The freelance life isn’t right for everyone and making it work takes a lot of trial and error, especially when it comes to how you handle your money. After half a decade of doing the freelance thing full-time, I’ve developed a solid system for budgeting, saving and paying bills but it’s still not as sophisticated as I’d like it to be.
Managing the financial side of freelancing has gotten a little easier, thanks to technology and it seems like there’s an app for just about everything these days. Just so you don’t have to tie up precious time trying to decide which ones you should use, here are the best five money management apps for freelancers.
1. Best app for budgeting: Mint
Available for: iPhone and Android
One of the most important financial rules of freelancing is to keep your personal expenses separate from your business spending. Trying to stay on top of multiple bank accounts or credit cards can be a chore but Mint takes some of the pressure off so you can focus on building your business.
The app allows you to view all of your accounts in one place so you’re not having to log into multiple sites, which is a real time-saver for busy freelancers. In addition to tracking your income, you can break down your spending into different budget categories, including things like office supplies, printing or advertising. You can also assign tags to specific transactions to make them easier to find later on.
With Mint Bills, you’re able to see when your personal bills are due and schedule payments right from your mobile device. The app is free to download and there’s no charge to pay a bill using your linked bank account. There is a small service fee if you use a credit card.
If you’re already using Mint, get our insider tips on how to use Mint more efficiently.
2. Best app for taxes: QuickBooks Self-Employed
Available on: Online (mobile companion apps available on iPhone and Android)
Transitioning from traditional employment to freelancing means making some major adjustments in the way you handle your tax filing. When you work as an independent contractor rather than an employee, you’re solely responsible for withholding the right amount of taxes from your income. Depending on how much you earn and your filing status, you may have to pay quarterly taxes to avoid getting hit with a penalty.
QuickBooks is primarily designed for small businesses but there’s a new version available just for the self-employed. You can use the app to calculate how much you need to be paying in quarterly taxes, pinpoint which tax deductions you qualify for, download business expense records from your bank or credit card accounts and create year-end financial reports when it’s time to file your return.
3. Best app for tracking business expenses: Expensify
Available on: iPhone, Windows phone and Android
Cost: Free (personal)
If your freelance lifestyle involves traveling to meet business clients or using part of your home as an office, the expenses you rack up can equal a big deduction at tax time. Maintaining accurate records of what you spend is key but if organization isn’t your strong suit, the Expensify app is a must-have.
With Expensify, you’re able to scan in pictures of your receipts and the app will fill in the expense details for you. It’s easy to add expenses on the go and categorize them so you’re not trying to figure out what something was for later on. If you use your personal vehicle for business travel, you can also record your mileage for each trip.
Besides the fact that it’s free, one of the best things about Expensify is that you can use the app to create expense reports which can then be integrated with QuickBooks. Instead of sifting through piles of paperwork or trying to track down a lost receipt, you can just export your data to simplify your account even more.
4. Best app for tracking time and invoicing: Harvest
Available on: iPhone, Android, Mac, PC
Cost: Varies based on usage ($12/month for one person and multiple projects)
Time is literally money when you freelance and you can’t afford to waste any of it, especially when you’re just starting out. If you’re working on projects that pay based on your hourly output, a good time tracking app is essential to make sure you’re getting every penny you deserve.
If you’re looking for something that’s pretty straightforward, Harvest is an excellent choice. You can track your time for up to four different clients and two projects at no cost, which is great if you’re a newbie. If you need the ability to track time for an unlimited number of clients or projects, that’ll run you $12 a month.
On top of keeping a tally on your hours, you can instantly create and send invoices to your clients. Harvest easily integrates with a number of other accounting and finance software tools that are perfect for freelancers, including QuickBooks and PayPal.
5. Best app for getting paid: PayPal
Available on: iPhone and Android
Waiting for a client to pay you is definitely one of the most frustrating aspects of freelancing, especially if you’re still in the ramping-up phase of your career. Watching the mailbox for a check day after day isn’t exactly a productive way to spend your time but you can get around it by offering clients other ways to pay, like PayPal.
There’s no charge to create a PayPal account and you can link up your checking account, credit card or debit card for easy funds transfers.
There is a potential downside to be aware of, since you could get hit with a fee for receiving payments. You can always attempt to work around this issue by asking the client to pay the fees on their end or including the fees as part of the project rate. If you do end up having to pay a fee to receive a payment, you can always deduct them on your taxes.
Planning on taking the plunge into freelancing? Check out the other stories in our freelancing series on what mistakes to avoid when you’re just starting out, how to go about finding work without going broke, what freelancing means for your taxes and what your options are for saving for retirement.
Have a freelancing topic you’d like us to cover? Sound off in the comments below.