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Thursday, 19 February 2009

How to Manage a Sporadic Income

By Dayana Yochim

Those who work as contractors, small-business owners or freelancers aren't watching the employment figures. They're too busy trying to make a living.

When you are your own boss, the role of chief financial officer is critical to your everyday well-being. In the world of the self-employed, it's usually feast or famine. And unfortunately for many, it's a guessing game when it comes to anticipating the next month's income.

If your paycheck is irregular, planning and budgeting are just as important as soliciting work, says debt counseling firm Money Management International. Here are some practical tips on keeping the cash flowing:

Average out your expenditures over a three-month period. If youre not tracking your expenses now, do it for a few months. Don't forget to include the monthly costs of health-care premiums, taxes, and office supplies. Knowing where your money really goes will help head off any end-of-the-month surprises.

Free up your cash flow by regulating your expenses. Many utility companies offer balanced billing options so that horrendous winter heating bill is spread out evenly over the year. (To free up more cash, see how we saved more than $2,000 extra during our Fiscal Fitness challenge.)

Build a safety net for lean months. Start socking money away in a short-term savings account today. Whether it is three or six months of living expenses depends on your situation. If you have dependents, the more savings the better. Even if you can only put a minimum amount in, its better than relying on Mr. Visa when money gets tight.

Though credit lines are tempting, avoid relying on them to make ends meet. If you do have to occasionally charge your expenses, promise to use any future windfall to get you back to debt-free ground.

Married to a regular-wage earner? Go give him or her a smooch and then discuss (civilly, please!) using that income for the essentials, and the irregular paychecks for savings and extravagant gifts. (If money's an issue between you two, see our tips on divorce-proofing your finances.)

Earmark your savings. Knowing where to save and invest money for your current and future self makes it less tempting to blow an unplanned windfall on frivolities.

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