Understandably, entrepreneurs worry about how much money is sitting in their company’s bank account. After all, they’ve got to pay employees, cover the bills and make sure the company stays alive.
Of course, entrepreneurs also fret about their personal finances — how much cash they have in their wallet, whether they can pay the rent that month and how much debt they’ve accrued. In a survey by conference organizer Consero, 72%of entrepreneurs — startup founders, presidents and CEOs — cited corporate cash flow as their No. 1 challenge, with personal financial stress at No. 2 (43%).
The entrepreneurial stress is real
Andrew Dietrich, co-founder and chief operating officer at Final, a startup that offers virtual credit cards, stresses that not everyone is cut out to launch a company, especially as it relates to personal finances.
"If you feel you need a regular salary to maintain your lifestyle, entrepreneurship might be particularly tough for you, especially when you see friends with cushy jobs," Dietrich says. "You have to be willing to sacrifice and realize that the greatest things in life are not defined by money. If you start a company with the main goal of making a lot of money, you will have a difficult time staying motivated when the going gets tough."
To help current and future entrepreneurs navigate their personal finances when the going gets tough (and hopefully when it gets easier), here are eight money tips from people who have already been through the frying pan.
1. Be thrifty.
Most entrepreneurs are accustomed to "bootstrapping," which means relying on little outside capital to fund the business. An entrepreneur also can apply the bootstrapping mindset to personal finances.
"Learn how to live frugally and enjoy it," Dietrich says "Spend more time outdoors with friends or cooking meals at home and less time at bars and restaurants. Don’t buy things you don’t need."
Plus, "it’s OK to make it known to your friends that you’re making sacrifices for your startup and can’t afford a fancy group dinner or an expensive trip," he adds. "True friends will understand, even if they have a different lifestyle."
2. Get a handle on student loan debt.
In the U.S., college graduates collectively owe an eye-popping $1.3 trillion in student loan debt. Per the Federal Reserve, the Class of 2015 left school with an average of $34,000 in student loan debt — debt that can stand in the way of an entrepreneur’s success.
If you’re an entrepreneur and have student loan debt, check with the loan servicing company — the place that collects the money you owe — to see whether you can defer payments when you’re getting your startup off the ground, Dietrich advises. He asked for, and received, a one-year payment deferral for the debt from the Duke University MBA he earned in 2012.
Weigh the pros and the cons of deferment carefully, though. Yes, it can relieve short-term financial pressure. But it also increases the amount and length of the loan long-term, given interest accrues during the deferment period.
3. Be careful with credit cards.
In some cases, an entrepreneur racks up debt on a personal credit card to help support a business venture or cover everyday living expenses. But Hugh Massie, founder and CEO of DNA Behavior, a cloud-based behavioral intelligence platform, cautions that an entrepreneur should not let personal credit card debt "spiral out of control."
"The key is to keep your personal living and business operating costs as low as possible. Everything unnecessary needs to be stripped out of the fixed monthly costs," Massie says.
4. Stash some money in savings.
Dietrich says he’s set up regular automated transfers of a "very small amount" of money to a savings account dedicated to big purchases or leisure trips.
"It’s important to be laser-focused on a few spending goals and be really efficient with the money you have," he says. "It turns out that’s a good tactic for dealing with your money regardless of who you are."
By the way, you can pretty much forget about saving money for retirement when you’re an entrepreneur (at least when you’re running an early stage startup), according to Dietrich. (You can find a few ways to save for retirement when you can’t afford here.)
"Either the company works out," he says, "or you may need to look for a stable job in the future that has a 401(k)."
5. Resist the urge to splurge.
Andrew O’Brien, CEO of The Publicity Guy, a PR firm that promotes entrepreneurs and philanthropists, says many entrepreneurs are tempted to buy their "dream car" when their startup is flush with cash — but that’s a mistake.
Instead, be patient, O’Brien says. If the startup succeeds, the dream car will eventually become a reality. But if an entrepreneur rushes to gain personal riches, it could damage the person and the company.
"If you focus on the company’s finances first, the personal finances will follow," O’Brien says.
6. Don’t expect to pay yourself a hefty salary.
A venture capitalist recently told Final’s co-founders that they’d never invest in a company where a CEO or founder takes an annual salary of more than $100,000, Dietrich says; while that’s a reasonable practice, he adds that you’d be surprised by the fat salaries that some startup CEOs and founders collect.
Somebody right out of college might be just fine surviving on ramen noodles and working out a garage, Dietrich says, while a longtime professional with a family of five might demand more financial stability.
"Different entrepreneurs have different tolerances for what’s an acceptable salary," Dietrich says.
No matter the circumstances, consider your starting salary carefully. Also worth considering? Life insurance and even small business life insurance. Here’s why.
7. Don’t blow your money on outlandish celebrations.
Chris Clothier, co-owner of Memphis Invest, an asset manager for real estate investors, says he’s a big proponent of reveling in a startup’s victories, such as crushing a quarterly sales goal. But too many entrepreneurs are too eager to whip out their credit cards and overspend on lavish parties, dinners or happy hours.
Clothier urges entrepreneurs to go small, not big, with celebrations — pop open a nice bottle of wine, take off on a modest weekend getaway or head out to dinner with close friends.
"Save the really big celebrations for the days when your company’s financial success is no longer tied to your personal financial position," he says.
8. Don’t run out of cash.
An entrepreneur can scrape by on savings or hold down a second job to earn extra money, but if the company has burned through its cash, "it’s game over," according to Dietrich. That leaves the entrepreneur with little or nothing to show for all the financial sacrifices.
"The great thing about many entrepreneurs is that they are scrappy and take the long-term view," Dietrich says. "It’s all worth it if you’re doing what you love, and have the opportunity to be your own boss and build a future that you want to see."
Looking for more entrepreneurial advice? Check out Millennial Money’s podcast with PolicyGenius CEO Jennifer Fitzgerald on how to launch a fin-tech startup.