The holidays are coming, friends. This is not a drill.
Let’s say your mom is being passive-aggressive about how long it’s been since your last visit. Or maybe your best friend from college (who you never really talk to, but still call your best friend) expects a thoughtful, personalized gift that needs to be shipped cross-country. Your car insurance and registration happens to come due in December. Your significant other wants a new banjo. Your Netflix-conditioned kids somehow end up watching cable TV somewhere and discover toy commercials. Maybe you just really want to buy your cat some fancy, homemade treats.
It doesn’t matter who wants what from you, or what holidays you celebrate; this time of year usually ends up being pretty expensive. If you’re working a corporate job, you might be able to look ahead to a holiday bonus, but if you’re a freelancer, that bonus only happens if you’re on top of your game… like really on top of your game.
As a freelancer, preparation is the key to everything. That might not be what you want to hear, but when you’re the one cutting the checks, finagling schedules, and paying expenses, it’s simply a reality. So, what are the A) best ways to save money as a freelancer, and B) the best ways to make those holiday savings last?
Let’s settle in with a glass of eggnog or cider (or water; I’m not going to get pushy with you) and walk through them.
Let’s start with one of the easiest, least-painful tips on saving money: microsavings apps.
“Micro” (tiny) + “savings” (well, you know, savings) = saving up money in tiny increments. Add “app” to that equation and you’ve got a handy app that will help you save up little bits of money that you barely notice leaving your account. After a few months, you’ll have a nice cushion of dough waiting for you to use it however you wish.
The most popular option for a simple saving app is Digit. Digit analyzes your accounts and spending habits and withdraws small increments (anywhere from $5 to $50) every few days. The money goes into an FDIC-insured account and is withdrawable at any time.
Another popular option is Acorns, which takes your savings and invests them automatically, which is a very smart idea worth mentioning… but not too helpful as far as building up your holiday savings.
Open Up Some New Accounts
One of the best ways to be mindful about your spending habits is to get specific. If your bank allows for unlimited accounts, open up a few new accounts with deliberate purposes. Many people already have checking and savings accounts for both personal and business purposes… but by adding more specific savings accounts, such as “Christmas” or “Quarterly Taxes,” you’ll be able to get a better idea of how much money you actually have to spend on different things.
This will be your opportunity to establish a “saving habit.” Ugh, I know phrases like that are awful, but it’s possible to find a way to make them work for you. Rather than trying to dump a whole bunch of money into your savings account (thereby turning yourself into a pauper), try transferring a small, consistent amount of money each month (or week) into your holiday savings account. Eventually, as you see your savings accounts gradually increasing, you’ll be able to likewise increase your savings transfers.
Remember; slow and steady beats fast and full-on broke any day.
Amp Up Your Work a Few Months Beforehand
Look ahead. September and October are ideal months to ask clients if they’d like a little extra work done. If you can add extra income to your holiday savings a few months ahead of time, you’ll be sparing yourself a lot of stress. If you’ve started saving in addition to this added work, you’re going to be able to buy yourself something extra… like a shiny new BB gun or exercise trampoline.
Snag Some New Holiday Work
There’s some conflicting evidence out there regarding the availability of freelance work during the holidays, and the truth is that it just depends on where you’re looking. In my experience as a freelance writer, I’ve noticed that business owners are less-inclined to pay for large-scale projects (like a brand new website with all-new copy) that they’d rather think about after the new year, and more inclined to hire out for their immediate needs, such as blog posts, social media work, and holiday promo content.
This is a great time to take advantage (not in a sleazy way… you know what I mean) of people’s’ good cheer and holiday spirits. Many people, even freelancers, are taking breaks in these last few months of the year. That means that the pool of freelancers, generally, is smaller than at other points of the year, and clients are often more interested in spending time off or with families than doing work they aren’t all that interested in. These quick jobs are a great way to bulk up your newly-opened holiday savings account.
Develop a Passive Income Stream
This is definitely one of those “start working on for next year” tips on saving money, but if it’s done right, you’ll be thrilled you put the effort into it. Passive income is simply the idea of making money without doing anything. No, this is not some kind of mythical freelance unicorn, and it does actually require some work (at least up front). Here are a few ways to score a chunk of that sweet passive income pie:
-Start and monetize a blog through advertising and affiliate links
-Develop and sell WordPress themes
-Write a book or an eBook
-Create and sell fonts
All of these options allow you to commoditize your talents and sell them while you’re working on your other freelance jobs.
Shop Online and Look for Sales
We’ve talk about building your holiday savings… now let’s put them to work. In addition to the ever-famous Cyber Monday, the holidays are a great time to keep an eagle eye open for online deals. “Big box” retailers have sales galore, and handmade sellers on sites like Etsy tend to have seasonal sales that are fun to browse.
In addition to gift-buying, you should also be on the lookout for sales on business-related items. This can include office equipment, SaaS subscriptions, and even travel options.
It’s Always a Good Day to Start Saving
Even if your savings account is as bare as the desert, there’s hope. Just start saving today… even if it’s 50 cents. One of the surest bets in freelancing is that you’ll always be learning, and building up your savings is just another thing to learn. Start planning ahead now for next holiday season and, who knows? Maybe you’ll have enough saved up for an actual vacation.
As far as your passive-aggressive mom and your old college friend, I don’t have much advice. Stay strong. We’re all in this together.