Freelancing is totally everything it’s cracked up to be. But it also comes with unexpected shittiness at times. Know what you’re getting into.

Just about everyone fantasizes about freelancing at some point.

When the daily grind is wearing you down and the stress of office culture is driving you crazy, you start to wonder what a career with no strings actually looks like.

Here’s the honest truth: it’s great. Also, it’s terrible. Sometimes it’s just okay.

Just like anything else in life.

More than anything, freelancing is a mixed bag. The lack of structure can be freeing, frustrating, and confounding.

The sense of agency can be empowering and terrifying at the same time. You can wake up some days feeling like a giant and go to bed feeling like a mouse – and vice versa.

I’ve been a full-time freelancer for several years now. Here’s the honest truth about freelancing. The best parts and the worst parts.

The good.

Having more flexibility in my workday is the best part of freelancing. At any point in a day, my husband and I can go for a hike, drive to Costco, or catch a movie. As long as I’m caught up on work, I’ll say yes.

Working for yourself allows for more freedom than any other job. You can take off as much time as you want and work when you need to. Many freelancers choose to work while they’re traveling, so they can stay longer and travel more often.

“Last year I was able to live in Chicago and Ann Arbor for a little over a month, and I plan to be away for two months this summer,” said freelance writer Jackie Lam of Cheapsters.

A few months ago, my husband and I got a puppy. We already had a dog – a lazy Beagle mix who mostly slept all day – but our new puppy needed lots of exercise and constant attention. The other day I realized that if one of us wasn’t working at home, we wouldn’t have been able to properly care for her. I can’t imagine not having Naga in my life. Freelancing made that happen.

Freelancing also lets you choose projects based on what you care about, not what your boss wants you to do. Valerie Rind, the author of “Gold Diggers and Deadbeat Dads,”  said freelance writing gives her the chance to stretch her limits and learn more about an issue she’s interested in.

“Instead of writing about the same topic, I try to accept assignments even if I don’t know much (or anything) about the subject matter,” she said. 

Most of the time, for me at least, the truth about freelancing is that it’s awesome. But there are times it’s not super-great. And you need to know that before you ditch your job and jump into the world of freelancing.

The bad. 

Most employees get paid every two weeks. No matter how well their company is doing, they still see a regular paycheck.

Not so for freelancers. How much you earn is dependent on not only how hard you work, but also on factors outside of your control. A client goes on vacation for a month and doesn’t need your services? You’re the one who has to scramble for work. Need surgery and can’t work for a few weeks? You’ll have to cover your own expenses.

Plus, the work is variable. Unless you have a steady stream of clients, freelancing can swing from feast to famine very quickly. One month you’ll earn more than you ever have, the next you’ll be living off of your emergency fund.

“Freelancing can test your character for sure,” said writer Melanie Lockert of Dear Debt. “The good times can have you feeling on top of the world, and the low times can have you questioning everything in your life.”

When I receive a lot of edits from a picky client or get all my carefully crafted pitches denied, I start thinking, “Maybe I’m not cut out for this.” Pushing through those rough times requires more mental fortitude than I ever needed in a day job.

The ugly.

Here they come. The things you really need to know about freelancing before you get started.

When you work for yourself, there’s no one else there to give you encouragement, praise, or guidance. There’s no annual review where you can find out what your strengths and weaknesses are and how to improve. It’s just you.

“If you want to grow, you have to push yourself,” Lam said. “No boss is going to hand you a raise or give you a promotion.” 

One of the worst aspects of freelancing is chasing down vendors who pay late. Once, I waited five months for a client to pay a $3,800 invoice.

When I reached out to my contact, he told me the company had shut down. I had to call all over the place to get someone to write me a check.  Some clients also balk at my late fee, even when I’ve been waiting two months to get paid.

Another pet peeve is working by myself. I miss having co-workers to talk to when I need a break or a boss to bounce ideas off. I do work with my husband, but he prefers solitude when working. I’m an extrovert, and it took me a few months to get used to being inside my house all day.

Are you ready to freelance?

There’s no doubt I love freelancing. This has been a great lifestyle for me. And it might work for you, too. But before you dive in, it’s good to know the truth about freelancing so you aren’t taken off guard by some of the challenges.

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Living the dream as your own boss? Don’t let it become a budgeting nightmare. Stay on top of things when you have a variable income.

When former cubicle-jockeys switch to a freelance career, it’s almost always in pursuit of one elusive goal: freedom.

But with that freedom comes uncertainty. Many newly self-employed individuals find themselves missing the income consistency that came with their old gig.

But variable income doesn’t have to mean a dubious financial situation. There are a few methods you can use to create the consistency you’re looking for. This allows for the kind of stability you’d enjoy at an office job.

Here’s how I manage my own variable income:

Calculate how much you need.

Living on a variable income is stressful if you’re also living in the dark. If you don’t know how much you need to survive, how can you know if you’re budgeting correctly?

Go through your spending and add up your necessary expenses, including rent, groceries, gas, utilities, debt payments and other bills.

Then divide that number by 75% to calculate your target income.

That will be the minimum you need to earn each month. Anything left over can be used for discretionary spending or saving.

Live on last month’s revenue.

While salaried individuals know how much they’re going to bring in every month, people living on a variable income have no clue.

A long-term client could take an extended vacation or an assignment might be delayed indefinitely. One of my favorite ways to combat this uncertainty is to live on last month’s invoices.

If you grossed $3,000 last month, then you can only spend $3,000 this month — even if you project to make $4,500 this month.

This budgeting philosophy is all about spending the money you have, not the money you think will have. After all, things can and will go wrong every month. The technique also eases your cash flow, since many freelancers don’t get paid until 30 days after they’ve submitted an invoice.

Save most of your surplus.

A friend of mine who worked in the dance industry once told me about a mentor who would go designer shopping every time she got a choreography gig. These jobs paid exceedingly more than teaching gigs and left her with more cash than she was used to.

Instead of saving that dough, she’d go shopping for name-brand purses and clothes. I was shocked when I heard that story, but not surprised. It’s human nature to go on a shopping spree when you land a big windfall. However, budgeting responsibly (especially on a variable income) is all about denying those urges.

It’s ok to celebrate a new client or big project as long as you’re tucking some of it away for a rainy day. Try to save between 70% and 80% of your surplus income and enjoy the rest responsibly.

Keep an emergency fund.

Everyone who works for themselves has a slow period where the work seems to dry up. You can plan ahead for these months by having a larger-than-normal emergency fund.

I keep a six-month emergency fund since my husband and I are both self-employed. Having half a year’s worth of expenses keeps us afloat during the off-season. It’s a good buffer to have and prevents me from picking up a McDonald’s application when the work starts to dwindle.

Multiply your baseline income by how many months you want to save for. Most people with variable income should have between six months and a year’s worth of bills saved in an emergency fund.

Make your expenses the same every month.

One of my favorite ways to regulate my finances has been budget billing for our utilities. Most gas, water, and electric companies allow you to pay the same amount every month instead of the amount you use.

Having budget billing has simplified my finances since I know our water bill will be static, no matter the season. I don’t have to worry about high gas statements in the winter or AC costs in the summer. Contact your energy company to see if they offer this service.

Look for other ways to normalize your bills so that you have the same expenses each month.

Save by percentage, not dollar amount.

Writer Jackie Lam of Cheapsters became a freelancer after she got laid off at her full-time gig. To make the transition smoother, she started saving a percentage of what’s left over after she’s paid the bills, instead of a specific dollar amount.

For example, instead of saving $200 a month for a vacation, she sets aside 5% of her budget. Using percentages makes it easier to hit her savings goals, even if she hasn’t had the most productive month.

In busy times, she might save more than $200, and during slowdowns she might only save $100. That percentage tends to average out over the year.

It’s a way to feel a little more secure and avoid feeling like a failure if you don’t hit a set dollar amount.

Be your own CEO.

If you really miss the stability of office life, consider paying yourself a salary. Once you’ve calculated your baseline, it’s simple enough to choose a stable wage to take going forward. Overage income can be applied to your savings, while consistently coming in under budget can be a warning sign that it’s time to take a pay cut.

This isn’t exactly the most efficient method listed, but it can take a lot of psychological weight off of planning your finances. It’s simple. Pay yourself a little less than you typically make and save the rest.

Do you live on a variable income? How do you make it work? What’s your favorite budgeting technique? Let us know in the #Adulting community on Facebook.

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Don’t let your work from home dream turn into a nightmare. Set up your home office space following sound principles and you’ll be much happier.

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An increasing number of people work from home today.

Even if you don’t own a home business, telecommuting is something that many companies are willing to allow — at least some of the time.

Whether you have a side gig, your own business, or you just work from home on occasion, a home office is a good investment in your career sanity.

Here’s how to set it all up.

Concepts

  • A look at why it’s so popular to work from home right now.
  • Some of the “must haves” when it comes to a home office.
  • How to decide on the right computer and software for your work from home needs.
  • The difference between running your own business and working from home for someone else.
  • Why you need a dedicated home office if you work from home regularly.
  • Tips for cutting down on distractions when you work from home.
  • How to get into “work mode” with your home office.
  • The reality that sometimes you need to get out of the home office and work elsewhere.

This week’s DO NOWS focus on getting your home office-ready. Make sure you look around your home to identify potential spots for a home office. Also, you need to create a realistic list of the items you need to create your work from home reality.

Our listener question touches on a difficult issue for many people who work from home: what to do when the kids are too distracting? It’s not always a popular solution, but the reality is that sometimes you need to hire child care — even when you work from home.

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Tired of the soul-sucking 9-to-5 job? You can prepare to ditch it for good. Here’s how to plan your escape.

Less than a year ago, I quit my job.

I didn’t quit working. I just quit working for someone else. I feel as good today about that decision as the day I left.

The best part about quitting my traditional job was watching the cycle of emotions my friends and family went through after I told them I quit.

Their eyes opened wide when they heard the news. This was followed restrained winces, as they considered the loss of steady income, health, and insurance, security, two weeks of vacation a year. All those things we expect from a job.

Then, as if on cue, they’d drift into a daydream and pondered quitting their own jobs.

If you dream of a life of employer independence, you too can leave the 9-to-5. Here are five keys that helped me take that major step:

Sticking to what I know.

One of the main reasons people say they can’t quit their day job and start their own business is that they don’t know what to do. Don’t think too hard about it and get stuck in analysis paralysis. Stick with what you enjoy, are already doing, or are good at doing.

Listen. If the universe is pulling you in a certain direction, go.

My and my husband’s careers have been in finance. Despite this, when got together we had a combined total of $51,000 in credit card debt. We applied our theoretical and practical knowledge to pay off our debt and turn our net worth around.

We enjoy finance, investing, and financial planning. Because of our experiences and our desire to help others with their money, we’re using our personal and professional experiences as the foundation of our business.

We put ourselves out as writers, speakers, podcasters, and experts on personal finance and we’re now helping others and, in turn, growing a business that let me leave the 9-to-5 grind. David’s not far behind me.

We saved money.

Before I quit my W-2 job, we added an additional $10,000 to our existing emergency savings account.

We did this by cutting back on non-essential spending and putting it into our emergency savings account with no bells or whistles. We don’t have debit cards or checking writing on this account. We don’t connect it to other accounts for outgoing electronic funds transfers (EFT). This money is hard, though not impossible, to access. This reduces urges to spend this money on whims.

We’ve resumed some of the habits we used to pay off our $51,000 in credit card debt. This includes only buying groceries that are either on sale or for which we have coupons. We cook at home rather than dine out. Cardboardeaux has replaced Bordeaux because it’s cheaper per bottle and stores longer.

All of this is temporary and we know this is temporary. We can live frugally today to grow our business because we lived frugally yesterday to pay off our debt.

Hustling harder than ever.

Thomas Edison said, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

I used to think I worked hard at my W-2, but I worked just hard enough to keep my boss happy.

I’ve never worked so hard in my life as I am now on our business.

With each day, the 9-to-5 is getting smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror, but to say it’s been easy would be disingenuous.

There’s a meme of an iceberg I frequently share on Facebook. Ten percent of the iceberg is above water and represents the “overnight success” that people see. Ninety percent of the iceberg is below water and represents the work no one sees: waking up at 4:30 am, working until midnight, on weekends, and holidays.

There are times that I’ve questioned if this is worth it. When I hear about rush-hour traffic jams, friends stressed about their bosses and disappointment with nominal raises, I’m reminded that it is.

I prepped.

There were steps I took before I decided to actually leave the 9-to-5.

I researched and updated my health insurance, acquired life insurance, and created a plan to consolidate my employer-sponsored 401(k) with my personal broker.

We talked with our accountant about what my W-2 and 1099 employment status changes would mean for our personal income taxes. We created a week-to-week budget that accommodates our drop in regular income.

Being thorough and meticulous before I quit has made temporarily cutting our income in half a little easier.

I took the leap.

Finally, I took the leap. Many people struggle to make big and seemingly scary life changes because they’re waiting for the perfect time. There will never be a perfect time. As Voltaire said, “better is the enemy of the good.”

Many people struggle to make big and seemingly scary life changes because they’re waiting for the perfect time. There will never be a perfect time. As Voltaire said, “better is the enemy of the good.”

To be fair, I delayed my original termination date by 90 days because my employer asked me to complete a project on which my team was working. I considered delaying my termination again because the economy showed signs of weakness. The problem is we can always come up with reasons to stick with the safe and familiar.

Some people might say we should’ve saved more than that extra $10,000. Others might say I should’ve waited until after the last presidential election ended. Still more might say leaving, at all, was foolish.

Despite all the reasons I could’ve manufactured, I leaped and I don’t regret it.

If your dream is to leave the 9-to-5 behind, too, these five steps may help you. I challenge you to be thorough and meticulous before you take such a leap, but I also challenge you to not get paralyzed by fear or analysis.

As Zig Ziglar said, “If you can dream it, you can achieve it.”

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Do you want to work abroad and live your life from anywhere in the world? Sarah Li Cain shows how you can live this flexible lifestyle.

Once in a while, we present Adulting.tv LIVE! Subscribe on YouTube to hear about future events, and share your questions about or suggestions for our next discussions!

On today’s episode of Adulting.tv LIVE!, Harlan and Miranda are joined by Sarah Li Cain from High Fiving Dollars. Today we’ll discuss what it takes to travel beyond your home, see the world, and enjoy living and working outside of the United States.

Sarah Li Cain is a financial storyteller who weaves practical tips and strategies into her work so that those trying to change their money mindset can see themselves in the starring role. You can find her over at High Fiving Dollars where she answers readers questions or spilling her guts out on her latest money experiment.

Watch the video above or listed to just the audio by using the player below.

Hosted byHarlan Landes and Miranda Marquit
Produced byadulting.tv
Edited and mixed bySteven Flato
Music bybensound.com

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Trying to figure out what to sell online? An online sales business can change your lifestyle.

Once in a while, we present Adulting.tv LIVE! Subscribe on YouTube to hear about future events, and share your questions about or suggestions for our next discussions!

Today, Harlan and Miranda are joined by Steve Chou from My Wife Quit Her Job. On this episode of Adulting.tv LIVE! we will discuss finding the best product to start an e-commerce business. Selling products online can be a great way to earn a living.

Steve carries both a bachelors and a masters degree in electrical engineering from Stanford University. Despite majoring in electrical engineering, he spent a good portion of his graduate education studying entrepreneurship and the mechanics of running small businesses. He currently works for a startup company in the Silicon Valley.

Watch the video above or listen to just the audio by using the player below.

Hosted byHarlan Landes and Miranda Marquit
Produced byadulting.tv
Edited and mixed bySteven Flato
Music bybensound.com

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Time doesn’t just show up for free. If you want time for your side hustle, you have to make it.

I hear this all the time:

“I really want to start a side hustle, but I don’t have time.”

It’s true that some of us really don’t have time for side gigs. After all, we’re busy people. We have real jobs and families and a desire to, at some point, to live a little.

But you might be surprised at how much time you do have. Here are some strategies to use to make time for a side hustle:

Track your time use.

The first thing to do is track your time use.

When I feel like I am running out of time, I start tracking my time use. Usually, the problem is that I’ve let unimportant things creep into my life, or I get distracted.

Keep a diary of what you are doing, and how long you spend doing it. You might be surprised at the patterns that emerge.

According to the American Time Use Survey, adults spend close to three hours a day watching TV. I’m always surprised when I track my online activities and discover how much time I spend just surfing.

If you want to make time for a side hustle, start with how you’re using your time now to see where you might find a place to cut back on some of your unnecessary activities.

Schedule side hustle time.

So often, we don’t make time for a side hustle. Instead, we say we’ll do it when we have time. Just waiting to see if the time appears is a surefire strategy to ensure that you’ll never have time for a side hustle.

You’ll increase your chances of having time for a side gig if you actually schedule the time. Wake up a little earlier. Instead of watching TV for two hours in the evening, schedule an hour and a half to work on the side gig.

Think of where you can carve out time during the day to dedicate to your side hustle and schedule it into your day.

Use the weekend.

I know, I know. We all love our weekends. It’s a break from work. However, if you want to make time for a side hustle, you need to give something up.

You don’t have to use the whole weekend for your side hustle, but it can be a good time to get something done with your side gig.

When I have things I want to do, I try to work on them during Saturday morning. My son has his own extracurricular activity and it’s a perfect time for me to hit something hard while I don’t have other obligations.

Figure out what works best for you. Saturday morning? Sunday afternoon? Whatever. The weekend is the perfect time to … make time for a side hustle.

Schedule a workcation.

Consider your real job. Do you get time off for vacation? If you want to make time for a side hustle, you can kick it off with a workcation. Take a vacation with your day job, and use it to work on your side hustle.

When you don’t have to focus on your regular job, you have a little more time to work on a side gig.

Of course, you can’t be constantly taking time off to make time for your side hustle. However, you can get a lot of good value out of a bit of time off to really dig into the side hustle.

A workcation can also help when you aren’t taking time off your regular job. When my son sleeps over at a friend’s house, I sometimes book a room at a local hotel. That change of scene for one night and the next morning really helps me focus. There’s something about getting out of the routine that provides you with a chance to work on a side hustle.

It’s totally worth it to get a hotel room for one night if that helps you focus up.

Ask for help.

Do you have a support system? If so, ask for help. Sometimes, when I need a little more time to work on my projects, I get help from my parents, or from my sister, in taking my son for a couple hours while I really get down to it.

We help each other.

Look around to see if you have a support system that can help. You might even have a life partner who can help you out.

I know a couple who helps each other with these gigs. They saved up an emergency fund. Then, he kept working while she worked to make her side gig a full-time reality. After a while, she gained traction. However, she wouldn’t have had time for the side gig without the full buy-in of her partner. He helped make it possible for her first reduce her hours at work, and then quit altogether.

If you can get help from your support system, it’s a little easier to make time for a side hustle.

Bottom line.

We all have challenges. I know I don’t do as much as I would like in a lot of areas. However, part of that is because I don’t make time. Use one or all of these strategies, and you might be surprised to see that you have more time available than you thought.

Are you working on a side hustle? When do you work on it? What’s your best way to make it happen? Let us know in the #Adulting community on Facebook or leave a comment here.

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