Work

On the Job: Tracking Income + Expenses

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Tax season may be but a distant memory, but I get so many queries as to how I keep track of my various income streams and payments that I thought it was time to spill the beans.

First of all, let’s be upfront: I don’t get super fancy when it comes to tracking expenses. Credit card statements are now electronic, and I see no need in downloading unnecessary programs that are just going to go unforgotten on the fifth page of my apps and take up precious storage on my already full iPhone.

While I admit that my methods are far from fancy, they are thorough, which is important, right? (Tell me I’m right even if you disagree. I seek approval, ha.)

For pitching—which I admittedly don’t do much of anymore, thankfully, now that I’m more than a decade into the magazine part of my career—I have subfolders nested in my email account where I can file away all correspondence in an organized and easy-to-find manner. (I am nothing if not organized, just ask my husband and our overwhelming, overflowing shared calendar.)

Outlook

This is helpful because if a pitch is downright rejected, I put it in the corresponding folder and then can repurpose the idea elsewhere. Additionally, every couple weeks, I browse through the “maybe” folder—and follow up with any editors who gave me a glimmer of hope that they might want to work with my idea. Once I’ve sent a pitch, it goes in that folder so I have a record of every idea I’ve ever formulated into a pitch.

In terms of actually keeping tabs on my income, which can be difficult with more than 30 different companies paying you a year, I set up Excel spreadsheet templates. It all depends on personal preference and how many different projects I’m tracking at once; some years, I use one spreadsheet for the entire calendar year, while others I divvy it up in different pages by the month in the tabs at the bottom.

Microsoft Excel

Note that this spreadsheet is entirely fictitious, merely an illustration for how I keep tabs on my expenses, though I do typically take on anywhere from 8 to 15 assignments or projects a month (not counting my staff position as an editor at our city magazine).

It’s also important to point out that there’s no right or wrong way; every freelancer does things differently—personally, I always love reading Lola Akinmade’s end-of-year freelance reports, which are far more involved than my own—but for me, this is a simple method that allows me to keep track of who I have invoiced when, who hasn’t paid me in a timely manner, with whom I need to follow up, etc. You’d be surprised how much time freelance journalists spend doing paperwork and tracking down missed payments. One time, it took one of the biggest magazines in the United States a full 11 months to fulfill our contract, as well as reimburse me for expenses accrued, which exceeded $1,500. It’s not all travel and free meals and schmoozing with celebrities, y’all.

I also have a handful of clients on a monthly retainer; for consistency, I—and by I, I mean SVV, who handles all billing through our side venture, Odinn Media—invoice them all on one set day of each month (usually the 15th, though there are some that started on a different cycle, so the 1st made more sense).

In terms of creating invoices, I have a basic template I made in Word that I go in and modify for each client. From there, I save the Word doc as a PDF and submit via email. Every magazine varies; some want your invoice the second you turn in an assignment so they can get it going in the system (it often takes anywhere from 30 to 60 days to get paid—and sometimes that’s after the story is actually published, which is a whole other beast), while others insist you wait until the story is approved by all parties involved. It’s a lot to keep track of, which is why freelancing is definitely not for the forgetful mind.

creating an invoice

And while I generally use my credit card statements when categorizing deductibles at the end of each year, there are many times when I have paid for things in cash, usually for parking and tipping, and those expenses can add up and need to be accounted for. This is when Office Lens comes in handy; I can create a new note in the OneNote app, take a photo of the receipt, save it as an image, whiteboard or document, then add any additional information that might be helpful, such as an audio note. Plus, it automatically syncs so I can access the receipts directly from my computer with no added hassle.

OneNote

Easy, right? And one less piece of paper to keep track of.

Questions, class? What’s your best tip for tracking income?

Disclosure: I am a Microsoft Champion and have been asked from time to time to share how I use the Office suite, which is pretty much the Bible for all journalists everywhere so it’s hardly a difficult task. No one tells me what to say or how or when to say it.

COMMENTS
  • May 6, 2015

    Ohhh you ARE organized! Super helpful advice 🙂

  • May 6, 2015

    Love this post! I’ve been coming up with my own methods for keeping expenses and income organized for my blog and after a year of doing it, I’m still figuring things out. I definitely love the Office Suite and use OneNote pretty much all day every day. I didn’t think to take photos of receipts and things, or to add invoice dates. Great tips, thanks much!

    • May 6, 2015

      Yeah! Receipts are the primary thing I use OneNote for (mainly because I will lose them if expected to hold onto them for more than a month, let alone a full calendar year!).

  • May 6, 2015

    This might be more of a budget in general tip (not specifically for freelancing/multiple income sources) but I do love Mint.com. I still write a little on the side, and am able to easily categorize income sources into buckets like freelancing, day job, reimbursements, etc.

    • May 6, 2015

      Yes! I also use Mint.com for categorizing. So clutch to not having to tease out every last expense and figure out where it goes.

  • May 6, 2015
    Briel K.

    Olivia Swift! haha! Loved your fake billings. 🙂

    • May 6, 2015

      It took Scott a second read to catch that. Should have known you would have gotten it 😉 (Technically, I should have sent the bill to Olivia Benson Swift, but you know, details.)

      • May 6, 2015
        Briel K.

        Next time you’ll have to use Meredith. 😉

  • May 10, 2015

    It’s organized way of keeping record and calculating the expenses. I am using credit card but never use to keep record of expenses, last month it got blocked because it exceeded credit limit and have to call customer support and find out the reason because i wasn’t aware of the expenses. So, keeping record and tab on expenses is very important. I will try to use the applications mentioned here for the organizing everything.

    • May 20, 2015

      Definitely! I also love using Mint.com (a free service) to keep track of when all my credit card payments are due.

  • May 12, 2015
    Helen

    Oh yes, Excel all the way! My Register file of everything is an uber-detailed work of proficiency!

    • May 20, 2015

      Now that I would like to see! #SuckerforOrganization

  • May 18, 2015
    Yok

    Cool post. Have you ever experimented with the least expensive version of Quickbooks? Easy, cheap, and syncs with banking making invoice and finance management unexpectedly straightfoward. 🙂

    • May 20, 2015

      I haven’t, no. But everyone in my family is an accountant other than me, so they definitely use Quickbooks to do our taxes!

  • May 24, 2015
    Abi

    For income, I stick squarely to Excel (I also have a column for “chased” to help me follow up on outstanding payments.) For receipts, I’ve become a big fan of Wave, which has an app that allows you to snap the receipt on your phone and autoconvert it into your accounts AND change the currency! I’ve found lots of good money handling software out there but not too many are good at dealing with different currencies…which I find essential in this new global world! Thanks for the tips – Abi

  • June 3, 2015

    I can’t even express how embarrassed I would be if you caught sight of my Excel sheets. All I can say in my defense is THEY MAKE SENSE TO ME.

  • June 3, 2015

    Great article, thank you!

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