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Budgeting tips no matter what your financial situation

We’ve pulled together our top budgeting tips to help you take control of your finances, no matter what your situation.

29 August 2023Frankie Jones 5 min read

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Pay down your debt for less, switch and save on your energy and much more.

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Budgeting can feel like a slog at the best of times, let alone if you don’t have a fixed income or are unemployed. We’re not saying it’s a fun way to spend your weekend, but sitting down to make a realistic budget doesn’t need to be difficult. Whether you’re a freelancer, work on commission or temporarily out of a job, we’ve pulled together our top budgeting tips to help you take control of your finances, no matter what your situation.

If you’re getting paid sporadically, it’s naturally harder to budget since making a plan relies on you working with exact numbers. But it’s still possible to create a budget that works for your lifestyle.

Plan for your lowest income

The first thing to do is to plan for the lowest possible amount you could take home. Let’s call this your ‘bread budget’ - imagine how much money you’d need if you lived off bread and butter. Then, any extra cash you bring in will be a nice bonus.

Start by listing out the essentials you need to cover, such as food, bills and rent or mortgage payments. Write down how much these cost so you can be sure you have enough money to cover them. And try to make sure you know in advance if these costs are due to change, for example, if the government is increasing your council tax payments or you’re moving house.

Prepare for seasonal changes to your income

For example, if Christmas is typically a quieter time for you and your business, it makes sense to have enough money set aside to cover you if your income is lower than expected during this period. The last thing you want is to be caught off guard - this is where planning for the lowest possible income should come in handy.

Build an emergency fund

Next up: setting aside money for emergencies and unexpected costs. You never know when your boiler might give up or your car might need urgent repairs, so it’s best to have some money squirrelled away for times like these.

Generally, it’s recommended that you have enough savings to cover 6 months’ worth of expenses, but having 3 months’ worth is a good starting point. For example, if you’re freelancing and find yourself out of work for a few months, you’ll be grateful for this pot of cash to fall back on. Once you have enough savings to tide you over for 6 months, you can add any extra income to your ‘fun’ pot. Remember that having some money set aside for things you enjoy is still important.

When you’re building your emergency fund, consider putting it in a savings account so your money grows behind the scenes. We suggest looking for an easy access savings account with the highest interest rate possible, although these are becoming increasingly difficult to come by since interest rates dropped. Typically, the longer you put your money away for, the better the interest rate you’ll get, but you don’t want to tie up all of your money in case you need it at short notice.

It’s best to avoid investing your savings it as this involves risk, especially if you don’t have a lot of cash to play with at the end of the month. Don’t forget that big gains can quickly be counteracted with heavy losses which could see you losing your hard-earned cash.

If you’re in debt, paying this off should be a priority when creating your budget.

List out your debts

Start by making a list of all your debts and then choose a method to pay them off. The two main ones are:

  • The debt snowball method: this is where you pay off your smaller debts first.
  • The debt avalanche method: this is where you pay off your debts with the higher interest rates first.

Which approach you decide on is up to you. If it feels overwhelming, just take it step by step. The most important thing is having a plan that you can stick to, and that works with your budget. If you’re not sure where to start and need some motivation, take inspiration from a debt survivor and learn about how he got back on track. Or if you’re really struggling, find out what help is out there for dealing with debt with our handy list of resources (some of which are free).

One way to cut the debt you owe is with a debt consolidation loan. The idea is that you can lump all of your debts into one monthly payment with one single interest rate, making your outgoings easier to manage. Everything’s in one place and you’ll know exactly how much you’re repaying each month.

Another option is to take out a balance transfer card. This card lets you move your existing debt onto a new card and pay it off at a 0% interest rate for a period of time - particularly handy if your current interest rate is causing your debt to grow faster than you can repay it.

Find a debt consolidation loan or browse your balance transfer cards on ClearScore now. It’s free to compare your offers and it won’t damage your credit score.

If you’re newly unemployed, the first thing to do is to get acquainted with your new way of living. This might not be something you planned for and while it’s not an ideal situation, the sooner you come to terms with your new income, the better you’ll be at making your money go further.

Do the calculations

First thing’s first: it’s time to work out what money you do (or will) have coming in. For example, while you might not have a salary being paid into your account, you could be applying for Universal Credit, other unemployment benefits or borrowing money from family or friends to tide you over.

Don’t forget to apply for all the benefits available to you - every little helps, after all. There’s no shame in asking for help if you need it. Check this list of unemployment benefits if you’re not sure what’s out there. We’ve also written a guide on what to do if you’re out of work due to coronavirus which you might find helpful.

If you’re worried about making ends meet with no income, is there any part time or temporary work you could take on? It doesn’t have to be relevant to the job you were doing before or want to pursue in the future - any experience is good experience, plus you might discover a hidden talent or new passion.

Slash your bills

A simple way to save money when you need it most is by assessing your outgoings and seeing where you could cut back or switch to a cheaper deal. There are potential savings around every corner, from switching your credit card to one with a lower APR (Annual Percentage Rate) to moving to a cheaper energy deal. We’ve written a list of clever hacks to halve your energy bills.

Switch to a cheaper energy deal or find a new lower interest credit card on ClearScore today.

Rethink your wants and your needs

Because of your change in lifestyle, some things you would have considered a ‘need’ before might now fall under the ‘want’ category. For instance, while you might have ‘needed’ your car while you were working, now that you’re unemployed it might be less important, especially if you’re no longer commuting. Reframing some of your needs as wants could save you a big chunk of money that you can dedicate towards your emergency fund instead.

And when it comes to shopping, remember, “it’s only a bargain if you’re looking for it”. If you regularly find yourself frittering money away, don’t worry, you can curb this in no time - just try our top tips for mindful spending.

If you’re struggling to manage your finances, don’t be afraid to reach out to charities for help. There’s plenty of free, expert advice available to you - Turn2Us are a specialist charity focused on helping people in financial hardship get back on track. If your situation is taking its toll on your mental health, we’ve written an article about keeping both in check, or get in touch with Mind charity for personalised support.

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Written by Frankie Jones


Frankie takes the often confusing world of finance and makes it clear and simple, to help you get your money sorted.