How to Manage Money with Your Freelancing Partner

So many great topics and questions were brought up at Blonde on a Budget and I’s money talk meet-up last week, but one of them that got stuck in my brain was how to best manage money with your partner, especially if they are a freelancer with unpredictable income.

When asked what my HB and I do to manage our money since he’s a freelancer, I honestly didn’t have a solid answer. We’ve been together for over 7 years now, and up until recently we’ve been managing our finances completely separately. It just made sense when we were dating or living together, but now that we’ve been married for a year, we’ve both realized things need to change.

One of my biggest worries about managing our finances together was that it would lead to a string of arguments, judgement about each other’s spending habits, and basically a whole bunch of crap we’ve been able to avoid up until this point. But now that we’re in this life together for the long haul, it’s time to start looking at our entire financial picture as a family, not as individuals.

Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean that we’re going to be pooling all of our money together any time soon. I know for a fact that would never work for us. That being said, we have combined our downpayment funds together, we share a joint chequing account for mutual expenses and a joint emergency savings account, and are in the process of moving all of our accounts to the same bank.

Besides that, the biggest change we’ve implemented is combining our separate Mint.com accounts. Up until now, we’ve always had an idea of how much the other person had in their respective savings and investment accounts, but only a few times a year would we actually sit down and look at the hard numbers. Now we have one Mint account with every one of our accounts in it. This way we can look at our Mint account and see exactly how much money we’ve got as a unit. I’m hoping this will not only make our lives easier and help maintain open communication, but motivate us to save and invest as a team too.

So, how does the element of my HB being a freelancer change things even further? Well, for one it means that our money management styles will always be a bit different. Since I know exactly how much will be on my paycheque, I can plan far into the future and put away the same amount into savings every two weeks.

Since he never truly knows how much he’ll make each month, things are much more complicated for him. Some months are really good for him and some months he needs to dip into his buffer money. That being said, he does keep track of every expense and stream of income in a spreadsheet, then averages out how much he makes per month. Unfortunately it isn’t until the end of the year that he knows how much net income he made.

At this point, I still don’t have the perfect answer about how best to manage money as a couple when one person is a freelancer. I do however think that we are on the right track to improving the way we do things, and I definitely plan on looking into creative ways other freelancers manage their unpredictable income.

So for any of you in a similar situation, my only piece of advice would be to communicate, communicate, communicate! Being on the same page is crucial, even when you make money differently or one person makes more than the other. As long as you talk about it and have the same financial priorities and goals, I truly believe that you will eventually find a solution that works for both of you.

How do you and your partner manage your money together?

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Showing 33 comments
  • Deb @ Saving the Crumbs
    Reply

    When my husband and I got married we had the understanding that what was his was mine and mine was his. I know it’s not for everyone, but it sure keeps us accountable! If he wastes money, it affects me, and vice versa. So as opposed to it causing friction, it has actually made us a more unified front in our personal finances.

  • Stephen Weyman
    Reply

    That sounds challenging. My income has become more freelance recently so I’m going to be going through some of this with my wife. We share all money and accounts so we always know how much we each have and spend (if she bothers to check anyway since I manage most of the finances).

    However, I would think for people who keep separate money, having joint Mint accounts might be a bit problematic. Being able to see how much/little one partner is under or over performing could make for some interesting and potentially negative conversations.

    I’m sure you guys have it figured out but if I was keeping my finances separate I think doing that might make me nervous.

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      Well we’ll see what happens and if it does bring up any of our worries of judgment/nagging. I’m hoping it’ll just help us be more accountable with our money, but only time will tell!

  • Emily @ evolvingPF
    Reply

    I think the easiest way to manage it would be to do it together! With one stable salary and one variable you can sort of have the best of both worlds with way fewer downsides, right? But failing that, probably what your husband has been doing is best – that is, keeping a large buffer to smooth income. Not sure what medium ground there is if you don’t want to combine.

    I’ve just switched to having a variable income, though it isn’t much, and we are basically budgeting solely off my husband’s income and allowing a few extra purchases when I have some money come in.

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      It might be easier if we did it all together, but I think there are a lot of issues with that too, especially if both people’s incomes are different. Plus, it’s also nice to have a bit of independence with the money your earned. We’ve just being doing it separate for so long it’s just a hard thing to imagine doing it completely together at this point in our lives anyway.

  • Aldo@MillionDollar Ninja
    Reply

    My fiancee and I have been living together for over a year now, but haven’t combined our finances yet. It’s working out pretty good for us – for now – but we’ll see what happens when we get married and have kids.

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      I think having kids really changes things. I’m sure how we do finances now will change drastically when we start a family.

  • debs @ debtdebs
    Reply

    My husband’s income is variable so consequently we have a big emergency fund which takes away the jitters. We had to tap into the cash portion of our efund this year and it made me realize that I want it even bigger than it was so am slowly building it up to $15K instead of $10K. This way we can keep our debt repayment on plan and not freak out if he has a lean quarter.

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      That’s a great idea, and I know that’s one of my HB’s plans is to continue to grow his efund just in case something happens.

  • Rob
    Reply

    Hi Jessica,

    Well, over the years prior to my retirement, and even afterward, my wife and I (both having pretty stable incomes) pretty much consistently split up the bill paying along expense categories. Since I earned much more than she did (as well as she having retired some years sooner than me in order to take care of her mom, who came to live with us in her old age), I paid for roughly 65% of the regular monthly expenses. Anything that we spent separately on ourselves, such as clothing and discretionary spending, we paid each on our own.

    I realize that in your case, having a HB who is earning a variable yearly income, it’s a bit trickier to determine who should pay for what. I would think that one’s own discretionary expenses probably should be covered by each of you. Having a buffer of savings is a good idea on his part and I think that, after tracking HB’s freelance income for a few years, he might then have a better handle on his trending yearly income, as well as how generally accurate he can “guestimate” his income, year over year, as compared to trending yearly expenses.

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      Thanks so much for the comment Rob! I definitely think him tracking everything year over year (especially as his income increases each year) it’ll get easier to predict the next year’s income. But it’s still a lot trickier compared to if we were both salaried employees and knew exactly how much we were making.

  • Katie
    Reply

    My fiance is a freelance photographer, and his way of managing his variable income every month wasn’t working. Like your guy, some months were very lucrative and some months he had to skim by. To help create some sort of consistency, I helped get him on a plan where he deposits all of his freelance income into a business checking account, and then pays himself bi-weekly from his business account to his personal account. It’s a way of predicting your income and having a set number to make a budget with when your income varies each month. If he has a good month of freelancing, the business account will have excess funds at the end of the month, but those excess months balances out the months he falls short. In January, we look over how much he made the prior year, and decide then if he should increase the bi-weekly “paycheck” or keep it the same, thus essentially determining if he is able to give himself a “raise” based on what last year looked like.

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      That’s a great idea! I’m going to have to tell my HB about that.

  • Kate @ Money Propeller
    Reply

    Saving as one would be totally great! We used to have a different account before, but then we decided to have a joint account which is very convenient to both of us.

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      Glad to hear combining your finances worked out for you and your partner. 🙂

  • femmefrugality
    Reply

    We both have variable incomes. My best advice is to pray. And we’re not even sure about the whole god thing.

    But seriously, we save in good months and that holds us over in the bad. It’s not perfect, and there’s sometimes when we’re biting our nails, but I’m not sure what else we can do.

  • MomofTwoPreciousGirls
    Reply

    Hubby and I have small salaries but both get monthly bonuses that make up the majority of our money. Last year I used the prior 6 months income amounts to come up with an average. We then busted our butts to get that amount saved up (you are AWESOME at that) and in the month of October we had enough saved to budget on the prior months pay. We have been doing so ever since and it has been awesome! Each new month comes eight a new budget and he we have a lower income month we adjust accordingly, though since starting we have never made less than that average.

  • Melissa @ Sunburnt Saver
    Reply

    Since your paycheck is more stable, do you ever think of your salary as more ‘fallback’ in case something happens and your HB’s salary drops tremendously? I don’t ask that to be mean, just curious! Both me and my boyfriend have steady jobs (and hence steady paychecks) but I would LOVE to freelance one day, and we’ve already talked about how his paycheck then could become a fallback. We’re just not totally sure how to make it work, because he’d like to also freelance (although not writing, like me), and I do make more, so my income would be safer to ‘fall back’ on. We haven’t worked out the details yet, but that’s okay because I’m not ready to freelance anytime soon! 🙂

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      Oh absolutely. I don’t think it’ll ever come to me being the sole bread winner, but I do consider my income the fallback income in case something happens and say he decides to go back to school full-time to train to do something else.

  • Reply

    Actor relationships can be really hard because the money from each partner can vary greatly and both people want to work and want to be doing jobs that bring in the big bucks, but those jobs are just so hard to get and so few and far between.

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      That’s very true, which is definitely why I never became an actor (that and I’m terrible at acting).

  • Kayla @ Red Debted Stepchild
    Reply

    I don’t have a SO to even worry about combining income and expenses with, but I have a hard enough time tracking my own freelance income and expenses (vs my full time income which is steady). I can’t imagine the process involved in getting everything combined… :-S

  • Simon E.
    Reply

    This is a tough one and depends squarely with a couple. Personally I’d have a hard time combining finances…but in all honesty, I think its the best way to understand whats going on financially as a family and reduces the chances of financial suprises.
    With one partner on freelance income, I’d probably recommend a solid buffer to sorta smooth out the income month on month.

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      It definitely depends on the couple, because no couple works the same. A solid buffer is definitely what works for us right now. We’ll have to see how things develop, especially as our incomes increase and we have kids.

  • Aleksandra Sagan
    Reply

    I’m a freelancer, and my live-in partner of nearly three years has a steady, non-freelance job.

    We keep all of our finances separate, but are open about our money/budgets and have mutual savings goals.

    When doing my budget, I track all of my income and spending, and have figured out an average of what I make per month. If I’m on track to make the average on any given month, I spend as usual. If I’m feeling like I’m going to dip below the average, I cut back on entertainment and other discretionary expenses. If I make more than the average, that money goes straight into savings for a rainy day.

  • save. spend. splurge.
    Reply

    We’re both freelancers.. so our thing is to manage our money separately and then when we have common things like the budget for the baby, whoever pays, invoices the other at the end of the month for the half.

    We have mutual goals — to buy a condo, he helps me save a lot of money by taking my car in to get tires changed (as a guy he doesn’t get ripped off), or driving around town looking for a used car for me.

    We help each other out and still have our own separate accounts, just the way I like it.

pingbacks / trackbacks
  • TGIFRIDAY – Spreading the Love | The Money Pincher

    […] How to Manage Money with Your Freelancing Partner by Jessica at Mo Money Mo Houses […]

  • […] What happens when one partner doesn’t have a steady income? Jessica Moorhouse discusses dealing with the vagaries her partner’s freelance career in her More Money, More Houses blog. She’s not likely to pool all her resources with him, she says, but they’ve merged their house down payment funds, and moved all their accounts to the same bank. How to manage money with your freelancing partner […]

  • […] Moorhouse blogs at Mo’ Money Mo’ Houses. She tackles the issue how to manage family finance when one partner is a freelancer with erratic […]

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