How to Weather Financial Uncertainty as a Freelancer or Gig Worker

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As COVID-19 disrupts the world, you might be worried about how it could one day affect you. Perhaps it already has.

The pandemic has caused a lot of trouble worldwide. The financial markets have taken a beating, and businesses large and small are reeling. It has been no less taxing for individuals: Once lucrative side hustles may be drying up, and freelance work may be slowing as businesses shift focus.

If you’re an independent worker, your financial security may be in jeopardy. However, it’s important to know you’re not alone, and although it may feel as though your hands are tied, there are actions you can take today to help yourself better navigate the financial setbacks of COVID-19.

1. Diversify Your Income

While diversifying your income is always a smart move, it is perhaps more important now than ever before. When you diversify your income, you reduce the impact of losing any single income stream. For example, even if you lose your day job, a thriving side hustle can help mitigate the hit your financial security will take as a result.

There are numerous ways to make extra cash, even in the midst of a pandemic. Approach the task with an open mind, as you may need to think outside of the box.

If you’re not sure where to start, consider turning a hobby you can do from the safety of your home into a money-making business. For instance, if you enjoy writing, look for freelance writing gigs. If you’re an artist, try selling your artwork on sites like Etsy. You can also earn cash by taking surveys or selling unused items you’re suddenly aware of because you’re spending so much time around the house.

If you’re comfortable leaving the house, a side hustle like delivering groceries can be beneficial to both you and society at large in the current environment. If want to go this route, look into platforms such as Postmates, Doordash, and Instacart.

When you shop for your own groceries and essential goods, you can reduce your bill by utilizing one or more of the many cashback apps like Rakuten, Ibotta, and Fetch Rewards. Use these apps in conjunction with a cashback credit card, and you can earn a significant amount of money on your shopping trips.

Whatever you do, the point is that there are numerous ways to bring in extra money. You just have to be creative.

2. Create an Emergency Fund

As an independent worker, you’re likely already used to ebbs and flows in your income, so there’s a good chance you’ve been building up an emergency fund already. In times of financial uncertainty, that fund becomes an absolute must. Without emergency fund savings, you might be forced to turn to credit to cover your expenses, leading to costly interest fees that can make it harder for you to get back on your feet.

A recent FinanceBuzz survey found that most people are taking precautions when it comes to their finances: 58 percent of people report they have emergency savings. If you don’t yet have an emergency fund, don’t panic. Although it may be more difficult to establish an emergency fund at this time, the important thing is to start putting away whatever amount you can muster. Try making a habit of setting aside a small amount of each bit of income you receive, and look for places in your spending where you can cut back.

With the recent federal interest rate cut, savings accounts are paying less in interest than they previously did. Even so, some savings accounts are better than others. When your emergency fund is in a high-yield savings account, your money does extra work for you because it earns interest at a higher rate. Rates will vary from bank to bank, so you may want to compare a few banks in order to choose a savings account for your needs.

3. File for Unemployment

On March 22, 2020, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis President James Bullard predicted  unemployment in the US could soar to 30 percent in the coming months. Depending on your work situation, you may be entitled to unemployment assistance.

To ensure you’re prepared in the event you need to file for unemployment, you may want to take the time now to learn about the specific process in your state. Even if you have not lost your job outright, you may be able to get some relief: Some states may provide assistance to those facing financial hardship due to significantly reduced hours.

The process for filing for unemployment varies by state, but it’s important you contact your state’s unemployment insurance program as soon as possible after becoming unemployed. According to CareerOneStop, a government resource for all things career-related, “Most states have made changes to their unemployment insurance programs in order to provide benefits to more workers affected by COVID-19/coronavirus.”

For more information on how to apply for unemployment benefits in your state and to see if your state has expanded its programs, start with the CareerOneStop website. Of course, the situation is still evolving, so keep an eye on the news as well.

Making money through a side hustle is a great way to diversify your income, and it can relieve some of the impact of losing a full-time job or freelance income.

Although traditional employees can often benefit from unemployment insurance if they lose their jobs, freelancers aren’t so fortunate in most situations — at least for the moment. In the meantime, independent workers may want to consider further diversifying their income with additional side hustles or freelance assignments.

In any situation, workers of all kinds should have an emergency fund to provide a safety net for sudden expenses and unexpected income reductions. If you don’t have an emergency fund yet, don’t panic. Start saving now so you’re more prepared for tomorrow.

Matt Miczulski is an associate writer at FinanceBuzz.

By Matt Miczulski