Surviving on a fluctuating income

When I first started trying to budget, I didn’t know how to deal with irregular expenses. I didn’t know how to deal with the fact that our income fluctuated (sometimes as much as a couple of hundred dollars – not enough to seriously derail us though). I can’t tell you how many times I gave up before realising that budgets are not static: they need constant tweaking, and adjusting mine week by week is the way to go.
Life is easier now that our incomes have stabilised. But not everyone has the luxury of being able to count on a regular paycheck. So I asked myself: what would I do if I was facing having to live on a freelance income?


Working out realistically the minimum I’d expect to make, and budgeting the essentials from that amount.
In the past I was always been able to count on getting my student allowance, at least ($190 a week). If nothing else, that was enough to pay rent and buy food and a bus pass. Money over that amount would then be allotted to other things in order of priority.


Save as much as possible in the flush periods and build a hefty slush fund
– not just a fund for emergencies, but one to tide you over between late paychecks and unpaid invoices. If need be, you could borrow from yourself in that in-between period.  You can also get idea about how to save money by visiting geld sparen.

Cutting expenses as much as possible – especially the fixed ones. Rent, utilities, insurance. Big, regular bills are the enemy of an irregular income. Then again, so are big irregular bills, hence the need for the aforementioned slush fund. It might be worth investigating whether your utilities company has a bill-smoothing option, where you pay the same amount each month based on your estimated annual bill.

In short, most of the things anyone starting a budget should do – getting out of the paycheck to paycheck cycle and getting ahead, rather than always trying to catch up on bills. Just with a lot more emphasis on saving.
What are your tips for budgeting on a freelance/irregular income?

4 thoughts on “Surviving on a fluctuating income

  • Reply Tasha March 17, 2010 at 23:36

    In our case, our main variable is electricity so within the course of a year the budget for it curves with its peak in winter months. I based it on our history cos we have been with the same company for years. Next variable is food. Can’t make it stick no matter what but I’m lax on this cos we seldom eat out and I try varieties of cuisine.

    Would be interesting how those in this situation manage it. 🙂

  • Reply Investing Newbie March 18, 2010 at 02:36

    I agree with your main point of budgeting based on the minimum. From there, see if you can cover your expenses. If not, then maybe get another gig so that you can at least live a little beyond paycheck-to-paycheck.

  • Reply Amber from Girl with the Red Hair March 18, 2010 at 07:39

    Great tips! For some odd reason with my irregular income I seem to get a HUGE chunk of money all at once and then nothing for 3-4 weeks (like right now). So when I get that huge chunk I automatically pay off my credit card and pay any bills that are waiting to be paid and put a big chunk in savings. Then, I just try not to use the rest TOO much because I know I’ll probably get more bills before I’ll get more paycheques!

  • Reply Jessie March 18, 2010 at 07:41

    I completely agree – you’ve got to budget based on what you know you’ll get – not what you might get 🙂

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