Top tips on managing your finances, accessing support and making the most of your earnings – supported by Journalists’ Charity.

Write up by Lara von der Brelie

Journalism can be a competitive industry in the best of times, but 2020 has brought unprecedented challenges.  In partnership with Journalists’ Charity, WIJ hosted a panel session to discuss ways in which journalists can better manage their finances, plan for the future and get support in the turbulent months ahead. The expert panel included:

  • Top accountants Andrew Subramaniam and Barry Kernon from HW Fisher’s industry-leading authors and journalists (@HWFWriters)
  • James Brindle, chief executive of the Journalists’ Charity. (@JournoCharity)
  • Faye Watts, founding partner at FUSE Accountants and co-founder of online magazine Audrey, a website for women who know there is more to life.
  • In the chair was BBC Radio and TV presenter Frances Finn (@francesfinnshow)

1. Keep records on the go

Keeping accurate and timely records is probably the most important thing journalists can do to stay on top of their finances says Andrew Subramaniam. Regardless of whether you operate as an individual or a company, you will need to do accounts. Having a record of your expenses and invoices on hand will save you a lot of time and stress.

2. Don’t be scared to ask for help

Don’t delay getting help, even if you think there is no way out. Reach out to the Journalists’ Charity and talk to them about your financial challenges; you do not need to be a member or pay a membership fee to be eligible for their support. Even if you don’t think you qualify, give them a call or send them an email – Journalists’ Charity case officers may be able to put you in touch with another organisation which can help you.

3. Stay informed about government support

Deciphering government guidelines around benefits can be complicated and frustrating. Barry Kernon recommends looking at the following two websites for help navigating this particular minefield of regulations:

  • Money advice service which offers free and impartial financial advice
  • Turn 2 Us which provides information and financial support when times are tough

James Brindle also urged the audience to contact HMRC directly. Long waiting times on helplines will be worth the pain – HMRC staff often give exceptionally useful advice.

4. Make two bank accounts

Keep your personal and professional life separate says Faye Watts. It is easier to plan out your professional goals when you take yourself out of the equation. Barry Kernon says that freelancers should try keep a separate account for work expenses. This will help with bookkeeping and give you a clearer idea of your monthly costs.

5. Keep some money for taxes

If you are self employed, try to set some money aside to cover your taxes. Make sure your tax money is stowed away in an account which is difficult to access to help avoid any nasty surprises when the taxman comes knocking. To find out more about managing your taxes, download HWFisher’s author & journalist tax guide.

6. Manage your savings your way

Do you thrive off risk? Are you planning to take out your pension in less than 20 years? Where and how you manage your money should depend on you. Faye recommends speaking to a financial advisor to help you to think through the best approach for managing your money based on how long you are planning to save for and your attitude to risk.

7. Try digital bookkeeping

Deciding where you are going to keep your financial records is important. Barry says that while some journalists are happy storing their receipts in a diary planner, others might want try a digital bookkeeping software. Tax returns in the UK will be going fully digital from 2023, so it is worth getting ahead. Barry suggests using free trials to try out the different options out there.

8. Working from home? Claim money back

There are lots of different ways to get support if you are working from home.

HMRC’s ‘flat rate model’ provides around £6 a week. Faye also suggests trying out the ‘actual calculation model’ – it is based on the square footage of the room you work in, the amount of hours you spend in there and the total cost of the bills for your work space. The calculation is complicated and not everyone sees it as worth the hassle. You may also be able to claim expenses for services which have a clear dual purpose – in your private and professional life, like mobile phone bills and broadband.

9. Made redundant? Make a plan

First things first, “get your head above the parapet and start facing the finances,” says Faye. Start planning for the next 6-12 months; consider what your costs will be during this time. Make sure you apportion off enough money to cover your basic expenses before spending or investing your money anywhere else. Faye suggests dividing up your expenses into three categories: ‘essentials’, ‘necessaries’ and ‘nice to haves’.

10. Stay positive, think ahead

“Things can only get better, with crisis comes opportunity,” says Andrew, “the key is not to give up.” Faye urges journalists to invest in themselves; take the time to find out what your priorities are, be ready to rethink your plans and redirect your skills.