5 Financial Mistakes to Avoid When You Are Self-Employed

Self-employment can be rewarding, but it can also be expensive when you make certain financial mistakes.
Elizabeth Ayoola
By Elizabeth Ayoola 
Edited by Courtney Neidel

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When you become self-employed, you join millions of other business owners hoping to materialize their dreams. However, navigating the murky waters of self-employment can be challenging, especially during the early stages.

While there are no guarantees in business, there are some strategies that could increase your chances of success, especially financially. Here are a few mistakes to avoid as a self-employed person.

1. Not delegating or prioritizing

Self-employed people often act as their own stunt doubles in their business during the incipient stages because of budget constraints. However, trying to do it all on your own may be a mistake, says Ronne Brown, owner of Girl CEO and Herlistic in Washington, D.C.

“We have to understand that we go fast by ourselves, but we go far as a team,” she says. For people who feel they can’t afford to delegate, Brown says to keep your expenses low until you can afford to do so.

If you do decide to delegate, it’s key to spend your dollars in ways that help your business grow. To do this, people should consider focusing on the business operations and systems versus just aesthetics, Brown says. Doing this effectively often requires prioritization.

“In the beginning, people are always focused on the look. But that's not what truly creates the income in business,” she says.

Brown suggests prioritizing bookkeepers and accountants, building automations or hiring someone to generate leads. Also, keep in mind that you can usually deduct the cost of contracted labor from your business taxes.

2. Not saving for retirement

Saving for retirement as an entrepreneur can easily fall to the bottom of your priority list. This is a common mistake self-employed people make, says Preston Cherry, a certified financial planner in Green Bay, Wisconsin. While it can be smart to reinvest income you generate into your business, it may be equally important to build an emergency fund with three to six months’ worth of expenses and invest in your retirement savings.

Cherry says self-employed people have multiple retirement savings accounts to choose from, including an IRA or a solo 401(k).

“Not only are you as a business owner saving for your retirement, you are also getting to deduct the contributions [for] tax planning as well,” Cherry says.

Contributions made to traditional solo 401(k)s and traditional SIMPLE IRAs can provide tax advantages like lowering your taxable income and enabling your investments to grow tax-deferred. That means your tax bill is deferred until you withdraw the money in retirement.

SEP IRAs are designed for self-employed people or small businesses with few or no employees and have similar characteristics.

3. Spending money on courses you don’t take

As a new entrepreneur, you may want to amp up your knowledge to make your business more profitable. That could mean spending money on courses or training, which can sometimes cost a pretty penny. While investing in yourself can be worthwhile, you may not get a return on your investment if you don’t take the courses and apply the knowledge.

“Make sure that you are fully committed and that you are dedicated to actually doing the work and sitting down and making time before you invest in any course or class,” says Brown. “You can't have excuses. People buy stuff with an excuse in mind.”

Brown also recommends doing your homework before investing in a course, especially on social media. You can do this by looking beyond good content and ensuring the person you’re buying courses from has a proven track record of delivering results.

“For me, when I'm looking for a mentorship or I'm looking for people to train me, I'm looking at the personal success that they are having in the area that I am looking to grow in,” she says.


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4. Not considering health care costs

Health care may be a worry for self-employed people, especially when they don’t have employer support. A health savings account is one way to make the financial load lighter since there are many tax benefits.

“There's no tax going in. There's no tax while in it, and there's no tax coming out,” Cherry says.

With HSAs, contributions are made pretax, interest grows tax-free and qualified withdrawals are tax-free. In 2024, single individuals can contribute up to $4,150, while families can contribute up to $8,300.

You must have a high-deductible health care plan to be eligible to open an HSA as a self-employed person. Another option to make health care more affordable is taking the self-employed health insurance deduction if you qualify.

5. Not having a clear ‘why’

Entrepreneurship can be a way to make extra money or materialize your dreams, but it can also become a money pit. For this reason, it’s important to have a clear “why,” Cherry says. Having a clear purpose can also help you know when to keep pushing through difficulties and when to stop.

“Entrepreneurship is not for everyone. It's not supposed to be. It's not the only way to wealth.”

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.

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