Per diem nursing offers a lot of benefits including scheduling flexibility, professional development, and the chance to earn extra money with shifts. But one of the downsides to nursing on a more contractual basis is trying to budget for a fluctuating income.

Sounds impossible to make a reliable and respectable budget if you don’t know how much to count on? It’s daunting, but not impossible.

Here’s how to do it.

Figure Out Your Expenses

Just like with any budget, you need to figure out how much you spend every single month. Gather figures for all your bills and include everything. That means figure out how much you pay for food (and that means lunches out at work, coffees to go, or pizza pick ups), all transportation (gas, car insurance, car payments, bus or train passes, parking fees, etc.), housing (rent, mortgage, any insurance, and all utilities), phones, entertainment (yes, Netflix counts), clothes and personal care. One of the easiest ways to do this is to save every single receipt and bill throughout a month or two and then simply add it all up.

Figure Out Your Income

Once you have seen what your expenses are, you can determine how many per diem slots you’ll need to fill to make enough to live comfortably. Judge how many assignments you can get and figure out if they are shifts you are willing and able to do.

Build a Cushion

Between the income and the expenses falls a very important area for people who do contract work. Building a cushion, what most financial experts refer to as an emergency fund, is crucial for contractors. It’s not really an emergency fund for you, it’s a real life fund for times when contracts dry up. You can count on times when the work seems endless and the times when the work opportunities are pretty scant. Building up a fund so you have money to cover yourself is essential. Most experts suggest having a fund equal to several months worth of expenses (since calculating your expenses was your first step, it’s not hard to get this number!).

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Get Insured

If you aren’t covered by health insurance through an agency or a family member, make sure health insurance isn’t something you take a chance on. As a contractor, one health emergency can eat through your financial cushion instantly and leave you in a really scary mess. The same advice goes for making sure your car insurance covers you in case of accidents. If you ever need it, you want to have it.

Take Advantage of Extra Work

One of the best things about per diem work is that you can often take on extra shifts to help yourself out financially. If you are able to, take on some shifts and sock away the earnings when it comes your way. Don’t stuff your schedule so full of work that you are neglecting your health or making yourself stressed. But if the extra work comes your way and it suits you, per diem nurses can make some extra money easily.

Plan Your Work

If you plan to take jobs that are close to home, you can strategically save on transportation costs and your own time. Although many people don’t consider commuting a flexible option, per diem nurses can. And if you can take assignments that bring you new skills and a new setting, you’ll be making a financially sound and strategic career move.

Per diem nursing offers some great financial benefits – you just have to plan your budget carefully.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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