How To Budget With a Fluctuating Income
Updated: Jun 30
Several of my clients have unpredictable income streams. They own a business where they can draw a regular monthly salary or base income. And, they receive periodic large sums of cash generated from company ownership, real estate deals, or other partnership investments. It is often challenging to save for long term goals with the pressures of running a business and having inconsistent cash flow.
Previously, we’ve discussed the importance of identifying priorities to keep your goals in sight as well as how to establish a budgeting framework that meets your needs. With a small adjustment to our E-D-F budget framework, you can effectively budget with a fluctuating income.
Meet Your Essentials First
When I have discussions about how to plan for financial decisions without a clear total income picture, one strategy I recommend is to align your essential and fun/discretionary spending with your consistent income. Then, you can set aside large cash inflows to meet Future goals such as retirement savings, saving for an investment property or 2nd home, or funding college accounts.
This strategy works when the large cash inflows are sufficient across several years to adequately meet future goals. Typically, conversations with clients start with identifying their priorities and how much money they need to save for each identified future goal. Then we contribute once a year, or whenever large payouts are received, to the investment accounts dedicated for each goal.
One person I know is saving $3,000,000 for retirement, $240k toward college and $150k for a vacation home. We dedicate a portion of her bonus each year to an investment account for each goal. Her $100k bonus at year end is $65k after taxes. She puts $30k into retirement, $20k towards her kid’s college education, and $15k toward the down payment on her dream vacation home.
If you have fluctuating income, ask your financial planner to help you invest and save for future goals using this strategy. After several years you can evaluate progress toward each future goal. If you are not making sufficient progress, you may have to reevaluate your Future goals or you may need to adjust the allocation of base income from merely meeting Essential and Fun/Discretionary spending to include funding a portion of your Future goals.
It can be challenging to budget with a fluctuating income, especially when you’re first starting. However, once in place, a budget that takes into account your financial ebb and flow will free you from worrying if your goals are being met.
Looking for assistance or additional motivation? Schedule a call to learn how a financial coach could make a difference in your financial planning.
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About the Author
Peter Newman is a Chartered Financial Advisor (CFA) and president of Peak Wealth Planning. He works with individuals nationwide that have accumulated wealth through real estate, concentrated stock ownership, or running a business. Peter applies his unique background to help his clients achieve their specific goals and enjoy peace of mind.
Peak Wealth Planning provides concierge services to meet your wealth management needs. Services include: financial planning, investment management, retirement income, insurance and estate planning advice, Peak Wealth Planning is a fee only financial advisor based in Champaign, Illinois.