Being a freelancer is rife with challenges: income that fluctuates wildly, footing the bill for your own health insurance, and maintaining the ever-elusive life-work balance. If you’re a freelancer and partnered, you might be fortunate to have at least one stable income to rely on. But what about couples where both partners freelance?
Here’s how Tonya Rapley and her husband Khomari Flash, who are both self-employed, collectively deal with the perils of self-employment and rock their finances as a freelancer couple:
First step to surviving self-employment: talk about everything
When Tonya left her job at a non-profit to leap to solopreneurship in 2013 and Khomari followed suit in 2015, she and her partner made sure to suss out the details of their finances. They didn’t hesitate to talk about money, no matter how miniscule the amount.
"We spoke about how I needed his support during the transition and how we could make better money decisions as a couple," recalls Tonya, who is 32 and founder of MyFabFinance.
"Because we were going from receiving steady paychecks to working for ourselves, we needed to move more cautiously," says Khomari, a 34-year-old content producer at Khomari Flash Films. The couple regularly checked in on pretty much everything, from what checks they were waiting on from clients to coming up with a game plan during the slower months.
"It’s all about having that conversation, and giving each other advance notice so we can anticipate and plan for these challenges," says Tonya. For instance, Tonya’s business tends to slow down during the winter months, so they rely more on Khomari’s income during that time.
Besides transitioning to the freelance life, Tonya and Khomari prepped financially for major life changes—such as getting married in 2016 and moving from New York to L.A. about a year later. They managed to pay for their wedding, which cost $13,000, in cash and saved $3,000 more than they needed to uproot and move cross-country.
While the couple are both money-minded and live simply, they suggest couples who want to go the self-employment route to cut back on as much as possible. Review your budget and see where you can slash your spending. That way you’ll ride out any bumps and have enough to cover surprises.
Create separate emergency funds
Right before getting married, the couple set up a house account and a shared emergency fund, which covers the rent, groceries, utilities, and so forth. They also each have individual savings to help cover business-related expenses and self-employment taxes. Having separate funds for their own businesses helps them build and sustain their work as separate entities. They also each have separate rainy day funds to keep their businesses afloat.
Save based on percentages
Because their income changes from month to month, Tonya and Khomari save toward their goals based on percentages. Besides keeping their emergency funds in the flush and paying down their student loans, they’re actively saving for a down payment on their first home. The ultimate goal? To have $50,000 to $80,000 in the next two years. (This is Los Angeles, after all.) They’d also would like to take a trip to Cuba in the near future, and are actively squirreling away cash for that.
When they were first shifting to the freelance life, Tonya and Khomari needed time to adjust to each other’s workflow. "We went from working the 9 to 6 to the 8 to 10," says Khomari. And since they share a workspace in their one-bedroom apartment in L.A, Tonya and Khomari learned a lot about how they best work.
They’ve also learned to check in on their savings goals on the regular and make tweaks according to how much they’re bringing in. "When things are going great, we can afford to sock more money away," explains Tonya. "And if things slow down, we may have to abandon a particular goal for the time being."
Keep your eyes on the prize
To keep the momentum during the tougher times, Khomari suggests keeping your sights on long-term goals. "Because the work ebbs and flows, you aren’t in the comfort zone, and have to hustle," says Khomari. "Think of your three-year plan, your five-year plan."
The pair both are looking to harness their talents and generate more income so they can reach their major savings goals. For instance, Tonya is working toward building passive streams of income. Sometimes that means making trade-offs in the short term, such as not being able to spend as much time with each other.
Root for each other
Money matters aside, Tonya and Khomari also know how important it is to serve as each other’s cheerleaders. "Because we own our own businesses, we have to be compassionate and supportive," says Khomari. "We allow the other person the freedom to take opportunities."
Case in point: Tonya is sometimes out two weeks a month doing speaking engagements and event planning. And while the couple miss each other, they know how important it is to take opportunities to grow their businesses.
"Every month is not going to be an awesome month," points out Tonya. "It’s easy to get down on yourself. And we help remind each other how awesome we are."
While freelancing as a couple definitely has its own set of unique financial challenges, by communicating, meticulously planning, and being in each other’s corner, one can navigate through rocky waters and make it work.