Getting personal finances in order is harder for the freelance journalist than for certain other fields. Journalists and researchers usually spend a lot of (tax-deductible) money researching and covering stories. Adding to the mix, many publications do not pay writers or videographers on a timely basis.
It’s a combustible mix.
Shin has some really intelligent tips which let journalists or anyone else make smarter money decisions. Below are a few of her biggest takeaways:
Track Your Time
Use an app like OfficeTime for tracking what you are working on hour-by-hour. Apart from letting users allocate writing time better, there’s a better bonus. OfficeTime generates reports which lets users see if you’re being overpaid or underpaid for particular projects. Also? You get to see what your hourly rate for writing work should be.
Have Anchor Gigs
Build a budget by subtracting recurring necessary expenses like rent and utilities, and then divide the remaining amount by four to determine your weekly minimum budget. Then secure anchor gigs (recurring projects from regular clients) that pay for at least your weekly minimum budget.
Keep Five Months Of Emergency Savings
This is the unfun one. Saving money isn’t fun, and is a pain in the butt–it means staying in, practicing self-restraint, and all those terrible things. But the reality of being a freelancer or being self-employed means that there will be slow stretches in your job. Saving up five months of emergency savings in a high-interest online savings account is a smart idea that protects you from future financial harm.
Automatically Contribute To Retirement Accounts
Setting up a retirement account is harder for freelancers and the self-employed than for other types of workers. Shin recommends opening up an IRA at an investment management company like Vanguard and finding an opportunity to open a free 401(k).
Obtain Disability Insurance
As Shin notes, if you don’t have disability insurance, “You may end up not being able to receive benefits if you become incapacitated to do the work of your main career but the insurance company believes you could still earn money in, for instance, a minimum-wage-paying job.”
Use a mobile app such as Mint to track expenses on the go. As a journalist, you are covering stories frequently and need to track those expenses for tax and client purposes. Simply collecting receipts and waiting to scan or file them away won’t do it.
Get A High-Yield Bank Account
Use high-yield bank accounts like Ally or Capital One 360, set up automated bill reminders, and obtain a rewards credit card that gives cash back. Squeeze every dollar you can out of your spending and savings, and make sure you pay bills on time.
Invest mostly in diversified, low-cost exchange-traded funds (ETFs), index funds and target date funds. It is less sexy, but freelancers are in a much worse place if they make poor investment choices. Because freelancers have higher risk exposure for investment, it’s a smart bet to stick to more conservative products like ETFs and index funds.
Check Your Credit Card Quarterly
Check your credit score every four months using a free credit score product. All Americans can legally get a free credit report each year from each of the three big credit reporting agencies –Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. To maximize the benefits from them, Shin spaces her requests four months apart so she can get timely updates.
What would you add to Shin’s advice?