How to budget when your income isn’t consistent #2

Watch the video or read the post below

Welcome back for another lesson in Mastering Money for Writers. If you landed on this page and don’t know much about this blog series, I recommend read the introduction and part 1 before continuing.

Otherwise, let’s dive straight in!

Chapter 2: Work out your critical monthly expenses

If you do a search on the internet, this category of expenses is given many names, some quite creative. For example, Dave Ramsey refers to these essential expenses as the “Four Walls”: food, utilities, shelter and transportation.

It’s also been known as the “noodle budget”, describing the times we’ve all been through when we’ve had to survive on instant noodles so we can still cover those critical expenses until our next payday.

So ask yourself these questions:

  • What are the absolute essential expenses you must cover on a monthly basis?
  • What is the lowest possible amount you need in a month that allows you to survive until the next month?

I want to now talk about this word, “survive”. Maybe it’s a word that is depressing, disempowering, but what I hope to get across is this:

When you are in tough financial times, the reality is that you are in survival mode. There is going to be a period of sacrifice. 

BUT—and this is a huge BUT—this is temporary.

This is the one statement I reminded myself of often when I went through this process myself. I know first hand that it isn’t easy. Your mind will come up with creative ways to justify expenses that you know deep down don’t fall into this category.

For example, essential food expenses does not encompass coffee every day in a cafe. Not at all saying you should give up coffee altogether, but when calculating this step of the “mastering money plan”, just remember that dining out has another place in your budget that I’ll be covering soon.

Now let’s talk about the “how”. Consider the following categories and examples for each:

  • Food: Groceries 
  • Utilities: Water, Gas, Electricity, Phone
  • Shelter: Rent, Mortgage Payments, Home Insurance, Council Rates, Internet
  • Transportation: Public Transport, Petrol, Car Registration, Car Maintenance, Car Insurance
  • Misc: Health Insurance

Look at your past bills and your bank statements.

If you’re a Plotter, you might want to put it into a spreadsheet to work out your monthly average for each category.

If you’re a Pantser, you might want to collect all the hardcopies, highlight the figures and use a trusty calculator to add the numbers.

Ultimately, we are trying to work out the minimum we need to budget per month. So it’s possible that when you add the values, it might be higher than you realised (e.g. groceries). In this case, try writing a lower figure and see how you go when you test your budget the next month.


  1. Is a gym membership a critical expense? It’s essential for my health and well-being, so it’s almost like food but for my body?

Unless it’s part of a necessary therapy, the short answer is, no. Imagine you lost your job and only had $500 left from your last pay to survive. Would you be using that to pay your rent, or would you keep your gym membership no matter what because of your health? The answer is obvious, so use this as a measuring stick in future.

But remember, I’m not saying cancel your membership right now. All other expenses have a place in your budget, which I’ll be discussing in future posts. For now, we just need to know the bare minimum we need to keep food on the table, keep a roof over our heads etc.

  1. How do I work out the monthly cost of my utility bills if they’re billed every two months, or three months, sometimes fortnightly?

If you’re not great with maths, I’ll give you an example to work this out.

Let’s say your Synergy (Electricity) bill is roughly $300 and comes every 2 months. Do the following calculation:

$300 / 2 months = $150/month

Let’s say you have another bill that comes out fortnightly (e.g. $20 for health insurance every 2 weeks). There are roughly 4 weeks in a month, so do the following calculation:

$20 x 2 = $40/month

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask and I’ll add it to the FAQs so it can benefit others.

Otherwise, see you next week for the next instalment!

Raihanaty A Jalil

P.S. If you found value in this post, please share it with others.

Author: Raihanaty A. Jalil

Raihanaty A Jalil writes poetry and fiction and has been on a panel during Perth Festival Writers Week 2019. She has performed a reading of her work at the Wheeler Centre Melbourne during the Digital Writers’ Festival 2019. She currently sits on the board for Centre for Stories.