How Freelancers Can Save Money Without a Regular Paycheck

It's tough to save money while you're self-employed. But I've proven that there are 5 ways you can save more money, and create a savings habit for big goals, as a freelancer.

Most of the ideas I publish on this blog focuses on making more money with blogging and other side hustles. The only problem with solely focusing on increasing your income is that you usually have to spend a good amount of your time in exchange for money.

This is especially true as a freelancer, which is why I also mention ways to earn more money in less time. So how do you save money when you’re already maxed out with a day job, side hustles, freelance clients, and your own projects?

Here are the strategies I’ve used to save money as a freelancer, and reach big financial goals every year — even without a regular paycheck. Most of these tips won’t take any additional time, aside from a few minutes to set up the initial idea (I promise it’s less than 5 minutes!).

1. Save money without thinking

Lately I’ve been obsessed with microsavings tools. These up-and-coming startups encourage you to save very small amounts of money (like $2, $5 or $10) so you develop a savings habit without even thinking.

The issue many freelancers have with regular bank account and savings transfers is that if you set up an regular amount of say, $40 a week, to be transferred towards a financial goal, there are some weeks when you have more money in your checking account, and others when you have much less.

This forces you to either modify or cancel your automatic savings plan (which feels like you’re going backwards). Not only is this annoying and time-consuming, it also stops your flow of creating a regular savings habit, and therefore puts a damper on how fast you reach your goal.

How did I solve this problem? With Digit. This super simple app withdraws money from your bank account into your Digit savings account based on your current bank balance. If you only have $5 in your checking account, or even if you’re in the red, Digit won’t withdraw any money. But if you have a week where you make extra money, it will transfer $10 or $14 towards your savings goal.

No fees, and no hassles. I seriously never think about my savings transfers now. I started saving with Digit in January 2015 and have about $550 saved up so far. I promise you that I never feel worried that Digit will withdraw too much, and never notice the money is even missing.

Digit balance - July 2015

Side note: the fun part about using Digit is that the account isn’t connected to any online financial software, like Mint or Personal Capital, so you kind of forget the money’s even there. I’m saving up to buy my chef husband a stand mixer for his birthday in September — shhhhh, don’t tell him!

2. Open multiple savings accounts

If you’ve been following this blog for awhile you know that I’m a bank account junkie. Between our business and personal accounts, plus Roth IRA investments, the hubs and I have 17 bank accounts. (I know this for a fact because I had to update our net worth spreadsheet while we were apartment hunting for our move to Denver in the fall.)

Seventeen money-related accounts might sound crazy but for our small family it makes sense. I like to use Capital One 360 because it doesn’t matter how many accounts you have, they’re all free, and you can open them online instantly.

Here’s how our accounts are broken down:

  • Chase – business checking
  • Chase – business savings (quarterly tax payments)
  • Chase – business savings (conferences and travel)
  • Capital One 360 – household checking
  • Capital One 360 – personal savings (emergencies only)
  • Capital One 360 – joint savings (moving fund)
  • Capital One 360 – joint savings (new jeep)
  • Capital One 360 – joint savings (yearly savings challenge)
  • Capital One 360 – personal savings (car maintenance)
  • Capital One 360 – joint savings (rent)
  • Ally Bank – Ryan’s personal checking
  • Discover Bank – Carrie’s personal checking
  • Betterment – Ryan’s Roth IRA
  • Betterment – Carrie’s Roth IRA
  • Acorns – Carrie’s investment account
  • Digit – Carrie’s personal savings
  • Digit – Ryan’s personal savings

Total bank accounts = 17

Looking at that in black-and-white feels like we have way too many, but most of them we don’t touch except for the purpose they’re supposed to be used for.

After experimenting with only using a few accounts we found that our spending habits caused us to spend too much money if the accounts weren’t separated. If the money isn’t in the household checking account, then we don’t spend it.

I’d like to be able to say that I’m a very disciplined saver, but I’m not. So instead of kicking against my own nature, I find ways to force myself to be a disciplined saver without having to change my natural saving tendencies. So I just create separate bank accounts and automatic bank transfers for that specific financial goal.

Try it. Test out different saving ideas and find the one that works best for your personality. Don’t feel guilty if you’re a spender, or have a hard time saving money. Embrace the saving style that you have, and craft a strategy that works WITH your style instead of against it.

3. Pay yourself a regular salary

When dealing with earning money as a freelancer one of the biggest struggles is not having a consistent paycheck. You’re basically at the mercy of clients to know how much work you have and when you’ll get paid.

This is part of the reason I teach freelance business owners to take back control of their work, be the boss, and find ways to level out their cash flow.

One way I am overcoming this frustration is by paying myself a regular “salary” each week. No matter how much, or how little, my business brings in each month I still pay myself the same amount with weekly transfers to our household checking account.

It took our budget a few months to get into the groove of this, and I experimented with different amounts. One month I tried transferring $900 each Friday, but that was too much and left my business account low on funds.

The next month I tried $750 every Wednesday, but that wasn’t enough to cover everything we needed. So finally, I updated the automatic salary transfers to $850 to be deposited every Monday and that worked like a dream. I don’t have to take money out of savings to pay the rent on the first of the month, and we still have enough money in the household account to fund other financial goals.

I wish I would have started this strategy two years ago when I quit my full-time job. Maybe I wouldn’t have struggled with cash flow or business debt if I had. But you live and learn, and experiment till you find something that works.

4. Invest very small amounts of money

Freelancers don’t have the luxury of having an employer contribute money into a 401k for their retirement — we’re responsible for our own futures. As someone who doesn’t get a regular paycheck anymore I understand how impossible it seems to be able to save for all your financial goals AND invest for retirement.

However it is entirely possible to make this happen. How? Simply invest very small amounts of money. Then once you’ve created a savings habit you can increase those amounts as your income increases over time.

Back in 2010 I opened up a Roth IRA account with Betterment. I was only able to invest $25 a month, but nearly five years later I’ve been able to quadruple that to $100 per month. Taking into account that I paused my investing to pay off $14,000 of consumer debt, and saved up money to quit my job, that’s a pretty good increase of savings from when I first started.

Basically this is the investment version of microsaving, which I talked about earlier in this post. Take your time with investing and save whatever amount you can in a Roth IRA — no matter how small. You could qualify for a Saver’s Credit on your tax return (up to $1,000), and all the interest you earn can be withdrawn completely tax-free.

Betterment has some of the lowest management fees of any robo-advisor, and makes investing completely automatic, so you never have to think about. This is why I use, and recommend, this strategy.

If you already have a Roth IRA, or use Betterment, the next step is to start investing in ETFs, or Index Funds with a service called Acorns. I’ve been testing them out since March 2015 and really like their microsaving investing concept. Basically they invest your spare change by rounding up the purchases you make with your checking account.

Acorns balance 2015 - personal

As an example, last week I spent $63.09 during one of my trips to the grocery, so the remaining $0.91 was rounded up and added to my Acorn account balance. Once the total round-ups reach $5 or more, the funds are withdrawn from my bank account and added to my Acorns investment.

It takes a long time to save up any amount of value, so don’t think that Acorns is going to make you rich. But investing your spare change is a great place to start if you don’t currently put anything into an investment.

5. Try a yearly savings challenge

My final tip for saving money as a freelancer is to try a yearly savings challenge. You can be as crazy or conservative as you like. My business partner, Cait, actually went on a one-year shopping ban and decided not to purchase anything outside the essentials — not even take-out coffee! (I know, that’s like blasphemy).

I on the other hand, prefer to participate in savings challenges that are more attainable (hey, I’m OK with not being an overachiever in this area!). Last summer I put my business on a 60-day cash only spending challenge, where I only spent cash or used my debit card for purchases related to my business. If I didn’t have the money in my wallet or bank account, I didn’t purchase anything.

This year I’m working on a 12-month Money Challenge (from inspiration I found on Pinterest) where you start out by saving $25 one month and double your money until the summertime, then reverse the process back down to $25 in December. At the end of the year, you’ll end up with $1,050 for Christmas, or whatever you want.

I did something similar to this last year called the 52-week Savings Challenge, hosted by my friend Jeff Rose. But that one was much more difficult to complete as the year went on since you save the amount of the current week’s date.

Week 1 of the year means you save $1, week 2 means you save $2, and you continue this until you reach week 52 and save $52. You’ll end up saving $1378, which is more than the 12-month Money Challenge, but I prefer the format of the other one.

How to create a savings habit as a freelancer

These are just some ideas that I’ve experimented with and currently use to reach savings goals like traveling (we’ve been to New York and Denver last year, and are heading to San Diego, CA in September).

As a freelance business owner I’ve personally struggled A LOT with leveling out the inconsistent cash flow, budgeting with irregular income, and finding ways to save money when you don’t have a regular paycheck.

I hope some of these ideas will help you avoid this struggle and be able to reach your financial goals as a freelancer.

From Employee to Business Owner: How I Overcame My Biggest Business Challenge
How to Battle Overwhelm and Be Productive During Busy Months


  1. Kirsten says:

    I need to have more bank accounts than I do; we definitely spend money when we could be saving it. It’s there; it seems like it’s spendable, but it should really be put toward a saving goal. I think this is the number one reason we don’t reign in our spending. But we are sacrificing those goals.

  2. Brooke says:

    My bank doesn’t allow for multiple checking and savings accounts like Capital One, so I just keep our balances for our individual funds on an Excel spreadsheet and move all of the extra money out of checking and into our 1 savings account. We do have a separate money market account at a different bank with our emergency fund.

    • Carrie says:

      That’s kind of strange that your bank doesn’t allow multiple accounts. Perhaps it’s a local or community bank? At any rate it sounds like you have a good system that works for you. I like using spreadsheets too — they help me us on track with our overall goals and budgets.

  3. Great suggestions! I’ve had Betterment for a while & love how easy it is to use.

    I just signed up for Digit, too, thanks to your rec. Hadn’t heard of it before, but it’s awesome! I love how it’s all via text. Also, if you text “Thank you” it responds “You’re welcome.” Such a polite texting robot 😀

    • Carrie says:

      I know right?! I love that Digit’s all text too. It’s so fun! It will even text you random facts about national holidays or events. And when you reach a specific savings milestone (like $50 or $100) it sends you a funny gif or image. It’s great!

  4. Betsy says:

    When I was full-time employed, I had everything on autopilot. This was the perfect saving and investing strategy for me because I like you, I wouldn’t spend any money that never hit my checking.

    It’s been a challenge to figure out the best way to do this stuff as a freelancer, but I’m getting there. Similar to Digit, Betterment has a feature that will auto invest money from your account, but you can set a rule for it not to withdraw if your account goes below a certain amount. Think I’m going to give it a shot.

    • Carrie says:

      Glad you’re on board with Betterment! I love their service and can’t say enough great things about them. Putting your savings and investing on autopilot is so smart, and can definitely help you reach your financial goals faster. Digit is especially awesome too — and for free!

  5. Andrea says:

    17 bank accounts? That would make me a crazy person trying to keep up with all those. Seems like you would spend a lot of wasted time moving money around and balancing so many accounts. I use YNAB (You Need A Budget), and it eliminates the need for multiple accounts while still allowing me to allocate or assign money to different categories.

    • Carrie says:

      That’s a good point, Andrea. YNAB is great for consolidating accounts and goals (if that works for you). As I mentioned, I tried that and it doesn’t work for me. Keeping track of 17 accounts is actually pretty easy, once you get it set up. Everything is automatically transferred and I never have to think about it. 🙂 But I’m glad you found a system that works for you — that’s the key!

  6. Fantastic post, Carrie! This is SO important as both a solopreneur + a millennial, and I love the new ideas I got from this post — especially Digit! As someone who already pays myself a regular salary and has regular payments for investment funds, I can’t wait to try it out for fun stuff — like travel.

    PS – Are you telling me Ryan doesn’t read your blog?! 😉

    • Carrie says:

      Ha! Ryan does read my blog sporadically but he will likely miss this post. 🙂 One of the most motivating reasons I save money for future goals is so I can spend it on fun stuff. Saving for business activities or bills is great (and helpful!) but you should have some fun money to spend however you want too.

  7. Marjie Hill says:

    This is a great post, Carrie! I’ve tried so many ways to get the savings challenge going, and your honest self-assessment, along with the automated tools you recommend, really speaks to me! I will be going over this post in detail and signing up for several–Betterment will be the first!

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