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Personal finance steps every freelancer must take to avoid ruin

(FINANCE) The government shutdown showcased financial instability, but what do people that have no paycheck guarantee need to do to be secure?

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In light of the recent government shutdown, there has been a lot of attention in regards to how missing paychecks impacts the average American. Most Americans don’t have a regular savings account and could not handle a $1,000 emergency, let alone miss practically a month of pay.

While things look positive for the backpay of those government workers, we all could benefit from some careful reflection about the precarious nature of our personal finances.

Particularly those of us who don’t receive a regular paycheck.

Entrepreneurs and those invested in the gig economy have volatile incomes, and literally no promise of a paycheck ever – that can impact your personal finances in a number of ways.

Variable incomes are normal for this group and can impact entrepreneurs in ways as simple as handling debt.

If this is you – here a few things to keep in mind that can help you deal with the volatility of living on a variable income and handling your personal finances.  

  • Set up an emergency fund. Start with 500 if you have too, and remember this an emergency fund for your personal expenses, not your business. If you have an emergency fund, make sure you identify what an emergency is and also be prepared to put money back when it comes out. If you have a hard time not spending money in front of you, put your money in a local bank or CU that you don’t have immediate access too.
  • Stick to a budget. when you can’t forecast your income appropriately, controlling expenses is so critical it’s the few things that are in your control.
  • Don’t mix business with personal. While you may be pouring your personal energy and time into your start up or gig, be careful about mixing expenses for two reasons: First, it messes up your budget. You need to have separate budgets for personal and business. Second, there could be tax challenges – consult a tax professional for more information. Here’s a little primer to get you started.
  • Save for retirement. There are tax benefits and come on, don’t wait till you can’t work anymore. Also, an IRA IS NOT AN EMERGENCY FUND.
  • Practice good financial behaviors. Automate bill pay. Online statements. Digital receipt tracking. The more you can automate your life, the better you are. You already have so many demands on your time, reduce that so you can spend more time doing what you love and what matters.
  • Consider diversifying your income. Either ensure you have multiple strings or a backup gig (even if it’s just uber driving); or be prepared to do temporary or contract labor during your slow seasons.

The path to entrepreneurship is rough. What we can learn from the very struggles of the federal employees and the government shutdown is that if the government can be unstable, those of you who work in the world of startups, gigs, and entrepreneurship, need to be even more on our toes. The “normal recommendation” for saving is 10% of your income, but normal may not be enough for you. Be prepared and save (more).

Disclaimer: I am neither a tax or investment professional. This is personal financial advice and I encourage you to visit a professional if you need more specific plans of action.

Kam has a Master's degree in Industrial/Organizational Psychology, and is an HR professional. Obsessed with food, but writing about virtually anything, he has a passion for LGBT issues, business, technology, and cats.

Business Finance

Small metros may have cheaper homes, but they might not have the jobs

(BUSINESS NEWS) Study by Indeed finds that small to mid-sized metros offer higher adjusted salaries, but don’t pack your bags just yet because your job may not be there

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When I told my parents how much my partner and I would be paying for rent at our new apartment, they quickly pointed out that I could purchase a home for that kind of money in my hometown.

Indeed recently published a study where they determined which cities have the highest salaries after accounting for the cost of living, an adjusted salary. Every city on the list is a small or mid-sized metro area which is why they dubbed their findings, “the small-city advantage.” No surprise to me, my hometown made the list.

My parents are right, I could literally buy a home for the amount of money I pay in rent every month to live in a large metro area. But the equation that determines where I, and many other workers should live, is more complex than salary minus housing.

Indeed’s study also shows that bigger metros have faster job growth and lower unemployment compared to these small to mid-sized metros. This is why the number one city on their list, Brownsville-Harlingen, TX, also has a higher unemployment rate than the national average. Some of the other cities on the list are Fort Smith, AR-OK, Toledo, OH, Laredo, TX, and Rockford, IL.

These areas are cheaper to live in, in part, because they may not offer the kind of job opportunities, and therefore social mobility, you see in larger metro areas. Sure, I could make my money go further in my hometown, but the chances of me finding a job in my industry there are smaller.

Your field of work does matter when considering whether or not the “small-city advantage” could work for you. If you work in tech or finance, two traditionally high-paying fields, then this advantage doesn’t apply.

“Before adjusting for living costs, typical technology salaries are 27% higher in two-million-plus metros than metros with fewer than 250,000 people. Even after adjusting for those costs, tech salaries are still 5% higher in the largest metros than in the smallest ones,” finds Indeed.

If a huge tech company offering thousands of high-paying jobs moved into a city like Brownsville-Harlingen, TX, over time it would get more expensive to live there. This is why people were freaking out so much when Amazon was trying to decide where to locate HQ2. It’s the hamster wheel that is currently driving income inequality in some of America’s largest major metro areas.

Finding the right place to call home is never going to be a single factor decision. Yes, salary is a huge factor, as is the cost of living, but there are also lifestyle factors to consider. What kind of opportunities would you have in this city? How much will it cost to move there? How will this effect the other members of your household?

It’s nice to play the ‘ditch the corporate world and buy a country house’ fantasy after a long day at work, but the reality is far more complex.

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Business Finance

Catch is a must-have finance management app for freelancers

(BUSINESS FINANCE) Catch is a new app that allows freelancers and people without benefits to determine their best options, with great automatic features.

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Working as a freelancer is something that just meshes well with my personality. I love having the ability to take on a variety of different projects and work in different facets of the communication industry.

Unfortunately, my one semester of high school economics did not fully prepare me for the financial aspect of freelancing. Figuring out what to deduct, how to do 1099 taxes, and properly save in general was something I’ve had to learn as I go.

However, as I always say, in this day and age, there is someone out there who has a solution to your problem.

Such is the case with Catch, which is a tool that is perfect for freelancers as it helps with automated tax withholding, health insurance, and the other head-scratchers in between.

After signing up, you build a plan by using custom recommendations to get the benefits that will help you the most. Catch will tell you about the coverage you need, whether you work for yourself, a boss, or multiple bosses.

All of your benefits will be put into one place and will be ready when you are. You’ll be able to see your savings grow the more you work and use Catch. As time goes on, Catch will offer suggestions to help you prepare for the future.

From there, you can set aside money automatically. After getting paid, Catch confirms your benefits plan and will automatically put money away for taxes, time off, and retirement.

All of this helps to rid yourself of freelance financial blind spots, and Catch’s official Guide allows you to see a personal screenshot of the full benefits landscape. In addition to seeing all of your coverage at a glance, you’re also able to learn what coverage you need and why, sign up for new benefits in minutes, and easily report existing benefits.

Additionally, you’re able to see a people-centric view of your plan on the platform by adding in spouses, dependents, beneficiaries, and trusted contacts. With this information in place, you’re able to choose the plan that works best for you; allowing you to edit as needed, check savings instantly, and view full paycheck and contribution history.

And as your life evolves, Catch is there to help with the transition. The platform offers recommendations for how benefits and coverage can change with things like: job relocation, getting married, starting a family, or starting a new job.

As Catch says, it’s “peace of mind at the palm of your hand.” This is definitely something for freelancers to consider as part of their financial strategy.

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Business Finance

6 questions to ask when considering a startup accelerator

(BUSINESS FINANCE) Accelerators can help change startups from unknowns to leaders in the industry, but does your startup need one and if so which one?

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When I’m advising startups, I often hear the question: “which accelerator is the best fit for me?” (Besides the obvious YC or Techstars.)

First off, I’ll ask if your company would benefit from an accelerator, or if you need to pursue something for early early stage companies before you achieve more market validation, like an incubator. (Side note: If you’re curious about incubators, here is a comparison of the two.)

If you’re new to these terms, here’s a brief recap on startup accelerators:

Startup accelerators are for companies with established co-founders and market validation – companies can be anywhere from pre-revenue/self-funded, or even have raised at least $1M.

Most programs can last anywhere from 10 weeks to 3-4 months. With many top accelerators like YC and Techstars, you’ll be expected to move to the city where it’s hosted and spend 40+ hours a week minimum in their dedicated coworking space, and several accelerators will often offer housing stipends to make the move easier. These programs typically conclude with a demo day to pitch your product to a variety of community leaders, angel, and institutional investors.

If your product has achieved market validation and is in a place where you’re ready to scale, congrats!

Before you commit to an accelerator, ask yourself and the program these six questions:

1. What kind of mentorship is available?

By and large, one of the most valuable portions of an accelerator is the networking with peers and mentors. Ask what kind of mentors are available to you as a part of a program, and ask their specific involvement and the opportunities to connect. These mentors will be crucial in guiding your company’s growth. Even if they aren’t in the same industry or have solved a similar problem that your company is trying to achieve, their advice and connections could prove to be invaluable.

2. What are the perks?

You’re giving up a lot of equity to be in a program, but it doesn’t come without its perks. Many programs offer not only a cash investment or stipend for housing or other growth costs, but programs like Techstars offer free services such as web hosting costs (an upwards of ~250k), legal and accounting services, and other credits and perks that can be worth 6-7 figures. Make sure you know what you’re getting before you say yes to a program.

3. Do I want an industry-specific or industry-agnostic program?

This one is important and is directly related to #2. If your company sells CPG products, web hosting credits may not be valuable to your business, but a CPG-specific accelerator like SKU or The Brandery with direct connections to Sephora, Target, and Whole Foods may make more sense.

4. How much equity am I willing to give up?

Try not to make this a guessing game and make as many data-driven decisions on this as you can. Create a revenue and valuation model and see how much your company would benefit from the networking, fundraising opportunities, and perks offered, and see what the ROI would potentially be.

5. What are the funding and exit numbers?

This is an objective way to view the success of an accelerator: # of funding raised and exits. Of course, younger accelerators will have smaller numbers, but it’s worth looking to see if a company has raised $ after. Seed-DB is a great resource to view these numbers for hundreds of accelerators globally.

6. What do alumni think?

All accelerators are going to tout the transformative experience that is their program, and program mentors will likely have a similar narrative.

The best resource to learn the real experience of an accelerator: ask its alumni, and they’ll give you the truth. Make sure to survey both recent and more experienced alumni, as they’ll be able to speak to both the short term and long term benefits.

Personal experience: the night before I was set to hear from an accelerator on my application status, two alumni stressed to me that the time and equity investment wasn’t worth it. I consider this providence!

Finally, two items to note:

Choosing an accelerator is all about finding the right fit between you and the organization. Sadly, not all accelerators are created equal, and try to view a potential relationship with an accelerator as an investor relationship, or better yet, dating. There’s a reason the phrase “no money is better than bad money” is prevalent in the startup community.

Make sure to do your due diligence and ask the right questions to make sure a specific program is worth the investment of time, energy, and equity.

And sometimes? That may not mean an accelerator is a right fit right now or at any point, and that’s okay.

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