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How To Budget on Inconsistent Income

by Chuck Bentley May 8, 2018

Learning how to budget can be challenging! For some people, it comes naturally, but for others, it takes an extra dose of discipline to develop the habit. But knowing how to budget when you have inconsistent income can be especially challenging.

An increasing number of professionals are working for themselves, creating their own businesses, and joining the “Gig Economy”. According to a 2017 report from Intuit, the contingent workforce or non-traditional segment makes up 36% of the U.S. workforce today, compared to 17% just 25 years ago. Gig workers, also known as on-demand workers, are part of that group.

Planning is a necessary part of financial health for everyone, but especially the freelancer or commission-based employee. You have more flexibility than traditional workers, but you also have different challenges brought about by the uncertainty of your income.

how to budget on inconsistent income

Budgeting in the Bible

The best example of a great budget on an inconsistent income is found in Genesis 41-47. God had warned Pharaoh through Joseph that 7 years of harvest were coming to the land of Egypt, followed by 7 years of famine. So Joseph advised Pharaoh to be diligent to save 20% in the years of plenty. This savings plan enabled the entire country of Egypt and surrounding countries to be fed during the severe famine.

If Pharaoh had not enabled Joseph to put a plan in place during the plentiful years, the years of famine would have wiped out entire nations. It may be difficult, but you can have a great budget on an inconsistent income!

Here are 4 steps to create a budget on an inconsistent income.

Step One: Estimate Your Monthly Income

There are two main ways to estimate your monthly income with a variable income. Look at the examples below.

January $5,175
February $5,233
March $4,798
April $5,129
May $4,763
June $3,198
July $3,004
August $4,511
September $5,097
October $4,970
November $5,995
December $5,897

Option 1: Base your monthly income on the lowest month you had in the past 12-18 months. In this example, that would be $3,004. During the months that you make extra, put it aside in savings or use it to attack any debt you have.

Option 2: Base your monthly income on an average of the last 12-18 months, after you throw out the month you earned the most. In this example, you’d throw out the month of November, and average the remaining 11 months to give you a monthly total of $4,706.

With either option, your monthly income is lower than your highest months of earnings. So you should always have financial margin to save and work towards your goals.

Like Joseph, we should all be in the habit of saving extra in the years (or months) of plenty to prepare for the times of famine.

Step Two: Calculate Your Monthly Expenses

More than traditional workers, freelancers need to have a running total of their fixed monthly living expenses: this includes mortgage/rent, insurance, etc. Then add your monthly variable expenses – things like groceries, utilities, taxes, and tithe. These are your monthly living expenses.

Once that number is set, add in the “extras” – buying new clothes, entertainment costs, etc. Crown has a helpful worksheet that you can utilize to keep up with all your monthly expenses.

Once you have your monthly expenses set, keep track of how much you’re spending for several months. No two months are exactly the same so keep track of how much you’re spending. Record your expenses by writing them down in a worksheet (this one is already set up for you) or connecting a budgeting app to your bank account.

Step Three: Set Your Lifestyle  

In order to be successful on an inconsistent income, you’ll have to be disciplined to keep your lifestyle at a reasonable level. It’s easy to get into a cycle of depending on your credit cards during your lower income months and then paying them off during your high-income months.

But this will keep you in a perpetual cycle of debt and bondage, which is contrary to what God encourages in Scripture. Instead, be content to live beneath your means all the time.

Step Four: Set Goals and Save

You’ll need to develop the habit of saving. Set up monthly automatic transfers and manually transfer excess in the high earning months. Establish an emergency fund with $1,000 to help you get out of debt, stay out of debt, and cover emergency expenses without a credit card.

Then work toward saving 3-6 months’ of your living expenses. Try to ultimately have 12 months’ of living expenses set aside in a savings account, separate from your $1,000 emergency savings fund. This is your safety net for lower income months to cover unexpected medical bills, home and vehicle repairs, and other surprise expenses.

One of the downsides of “gig work” is the lack of employer-provided benefits. This means it is solely up to you to plan and save for your future. This blog outlines many retirement savings options for freelancers and gig workers.

It may take you 6-12 months to get on track, so be disciplined and exercise self-control. Depending on your current lifestyle, you may need to make adjustments so you can save when extra income comes in. By living according to God’s principles, you’ll be able to experience true peace.

How have you made a great budget on inconsistent income? Share your advice and tips with us on Facebook!


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