How to Budget around Seasonal Employment

The Flatirons rock formations, near Boulder, C...

The Flatirons rock formations, near Boulder, Colorado. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As the weather turns cold, millions of people every year find themselves seasonally laid off. Construction and agriculture are two industries that come to mind for seasonal employment. Other seasonal jobs include resorts (ski resorts actually have the opposite problem!) and amusement parts. If you work in one of the professions, you will find yourself needing to know how to budget around seasonal employment.

While there are many things I enjoy about my job, the major downfall is its seasonal nature. While summer frequently sees 50-60 hour weeks, a major slow-down occurs in November. Last year, I was working full-time hours until Thanksgiving, and then 1-2 days per week clear until March. As it turns out, the only reason I was getting those days was because the project was basically in my backyard compared to most other employees. Otherwise, I wasn’t even close to having the seniority to get those hours.

This year, as soon as the project I’m currently on, just outside Boulder, I expect myself to be laid off. Actually, I thought it already happened. I worked last Tuesday and then didn’t hear a peep from my scheduling manager for a week. I was very happy when I heard from him Monday night!

In a way, my wife is also seasonally employed. She works in a grocery store, which is open all year obviously. But this particular store is the closest one to a local state college and gets a large fraction of its business from the students there. During breaks when the students are all away (population around here swells by a third during the school year!), the store is slow and my wife loses up to a quarter of her hours.

Budgeting is difficult enough on an irregular income. But how are you supposed to manage it when “irregular” means getting a paycheck in August but not January? The keys are to set up an annual budget and to set aside some money for fun.

Annual budgeting for seasonal employment

Most people’s budgets looks something like this: money coming in for the month – expenses for the month. I’ve mentioned before that I measure projected cash flow instead. However, I do it for the entire year. We actually have a fiscal year, too, because we do this in August.

We sit down and figure out how much money we are going to have to spend for the next year. If we budgeted monthly like most people, in July we might believe that we had an extra $2000 that we could spend on a trip to visit family. But then in February, we could find ourselves hurting because our savings won’t cover our budget shortfall.

By creating an annual budget, we know how much money we need at any given time and know how much needs to be saved up when I’m working. Before my wife started making enough to support our baseline needs through the winter, we would see our savings account fluctuate by $5000 from the end of the season until the beginning of the new one.

Spend some of your money so you don’t spend all of your money

Budgeting some money for fun and entertainment is essential to not getting frustrated with your frugal lifestyle and lashing out against your own best interests by spending money on something fun when it is required somewhere else.

Even when I’m out of work, we always go to the movies once per month. Seeing a new release in the theater is probably the most expensive way possible to watch a movie, but in my mind you just can’t beat the experience of seeing it on that giant screen. On those days, we will buy a large popcorn and diet Coke to split and that will be our dinner. It may not be particularly healthy, but those giant vats of food and drink cost only a little more than what we would spend making food at home.

We also try to take a trip away from home. That year our savings account plummeted by five grand over the winter? Two of that was for our first visit back to NJ to see family since we had gotten married a year and a half earlier. It was an expensive trip, but money well spent to me.

Last year we didn’t do anything quite so extravagant, but we did take a “weekend” trip (my wife never has weekends off, so it was actually a Tuesday-Wednesday) up to Blackhawk. Got the room for a promotional price and gambled with $100 for our entertainment. That may not last very long at the tables, but it can last two people all day at the penny slots!

I’m not sure what we will do this winter, but I’m sure we will do something. It keeps us from getting cabin fever spending all day at home and keeps the wallet from getting too itchy. :)

Have you ever had a seasonal job? How did you budget for it?

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10 thoughts on “How to Budget around Seasonal Employment

  1. I’ve never had a seasonal job… it sounds rather stressful to me! It’s good that you look at the entire year, so you don’t find yourself in a bind.
    Whenever my income has had fluctuations, it has accounted for so little of the household income that it didn’t matter anyway.

  2. I spent forty year in the yea you are getting laid off of a time this winter so we always lived on what would be a seasonal budget (not enough) we tried and tried hard to keep any and all payment less than an unemployment check….house car, etc. We used credit cards sparsely – then use up made due, and bought used for years…….now we are living happy ever after….i still tell the wife this doesn’t feel like retirement, more like long term unemployed…..but living that way I think made it so we live comfortable in retirement….

      • that is the other reason retirment is so good, find a little work, do things around the house, play with the grandchildern…read and write….never seem to be out of “work” oh i do have a part time job at the local hardware

  3. I’ve never had a seasonal job, but running our own business I can relate to a certain extent…that is of the unknown income. I think having the annual budget is an awesome idea that really can help you look at the year as a whole and see what you need as time goes on. I could not agree more on budgeting for some fun stuff. That can make a frugal lifestyle go much further.
    John S @ Frugal Rules recently posted..How do Credit Cards Make Money? I Found Out the Hard WayMy Profile

  4. The only seasonal job I’ve ever had was lifeguarding and Iwas in high school or college so it wasn’t like I had a mortgage to pay. I have worked in Telluride a day or two a week for many years, and the whole town shuts down after the ski area closes in April and when festival season is over in October. I don’t think anyone budgets, because they all seem broke, but somehow seem to always go on some exotic trip. I never understood how they could afford it, but I know lots of people go on unemployment for those months. I guess it isn’t a lot, but something is better than nothing. These, of course, are the worker bees, not the mega millionaires or trust funders.
    Kim@Eyesonthedollar recently posted..Reasons to Love Your Used CarMy Profile

    • Actually, Colorado technically bars seasonal employees from qualifying for unemployment. Lots of people do anyway and get away with it because their employe doesn’t respond to the unemployment office inquiry.
      Since I am technically seasonally unemployed instead of seasonally employed, I do get around the issue.

  5. Pingback: 7 Financial Experts Discuss Budgeting and Living on a Variable Income | On Target Coach

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