Controlling your variable income

There’s a trap in the challenge of controlling variable income, and it’s baked right into the term itself.

The key to managing ‘variable income’… doesn’t lie in your income at all.

Over my years of living with and managing variable income I’ve learned that the first focus has to be on the flip side of the coin:

In the murky world of expenses.

The concept of ‘enough’

It is impossible (or at least I think it is…) to control variable income without first being able to answer the question “How much do I need?”

Now, that question has a bunch of different levels to it… do I mean ‘how much do I need this week’, or am I talking about ‘how much do I need for my life’?

Well… kind of both… but for right now…. it’s mainly the first one.

It’s easy to just assume that’s an impossible question to answer.

Every week is different, right?

Some weeks you stay home and only leave to buy popcorn, and other weeks you book 3 flights and dine with a Peruvian prince.

But I’ve got a theory about that.

I think that we’re more prone to remember the things that are different. We remember the crazy weeks. We remember the variable expenses. We remember the time we spilled our coffee on our computer and had to spring for a new one.

All those memorable one-off expenses… can’t always be planned for.

But there’s a whole other school of things that you might not remember…

..and that’s the stuff that gets bought over and over again in order to maintain your life.

Expenses: the key to controlling your variable income control

One of the things I was pretty surprised to realize when I started tracking my spending was it was much more… regular… than I thought it was.

It’s a hard pill to swallow for someone brought up to believe he was a unique snowflake…

But it was true…

Beneath that crust of crazy, variable expenses and income… was a core of regular, predictable expenses… and it’s more precious than gold (at least in this variable income fight that we’re in).

Once I became aware of how much I needed to run my ‘core’ life – a place to live, food to eat, tools to be healthy and happy, and of course enough money to pay off any creditors that might have my address … I could do things like:

  • pay myself a salary
  • budget effectively
  • find extra money for debt and savings
  • figure out how long a lump sum cheque would last me for
  • check my needs against my expected yearly income (and see if I was falling short)

All the things I thought were impossible because of my ‘variable income’… weren’t.

How to get to the core of your expenses:

Step one is to find out what you know… and what you don’t know.

Check out this list:

Controlling your variable income

These are the core expenses that make up my regular spending. Do you know how much you spend on these things every month?

I would challenge you to take 5 minutes this week to sit down with this list (and a big glass of wine) and just jot down what you know and what you don’t know.

That’s it.

Do you know how much you spend on food? Do you know how much you spend on random stuff throughout the month? If you don’t know, that’s totally okay, just write a question mark beside it.

Once you’ve got an idea of where you’re at, I’ll help you turn those question marks into numbers that actually fit your life… and from there we’ll build a plan that will help you kick variable income’s ass.

If you don’t want to wait for me to write about it, feel free to send me an email or sign up for an office hours session.

I’m here to help with whatever you need.

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Emily Nixon

Emily Nixon

Rags to Reasonable Community Outreach Coordinator

Emily Nixon is an actor/writer/director/filmmaking Swiss Army Knife. She is also a big money nerd and Community Outreach Coordinator for Rags to Reasonable.

She came to this work after becoming completely fed up with living paycheque-to-paycheque and being too afraid to look in her chequing account. She is passionate about empowering other artists and variable income earners to keep doing what they love and feel confident about their finances.

Email Emily at

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