Before going all-in on this blog, I used to work in the fast-paced corporate world. But my friends get surprised when I tell them that working as a waiter was absolutely the most stressful job I ever had. I was fresh out of college and trying to make ends meet. The job itself was tough – I have an increased amount of respect for people who work in the service industry – but what made it really difficult was the fact that I was pretty much working for tips.
The fact that there are people who rely on tips for their income is the subject of a different article. But for now, I’ll be giving you tips on how to survive if your primary income is tips. I initially thought these tips would be about how to budget as a server, but they apply to a wide range of jobs and individuals.
I formulated these methods while I was struggling to keep track of tips as a server. But even as I’ve moved on to different lines of work, these methods were still pretty useful. Whether you’re a server working for tips, or a freelancer trying live on an irregular income, I hope you find these budgeting tips useful.
Have a Target
The first key to surviving on a variable income seems counterintuitive at first. And that is to have a monthly income target. Just because you don’t have a regular income, that doesn’t mean you should go month to month trying to get by on whatever amount you make that month. If anything, not having a regular income makes the need to have monthly targets more urgent.
To determine your monthly target, consider your monthly budget. Ditch the non-essential expenses, and look at areas where you can save and scrimp. That amount will be your monthly target. Having that target will help center and remind you. Now work, hustle, and generally do everything in your power to earn that amount. Savings should also be part of your target – but more on that in the next section.
You can make a hard and honest effort to hit your goals, but I know that life sometimes has different plans. There will be times when things don’t always go according to plan. Maybe you were just unlucky enough to get a slew of stingy diners. Or maybe you get sick and miss out on the weekend crowd. Crap happens. Which is why it’s good to have ample savings as a contingency. It also goes without saying that you should include savings in your monthly income targets.
If for any reason you don’t hit your target, you will at least have a tiny safety net to help you get by. It sucks having to set aside money for savings when money is already hard to come by – I feel you. But when times get tough, you’ll be glad you sacrificed and saved some money.
Save All Your Coins
It’s easy to set aside loose change. It’s “just” loose change, right? But those coins can add up to serious cash! Whenever I’d get coins as tips, I’d put them in an empty jar (the adult piggy bank!) when I got home. Even coins that I’d get as change ended up in that bottle. Basically, I only used paper bills for purchases. If I ended up with any coins, they went into that jar. In a year’s time, I saved up about a hundred dollars!
You can adjust and determine what to do with tip money based on your own income and circumstances. An old coworker of mine did one better by saving every dollar bill she received. It’s up to you to determine your method for saving cash tips.
Avoid Credit Cards for Regular Purchases
Credit cards are already pretty dangerous if you have a regular income. But coupled with a variable income, credit cards can be downright deadly. (I’m speaking metaphorically, of course.) When I was a server, I made the big mistake of relying on my credit card for regular purchases. Big mistake. Since my monthly income fluctuated, it was tough trying to keep up with my credit card payments. And since paying for my regular expenses was already pretty tough, that credit card debt was an added burden.
I’m not saying don’t get a credit card. Used properly and with discipline, a credit card can be a valuable tool if you don’t have a regular income. The key is to use your credit card for dire emergencies. Note the word “dire” here. While losing a pair of socks in the laundromat can be considered an emergency. But that is not an appropriate use for your credit card. Instead, save your card for major things like health emergencies and accidents. And even then, try to pay off your debt before the fees and interest start to pile up.
Explore Passive Income Methods
This one’s a super-awesome trick to earning even if you’re technically at work! First, sign up for an account at a rewards site. Make sure the rewards site has watching videos as one of its earning methods. These sites will pay you, usually in points, whenever you complete watching videos. Since videos are passive, you can keep videos playing beneath the counter or in the locker room. You sometimes have to click a link to confirm you’ve watched the video, but that shouldn’t be too big a hassle.
My favorite site for this is GrabPoints. GrabPoints claims to be the highest-paying rewards site on the planet, and that’s something I can confirm. They also have other earning methods, like answering surveys, which are easy to do during your coffee break, or during your commute.
Another advantage of GrabPoints is that it pays within 48 hours. When you don’t have a regular income, it’s important that you get your earnings from a rewards site as soon as possible. And it’s good to know that GrabPoints is super-reliable when it comes to their payout schedule.