One big downside to sex work: the fluctuating, and sometimes completely unpredictable, income.
Trying to plan your weekly spending without knowing how much you’ll earn, when you’ll get paid and how much you’ll make the following week is a NIGHTMARE. Depending on the week you can kill it, just scrape by, or fail miserably.
Let’s be real – we’ve all been at the point where we text our own phone to make sure it’s still working because it’s been so long since we’ve received an enquiry.
As a sex worker, I’ve been navigating the troubles of a fluctuating income since 2011. And even though my income still fluctuates today, I rarely get stressed over it and I save more money than I have EVER before.
Through trial and error, I’ve found a process that helps take the sting out of slow weeks. Here are the rules I follow when planning my budget on a wildly variable income.
First things first: Before you can create a budget on a fluctuating income, you need to know your survival amount. That is, the bare minimum you need to make to cover your absolute essentials. Your survival amount includes both essential business expenses (e.g., incall rent, supplies such as condoms, advertising, phone bill, tax and superannuation payments, etc.) and essential personal expenses (e.g., housing, utility bills, groceries, transportation, etc).
You MUST know this amount before you can create your budget. Spend a few minutes crunching the numbers before you move onto the next step.
Once you know your survival amount, you need to come up with a list that covers everything else you spend money on. We’re talking about things like a Netflix subscription, haircuts, trips to Sephora and dining out.
If you’re unsure about your discretionary expenses, spend a few minutes skimming over your bank statements to get an average. If you don’t like what you see, it’s a great time to paying more attention to where your money is leaking out.
Paying yourself a steady salary is the KEY to ending your struggle with a fluctuating income. First, you need to decide on a pay period (i.e., how often you will pay yourself). The length of your pay period will determine whether you meet your goals. Let’s work through some examples.
Let’s say the amount you need to live each month (survival amount + discretionary spending) is $5000. If there are 30 days in a month and you pay yourself daily, you need to make $166 per day. Now, what happens if you have a day without a booking? You will fail to meet your goal, and your budget will be a mess.
Now, let’s say you need $5000 per month and you pay yourself weekly. You will need to earn $1250 per week. If you have a day without a booking, it doesn’t matter, because you have six other days to make up the quiet day. You might make $1000 on the Monday, $250 on the Tuesday and nothing for the rest of the week. But it wouldn’t matter that the rest of the week is quiet because you’ve already hit your goal.
Conversely, if the start of the week is dead and you REALLY don’t feel like working at the end of the week, you might be more motivated to respond to your enquiries because you know you still need to make $1250 to hit your goal. An extended pay period gives you more wiggle room for the natural fluctuation of business.
Exactly how long your pay period should be is a personal choice, and you may have to play around to find the ideal length for you. I work on a two week pay period as it allows me to sync my salary with my partner’s. But a different period might be better for you. Whatever length you choose, on the first day of the pay period, pay yourself both your survival amount and your discretionary spending amount.
So, what happens if you make more than your salary?
As sex workers we don’t have the luxury of sick pay, holiday pay or maternity leave. If we can’t work, we aren’t making money. And if there is a quiet period in business we are left in the lurch.
We have to create the buffer ourselves. So, if you make more than your salary (survival amount + discretionary spending) in a pay period, I want you to put the extra money into your newly created emergency fund.
Your emergency fund is NOT the same as your savings account. The money in your savings account is set aside for bigger goals – buying a house, going on a holiday, starting that second business, having a wedding. The money in your emergency fund is different.
Think of your emergency fund as your sick pay, your holiday pay, your maternity pay, your buffer for when you have a quiet week (I literally have named my account’ Sick Pay’ on my banking app).
When you are unable to work, you will pay yourself your salary from your emergency fund. If we’re following Scott Pape’s advice, you want at least three months of your salary in this account. It might take awhile for you to work towards this, but suffice to say it is the key to living stress-free on a fluctuating income.
To fill up this account a little quicker, you can also allocate any ‘found money’ (e.g., a tax refund, income from selling unneeded items, etc.) into this account.
While a fluctuating income can make budgeting a bit tricky, paying yourself a salary is the best way around it. I lived day-to-day and shift-to-shift for my first few years as a sex worker, and hell, it was stressful. I know it can seem impossible to get yourself out of that rut, but trust me, it IS possible, and it is WORTH IT. Since implementing this method, I feel in control of my finances, despite the way the sex industry ebbs and flows.
Photo by Unsplash.
Disclaimer: I cannot, and do not, speak for all sex workers. I speak from my experience of working in a legal brothel and as an independent escort in Australia. Where possible I try to be inclusive. However, I can’t relay every experience of sex work – especially if I haven’t experienced it myself.
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