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How to Talk to Your Spouse About Your Freelance Income

Sharing the financials is key to keeping a good relationship.

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by Kara Baskin

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I’ve owned my own editorial business for a decade. Working for yourself is hugely liberating: I make my own hours, set my own fees (for the most part), and choose my own clients.

The most difficult part revolves around money: the uncertainty of waiting for a paycheck, managing cash flow, and most of all, communicating the process with my family. My husband has a traditional job wherein he gets paid the same amount every two weeks, while I rely on my own special method of invoicing, follow-ups, and depositing checks the old fashioned way—waiting for an envelope to arrive and heading to the bank to stash it.

It used to be hugely stressful, until we saw a financial planner and set some ground rules that made each of us feel like active participants in our budgeting and goals.

Make one person the dedicated money manager. In this case, it’s my husband, who has a head for numbers. I have other strengths; math isn’t one of them. Delegating has spared us many fights. 

Blind-copy your spouse on every invoice. This way, I’m not reminding him that I’m expecting $1,000 from a client he’s never heard of while he’s rushing out the door. He knows what’s coming in.

Use Google spreadsheets. Both of us have access to a spreadsheet where I plug in incoming money, and he notes whether an invoice has been paid. (Which helps me know when it’s time to follow up with a kindly, “Hey, remember to pay me!” email to a client.) 

Set aside a time to talk money. And put it on a shared Google calendar. Most of our fights used to start while hustling somewhere. Suddenly I’d ask about a bill, he’d get frustrated, and I’d feel completely in the dark about our funds. Now, we review incoming checks and outgoing spending every month. (In our case, it’s Sunday afternoon, but do whatever works for your schedule.) 

You may like: Why You Should Know Your Spouse's Salary

Ask for objective advice. I’m the type of person who likes to say yes to everything. I’m a people-pleaser. (This trait is enhanced by small business ownership—when you generate your own income, it can be tough to say no.) My husband has a more objective mindset. If I’m on the fence about whether to take on a flat-fee project, he helps me calculate the hourly rate and whether it’s actually worth my time. Reviewing a client based on value instead of emotion has saved me from several dead-end jobs.

Have shared short-, mid- and long-range goals. Once we sat down with a financial planner and figured out the minimum I needed to make, it helped me feel we both had a stake in where anything extra might go: a college fund, retirement or—thank God—a basement renovation.

Keep a year’s worth of expenses in savings. I never know when work might dry up for a bit. Having a cushion has given me peace of mind—and saved me from nagging my husband about balancing our budget.