How to Handle Financial Stress When You’re New to Freelancing

One of the reasons why people dive into freelancing is the promise that it’s “easy to make money here.” Or so that’s how it is portrayed — on social media, especially.

The reality is, being a freelancer and building this kind of business is far from easy. If your goal is financial stability, it takes a lot of work. But we’d be lying if we say it’s not worth it.

The question now is, how do you handle the financial stress that comes with the territory? How do you learn to navigate through it and achieve the dream of every freelancer—a sense of financial stability? And a perfect follow-up is, how do you do this when you’re still new to freelancing?

Why do we experience financial stress, and what is it anyway?

First off, it’s important to acknowledge the fact that we all experience financial stress. It’s part of life, really. It’s not a problem exclusive to freelancers. So if you’re still building your career, don’t expect to figure out the finances right off the bat. It takes a lot of effort and work and trial and error for you to figure out a system that works for you.

Financial stress or financial anxiety happens when things that relate to your money become unstable—this includes your job or business. Another common trigger is not having a safety net. For some, the instability of work or business is manageable when they know they have built a safety net for the rainy days.

In a nutshell, financial stress is what we feel when there is uncertainty in our finances and we haven’t yet figured out an effective system that helps us navigate through said feeling. As a new freelancer, this may be a feeling too familiar to you. And that’s okay.

How to handle financial stress when you’re a new freelancer

Address financial instability.

One way to handle this feeling is by addressing the instability. What separates those who worry or feel anxious about money and those who don’t is not the absence of instability, but rather having a system or set of solutions for it.

One way to address this is by creating a safety net. Each month, set aside a certain amount of money for rainy days. Include this in your monthly budget so you won’t have that ‘I don’t have money for it’ excuse that all of us have probably used.

Another solution is to ensure you’re charging enough. Here’s the thing—when you’re a freelancer, your money depends on so many variables like how much time you work, what types of projects you take in, how much you charge, and more. You wouldn’t want to work yourself to the ground, that’s not how a sustainable freelance business looks. You’d want to have enough time for work but more importantly, enough time for yourself.

To do that without compromising your finances, make sure you’re charging enough. Study what other freelancers charge and play around with those numbers. Instability will not go away but this will help ease the worry—when you know you’re managing both your time and money well, as they both go hand-in-hand.

Lay out all your financial responsibilities and figure out your monthly income.

Sometimes, stress happens because we get too overwhelmed with our responsibilities. We have the tendency to blow them up but the reality is, sometimes, they’re not really that big. So, to handle financial stress especially when you’re new to freelancing, lay out all your responsibilities—from the current necessities like groceries and bills to the new necessities like taxes and budget for your safety net or rainy day savings. It helps to see all of them on paper. And then, segregate. Two columns, so you’ll see which responsibilities are for you as your typical self and you as an entrepreneur.

Determine which of these are actual responsibilities and which ones you can forgo. If you can adjust your shopping budget, for example, consider doing that while you’re still building your freelance business. And then, determine a monthly income that is enough for all your responsibilities. Be honest with yourself, figure out a number you need every month to meet all these responsibilities, and build your business around that number.

Don’t just settle with one client at a time.

This is a big one—never ever settle with just one client. This is one of the most common mistakes new freelancers make. The thing is if that client ghosts you, or they suddenly change things, or they run out of budget, they’d most likely end their working relationship with you. When that happens, if you don’t have another client, financial stress will rise like a phoenix from the ashes. That may be too dramatic but that’s just how it is.

Have a mix of retainer clients and one-off projects.

Supporting the advice above, have a mix of retainer clients and one-off projects. As a new freelancer, having retainer clients is not always easy, so it’s okay to not stick with just that. You’re still building your portfolio and collecting testimonials. Go easy on yourself.

One creative way to handle financial stress when you’re new to freelancing is by giving space for one-off projects that you truly enjoy. Of course, make sure these projects pay well. The beauty of one-off projects is that they’re less stressful, commitment-wise. If you find yourself enjoying working with this brand, you can propose another project; if you don’t, you can finish the current contract and move on. The freedom to make these types of choices is priceless and it’d be great if you can give this to yourself even at the earliest stages of your business.

Maximize your time by knowing when you’re most functional.

The line “the most successful people start their day early” is all too common. There’s nothing wrong with being a morning person and starting your day early, but if that’s not who you are, be okay with that. And don’t be pressured when society or the internet tells you success will happen when you start your day early.

Acknowledge that you have your own most functional time, your own in-the-zone schedule. Figure that out and maximize it. Schedule the most difficult and mentally demanding tasks during those times. So that even when you only have 3 hours of hyper-focused functional time, for example, you’re still making great progress.

Keep in mind that successful freelancing is not about hustling and working long hours, it’s about working smart. Financial stress will always be part of the business but if you know you’re handling your time well, you won’t be too worried about not having enough time for certain tasks or needing more time to make more money.

Set a regular invoicing schedule (whenever possible).

Sending invoices is not that hard or time-consuming, but it can affect the flow of your finances if you’re not scheduling them. If possible, set a regular schedule for your invoices to be sent out. This is so you can gauge more or less when your money will arrive. From there, you can create better budgeting and know when to pay what. Some brands have their own schedule for paying freelancers so if you can negotiate to set a schedule that works for you, that’d be great.

Accept that financial instability and stress are part of a freelancer’s life, especially when you’re still starting out.

The last piece of advice on how to handle financial stress when you’re new to freelancing, and it’s advice we forget too often, is to accept that this type of instability and uncertainty will always be a part of a freelancer’s life. If this is the type of business you want to build, as early as now you’d have to be okay with financial instability. Acceptance is the first step to really handling this. Once you’re all good with this fact, you can put all your mental and emotional energy into following the above tips and advice on how to navigate through this stress. Of course, without compromising your business goals.

Creativity is not the path for all. This is where risk and instability and challenge live, and this is also where most freelancers are. So why go down this path? Because it’s fun and worth it! Because when you get the hang of it, when your business starts to grow, freelancing can give you the lifestyle and financial freedom not all types of jobs and businesses can.

Tammy Danan

Tammy Danan is a storyteller who reports on environmental and social issues. She also covers productivity, creative pursuits, and the future of work. Her words have appeared in VICE, Audubon.org, ZEKE Magazine, Shutterstock, Toggl, among others. You may find her on Instagram @SlowFreelancing.