Part of the allure of acting is the uncertainty, challenge, and endless opportunity. However, those things also make acting a difficult career to weather, especially at the beginning. Actors toil for years trying to establish a sustainable career in the arts, usually working a day job on the side. The result of this constant struggle is an inconsistent income that must be managed carefully if the actor is to succeed.
Establishing a budget for life is one of the best strategies for approaching an acting career because a budget informs all the business choices that an actor makes. A good financial plan, meager though it may be, is crucial for survival in the cutthroat field of acting. Here is some advice on how to create an honest budget to reduce stress and reserve the creative energy for auditions and performances.
‘Breakdown, it’s alright, it’s alright, it’s alright’
Tom Petty said it, and it applies to budgeting. First, actors should breakdown their expenses to know how much their day-to-day lives truly cost. This is important because knowledge of minimum required expenditure, even in times when income is a goose egg, will help determine the amount of money that should be saved each paycheck.
Start keeping track of everything that you spend over the course of a week or month and divide spending into two categories: essential and non-essential. Essential expenses include housing, food, utilities, transportation, internet, and cell phone. These are the things that you need to live and maintain an acting career. Loans and debts owed should also be counted in the category of essential because not paying them actually costs more money in the long run. Nonessential expenses are just about everything else, including clothes, drinks, leisure activities, Starbucks, and movie tickets (although an argument could be made).
Now, take the total number from the “essential” list, and know that this is the baseline. This is the minimum amount of income needed to keep swimming in the acting world. But, since acting income fluctuates unknowingly, actors need to supplement the baseline number with savings. Financial experts recommend saving $100 or 10% each month to start building emergency savings. Add that to the baseline, the new number is the benchmark.
‘So bye-bye miss American pie’
Don McLean comes into this, I promise. After calculating spending, take a look at earnings. Budgeting 101: Income must exceed spending or else. But really, if the benchmark number is out of reach, something needs to change. Either spending needs to be reduced or earnings need to be increased, perhaps by doing extra work.
To reduce spending, attempt to find areas of essential costs that can be reduced or consolidated. Find a cheaper cell phone and internet plan. Use less electricity and water. Cut down on groceries. For example, pie is delicious but unessential. Only buy food products that are on sale. Move to a cheaper apartment. These are all actions that can be taken to cut down the cost of living.
Conversely, earnings are not locked. Ask for more hours at work. Find part-time work online. Sell possessions that you no longer use. Diversify as an actor by auditioning as a model or voiceover artist. If earnings can be increased and spending decreased, a surplus can eventually be generated that leads to the “non-essential” list.
‘It’s hip to be square’
Huey Lewis figured it out in the 80’s: It’s never too late to get square, budget-wise, or otherwise. Making a financial plan is an intelligent (albeit scary) way to attack the challenge of becoming a professional actor. Once you hit it big, drink all the Starbucks you want, but after you meet your benchmark, of course.