If you have a side hustle, you know just how useful—and maybe even essential—those extra dollars are each month when it comes to reaching your money goals. You might use your earnings to pay bills, hack away at debt, invest more or fund a long-term goal, like buying a house.
On the flip side, managing various, fluctuating income streams can be challenging. And if you rely on side hustle money to make ends meet—or you’re a contractor, freelancer or solopreneur—getting paid at unpredictable times during the month can really throw you off.
How to stay on track? Three side hustlers share how they’ve perfected the art of budgeting irregular income.
Lindsay VanSomeren, 29, a biological science technician, and Zach VanSomeren, 33, construction management student, in Fort Collins, Colo.
“Between my day job as a bio science technician with the government and Zach’s military benefits, we bring in about $4,200, which isn’t enough to cover our monthly expenses of $5,150. So to supplement our income, I moonlight as a freelance writer, and Zach works part time as a paid intern at a construction management company while he goes to school. He also hosts pub quizzes for a national trivia company at $50 a pop.
It varies, but our side hustles usually rake in about $2,500 a month—though it’s dipped as low as $1,950 and peaked one month at $7,200. After paying the bills, that usually leaves $1,550 that we can put toward various savings goals and debt repayment. We contribute about half of that to different savings accounts, earmarked for purposes like travel, car repairs, quarterly taxes, vet bills, a home down payment and holiday gifts.
Then we use the remaining—typically at least $700—to beef up our emergency fund, which currently sits at $558. Once we have two months’ worth of expenses saved, we’ll start aggressively tackling our student debt and car loans. The extra money we earn each month from our side gigs goes a long way in helping us achieve financial security and accomplish our goals.”
Masha Vishnevsky, 33, school psychologist, in Los Angeles, Calif.
“I’m employed on a contract basis as a school psychologist. Because I’m an independent contractor, I’m paid hourly and my monthly income can be anywhere from $3,000 to $4,400. (Last year I made $61,000 before taxes.) As long as I work 31 hours a week, which I do when the work is available, I receive employee benefits.
Given the nature of my income, I keep my basic expenses as low as possible—usually $2,500 a month. I have a tenant that helps me with the mortgage and HOA fees on my condo and I eat at home as much as possible.
My biggest priority is socking away $500 to $1,000 a month to cover me during the summer, when I’m unemployed. My goal is to save $15,000, which I hope to have by the beginning of next summer. Right now, I’m a third of the way there. If I end up exceeding my goal, I’ll use some of the excess cash to travel and splurge on roller derby equipment and events, which is one of my favorite hobbies.
Once the summer hits, I’ll still be on the lookout for ways to boost my budget. Last year, I filed for unemployment, which netted $3,600. I used that to pay basic bills and my mortgage. This year, I plan to do the same, as well as find another roommate and apply to be a rideshare driver.
While it’s definitely more challenging to budget as a contractor, I prefer it over working a full-time job. I get to make my own schedule and even work from home two days a week.”
Michael Noker, 26, a creative side hustler in El Paso, Texas
“I do everything from ghostwriting to video editing to social media, marketing, SEO, design, and public relations, and work at least 10 hours a day to hit my income goal of $1,500 a month. That’s enough to cover my rent, car payment, cell phone, student loans, credit card debt, food and gas.
I hope to one day make a living from my creative endeavors, like T-shirts I’ve been designing, and aim to double my income from these projects every month. In the meantime, I’m working on a variety of other side gigs, and my earnings vary a lot. In September, I brought in $1,450 from a combination of health and wellness coaching ($700), ghostwriting ($400), Uber driving ($200), house cleaning ($100) and web development work ($50). My lowest earning month was August, when I brought in just $900, and my best month was June, when I earned $3,500. In total, I should bank about $24,000 this year, after taxes.
But earning enough to cover my expenses is just part of the equation. Because my bill due dates are scattered throughout the month—as are the dates I get paid from my side gigs—I also have to actively manage my cash flow.
For example, my student loans and credit card payments, which total $500, are due on the 16th, while my rent and car payment, which equal $618, are due at the end of the month. Paying my bills on time is important to me, so I always make sure I have at least $700 by mid-month, and another $700 by the final day. If I find myself coming up short, I take on extra work. And if I’m pacing ahead of my goal, I might use the money to buy new equipment, like a camera lens or better microphone, or up my debt payment.
Since everything I do is 1099 work, I also make it a point to save 30 percent for taxes in a separate account. And my emergency fund is currently at $1,000, though I typically handle pop-up expenses by working more hours.
While I’m living more precariously than I ever predicted, I’ve also never been happier or enjoyed my life more than I do today. I have the freedom and independence I think so many people are hungry for. I’m more than willing to work 100-hour weeks on occasion for that kind of return.”