Build a Better Budget (Part 1):
Why I Hate the Starving Artist Mentality

Hi Superstar!

You may have noticed that I’ve been showing heaps of love to one Shate’ Edwards, of the Working Dancer. Shate’ and I have a lot in common: we’re both dancers, we’ve both started our own businesses, and we’ve both come to appreciate the unique value our artistic skills have as entrepreneurs. I recently did a guest post for Shate’ about How Dancer’s Can Break the Paycheck to Paycheck Cycle, and it got me thinking.

All artists need financial freedom!

So I’m beginning a series about Budgets.

You may have heard it before, but budgeting really is the way to gain financial freedom.

Don’t believe me? Then today’s post is for you. Today, I’m explaining how an effective budget can help you overcome that Starving Artist Mentality.

Think you’ve tried budgeting before and “it just doesn’t work for you.” Then check out Part Two where I dispel common myths about budgets and why you may have been led astray.

After you improve your Money Mindset, check out Part Three for my tips on effective budgeting. Because I don’t just teach you the mindset tools you need to FEEL richer, I offer quick n’ dirty practical guides so you can actually BE richer as well.

Let’s start with Why I Hate the Starving Artist Mindset.

If you’ve been around the BKA blog before, you know I freelanced as a theatrical director and performer for many years. When my husband decided to go back to school to finish his PhD, I decided I need a “real job.” I left the theatre and took my first, official bookkeeping position.

Eventually, I combined my passion for art and bookkeeping and started the Bookkeeping Artist. I now draw on my business background to help creative clients make more money.

I bet I grabbed your attention with that one. Who doesn’t love more money?

But as everyone knows, there is not much money within the artistic community. Whether it’s dancing, sculpting, or photography, you choose art because you love it, not because you’re expecting to get rich.

Please excuse me, Superstar, because I’m about to have a dramatic outburst. I think this starving artist perception is overblown and ridiculous. The perception that artists can’t make money is a nasty stereotype and I hate it.

Why is art always portrayed as the antithesis of business? Who says that passion and profit are two separate things? Why are we expected to sacrifice our material well-being, our health, our youth, and our lives to die upon that pillar of Art (special emphasis on the capital A)?

It’s the glamour of that “Starving Artist” lifestyle, and I hate that too.

Now, I’m not blind to reality. Being an artist may not pay as well as being a CEO, or even as well as being that CEO’s administrative assistant. I know that. I remember what my own artistic career was like: the agonizing uncertainty, the infrequent paychecks, the exhaustion of working two (or even three) jobs, and the added financial stress of maintaining a very precise set of skills and equipment.

The worst part came at the end of every month, though. That’s when those terrible thoughts started…

• “Do I have enough money?”
• “Can I afford this now? Or can it wait a month?”
• “But will I have the money in a month?”
• “What if I get sick? How will I work?”
• “What do I tell my landlord? My boss? My parents? Everyone who’s counting on me…”

On my worst days, there were some dreams I never thought I’d achieve. My husband wanted a bigger place after we got married, but in my mind there was no way we could save enough for a security deposit AND the first month’s rent, let alone enough for a mortgage. Moving was out of the question! I was even afraid to buy my first car because the thought of another monthly payment paralyzed me.

It wasn’t that I was irresponsible with my money. I started saving when I was young, but every time I built up a little nest egg somehow it all disappeared. There was a real ebb and flow to my money problems. I’d have a few good months, and then all of sudden I’d be broke again and I wouldn’t know how to make it until that next paycheck.

I was bleeding money, and I didn’t know why. I went to more auditions. I took a second job. But these measures were merely band aids, they weren’t cures for my money woes. I bled and bled money and I couldn’t find the wound.

Now that I’m bookkeeper, I meet a lot of artists with the same problem. They work like mad, and yet they can’t survive those lean months between jobs. They live paycheck to paycheck, and are absolutely desperate for that next job because they don’t know if they’ll survive until it comes along. I bet you yourself can relate, Superstar.

Fortunately, I now know how to staunch the flow. Now I’m positively thriving, and I didn’t need more cash to do it.

So what finally worked? What do I now teach my money mindset clients?

Budgeting. I don’t care if you’ve heard it or tried it before. This one actually works.

“Nope! No, thank you, Katherine!” I hear you say, “I need my fun. I’m not about to swear off all earthly vices and live like a monk.”

Superstar, do I seem like a monk to you?

I swear, drink, and dance my way through life. I’m not a monk and I’m not telling you to live like one either. It’s a common misconception that budgeting means giving up all your social interactions, shopping sprees, fine dining, and everything that makes life worth living. I would never suggest you live life this way. It isn’t healthy, it isn’t fun, and it isn’t sustainable.

Budgeting may mean cutting back a little, but you are in control of when and where that happens. I never give any advice except that which empowers you to live the life YOU want. Besides, budgeting really is the only way to break that nasty paycheck to paycheck cycle you’re in. Sure, you can always get another job or start a side business or wait around for that promotion, but I promise more money is not the solution to your money problem. How does that leave you happy, healthy, and free to make more art? No Superstar, I’d rather give you a system you can start TODAY that will make you think and feel richer.

Because do you know what I’ve discovered in all my years working for successful businesses? Being rich has very little to do with how much money you actually have, and everything to do with how your money is used.

Let me offer you an example. In my early twenties, I landed a teaching job at a big theatre. I was working my butt off at the time to put my husband through graduate school and I really appreciated this year-round opportunity to work. I also greatly admired the full-time staff members that became my coworkers. Our students were great, but occasionally a few company members harbored some resentment for the students’ families behind closed doors.

You see, the academy that was attached to this theatre was rather prestigious and was priced accordingly. I vividly remember when one parent paid their $100 deposit early, and a staff member hesitantly informed them we weren’t ready to accept payments for the next semester. This parent waved it off, saying:

“Well just hold onto it and deposit the check whenever.”

After this parent left the room, the full-time staff member turned to us and quipped:

“Gee, I wish I could just wave off a hundred dollars like that and leave it sitting around in my checking account”

“You can’t?” I stupidly blurted out.

“Ugh, Katherine of course you don’t understand. You’ve always been rich.”

I now had the awkward pleasure of explaining to a married man twice my age that he made more than double what I did BEFORE his partner’s full-time income was counted.

“But you’re always giving your money away!” he exclaimed, “You chipped into that Christmas thing and you gave to so-and-so‘s birthday fund.”

“Giving is important to me. I set aside some so I can do those things.” I replied, and the awkward conversation continued as I began to talk about budgets. (Looking back, this could be counted as my first money mindset coaching session. I only wish I knew how to broach the subject more gracefully.)

I will always remember that particular conversation because I was so flabbergasted at the time. How could anyone look at me, overworked at multiple part time jobs, supported only by an unemployed, student husband and a massive caffeine addiction, and think that I was rich? But in my coworker’s eyes, I did everything rich people did. I had a savings account, paid all my bills on time, and even gave to charity. Again, it was not the fact that I had a small amount of money that mattered. It was how that small amount of money was being used that made me seem rich.

The more I thought about it, the more it kind of made sense. After all, no one gets rich quick. Even people who win the lottery can spend it all away. Being truly rich happens only after a lifetime of good money habits.

In truth, your money is like a beautiful songbird. It must be cared for. While you have your songbird, it will flit around singing lovely songs and attracting mates. But if you don’t attend to your songbird, if you neglect it and forget to close the door, your songbird will fly away. You won’t even realize it’s happening, but your beautiful money will get away from you.

A budget is how you close the door. Budgets aren’t stifling, they’re how your money knows it’s safe and appreciated. It shows you care about where your money is going. And like mating songbirds, money begets more money. When used properly, a budget really will make you richer.

We’ll dive deeper into the sorts of good money habits you can begin employing in the next post. Superstar, we’ve just barely begun covering all the dos and don’ts of creating a good, reasonable budget for your personal lifestyle, so don’t walk away just yet!