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How to Be Smart About Being Your Own Boss

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Independent workers represent a growing number of employed people in the U.S. While there are benefits that come with being self-employed, there are also some other aspects of these jobs to consider. Traditional financial services are often provided by full-time employers. Without having taxes taken out automatically or retirement options offered, it can be much more difficult for self-employed individuals to budget and manage their money. But there are ways to for independent workers to stay on track.

1. Think in Percentages

Your earnings are likely to fluctuate month to month, and so you may do better to budget for non-fixed expenses in percentages rather than dollars. If, for example, you want to save for retirement, try putting aside a certain percentage of your income rather than a certain dollar amount. (A dollar amount can lead you to save too little in high-income months and more than you can realistically afford in low-income ones.) It’s a good idea to calculate the taxes, retirement funds and emergency savings allotment based on how much you make that specific month. This will help you meet your most important financial goals despite your fluctuating pay.

2. Work the Basics

Even if it is hard for you to budget, it’s important to determine how much money you need simply to get by or live on. Figure out how much you must spend on housing, utilities, food and other monthly expenses that are absolutely necessary. Then, subtract that amount from your average monthly income to determine how much you can spend or save. The longer you are self-employed (or have long-term contracts) the easier this will become. The idea is not to let an inconsistent income stream keep you from tracking your spending and making a budget.

3. Build Your Accounts

While each month should see a percentage going toward your various savings goals, it’s a good idea to build a larger emergency fund early on. Some experts recommend a year’s worth of living expenses or more. This can help if you have many lean months in a row. You don’t want to add debt payments to your monthly expenses because you ran out of cash. The lifetime cost of debt can be staggering — you can crunch the numbers.

Since you will likely do better some months more than others, it is important to recognize the ability to significantly build your assets when times are good. While you may not have a 401(k) account to contribute to, you can create a SEP IRA for retirement savings. This is a retirement account specifically for those who are self-employed. The IRS allows larger contributions to this kind of account than to a traditional or Roth IRA.

4. Plan Ahead for Taxes

While expenses and savings are important, you cannot discount taxes. They are an important part of the self-employment puzzle and the IRS requires a quarterly estimate on tax payments. It’s important to stay on top of these payments so you don’t suffer penalties.

5. Insure Wisely

If you are trying to start your own business or launch a freelance career, it’s important to consider insurance. You will need to cover insurance premiums (including for health, life, disability and liability) on your own. Doing research before buying can help make sure you are covered adequately without spending a fortune.

Even without an employer to help you navigate financial milestones and a variable income, you can be money savvy while living the self-employed lifestyle. Take your finances into your own hands — just like you did your career.

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