How to budget when your income isn’t consistent #3

Hi again! If you landed on this page and don’t know much about this blog series “Mastering Money for Writers”, I recommend starting from the Introduction or at least Part 1 before continuing.

Because by now you should have the following figures:

  1. Your Lowest Monthly Income
  2. The amount you need to cover your Critical Monthly Expenses

But let’s get into this next step!

Chapter 3: Work out your discretionary monthly expenses

This section should be easy, yet at the same time eye-opening, maybe disconcerting. Because we will finally understand where all our money is going, see expenses we perhaps didn’t even realise existed or forgot about. So attack this in two stages.

  1. Just understand your reality and list the additional monthly expenses you incur such as:
  • Dining Out
  • Tickets for Entertainment (movies, concerts, sports)
  • Subscriptions (streaming services, magazines, deliveries)
  • Cable TV
  • Haircuts
  • “Unnecessary” clothing and shoes
  • Makeup
  • Gym memberships
  • Books*
  • Writing Courses & Events*

[*N.B. These expenses could potentially be tax deductible as it relates to your “writing job”, so it is justifiable although still within reason]

You can easily do this by looking 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.

  1. Work out how you can reduce your monthly total by asking yourself the following questions:
  • Are there expenses I can cut out altogether? (e.g. Subscriptions you forgot you signed up for and rarely use.)
  • Are there any expenses I can cut out temporarily until the month when I’m getting more work/money? (e.g. Remember, many subscriptions are not locked-in contracts but allow you to cancel anytime. So if you happen to be using multiple streaming services, you could, for example, cancel your Stan subscription and just watch everything there is to watch on Netflix. When you’ve exhausted Netflix, you could even cancel Netflix and activate Stan again and binge on a show you’ve been missing.)
  • Are there any expenses I can reduce? (e.g. coffee at a cafe less often and instead having coffee at home.)

Actually, looking at phase two, I take back what I said above… This section is hard, the paring back part at least. Trust me, I’ve been here. I don’t know why but when you are used to spending a certain amount of money on a monthly basis, cutting back feels like your oxygen is being taken away from you. I remember initially, it felt stressful, made my body tense every time I was reminded I couldn’t just freely tap and go. Every expense, every bill, anything to do with money was an uncomfortable experience. The hardest part though was the social aspect, feeling too embarrassed to say, “Sorry, I can’t go to the movies every week like before because I’m struggling financially.”

Why is it that there is a shame attached to admitting you are in tough financial times, even though it’s not always your fault, especially if unexpected things happen like COVID19? There must be some unspoken rule we’ve absorbed in our upbringing to hide our difficulties, even though these burdens are likely shared by our closest friends in silence.

I hope reading this that you realise, you’re not alone and you will get through this like I have. You will be able to look back one day soon feeling a freedom you didn’t realise you could feel. Talking about money will no longer make you hold your breath or feel spasms of discomfort because you know you’ve got control of your finances again.

But also, this experience of learning the discipline of managing money is the key to increasing wealth and abundance in your life. Having more money is not always the solution to your problem. For example, think about the statistic that the average lottery winner is broke within 3-5 years of getting those millions! Because the key traits they haven’t learnt are self-control and future-planning. The need for instant gratification is the sure way to remain broke your entire life.

Also, if you don’t reduce your expenses, is the stress of being in debt (or your debt growing) worth the pleasure you gained? When you are short of money one month, it has to come from somewhere. So if it’s not coming from the sacrifice of some of your joyous activities, ultimately it may have to come from a utility bill or rent (the critical stuff).

Finally, like I highlighted in the previous chapter, this reduction phase is temporary. When your circumstances have shifted, you can reintroduce the things you sacrificed but this time be able to enjoy them at a deeper level, because they are no longer reinforcing your financial stress.

So in summary, by the end of this chapter, you should be clear about exactly where your money has been going and you’ve got a plan on reducing your total discretionary monthly expenses.

Until next week, stay blessed!


Raihanaty A Jalil

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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.