Why I Started Balance. And Three Hard Truths about Gig Work.

Bree Thomas

For the independents.

Let’s back up a beat. Let me tell you who Balance is for: the independent worker. The person hired to work a shift and only get paid for that shift. The person hired to complete a project or task, and only get paid for that project or task. No salary. No paid sick time. No paid vacation. There is often no guarantee the same gig is available tomorrow, and even if it is — it may not pay the same. This person is also called a gig worker. But make no mistake, it’s their independence that defines them in the labor market.

Not my first rodeo.

I’ve been an independent worker, more than once. I’ve worked gigs as a bartender, a waitress, a freelancer, a consultant, a performer, a copywriter, and a nanny — just to name a few. Every time my livelihood depended on an uncertain income, I found myself obsessed with trying to predict my future cash situation.

Budgeting was only half the equation.

My parents emphasized “budgeting” as the answer to all my money woes. Traditional budgeting is great for knowing how to live within your means, but it sucks at predicting your future cash situation. Unless of course you’re the salaried worker who can depend upon the exact same amount of money (to the penny) every two weeks. I’ve been that worker too. It has its advantages for sure.  

Three hard truths about gig work.

  • Time is money. You live and die by your schedule.
  • Cash flow is king. You rely on intuition and experience.
  • Money is your #1 stressor. And you’re always trying to predict it.

I knew what every gig was worth.

I always knew a Friday night at the bar was going to make me around $270 in tips. Unless of course that Friday night fell on the 4th of July. Then I was screwed. Because folks were more interested in backyard bbq’s and fireworks than nightclubbing. The independent worker knows how much a shift, an appointment, a project is going to earn them. It’s not exact, but it’s close enough. It’s how we build our schedules, adapt our spending in real-time, plan for slow seasons, etc.

Forecasting was a necessity.

But here’s the kicker. We’re running those calculations in our heads. And only in about 2-week increments. Anything longer and we have to resort to paper or spreadsheets. I used to print out monthly paper calendars to project my future cash (often 3 months worth!). I would write the take-home estimates ($270 on a Friday night, for example) on the regular shifts I knew I could count on. Then, I’d layer in the shifts I could pickup as extra. And make adjustments for variables like the 4th of July. All of this so I could plan my next vacation to Cabo San Lucas.

For the independent worker, forecasting is second nature. We don’t get paid time off, and we can’t count on the same income every 2 weeks. We have to plan for the cash we need to take time off, and the cash we’ll lose by missing that time. Maybe we have savings, maybe we don’t. I know my situation was ever-changing and I’d have to run several different scenarios to figure out how to make things work. All of those scenarios revolved around my schedule. What I could work, what I was going to miss, and what I could pickup.

Today’s tools miss the point.

Today’s tools help people make decisions about how much they spend. But if you’re an independent worker, you also control how much you earn.

You have one more degree of freedom to influence. And that introduces a level of complexity that today’s tools, and even today’s financial systems, struggle with. Largely based on traditional budgeting, today’s tools insist on planning out every dollar for the month. But if you're an independent worker - your plan is always changing. And today’s tools don’t help you adapt in real-time to those changes.

So why did I start Balance?

I wanted to see further into the future. If I could run multiple scenarios in my head, then we could build a tool to help people do the same. And on a much larger scale, with elegant design, and some kick-ass bells and whistles. I wanted a tool that could help me see the impact of today’s decisions on my financial future. In a context that made sense to me, and was custom built to empower my independence.

Forecasting was the missing link.

Happiness is a complicated subject because everyone’s different. But if there’s a common denominator in happiness — a universal fuel of joy — it’s that people want to control their lives. The ability to do what you want, when you want, with who you want, for as long as you want, is priceless. It is the highest dividend money pays.  

 — Morgan Housel, The Psychology of Money

I started Balance for the independents.

The gigsters, the freelancers, the contractors, the artists, the creators, the odd-jobbers, the tip-hustlers, the side-hustlers, the nomads — the new working majority. I started Balance for the individuals who dare to chart a livelihood on their terms. I started Balance because building wealth is about more than just money. I started Balance to help people like me look forward to managing our money and our happiness.