How To Change Your Mind About Money: 5 Simple Ways To Deal With Fluctuating Freelance Income

One thing I struggled with in the past as an independent creative  is money. I have a lot of experience with the all too common challenge of income fluctuation. I’d have a few really good months followed by a few really bad months.

I also was living in a not-having-enough mindset. There were things that I couldn’t afford to do because I didn’t have the money for them. I was always focusing on what I didn’t have. And, because my revenue was not steady month-to-month,  there were things I believed I wasn’t able to do, including:

  • Budgeting
  • Saving
  • Giving

Sound familiar?

I carried around a lot of self-limiting beliefs. These are the things we tell ourselves when no one else is listening that keep us from stepping out and moving forward. One of those self-limiting beliefs is lack — not having enough.

Another self-limiting belief is the idea that if your income isn’t regular you can’t follow a budget, save or give. These are all mindset issues.

These types of self-limiting beliefs and mindsets are simply not good for your business or your outlook.


It’s Your Mindset

If you want to increase and stabilize your income, the answers are not going to come from clients or from the marketplace. The answers are going to come from your own thinking about money, budgeting, saving, and abundance. Certainly you should pursue more and better clients, and optimize every opportunity to promote your business. But without the right mindset, your efforts won’t yield the kind of results you want.

First, let’s talk about lack. Lack is simply not having enough of what you need. Many of us creatives run around with the idea that because we’re artists, we’re compromising our artistry if we want to make money, or that because we’re artists we don’t deserve to be paid for our work. We easily discount. We work for free. We allow projects to become bigger than they should be without charging more for the scope increase. We forget to invoice clients, and are reluctant to use contracts. We focus on being creative and don’t treat our businesses like a business. So it’s no wonder that we end up not having what we need let, alone what we want.

Abundance, on the other hand, is having more than enough. In abundance you’re able to pay all your bills on time, you’re not carrying much debt — if any, you have a hefty rainy day fund, and you’re generous in giving. You have what you need to take care of  yourself and your family, and more, so that you’re able to help others.

The thing to understand is that both abundance and lack are mindsets. Your experience with either starts and ends with you.

Successful freelancers — in fact anyone who’s successful — don’t make excuses, but align their mindset toward increase and success. And they do it in practical ways. You can change your mind if you want to. Here are five things you can start doing today:


1) Plan Your Spending

One of the most obvious ways to change how you think about money is to create a budget. A budget is simply a plan for how you  spend your money. Budgeting does not mean you have to give up things, but it does help you to know where your money goes, where  you’re wasting it, and where you are making good choices.

I mentioned at the beginning of this article that I thought I wasn’t able to create a budget because I didn’t have steady income. But I when I took action to set up a budget, it changed how I thought about budgets. I discovered that although my income fluctuates, I can still plan how I use my income.

With a spending plan, you know exactly how much you need to cover your expenses — both business and personal — and that tells you how much income you need to generate. And then you designate a purpose for every dollar you bring in.

A spending plan can be annual, monthly or even weekly. For freelancers with fluctuating income, create an annual budget based on the total of what you earned and spent the previous year. Then, armed with that annual overview, plan each upcoming month based on what you are bringing in during the current month. In this way you’ll know what you have to work with in the coming month and can plan where to direct your money in advance. Create spending plans for both your business and your household (personal).

If you’ve never set up a budget before, a good place to learn how is to use the totally free, no obligation Every Dollar online tool. Or, set up a spreadsheet in Numbers or Excel. Online accounting tools such as Quickbooks and Freshbooks include budgeting features.

There are side benefits to keeping a budget other than knowing what your money is doing. When I began keeping a budget, not only was it easy to see where my money was going, but I realized the amount of control I actually had over my cash flow. It was empowering!

Another very significant thing was that, when I started budgeting, I ended up having money left over at the end of each month. I didn’t run out. Sometimes it was just a few dollars more, but I wasn’t coming up short anymore.


…when I started budgeting, I ended up having money left over
at the end of each month… 
I wasn’t coming up short anymore.


Budgeting not only puts you in control of your money, it helps you see the areas where you can improve how you manage it.

Freelancing income is never going to be truly steady. Don’t expect it to be. Instead, plan ahead and set funds aside so that you don’t need to resort to using credit cards.


2) Start Saving

You’ve probably heard of the idea of paying yourself first. You’re also probably familiar with the concept of an emergency fund.

Put both of these ideas together, and make a commitment to pay yourself first by setting aside money into a reserve fund. My recommendation is to set aside 10% of everything you earn. Take it right off the top. It’s this fund that will bankroll your leaner months. But never stop putting at least 10% into it, even if your payment check is only $50.00. Keep that cushion in place and the saving habit maintained.

As you put 10% off the top of every payment received into a reserve account that you won’t access too easily, you’ll notice your thinking will begin to change, and you’ll use the remaining 90% more effectively.

Be aggressive in building your reserve fund during your abundant months. Those reserves will get you through the leaner months. You’ll be less stressed about paying your monthly obligations and more able to enjoy your creative work.


3) Mind Your Words

When people asked how I was doing, I used to launch into how I was struggling. But I decided to stop rehearsing everything that was going wrong and began sharing everything that was going well. I didn’t lie about anything, and I wasn’t being unrealistic. I just stopped talking about my problems and began talking about my successes instead.

How you talk about your work and your circumstances makes a difference. Words spoken out loud are heard. They influence how you think. What are you reinforcing in yourself with your speech?

Be realistic here. Acknowledge your shortcomings and failures, deal with the problems you’re facing, but don’t wallow and invite people into a pitty-party. Take a what-can-I learn-from-this approach and find solutions so that you can solve problems, move forward and avoid them in the future.


4) Define Success For Yourself

Another mindset change is to avoid comparing your success to others’. Instead, define what your own success looks like. What’s going to make you happy? What goals will you set for yourself? Who do you want to be in five and ten years? What do you want to have accomplished? What kind of money do you want to be making? What wealth will you have created?

You are under no obligation to keep up with anyone. I spent a lot of time thinking I wasn’t good enough to be successful, or that I didn’t have resources to draw on. One day a friend pointed out to me that I was doing what I most enjoyed doing, had charge of my own time, worked where and when I wanted, was able to be at my kid’s events during the day, and that I was paying a mortgage and not rent. That stopped me in my tracks. When I stopped complaining about what I didn’t have and recognized what I had accomplished, I realized that I was indeed successful.


You are under no obligation to keep up with anyone.


Take action: Write a description of what success looks like for you. Where do you want to be working? What types of clients and projects do you want to have? Where do you want to be living? What will your studio or office look like? What’s your lifestyle going to be like? What causes will you support? How will you help others? What do you want to create?

After you’ve written this down, read it aloud to yourself. Then tuck it away in your planner or pin it up where you can review it every week at least.

Stop comparing your life, your talent, your success and your bank account to anyone else’s.


5) Use Money As A Tool

Money gives value to everyone if you allow it to come to you and be distributed through you to others. I’m not going socialist here, by the way. I don’t believe that income equality is viable, necessary or practical. But money is a tool we use to care for ourselves and for others, as we each choose to. We earn an income which pays for our lifes’ needs and wants, and which we can use to help others.

Understand that, as you increase in revenue generation, your ability to help others succeed also increases. Where do you want to be generous? Go for it! Give something every month. Generosity comes back to you.

Think of money as seed. When you plant a seed, it grows over time into a plant which produces many more seeds. The more seeds you plant, the more seed you get in return. This is not a formula, but tends to be a natural law. It’s generally known that people who are successful are generous.

Where can you be generous? What causes do you want to support? Give something now to support that cause. It doesn’t need to be much. No matter how much you give, what you give will make a difference for someone else.


In conclusion, to change your mindset, change what you do.

First, create a spending plan that accounts for every dollar each month. Include business, household and personal needs, entertainment, giving and saving.

Second, find a cause or two to give to every month, even if it’s just $5.00.

Third, watch how you talk about money and resources. Focus on what’s going well and what you have, not on what you don’t have. Be realistic, but edit your conversations, and especially how you talk to yourself.


Shifting gears and turning to an abundance mindset takes time. It requires practice, due diligence, and involves trial and error. You’re going to make mistakes. Be okay with that, because mistakes are learning opportunities.

Once you start moving toward financial success in practical ways, you will eventually get there. It’s not an overnight thing. It will take time. Be patient, persevere and stay with it.


Related reading:

Try This Easy, 8-Point Tune-Up For Your Freelance Business

A Freelancer’s Guide To Retainer Agreements

10 Ups and Downs of Freelancing


Your Turn:

What limiting beliefs have you overcome? What’s going better for you now? Share in the comments.