Sticking to a budget can be tough when you're not certain what your next job or paycheck will look like. But while a period of financial uncertainty isn't unusual for most professionals, you don't have to let it derail your progress toward your financial goals.
Whether you're just starting a new job, working in contract positions or seeking to make ends meet between jobs, here's how to think differently about your finances.
Automate Pay Decisions
When you start a new job or start receiving a larger paycheck, it's tempting to celebrate with a spending spree. Opting to automate how your paycheck is distributed, however, will help you ensure your savings grows and you can meet your financial obligations.
Signing up for direct deposit saves you time and effort. Some banks even offer "perks" for direct deposit customers, like access to better checking or savings account terms. And a direct deposit that automatically puts part of your income into savings or retirement can help you start investing without forcing you to learn all about finance.
Create an Emergency Fund
While you're between jobs, freelancing or making ends meet with temporary gigs, an emergency fund helps you avoid being derailed by unexpected expenses. Ideally, an emergency fund contains three to six months' worth of living expenses. By building this account over time, you can ensure you meet today's bills while also giving yourself a buffer in case you face hardship meeting tomorrow's bills.
For freelancers, it's also important to set aside money to pay taxes. Since freelancers are generally considered "self-employed" by the IRS, they're responsible for both the employer and employee share of FICA taxes. Avoid an emergency when tax time comes by ensuring you're saving enough to meet your tax obligations and making quarterly payments if necessary.
Create a Personal Budget
Once you know where your money is coming from, it's time to determine where it is going. Personal money management tools like Mint, or even a spreadsheet, can help you track your spending, create a personal budget for expenses, and make plans so you can achieve the things you want.
When budgeting for expenses, start with the basics: food, housing, and healthcare. If you work from home or you need certain tools for a gig, like your smartphone, include them in your housing and utility costs. Add transportation to your list as well. Finally, add the amounts you'll need to pay for retirement and for taxes.
When your budget includes the basics, start adding other items like projects you want to take on, hobbies you'd enjoy or "dream purchases." Then, determine how much you need to make each month to cover these expenses, plus leave yourself room for savings. This number can help you shape your budget today and improve your career planning.
Retirement plans and healthcare plans can seem like large expenses without an immediate payoff, especially when you're also considering how to cover the bills or where you want to live. Yet these two costs offer significant long-term benefits.
A 401(k) or IRA helps you ensure you can afford to retire, and it can also help reduce your tax burden in the present by allowing you to defer taxes to the end of your career. Some employers offer matching funds for 401(k)s or IRAs, which means you're leaving money on the table if you don't invest in your own retirement.
Health insurance can help you avoid a financial catastrophe on top of a health catastrophe caused by sudden injury or illness. If your employer doesn't offer health insurance or you're between jobs, check to see if you can be added to your spouse's insurance, if you can enroll in an ACA plan or if publicly funded plans like Medicaid or SCHIP are open to you or to members of your family.
Finally, don't skip other forms of necessary coverage, like auto, renters or homeowners insurance. Instead, shop around for the best deals, and ask insurance companies about discounts: many will reduce the cost of policies for customers who buy multiple policies from the same company, for instance.
Don't Be Afraid to Seek Help
When you need financial help, a staffing firm might not be the first idea on your list. Yet your recruiter can do a great deal to help you regain and maintain financial security.
Recruiters specialize in knowing the companies, openings and hiring managers within the industries they serve. They can help you find a new job more quickly, land a temporary assignment while you search for a long-term dream job or identify ways you can recreate your career without losing the hard work you've already put in. Best of all, recruiters will offer their support at no cost to you!