How to have your cake and eat it: Four tips I’ve learnt for budgeting when it’s not wedding season

It’s been two years since I first started making and selling my wedding cakes professionally as a bit of a side hustle, and four months since I officially became a freelance journalist.

Both of these decisions have been challenging and I’ve learnt quite a bit along the way, from always saving more than needed, to branching out from just making wedding cakes, which no one’s really eating  in the winter.

The credit reference agency, Experian asked me if I’d be willing to share a few thoughts along my journey about how I cope financially having a side hustle and also what I’ve learnt having been a personal finance journalist for the best part of eight years.

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So, here’s the first in a mini series of blogs about the tips and tricks – and pitfalls to avoid – I’ve experienced. As it’s January, traditionally the month where everyone is skint and dieting – a baker’s worst combination – I’m kicking things off with four tools I’m arming myself with to get through the start of the year.

1. It’s not all wedding cakes, find other opportunities

Until last year the majority of the work I was being asked to do for my baking was wedding cakes.

This is great throughout the summer, as in wedding season there’s a steady stream of cake orders and from April through to October it keeps me really busy. But for the rest of the year orders are a lot slower and I tend to make a lot less.

Instead of resorting myself to baked beans and toast for quieter months in order to budget, I’ve branched out a little.

Instead of just weddings, I’ve started offering cakes for lots of different occasions such as birthdays, christenings, and baby showers, which there’s demand for throughout the year.

2. Always be prepared  

This is probably the tip I’ve found most valuable. As with life, in baking – and business – things will always crop up which you cannot plan for but by being as prepared as possible you can shield yourself from a complete disaster.

Taking out insurance was one of the first things I did, to protect myself – in the unlikely event anyone decided to sue me after eating one of my cakes – and also for a little piece of mind so it wasn’t another thing to keep me awake worrying at night.

Trying to predict what might go wrong is another key area. Last year my Mac was hacked and I spent several painful hours on the phone and in the Apple shop trying to get it sorted and ended up losing a lot of work.

Afterwards (and after several early-morning baking sessions in an effort to destress), I installed anti-virus software onto my computer.

I also made a note to be more efficient with checking things like my credit score with Experian so I can be alerted to strange behaviour before being hacked or losing money, and booked in a day once a month to go back over my documents and files to make sure there’s nothing coming out of an account I’m not aware of.

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3. Set aside what you think you need and then add some

Wading through paperwork and filing receipts and invoices is FAR less fun than planning my next cake creation but equally as important.

Many people will be dreading January because of the upcoming self-assessment deadline but one tip I’ve picked up has made this (slightly) easier.

For every payment you get, make sure you’re putting away enough money into a separate (interest paying) savings account.

There are a host of online apps to help make the process a little less mind-numbingly dull. I actually put away 50 per cent of what I earn into an account so I know I’ll have enough money to pay the bill, and the extra goes into my savings account.

4. Cakes make excellent presents

My cupboards are pretty much always stocked with the ingredients to whip up a cake, whether it’s a banana and cinnamon loaf, a Victoria sponge, or an apple traybake, and I think a handmade cake is one of the best presents you can give.

Whether it’s for a birthday, engagement present, or house warming gift, it’s also a lot cheaper to knock up a cake rather than splashing out on something new.

If you go for a budget option (look for things you already have rather than buying expensive ingredients you’ll only use once), most cakes cost between 50p and £1 so this is especially good if you’re trying to save – plus I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t happy receiving one.

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