,200 per year on her Rottweiler’s high-end food and another $600 annually for twice-weekly social training sessions. A pricey diet and puppy play camp may fall in the “nice to have” category of dog ownership for some. Dog owners worried about how to afford a dog on a budget can minimize these costs by choosing less expensive canned food and kibble or by making their own dog food. To save on other expenses, MÃ¼ehlenberg grooms her dog at home, makes her own toys and treats and buys pet supplies in bulk.
To get a handle on how to budget for a dog, here are some of the biggest costs annually that dog owners need to plan for:
To help relieve the financial burden of how to afford a dog on a budget, you may want to open a savings account for emergencies. MÃ¼hlenberg puts a few hundred dollars aside each month, which can be tapped for unplanned household repairs due to any damage the dog may cause, dog sitting for unexpected travel or illness or other pup-related surprises. The Discover Online Savings Account is one place to hold cash for a dog-only emergency fund and grow your savings.
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Invest in keeping your pooch healthy
As you can see, there are a lot of annual costs to consider when determining how to afford a dog on a budgetâand they can really add up, particularly when a pooch gets sick or is involved in an accident. Preventative care such as flea, tick and heartworm medication, which can cost a total of $64 to $320 monthly, and regular vet visits can decrease the risk of an expensive health condition.3
For larger or recurring costs, consider pet insurance (an annual policy costs about $360 to $600).2 Some unexpected expenses can be offset by a pet insurance policy, which “is kind of like a forced savings account,” says Sara Ochoa, DVM, veterinary consultant for product review site DogLab. “You pay the insurance company, and they will pay for most of your pet’s medical bills.” This might go a long way in resolving how to budget for a dog.
For example, a typical pet insurance policy may cover accidents, illness and conditions that are genetic, congenital and chronic, as long as these conditions were not present at the time the policy was purchased.5
âAlways put away more money than you’ve calculated in your budget, so you won’t be overwhelmed by any surprise costs.”
Ochoa is often able to witness the financial benefits of pet insurance firsthand. She cites one example of a client whose dog had emergency surgery and spent a few nights in the hospital. According to Ochoa, the bill would have cost the owner around $7,000. With their pet insurance, they paid somewhere around $1,000.
Create a happy home for your four-legged friend
In the end, how to budget for a dog just takes some advance planning and preparation, which can help manage the upfront costs and monthly cash cushion required to ensure a happy and healthy dog. By understanding the cost of owning a dog as much as possible, you’ll have less financial stress and more time to focus on play time with your pup.
“Even with the associated costs,” Hynd says, “I don’t for one moment regret our decision [to bring Chewie home].” MÃ¼hlenberg agrees: “Bringing a dog into my life has always been a goal and dream of mine. The love and affection you receive back from a dog are priceless.”
1“The True Cost of Owning a Dog or Cat,” Credit.com 2“The True Cost of Getting a Puppy in 2019,” Rover.com 3“The True Cost of Getting a Dog,” Rover.com 4“5 Reasons to Get Your Dog Licensed,” Cesar’s Way 5“Pet Insurance Coverage: What You Need to Know,” ConsumersAdvocate.org
The post Fido-Proofing Your Budget: Managing the High Cost of Owning a Dog appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.
So youâre at the point in your life where buying a home is not a question of if, but when. Youâre scrimping. Youâre saving. Youâre dreaming of walking through the front door of your very own home.
But as the decision draws near, you start questioning everything. Is now a good time to buy a house? Or is this the worst time? Is it more financially responsible to buy a house right now or wait? And what if you mistime the market, buying too soon or too late, and miss out on lower home prices?
Ultimately, the experts say the answer is less about economies, markets and pandemics and more about you.
So, how do you think through this decision? Youâll want to take time to thoroughly review your personal financial situation and life goals. At the same time, youâll need to gain some understanding of the market dynamics that impact home costs.
This process will take some time, but itâs well worth the effort. With a firm grasp on your personal situation and some context on the housing market, youâll be able to confidently go forth knowing youâre making a fiscally informed decision about whether to buy a house right now.
Honestly assess these aspects of your finances
Financial security is always important if youâre trying to determine when youâre ready to buy a home. To decide if now is a good time to buy a house, ask yourself the following questions about your finances:
How secure is your income?
Job or income stability is an important factor if you are buying a home in a rocky economy, such as the one triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, says real estate economist Gay Cororaton. Even in a robust economy, your income security should be top of mind when youâre thinking of buying a house right now.
If you have any inkling that your position may be eliminated or that youâll be making a career change, you may want to delay buying a home. Even a recent break in employment that caused you to draw down some of your savings may raise a red flag with lenders, says Kate Ziegler, a real estate agent with Arborview Realty in the Boston area.
If youâre considering buying a house right now, you should avoid opening any new lines of credit right before purchasing a home.
Do you have enough money saved?
After income stability, savings is the next-most-important financial factor youâll want to consider to determine if now is a good time to buy a house, Ziegler says. The old rule of thumb was to save 20% of the price of the home for your down payment. While that is ideal, itâs not necessaryâfar from it, Ziegler says. In fact, it has become more common for first-time buyers to put down much less than 20%.
How much house can you afford?
The down payment is one side of the affordability coin. Your monthly mortgage payment is the other side. You need to know how much you can spend on both to determine if you can afford to buy a house right now, says Jeff Tucker, a senior economist at Zillow. Aim for a monthly mortgage payment that doesnât stretch you too thinâexperts typically put this at around 28% of your monthly gross income, according to Bankrate.
With those guidelines, you can determine what you can afford. For example, if you make $4,000 a month, you should typically spend no more than $1,120 on your monthly mortgage payment in total.
How much house that buys you depends on multiple factors: mortgage rates, property tax rates, homeowners insurance andâif you donât have the savings to put down 20%âprimary mortgage insurance, or PMI. To get a rough estimate, plug your income details into an online calculator. For a more specific figure, talk to a local lender and get pre-approved for a mortgage, Ziegler says.
Once you know your price range, you can determine how much savings you need in the bank to buy a house right now. Youâll also need to have money saved for closing costs, which vary but typically run 2% to 5% of the loan amount, according to Bankrate.
Again, Ziegler recommends talking to a lender to really understand what your individual down payment and closing costs would be. Finally, be sure to add a line item in your budget for home maintenance that will inevitably pop up after you move in. Whether itâs a dishwasher on the fritz or a leaky roof, you donât want to be caught off guard, so be sure to save money for emergency home repairs.
How is your credit?
Your credit profile is also important to lenders, and it will likely be a factor in what interest rate youâre offered. Given that, you should be checking your credit report and know your credit score before investing in a home. If youâre considering buying a house right now, you should avoid opening any new lines of credit right before purchasing a home, Tucker says.
What is your debt-to-income ratio?
Another factor lenders check is your debt-to-income ratio, or DTI, Tucker says. This is the percentage of your gross monthly income that goes to paying monthly debt payments, plus your new mortgage. Lenders typically require this ratio to be 45% or less but prefer it even lowerâin the 33% to 36% range.
Have you considered the opportunity cost?
Another financial consideration when deciding if now is a good time to buy a house is the opportunity cost of delaying a home purchase, Ziegler says. If youâre renting in a market where the rent is higher than your would-be monthly mortgage payment, you may be spending a lot more money each month than if you were to purchase a home. And of course, with a mortgage, your monthly payment increases your equity.
After taking a clear-eyed look at your income, savings and these other financial factors, you will have a better sense of when youâre ready to buy a home and whether nowâs the time for you to dip into the market.
Consider key market factors
Next, take a look at factors that are outside of your control, but still influence your purchase: prices, interest rates and national employment trends.
Where are housing prices?
As youâre looking at the market, one of the biggest considerations when you are ready to buy a home will be housing prices and availability. Research your local market by talking to real estate agents who work specifically in the area where you want to buy and asking them about market trends, Ziegler says.
Track current listings and recently sold prices to get a sense of how prices look today. Generally, the tighter the inventoryâmeaning the fewer houses availableâthe higher prices will be, Tucker says.
Whatâs going on with interest rates?
When youâre ready to buy a home could also depend on another major economic factor: interest rates. When interest rates are low, your housing budget is effectively supercharged, Tucker says, and you can afford a more expensive house because youâre spending less on interest. When they are high, the opposite is true.
This is what compels people to buy when interest rates are lowâyou get more for your money. If you get a 30- or 15-year fixed-rate mortgage, you lock in that rate for the entire life of the loan, which could save you money now and into the future, Tucker says.
How does employment look nationally?
Finally, if you want to get a general idea of where the housing market may be headedâif prices will drop or rise soonâcheck out the national employment trends, Cororaton says. Low unemployment means prices will generally trend upward because more people can afford houses, boosting competition and prices, she says.
But if unemployment is inching up, then people are losing jobs and will be more likely to remain in their current homes. As a result, there tends to be less competition for them, lowering prices.
You donât need to be an expert in the market to determine if now is a good time to buy a house, but a baseline understanding of these big-picture forces can give you the confidence you need to embark on your home-buying journey.
Think about your future plans
After reviewing your savings and income and assessing the market conditions, take a step back and think about your life plans over the next few years. Your lifestyle and goals will help determine whether now is a good time to buy a house.
âFor buyers who are not certain whether they will still be living in the same place in three or five years, I would caution against locking themselves into a certain location,â Ziegler says. âIf theyâre just not sure what the future holds, it may be better to have that flexibility.â
Itâs unlikely in many markets that you will see substantial financial gain from homeownership if you move within five years, Ziegler says. Your equity gains will likely be offset by the transaction costs of buying and selling your home.
That goes for remote workers, too. Are you working from a home office these days? While widespread remote work may allow buyers to consider homes farther from their offices, ask yourself: Is my company going to permanently allow employees to work from home? Do I think there will be other remote opportunities in the future?
While youâre thinking about the next three to five years of your career, also consider the next three to five years of your personal life. Will you have a family? Will that family grow?
These can be weighty topics, so be sure to think them through on your own schedule. Buying a house is a big decision, and itâs not one to be rushed. By taking the time to assess your life, from your job security to your financial health to your lifestyle, and considering the impact of market factors, youâll have a clearer sense of when you are ready to buy a home.
If youâve decided that buying a house right now is the best decision for you, itâs time to learn more about how it will impact your budget. Get started by reading up on these eight unexpected expenses when buying a home.
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The post Is Now a Good Time to Buy a House? appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.
Could logging in to your computer from a deluxe treehouse off the coast of Belize be the future of work? Maybe. For many, the word freelance means flexibility, meaningful tasks and better work-life balance. Who doesn’t want to create their own hours, love what they do and work from wherever they want? Freelancing can provide all of thatâbut that freedom can vanish quickly if you don’t handle your expenses correctly.
“A lot of the time, you don’t know about these expenses until you are in the trenches,” says freelance copywriter Alyssa Goulet, “and that can wreak havoc on your financial situation.”
Nearly 57 million people in the U.S. freelanced, or were self-employed, in 2019, according to Upwork, a global freelancing platform. Freelancing is also increasingly becoming a long-term career choice, with the percentage of freelancers who freelance full-time increasing from 17 percent in 2014 to 28 percent in 2019, according to Upwork. But for all its virtues, the cost of being freelance can carry some serious sticker shock.
“There are many hats you have to wear and expenses you have to take on, but for that you’re gaining a lot of opportunity and flexibility in your life.”
Most people who freelance for the first time don’t realize that everythingâfrom taxes to office supplies to setting up retirement plansâis on them. So, before you can sustain yourself through self-employment, you need to answer a very important question: “Are you financially ready to freelance?”
What you’ll find is that budgeting as a freelancer can be entirely manageable if you plan for the following key costs. Let’s start with one of the most perplexingâtaxes:
1. Taxes: New rules when working on your own
First things first: Don’t try to be a hero. When determining how to budget as a freelancer and how to manage your taxes as a freelancer, you’ll want to consult with a financial adviser or tax professional for guidance. A tax expert can help you figure out what makes sense for your personal and business situation.
For instance, just like a regular employee, you will owe federal income taxes, as well as Social Security and Medicare taxes. When you’re employed at a regular job, you and your employer each pay half of these taxes from your income, according to the IRS. But when you’re self-employed (earning more than $400 a year in net income), you’re expected to file and pay these expenses yourself, the IRS says. And if you think you will owe more than $1,000 in taxes for a given year, you may need to file estimated quarterly taxes, the IRS also says.
That can feel like a heavy hit when you’re not used to planning for these costs. “If you’ve been on a salary, you don’t think about taxes really. You think about the take-home pay. With freelance, everything is take-home pay,” says Susan Lee, CFPÂ®, tax preparer and founder of FreelanceTaxation.com.
When you’re starting to budget as a freelancer and determining how often you will need to file, Lee recommends doing a “dummy return,” which is an estimation of your self-employment income and expenses for the year. You can come up with this number by looking at past assignments, industry standards and future projections for your work, which freelancer Goulet finds valuable.
“Since I don’t have a salary or a fixed number of hours worked per month, I determine the tax bracket I’m most likely to fall into by taking my projected monthly income and multiplying it by 12,” Goulet says. “If I experience a big income jump because of a new contract, I redo that calculation.”
After you estimate your income, learning how to budget as a freelancer means working to determine how much to set aside for your tax payments. Lee, for example, recommends saving about 25 percent of your income for paying your income tax and self-employment tax (which funds your Medicare and Social Security). But once you subtract your business expenses from your freelance income, you may not have to pay that entire amount, according to Lee. Deductible expenses can include the mileage you use to get from one appointment to another, office supplies and maintenance and fees for a coworking space, according to Lee. The income left over will be your taxable income.
To set aside the taxes you will need to pay, adjust your estimates often and always round up. “Let’s say in one month a freelancer determines she would owe $1,400 in tax. I’d put away $1,500,” Goulet says.
2. Business expenses: Get a handle on two big areas
The truth is, the cost of being freelance varies from person to person. Some freelancers are happy to work from their kitchen tables, while others need a dedicated workspace. Your freelance costs also change as you add new tools to your business arsenal. Here are two categories you’ll always need to account for when budgeting as a freelancer:
Joining a coworking space gets you out of the house and allows you to establish the camaraderie you may miss when you work alone. When you’re calculating the cost of being freelance, note that coworking spaces may charge membership dues ranging from $20 for a day pass to hundreds of dollars a month for a dedicated desk or private office. While coworking spaces are all the rage, you can still rent a traditional office for several hundred dollars a month or more, but this fee usually doesn’t include community aspects or other membership perks.
If you want to avoid office rent or dues as costs of being freelance but don’t want the kitchen table to pull double-duty as your workspace, you might convert another room in your home into an office. But you’ll still need to outfit the space with all of your work essentials. Freelance copywriter and content strategist Amy Hardison retrofitted part of her house into a simple office. “I got a standing desk, a keyboard, one of those adjustable stands for my computer and a squishy mat to stand on so my feet don’t hurt,” Hardison says.
Start with the absolute necessities. When Hardison first launched her freelance career, she purchased a laptop for $299. She worked out of a coworking space and used its office supplies before creating her own workspace at home.
There are a range of digital tools, including business and accounting software, that can help with the majority of your business functions. A big benefit is the time they can save you that is better spent marketing to clients or producing great work.
The software can also help you avoid financial lapses as you’re managing the costs of being freelance. Hardison’s freelance business had ramped up to a point where a manual process was costing her money, so using an invoicing software became a no-brainer. “I was sending people attached document invoices for a while and keeping track of them in a spreadsheet,” Hardison says. “And then I lost a few of them and I just thought, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t be losing things. This is my income!’”
Digital business and software tools can help manage scheduling, web hosting, accounting, audio/video conference and other functions. When you’re determining how to budget as a freelancer, note that the costs for these services depend largely on your needs. For instance, several invoicing platforms offer options for as low as $9 per month, though the cost increases the more clients you add to your account. Accounting services also scale up based on the features you want and how many clients you’re tracking, but you can find reputable platforms for as little as $5 a month.
When you sign up for a service, start with the “freemium” version, in which the first tier of service is always free, Hardison says. Once you have enough clients to warrant the expense, upgrade to the paid level with the lowest cost. Gradually adding services will keep your expenses proportionate to your income.
3. Health insurance: Harnessing an inevitable cost
Budgeting for healthcare costs can be one of the biggest hurdles to self-employment and successfully learning how to budget as a freelancer. In the first half of the 2020 open enrollment period, the average monthly premium under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for those who do not receive federal subsidiesâor a reduced premium based on incomeâwas $456 for individuals and $1,134 for families, according to eHealth, a private online marketplace for health insurance.
“Buying insurance is really protecting against that catastrophic event that is not likely to happen. But if it does, it could throw everything else in your plan into a complete tailspin,” says Stephen Gunter, CFPÂ®, at Bridgeworth Financial.
A good place to start when budgeting as a freelancer is knowing what healthcare costs you should budget for. Your premiumâwhich is how much you pay each month to have your insuranceâis a key cost. Note that the plans with the lowest premiums aren’t always the most affordable. For instance, if you choose a high-deductible policy you may pay less in premiums, but if you have a claim, you may pay more at the time you or your covered family member’s health situation arises.
When you are budgeting as a freelancer, the ACA healthcare marketplace is one place to look for a plan. Here are a few other options:
Spouse or domestic partner’s plan: If your spouse or domestic partner has health insurance through his/her employer, you may be able to get coverage under their plan.
COBRA: If you recently left your full-time job for self-employment, you may be able to convert your employer’s group plan into an individual COBRA plan. Note that this type of plan comes with a high expense and coverage limit of 18 months.
Organizations for freelancers: Search online for organizations that promote the interests of independent workers. Depending on your specific situation, you may find options for health insurance plans that fit your needs.
Speak with an insurance adviser who can help you figure out which plans are best for your health needs and your budget. An adviser may be willing to do a free consultation, allowing you to gather important information before making a financial commitment.
4. Retirement savings: Learn to “set it and forget it”
Part of learning how to budget as a freelancer is thinking long term, which includes saving for retirement. That may seem daunting when you’re wrangling new business expenses, but Gunter says saving for the future is a big part of budgeting as a freelancer.
“It’s kind of the miracle of compound interest. The sooner we can get it invested, the sooner we can get it saving,” Gunter says.
He suggests going into autopilot and setting aside whatever you would have contributed to an employer’s 401(k) plan. One way to do this might be setting up an automatic transfer to your savings or retirement account. “So, if you would have put in 3 percent [of your income] each month, commit to saving that 3 percent on your own,” Gunter says. The Discover IRA Certificate of Deposit (IRA CD) could be a good fit for helping you enjoy guaranteed returns in retirement by contributing after-tax (Roth IRA CD) or pre-tax (traditional IRA CD) dollars from your income now.
Prioritize retirement savings every month, not just when you feel flush. “Saying, ‘I’ll save whatever is left over’ isn’t a savings plan, because whatever is left over at the end of the month is usually zero,” Gunter says.
5. Continually update your rates
One of the best things you can do for yourself in learning how to budget as a freelancer is build your costs into what you charge. “As I’ve discovered more business expenses, I definitely take those into account as I’m determining what my rates are,” Goulet says. She notes that freelancers sometimes feel guilty for building business costs into their rates, especially when they’re worried about the fees they charge to begin with. But working the costs of being freelance into your rates is essential to building a thriving freelance career. You should annually evaluate the rates you charge.
Because your expenses will change over time, it’s wise to do quarterly and yearly check-ins to assess your income and costs and see if there are processes you can automate to save time and money.
“A lot of the time, you don’t know about these expenses until you are in the trenches, and that can wreak havoc on your financial situation.”
Have confidence in your freelance career
Accounting for the various costs of being freelance makes for a more successful and sustainable freelance career. It also helps ensure that those who are self-employed achieve financial stability in their personal lives and their businesses.
“There are many hats you have to wear and expenses you have to take on,” Goulet says. “But for that, you’re gaining a lot of opportunity and flexibility in your life.”
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