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Taking your editing or proofreading service on the road: Budgeting for travel and business

Posted on 12th November 2017

I have said before that I don't want to divulge too much exact information about my accounts on my website, but thinking back to when I was planning to take my editing and proofreading service on the road, I know budgeting and planning for the finances were quite key considerations. Obviously how you choose to budget and what your priorities are will probably be very different from mine, but hopefully this post will give some idea of things to think about.

A couple of key factors: as part of a couple with both Pete and me working, we have baseline earnings requirements and then personal annual income goals. We have no property and so earn nothing from that, but instead we have savings. The interest on those isn't worth mentioning, but it is useful, as I'll discuss.

How much do I need per month/year?

I like to think of a monthly budget and an annual one – by aiming to stick to the monthly budget, the annual budget should slot into place. I realise that sounds obvious, but when travelling, months are not as equal as they might be when living in a settled location and paying for most things on monthly direct debits. For example, a transatlantic flight might have to be paid for one month and the following month you might be settled in a cheap location, so the two months will vary massively. We pay for travel insurance upfront, so far in two 18-month blocks, so that's another example of a big one-off cost. We consider tax payments separate from our general spending budget, but obviously they need to be included in the earnings budget/goal.

Our general monthly budget is £2,000 to cover everything. But what exactly is 'everything' when travelling and working? For us, it's more or less the following, excluding the one-off insurance costs:

  • Accommodation
  • Day-to-day food (I guess one's weekly supermarket shop equivalent)
  • Transport
  • Entertainment, eating out and fun
  • Business costs (more details below)

We budget in GBP and keep an eye on exchange rates. This means that our spending power changes with the exchange rate, not how much we actually budget. Personally, I find this an easier approach, especially if travelling around lots of countries where currencies differ.

How much do we budget for accommodation?

The accommodation part of our monthly expenses varies massively. If we stay in hotels and travel quite quickly (by our standards, e.g. staying only five to seven days per place), especially in Western Europe, the budget will quickly go, but if we settle for a month or more in an apartment, we can get economies of scale (not to mention that cooking for oneself is much cheaper than having to eat out for every meal). When we were looking to settle in Alicante for a while, we considered two apartments: one was a small, one-bedroom flat for £450 a month in the centre of the city and the other was a large, airy, two-bedroom apartment for £950 that was 7 kilometres from the town centre but 5 minutes' walk from a beautiful, long beach. It had a pool and tennis court inside the complex grounds. As you probably guessed, we went for the latter! Friends came to visit, we relaxed a lot and really enjoyed being by the sea, and we cut back on lavish meals out to make the rest of the budget fit (which is easy to do when food and wine are so cheap in Spain). We spent more on a week in Helsinki, Finland, (about £500) than we did on a month in Bansko, Bulgaria, (£280) so I guess the moral of the story is that whatever budget you have, I think you can make your travel and work fit that.

What's left in the budget after accommodation then becomes the base for us to work out what we want to spend on the rest – we have consistently eaten out a lot, and we also enjoy going out for drinks, though when we have an apartment/house, we do cook at home a bit too. These costs will obviously vary massively from place to place, but also from type to type – a local pub in a random backstreet is going to charge significantly less than a posh rooftop bar with views of the city, for example.

What about business expenses?

The costs incurred to ensure we carry on running our proofreading and editing services while on the road come from that budget, with the exception of taxes. But, as many people like to highlight when trying to sell proofreading courses, setting up and running a business in this sector can be cheap. The main monthly or annual purely business costs are as follows:
  • Web host and domain name
  • Professional memberships such as my Advanced Professional Membership of the SfEP
  • Online subscriptions, including cloud storage, Oxford online and Chicago Manual of Style
  • Technology and equipment
  • Bank fees to receive non-UK payments
  • Coworking spaces, where applicable
  • Possibly also Skype credit (or equivalent), local SIM cards or roaming costs of using a UK mobile phone service

What if we go over-budget?

I am one of life's worriers and I desire stability, which might come as a shock considering my current lifestyle. However, without getting too psychoanalytical, stability comes in many guises and when we sold our house and gave up that solidity, we instead gained stability in the sense of having cash in the bank (let's not go into whether that was a good/bad decision – we weren't expecting Brexit and all that entails, but I'm still happy with the decision). We spoke to an accountant friend before making that call to sell, and all our personal circumstances pointed to it being the option that best suited us. Since being on the road, we've actually added to our savings, earning far more than we've spent. I admit that year 1 on the road actually cost closer to £28k (well, Scandinavia was never going to be a budget option), but having the savings in the bank means that if we earn less than the target earnings and still spend the same, we're not getting into debt.

Another important consideration with savings is the occasional need to prove liquidity/ability to self-fund for the duration of a trip when getting visas for certain countries. I would personally stick with the same advice I was given when I was starting my proofreading service: always have enough in the bank to cover 6 months, in case work dries up or something unexpected happens. What level of savings and reserves work for one person will vary massively from another, but having a float that covers most countries' visa requirements seems like a decent lower threshold. I have read some freelancers' blogs that say they like the thrill of the hand-to-mouth approach, knowing they need to earn X to keep going, but that is certainly not my style.

I am a very proud business owner, and I want my proofreading and editing service to continue to be a success, regardless of where in the world I might be doing my day-to-day work. How I view that success might differ from other people's views of their own business, but the financial bottom line is a fairly common yardstick. This means I should continue to save quite a bit (subjective, I know) each year; this gives me flexibility on the budget and allows for blowout splurges, and it also means that as and when Pete and I choose to settle down again (more on that in a future blog post), I'll still have a business that will suit that stage in my life.

I know people on much smaller budgets and others on much higher ones, so what I have mentioned above is by no means a suggestion of what you should budget for and how much you'll need. If you have any questions or want more details, by all means get in touch by email.

If you have any specific questions and want some individual advice, feel free to email me with questions or post them on my Facebook page.

Written by Kate Haigh.