Whether you're selling organic hand-milled soap on Etsy, teaching yoga classes out of your home studio, or leading a tech startup, you know that being your own boss is very rewarding. The ability to create a flexible schedule, work from home, and only have yourself to answer to is enough to make many people think twice about their jobs in the corporate world.
Working for yourself isn't always going to be a bowl of cherries, however, as choosing the path of self-employment means taking on additional responsibility and a bunch of other downsides you might not hear about during a TED Talk: longer hours, no employer-paid benefits, and no payroll, accounting, or HR department to turn to when things get overwhelming. In addition to ensuring your company's economic viability and maintaining a profitable business model, you'll experience added financial stressors such as dealing with tax implications for independent workers. This stress can be alleviated by building a rainy-day fund. Experts recommend having an emergency fund large enough to cover three to six months of expenses — at a minimum. If you're self-employed, it's especially important to have one set up before you take the plunge into entrepreneurship, as an emergency fund acts as a cushion to cover unexpected expenses and eliminates the need to turn to credit.
Ideally, independent workers should open multiple bank accounts, each serving a different purpose. Depending on your lifestyle or line of work, these accounts may differ slightly, but they typically operate under the same basic money management system.
Baseline or Personal Checking Account
First off, you'll need to know your baselines, which include things that are necessary to survive such as food, shelter, medical expenses, and transportation. With a regular income, it's easy to budget for these because you know exactly what's coming in. As an independent, it's a little trickier because you'll have to work backward. Include your groceries, but with no frills — you want to be as lean as possible. For shelter, factor in your rent or mortgage costs, property insurance, utilities, and maintenance fees. Allocate money for health insurance and outstanding medical bills. Under transportation, allocate funds for a transit pass, insurance, gas, your car loan, parking, maintenance, and repair. Add these costs to your estimated taxes, and this will be the minimum amount of income your business will need to generate.
It's solely your responsibility to complete your quarterly estimated tax payments and submit them to the IRS, so be sure to set aside 30 percent of your earnings for taxes. Your payments should cover self-employment tax as well as federal and state income taxes. As an independent, your rates for Social Security and Medicare taxes will be higher, because unlike a typical job, your employer will not be subsidizing any of your taxes. Be sure to calculate the correct rate and pay your taxes on time — the last thing you want is to get hit with a penalty for not paying the required amount by the due date.
Let's face it: as much as you love being self-employed, there's going to come a point when you just want to relax in your golden years. As an independent, no one is going to prepare for these years other than you, so be sure to put away at least 10 percent of your earnings (after taxes) for your retirement. If you don't have 10 percent, put away as much as you can and make up for the remaining amount once you have a steady flow of income.
Set your target revenue for the month. Be realistic with your goals. Your target income should exceed the combined baseline and tax amounts and should give you enough cash to set aside in case you have slow months. Any extra money can be reinvested to grow your business or put toward other investments such as real estate.
Once you gain some consistency, you can tweak your money management to suit your needs. Like any job, there is a learning curve, and your first months might be difficult. Running your own business takes a lot of hard work and dedication and you'll need to make some sacrifices, but if you have the passion and vision, you will find a way to make it possible.