I am a stay-at-home mom and my husband works based on commission. I have been trying to work out a budget rather than living paycheck to paycheck, but am not sure how to budget when his checks can vary up to $700 per check. (He gets paid every other week.)
Some months we have a nice surplus, and other months we borrow from our savings to make sure our checking account stays out of the red. We don’t usually have a problem paying our monthly bills and usually can save a little, but are really hoping to pay off some credit card debt and our car. Any suggestions are appreciated! – Casey
Budgeting on a commission or variable income is very doable. In fact, my husband and I have never had a fixed combined income our entire married lives! Here’s what I’d recommend:
1. Create and Follow a Barebones Budget
In my book, I outline a step-by-step plan for getting on a budget. First, I encourage people to learn self-discipline through setting up a grocery budget. Once you’ve practiced the discipline of creating and sticking with a grocery budget, I encourage you to move on to developing a Barebones Budget.
If you’re already somewhat familiar with budgeting or already have a grocery budget in place, I’d encourage you to jump ahead and create a Barebones Budget. This will include all of your basic living necessities: food, basic utilities, shelter, and transportation. In your case, you’d also want to include your credit card bill(s) every month, too.
Write all of these budget categories down on paper and decide how much you need to set aside every two weeks to adequately cover all of the expenses. If there are any expenses you can lower by cutting your grocery bill, asking for a discount on your utilities, moving to a less expensive housing situation, or selling your car, I’d highly encourage you to do it temporarily in order to free up more money to save and pay off debt.
2. Build Up An Emergency Fund of 3-6 Months’ Expenses
Once you have your Barebones Budget in place, begin following it to a tee. As much as is possible, don’t pay for anything that isn’t a complete necessity right now. It’s a short season and your sacrifices will pay off. Instead, throw every extra penny you can toward building up your emergency fund to three to six months’ of barebone expenses.
Depending upon how often you are dipping into savings would be the determining factor for us as to whether to only set aside three months’ of expenses or to go ahead and set aside six months’ of expenses. This will then give you a cushion going forward on months that you come up short.
3. Pay Off Your Debt
After your emergency fund is full funded, it’s time to focus all of your energies on knocking out your debt as quickly as you possibly can. Continue to live on your Barebones Budget and put everything else that you can scrounge up toward your debt.
Be as aggressive and as creative as possible in attacking your debt and getting rid of it. The sooner it’s gone, the sooner you’ll be able to have some breathing room in your life again!
If you have some hiccups along the way — and you probably will! — don’t be discouraged. Stop and re-fund your emergency fund, if need be, and then get back to getting rid of your debt.
4. Create a Prioritized List of Additional Savings/Spending Goals
Finally, once your debt is gone, make sure you have a fully-funded emergency fund of at least 3-6 months’ expenses, and then create a prioritized list of additional savings and spending goals. Use this list as your guide for months when you have extra: put the extra toward the first thing on your prioritized and slowly start working through it.
If your debt is gone and you have a good emergency fund in place, you’ll have a lot more breathing room and will not only be able to put more into savings, you’ll probably also be able to enjoy some strategic splurging, too!
What advice and tips do the rest of you have for successfully budgeting on a variable income?