Financial wellness for artists

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If you’re an independent filmmaker or freelance as your full-time job, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess you wish your financial situation was a little different. I could be wrong! Maybe you’re totally thriving, money is rolling in, and you understand exactly how to manage it. In that case, kudos to you, and also I have some films I’d love you to fund. But if that doesn’t sound like you–if you don’t know how to make art your full-time job, if you want to figure out how to save more money for rainy days, if you’re trying to get a movie funded–read on. Disclaimer: I’m not a financial expert, but I do know a lot about managing money, and I work full-time in the arts, so I hope these tips will help you navigate your own journey towards financial wellness. This is not a guide that’s going to help you meet your financial goals immediately or without putting some effort into it–I’m not sure that exists–but it will help you begin the process.

Learn the basics.

I don’t know about you, but no one sat me down and directly taught me about financial wellness, or finances at all. My mom walked me through the basics (opening a bank account, etc) but everything else I know I learned on my own. Do you know about high-yield savings accounts? Do you know strategies for paying down debt? Hell, do you understand how taxes work for artists? Until you know the basics, you can’t expect yourself to magically be good with money. That’s just not fair to yourself. I’m not going to sit here and explain to you what a Roth IRA is or how to pay off your student loans, but I have some amazing resources that will help you learn everything you need to know to achieve financial wellness as an artist.

Tori Dunlap is a business owner and financial expert who specializes in teaching women about money management. Even if you’re not a woman, this is a great resource for anyone who wants to learn more. Her Instagram is honestly a great resource, but she also has a podcast, and a book and online courses if you want to invest a small amount in learning more. She focuses a lot on getting rid of financial shame, which is key for artists… and everyone.

Ellyce Fulmore is a financial advisor who specializes in working with people with ADHD. She gears her content towards the unique way ADHD brains work, but honestly, her advice is good for just about anyone. Check out her Instagram, take a look at her online resources, and consider ordering her book, if you think her methods would work well for you!

Tiffany Aliche is a financial educator who was my entry point into my financial education. She talks a lot about budgeting and how to best meet your financial goals in a way I find personable and fun. She is also, you guessed it, on Instagram, and shares tons of resources and snippets of knowledge there. You can also check out her book and her podcast, Brown Ambition.

Honestly, just follow these three on instagram and explore their content over the course of a few days or weeks. You’ll learn SO much (especially if you’re starting at zero like I was) and at the end of it you’ll feel much more equipped to make a plan to help you towards financial wellness. You can also, of course, read their books if you want to dive deeper into this world.

Get clear on your goals. 

This one is short and sweet. What specifically is it that you want to do? Do you want to save 3-6 months of expenses so you have an emergency fund and can start freelancing full time? Do you want to pay off your student loans? Do you want to be able to self-fund your short films? For a moment, I don’t want you to think about how hard all of this sounds or how impossible it feels. Just take a moment to jot down your financial priorities. 

All three of the creators I shared above have resources that can help you establish your financial priorities if you don’t know where to start. In general, they recommend creating an emergency fund first (yes, before you pay off debt). If you’re a freelance filmmaker, you know exactly how scary it is to hope and pray to land a gig so you can make rent. Filmmaker and entrepreneur Eugene Bennett shared with me the importance of being prepared for a rainy day as a full-time filmmaker. That being said, finance is extremely personal, so take some time to really reflect on this one and do what feels right for you.

Take stock of everything.

This is the really hard part, and I’m sorry I’m telling you this. You can be mad at me, if you want. Now it’s time to take a close look at your financial situation. What’s your income? What are your monthly expenses? What are your debts… and your minimum debt payments? What’s the exact number in your bank account right now, and what’s usually left at the end of the month? This part is no fun. Thinking about your financial situation can lead to feelings of stress and shame, even if you’re in a pretty good place. But take a deep breath. You’re doing this because you know you can improve your situation. You have free resources, and you know what your priorities are. Now you also have a clear sense of your income and expenses. So what’s next?

List your obstacles… and let go of shame.

What is standing in the way of you meeting your financial goals and achieving financial wellness? Do you have credit card debt? Do you live in a city with a high cost of living? Do you have a shopping problem? Do you simply… not make enough money? All of these are very real obstacles, and they’re something that a lot of people experience. None of them are worth feeling shame or embarrassment about; you’d be amazed how many people are going through the same thing that you are. According to CNBC, 62% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. 74% of Americans report being stressed about finances. Debt.org breaks down what Americans owe and takes a look at how race and gender play into this. Regardless of what your financial situation is and what obstacles you’ve identified, it’s time to let go of shame around money. I know this is easier said than done, and it’s an ongoing process, much like achieving financial wellness in general.

Make a plan.

Maybe you simply don’t make enough money to live the awesome, freelance filmmaker lifestyle you’ve been dreaming of. That doesn’t mean it’s out of reach, but it also may not happen overnight. I recommend you make a plan with small, incremental, and achievable steps that slowly get you towards your goals. If you don’t make enough money, put together a plan to ask for a raise (scary, I know) or start browsing jobs that might be a good fit for you. If you want to save more money, either for an emergency fund or to self-fund your movies, research high yield savings accounts and see what option is best for you. If you want to get out of debt, identify what of your debts has the highest interest rates. If you want to spend less, put together a budget that you think you can realistically stick to. I’m not going to tell you the way to meet your goals is to deprive yourself of all joy, work three jobs, and leave no time (or money) for your art. Trust me, I’ve been there, done that, and it sucked. Your plan to achieve financial wellness should not feel overwhelming, and it shouldn’t require multiple complicated or expensive steps that you have to do RIGHT NOW. Instead, you should find a way to make small, regular progress towards your personal goals, continue your financial education in whatever way works for you, and continue letting go of shame around money.

There we have it. This is my guide to financial wellness for artists. I wish I could wave a magic wand and help every filmmaker or artist have a stable, joyful, abundant life, with their rent paid and their movies funded. I actually wish I could do that for everyone! Since I can’t do that, I’ll just keep doing my best to share resources that make filmmaking (and honestly, just being a creative person) feel easier, cheaper, and more possible. Don’t forget to check out my guide on how to save money on set, and my list of free online resources for filmmakers. I hope this helps, and let me know if you want more information on finances or money-saving tips for filmmakers and artists in general.

Molly Stein-Seroussi

Molly Stein-Seroussi

Author

Molly is an author, screenwriter, blogger, and brand manager for New 32 Productions. They are passionate about sharing content that helps filmmakers live a more productive, informed, and well-balanced life. They live in North Carolina with their spouse and way too many dogs.

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