The Real Reason Actors Struggle Financially

Lots of people struggle with money. Many people find it difficult to pay the bills and getting ahead seems like a fantasy.  The idea of embarking on a career in acting, that is often equated with financial hardship, can be scary.  If you start down the road of professional acting, will you be able to live the life you want? Can an actor live without running up lots of debt? Yes. An actor can.  An actor can also, just as easily, struggle. It won’t likely be because of a lack of acting work, though. If an actor struggles, it will probably be because they lack a financial plan. I’m no financial guru, but I’m also not struggling. I’m able to pay my bills, live in a nice neighborhood, drive a nice car, save/invest and help friends and family out. Did I mention that I was bankrupt just 5 years ago? I lost everything, after making a good living, owning a Porsche (not for long) and enjoying a nice place to live.  I did all of this as an actor. The failure and the success. The success was because of great moves, the failure because of boneheaded ones.

If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume that you do some type of work between acting gigs. I’m also going to assume that this work covers your normal expenses.  I hope this work is flexible enough for you to pursue your dreams. I have lots of ideas on how to make money outside of a normal 9-5, but that’s for a later post. Yes, they are all legal.

Do you have a budget? Do you stick to it? I’m guessing that the answer to the first question is “no”.  I doubt there is a need for the second question. People that hate making the time to create a budget, are people that hate making the time to improve their financial standing. This is the part, where you decide to check out, unless you’re up to a challenge.

What are your necessary expenses each month? Write them down. These include rent/mortgage, utilities, gas, groceries and other bills that you can not maintain a safe and healthy quality of life without.

What do you bring home in pay each month? Write that down. Subtract the necessary expenses and see what’s left over.

This is where it gets interesting. Where else does your money go? I’m willing to bet that most of you can set yourself up to be in a better position, between gigs. What can you cut out? “Nothing”, you say. Below several ideas.

1. Do you pack your lunch/snacks for work or do you eat out?

This may get you teased at work, but you don’t want to be at that job. You want to act. If you’re going to a 9-5, 5 days/week and you’re eating out each day, I’m guessing you’ll spend around $7-10 or more/day.

$7-$10/day = $35-$50/work week = $140-$200/month and $1600-$2400 a year!

What would you do with even half that amount sitting in your account at the end of the year? This is your headshot money or your emergency fund stash.  Stop spending money to impress people that you ultimately want to leave behind. If you can’t find a person to eat your homemade lunch with, read a book or watch videos on your craft while you sit and eat alone.  Add value to the life you want, instead of investing in staying in the one you’d like to leave behind.

2. Do you need cable?

“But George, I have to research for roles! I can’t miss my shows.” You will likely save between $50-$150/ a month or $600-$1800/year. You can always get this back, cut the cord for a bit.

What will I do?

Go to networking events, read, talk to your family *gasp*. If you have a job and/or a life, you probably don’t have time to get your money’s worth out of TV, anyway.

Replace with Netflix $7.99/month, Crackle FREE and/or other services.

3. You don’t need your morning coffee.

Okay, maybe you do. You don’t have to stop by an establishment to buy coffee. Wake up earlier and make your own. Based on the average cost of a cup of coffee at Starbucks, you could afford a cruise to Mexico just by giving it up for 247 days.  That’s less than a year. Where did you go on vacation last year? Is it still on your credit card bill?

USA Today Coffee Calculator!

4. Do not buy things to impress people that you don’t even like.

Do you look good at your auditions? Are you professional looking on your job? If you answered “yes” to both of these, screw what anyone else thinks. Seriously, don’t spend extra money to keep up with fashions you don’t really care about. You can get all the nice clothes you want, when you’re not in the struggle.  I probably have too much clothing.  I wear nice stuff. I buy my suits at K&G and I get top notch name brand stuff on clearance and at stores like TJ Maxx. There’s no shame in my game. I don’t have the receipt pinned to my lapel, but I have the extra dough in my account.

Visit K&G!

5. cut out credit card debt

I’m not going too deep into this, but use plastic as little as possible. Don’t let Mastercard be your master. Most people I know with lots of credit card debt, can’t even tell you have the stuff they bought. We buy a shirt, some gum, a tank of gas and a lot of other small things over and over.  One day, we realize we are obligated to a large payment, with little or nothing to show for it. Cash is king. You’ll never have to keep up with a monthly payment for something you wait and pay cash for.

6. cut out costly gigs

I know we all have to build a resume. We all end up doing some free stuff. There comes a point where we have to analyze whether or not the gig costs us money and whether or not it diminishes our value. Don’t be known for free labor. Don’t spend days and days working on a project for free, because you are afraid that someone else will get the big break from it, if you turn it down. If you like the project and can afford to do it for low/no pay, do it. Do it because you want to, not because you’re afraid not to. You’re talents have value. Your free time has value. Make sure your gigs add value to your life.

7. Don’t act like you hit the lotto, when you get an acting check.

Lotto winners get lots of money at one time and most go broke. If a person can go broke on a winning powerball ticket, an actor can on a check. Actors get checks for hundreds and/or thousands all at once.  Have a plan for when you get the checks. Definitely spend some on yourself. If you took off work to be able to film, replace that income. Save some of it for the next time you have to take off.  Just because you got a $2000 check, doesn’t mean you have to spend it on that $1800 luxury item, that you couldn’t afford before. If you could live without it before the big check, you can live without it now.

8. Use coupons

Don’t be a dummy. This is free money. Maybe you won’t have to eat ramen the last 3 days of the month or search between the cushions for beer money, with this extra $$ staying in your account.

We have to ask ourselves if instant gratification is worth giving away our peace of mind and financial future. I only gave a few examples, but you can see the pattern. Read books on budgeting your money. Remove useless expenses and add to your savings. I know saving isn’t as sexy as new sunglasses, but my sunglasses have never gotten me an acting job or paid the bills. Go against the grain. Most people will quit acting and money will be a factor. If you live today like other people are unwilling to, you’ll enjoy freedom in the future that they never will have.

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