How to Budget Your Freelance Income Like a Real Cowboy

by . November 16th, 2011


“Technically, I am a freelancer, which is pretty much a modern-day cowboy.” — Liz Lemon


In an episode of 30 Rock, Liz Lemon refers to the freelancer as a “modern-day cowboy.” Because projects come and go, it’s difficult to sustain a steady lifestyle, since you can strike gold one day and then be stuck in a barren wasteland the next.


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Talking about budgeting seems tedious. But it’s necessary for freelancers because pay doesn’t come at regular intervals, like most 9-to-5s. Having a budget system allows you to keep an eye on your bank account and stop the savings from dwindling. Remember: gun-slingers need to make sure they earn enough, too.

There are different ways to go about this, but what I’ve found most helpful is to determine the categories of my expenditures: rent, bills and utilities, and skills expenditures. Studio rentals, tools (laptop, Internet connection), and other amenities you need to be able to do your job fall under skill expenditures. We can regard these as fixed expenses. Everything else is flexible income you can either spend for entertainment and shopping, or save for a rainy day.

Set aside one month to meticulously keep track of your budget. Use this as a basis to figure out how much work you should be doing to stay afloat. You can also see which things you can afford to scrap altogether. (Maybe that latte could have been used for transportation instead.) Budgeting also helps to keep track of planned expenses, such as vacations or Christmas shopping.

It might seem overwhelming at first, but it will pay off in the long run. Creating a budget ultimately gives you more control over your work, financial situation and destiny—like a true cowboy. It also helps you curb your spending and keep it in check, allowing you to perhaps save more, as well as to make wiser financial choices.