How to stay debt free with your photography

keeping your photography business deft free

Running your business with no debt allows you to have a larger profit margin, bring in more for your family and ultimately have the peace of mind that you deserve for all the hard work you put into your business.  Credit cards have become normalcy in our society, but they don’t have to be in your business (and personal life).

There is quite a bit that could be said about being debt free in your business. I’m going to give you some tools that can help you on your journey to becoming or staying debt free in your business. Most of what I’ve learned has been from Dave Ramsey. My family applies his methods to our personal lives and have worked out a method that has worked for my business. Please note that I am NOT a financial adviser, so please seek the help of a licensed professional if you feel you need it.

keeping your photography business deft free

If your business hasn’t accrued any debt yet, great! Keep it that way!

Most debt occurs from wanting or thinking you need new equipment or something for your business.  I am guilty of wanting the newest cameras and lenses, especially when I see so many others posting on the boards about how much they love theirs, etc. Prolonging your desire for things you want shows maturity. You don’t need the next new camera or gadget unless you have the funds in your account right now to purchase it.

For my business, each month I have a spreadsheet for all of my sales. You can see an example of what mine looks like below.

missi money worksheet

Each month I write the sale amount, cc fees, sales tax, federal tax, my studio manager and my product. I do this every single time so I always have an idea of what I am bringing in per sale. This is a really helpful way for you to visually see what you might need to adjust in your pricing to bring in more money for your business. Every time I spend money for my business I write it down and put a minus in the profit column (unless it is product that has already been accounted for).

At the end of the month I tally all of the columns up. We can see how much I brought in for sales, etc.  My taxes get put into a separate account that is solely for them. I don’t touch that money, ever!

You can easily see your profit for the month. What I do is take a percent of the profit and put it aside specifically for my business. This can be for anything business related such as a new camera, lens, blogsite, logo, etc.  Of course, each month is different depending on how well I did but it’s easy to see how long it might take for me to reach my goal.  If you are continually putting a percent of your profit into an account JUST for your business you won’t ever need to go into debt to purchase things you might need.

When my business was new I put a lot of money on my credit card at the time. At one point I had $14,000 worth of credit debt for my business. This was before we started on our journey of becoming debt free. Every month I would put all of my profit into paying off that credit card bill. I remember hating it. It felt like I was pouring all my hard work into a credit card because, well… I was. It was frustrating and I didn’t want to live like that ever again.

It’s been over 3 years now that I’ve been debt free in my business and I have promised to try to educate people on becoming and staying debt free in their business. There isn’t anything that I want for my business bad enough to charge it.

The above principle can also be applied to businesses that have debt and you’re trying to pay things off.

There is more that can be touched upon on this topic. I’m not saying that it’s going to be easy but it’s going to be so worth it! For now, I want to leave you with the fact that having freedom from debt opens up many more doors for your business and also your creativity. If you don’t have debt you can be more confident in your pricing and business practices because you don’t “have to make the sale” as much. You aren’t a slave anymore and that’s a great feeling!!

Melissa KoehlerMelissa Koehler, California
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Melissa is a portrait photographer based out of San Diego where she lives with her husband and two sons. Her high school darkroom is where her photography journey began and it has continually evolved over the years, especially after becoming a mother and realizing “that time flies so quickly. She currently shoots with a Canon 5d mark ii and a variety of prime and zoom lenses. I strive to capture not only the big picture, but also the little things.” Her passion is clearly her family and photography but she loves comfy pants, coca cola, Bon Jovi, movie theater popcorn, and cheese-less pizza.

Read more photography tutorials by Melissa Keohler.


  • Court says:

    As Christmas rolls around this is such a good reminder to save money for the thing you want. Don’t just charge them. I have $1000 to pay off and I’m home free :)

  • Olga says:

    Great article on running the business! I’d love to hear more though about the 15% “federal tax” column… My lawyer suggested I save around 40-45% after accounting for the federal tax, all the deductions, self-employment tax, etcetera…. Thanks!

    • Hi Olga,
      Please follow whatever your lawyer is telling you to do. My accountant has told me to do this for the last few years. Sometimes we owe a bit more because of the self employment tax, but sometimes we don’t depending on the year. I would always follow the advice of your lawyer or CPA :)

      • Olga says:

        Melissa, thanks for writing back; is this the amount that your accountant came up with “after” all the business expenses? Looked at my writeoffs and business expenses, and it’s actually probably coming close to what you are saying….

  • great article! i had a similar spreadsheet with additional column labeled “hours”…it was to track how much time i spent on each client including session, editing, filling and delivering order…it gave me a sense of what type of sessions i made the most money, etc… very insightful!

  • Elena says:

    Thank you for this! Very good advice.

  • jodi says:

    this is such a great article, melissa! it’s so easy to be tempted into thinking that there’s so much we “need” for business when in reality, most of those needs are just wants. after actually looking at the numbers in such a tangible way like with your spreadsheet, it’s much easier to make those wise decisions that will keep our business moving forward. this is very encouraging!

  • Lacey says:

    Thanks for sharing, Melissa! This is very insightful!

  • Courtney says:

    Thank you so much Melissa! I couldn’t agree more and it sure is nice to have this reminder as I am drooling over a FF body!

    • I drooled over the MKIII since it came out. I saved up enough $ to buy it a month ago. Took me a while to do it, but I did it and it feels so much better when I use it :) LOL

  • Sophie says:

    Brilliant, especially this time of year. Thanks for sharing!!

  • jennifer says:

    Such a smart and insightful article Melissa! Thanks for taking the time to write it all out! <3

  • Emily says:

    Thank you, Melissa! I am not in business (would love to be someday) but it makes total sense to me that you will actually get more enjoyment out of something that you’ve waited and saved up for and that you don’t have to worry about paying off later! :) Have a Merry Christmas!!

  • Sarah says:

    Sigh… I’m debt free. But, I really want the stuff that I can’t afford to buy. :) But I’m debt free!!! Definitely needing to work on getting into making a profit vs. breaking even/being in the red this coming year. Working on some ideas to make that happen. Thanks for your post- I know you’re absolutely right about this- which is why I’m not in debt. I love the spreadsheet idea- I’m going to incorporate something similar in my own biz to stay better organized & see what is going on. Merry Christmas!

  • Sarah Vaughn says:

    Wonderful article Melissa!! I’m going to be starting up in business in about 6 months and I love your plan. I also want to do it debt free. I will be re-reading this every time I am tempted to get the latest and greatest. I want my business to be a blessing, not a burden to my family so debt-free is such a good philosophy to start on that road.

  • says:

    @Melissa Koehler, I’m with @Beverly Wright … I’ve been using a cloud program called YAST ( that has been AWESOME for keeping track of my hours and even dividing up how much time I spend on each activity (shooting, culling, editing, communications, etc). Thanks for the great reminder to remain debt free!

  • Great tips Melissa!

  • You should open a separate account for your business. Keeping your bank accounts well-separated avoids any possible confusion, and makes it easier for you to keep track of business profits and expenditures. You will appreciate having a clear dividing line between personal and business finances when tax time comes. By simplifying matters, you have a better chance of avoiding problems with your tax returns.

  • Jennie Bennett says:

    Thank you so much for sharing Melissa! Our family is paying down debt and living by the Dave Ramsey principles. This was such a great reminder to remember as I start my photography business. When I feel temped to by all the new gear etc.. I may have to reread this :) Thank you again for the tips!

  • Wendy says:

    I love your spread sheet idea! I actually have worked very hard not only to not be in debt but also to save the $ that I make to use toward family trips. I have a business checking account and a business savings account. I put my retainer fees in my business checking account and everything else in my savings. I try to run my business off of my retainer fees. Now it doesn’t always quite workout that way, but it’s not as easy to spend if it’s in a separate account and makes me more accountable.

  • This is a great article! It is so easy to spend and buy all the things you think you “need” to run your photography business. Plan and save, it’s much more rewarding.

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