Student Freelancing: Tips to Budget Your Freelance Earnings

Students who earn money through freelancing don’t really have much to worry about when it comes to taxes, bills, and having enough to be able to feed a family.

Some students spend their earnings on everyday needs while others (like me) have allowances being sent every two weeks to cover most of the major expenses (especially food and transportation). This leaves my freelance earnings in my bank account at my disposal.

Obviously, the earnings received from freelance work can be spent on almost anything my heart desires. I get to buy clothes, shoes, accessories, better food, and can even treat my friends out to pizza every week!

Having disposable income from freelancing is a dream come true, right? Far from it. As student freelancers, we need to remain responsible with our expenses and must learn how to budget our freelance earnings. In this post, I’ll explain how to accomplish that.


Responsible Students, Responsible Freelancers

It’s so easy for money to slip away from our wallets and to disappear from our bank accounts when there’s no one to support and no one to limit how we spend our personal finances. With no one but yourself to control where the money goes it’s very possible that after receiving two months’ worth of earnings, your account becomes empty in a matter of two weeks.

Believe me, I know how it feels to be ecstatic about finally receiving money after months’ of writing for clients and then return back to square one after only two weeks’ worth of dining out, buying clothes, buying more stuff online, and the like.

Budgeting for Future Investments

It was a nightmare being caught inside this spending cycle, but after experiencing a lot of hardship due to bad spending habits, I decided that it was time to cut back on the unnecessary expenses and to actually save.

Aside from the usual future investments such as a car or a house, I focused on saving for other things that I would like to buy for myself such as a laptop for better freelancing, a mobile phone since my old one was utterly falling apart, and things for my family since I usually go home during holidays and breaks from school. But, I knew this was just going to be like those unresolved resolutions we make every New Year’s, so I decided to take action and actually implement a system that will keep me from making a beeline for the ATM machine during a sale.

Budgeting Tips that Worked for Me

Here’s what I did and what I’d like to share with student freelancers all over the world:

  • Make two separate lists. On one list put all of the things you are required to spend money on such as rent, food, water, small groceries, and school-related expenses. The second list should be composed of things you would like to buy in the future and that you must save to obtain.
  • Save money. Once you receive your freelance earnings, 50% to 60% of it should stay in your bank account. This money is for the things on the first list, while the other 40% to 50% will be yours to spend or to save for the things on the second list. If you are not receiving an allowance from your parents, 70% to 80% goes to things on list #1 and 20% to 30% is either for your personal wants or for the things in list #2.
  • Schedule your spending. Only spend money one day a week or one day every two weeks. Limit yourself to X amount of freelance earnings for splurging. Every freelancer, whether a student or a professional, needs a pat on the back and a reward for all his hard work so treating yourself with what you love to eat or do is necessary. Just make sure that you only spend a percentage of your earnings and only for one whole day.
  • Basic budgeting 101. List all of your expenses at the end of the week. See if you can cut down on certain expenses that went over your initial budget. Determine whether you were able to save an extra amount of money that you can return back to your savings account.
  • Keep working hard. Continue doing a good job both in school and in your work as a freelancer. The more you learn and get good grades, the more you become valuable to your future clients and employers.

The more you work and do a good job at it, the more you will earn and the more your freelance clients will want to keep you on their team.

Of course, different students live different lifestyles, so these tips won’t work perfectly for everyone (especially for those who live and spend differently than me). But, these tips are focused on saving and budgeting, don’t hesitate to give them a try as they might be the key to finally saving and budgeting your earnings significantly.

Your Turn

So far I’ve shared budgeting tips that have worked well for me during my days as a university student. If you’re a student freelancer now (or have been one in the past), what saving tips and tricks did you use to budget your freelance earnings? Were you successful at it? What challenges did you face while trying to budget your earnings?

Image by emutree

Comments

  1. says

    Excellent points, I worked as a hod tender carrying brick and rock to pay for school and have a little disposable income. My only concern with this advice, is how does your scholastics measure up if you are working full time? By default you will not be able to spend time working on school projects or term papers, but on the other hand bills need to be paid.

  2. says

    I love it! Some good advice. I’m in a similar situation to you where my parents pay for living expenses (food, travel) and my uni fees are covered by studnet loan, so my earnings are my own to spend.

    My skill is web developer so I made myself a small web program to help me manage my money/budget. It’s basically just a database table where I can add each expense to it so that I know how much money I have in my account at any one time (Yes I’m that lazy I can’t be bothered to walk to an ATM ;)). It does have the advantage however that I can see each expense rather than just a running total, and then at the end of each month I check it against my official bank statement and if I’ve been good and updated my program they both match up.

  3. says

    I went through school raising a 1-yr old alone with almost no income… I spend so much time in Lab doing my projects (didn’t have the required software installed at home) I barely had time for a part-time job.

    You are extremely lucky to not only be able to freelance write, but also get an allowance.

    I probably could have finished school a lot earlier under those circumstances.

  4. says

    Thanks guys!
    I did this because at the end of each month my money that I had made from freelancing was almost gone. So I created a calendar and tracked every dollar I spent.
    The color coordinates I created also.

    Red – Spent
    Green – Received
    Blue – Projects

    And at the end of the month I track my profit, spent, and net.
    Not too bad for an 18 year old, eh?

  5. says

    Good advice! I too am a student freelancer and can relate to this article. I just realize that in the not-so-distant future I WILL be in charge of all those expenses and responsibilities and try to save accordingly. Sometimes it works for me to put it all in savings except set aside enough for just one thing from my Wish List (new book, music, movie, headphones, etc). That way, I can save most of my money but still enjoy the fruits of my labor.

  6. says

    Thanks to Stephanie for sharing her thoughts on freelance budgeting.

    I know that she is not the only student freelancer who reads Freelance Folder and it’s good to hear from that group! :-)

    If you’re a student too, why not add your own comment about what it’s like to be in school and freelancing?

  7. says

    Love the article because it reaches out to student freelancers like myself.

    Unfortunately, I don’t keep track of my finances like I should because my living expenses are covered, but I do not have an allowance, so I depend on my freelancing business for money.

    The best way I learned was self-control and allowing yourself only one time a month, or every two months, for a rewarding splurge. By rewarding myself at the end, it really gives me motivation to save my money for luxuries.

  8. says

    Thanks everyone for the wonderful comments! :) I’m glad everyone’s got a solution or two when dealing with their freelance budgets and earnings. Students and even those running their own businesses really should have a system that will help them save and budget their earnings no matter how smooth things are going for them in terms of work.

    Another reason why I started using this budgeting system was for emergency purposes. For instance, my sister got really sick with the H1N1 flu and I was the only family member present to not only keep her company but handle the hospital bills. Thanks to this system, I was able to get her out after recovering and sent her back home for immediate bed rest at home.

  9. says

    That’s a really nice article Stephanie, well done. I’ve been out of university for a couple of years now, but when I was at uni I managed fantasticode.com and earnt a little from that – it wasn’t enough to by a Bentley but it certainly allowed an extra beer here and there! If this article had been around back then I’d have definitely taken it’s words to heart.

    Having said that, I think there’s a lot to take away from this as a full time web developer with personal projects – I still earn a little on the side and can apply your rules above!

    Thanks,
    Charlie

  10. says

    I love the way how Valery Menelas manage finances. I recently set it up too in my Windows Live Calendar! :-) Thank you very much for inspiration. I’ve been looking for some software to manage finances but every single one was too complicated (for small businesses mainly) or only for Mac. Thanks again.

  11. says

    Great advice, Stephanie. I would add setting up a budget on Mint.com. It’s not a perfect personal financial management system, but it can really help you monitor and budget your spending without a lot manual data inputing. If you only have a few small financial accounts, then Mint works just fine.

  12. says

    good advice. when i was going to school i was able to win a couple of contest on one of those “logo contest sites” and that was a blessing. at the time i was eating Taco Bell most days and had a dollar or two to spend on lunch (i dubbed a chicken taco and water the “Full Sail special”).

    its easy as students to spend that money you really need. you’ve got a lot of friends and if you’re in Florida, a lot of stuff to do. students, be wise!

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