Always Out of Money? Here’s Why

Photo Source: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Let’s get this out of the way right now: If your desires to be an actor stem from a place of making loads of money, quit right now. Seriously, get out. You and this business will never make it. (As Bryan Cranston tells Backstage, “Go study business if you want to be rich.”) The truth is, as an actor you will have many periods of financial instability—even after that supposed “big break.” But that doesn’t mean you can’t plan financially.

You’re wasting money on unworthy classes.
“Another way actors throw away their money is by signing up for seminars that are questionable at best. I’ve seen pilot season classes taught by casting directors who don’t work on pilots and career advancement workshops run by people who could use a cup of their own medicine. Worst of all, I recently saw an ad for a “How to Get an Agent” seminar. Those always get my attention. After digging a little deeper, I discovered the teacher was an actor with dubious representation.

“Actors sign up for these money pits because they’re desperate. They think there’s a magic bullet out there that will solve all their problems. Unfortunately, there’s no such thing.

“Casting director workshops are a more effective choice, but you have to be careful about whom you’re paying to meet. Reading for someone who is an active casting director is a smart move. Reading for an assistant who answers phones for a living isn’t.” —Secret Agent Man, Los Angeles-based talent agent and Backstage Expert

You’re not being financially honest with yourself.
“You have to buy into why this is important to your career and to the things that matter to you. The foundation of financial strength is clarity. A lot of us are extremely vague about what’s happening with our money. We can’t build stability, we can’t make powerful choices from vagueness. So, the first step is deciding that you’re going to actually figure out what’s happening right now, tracking literally every penny that you’re spending.” —Miata Edoga, actor and founder of Abundance Bound

You’re not monitoring your financial health.
“Financial health requires the same time and attention as our physical health. And they both require practice. Every day won’t be the best budgeting day of your life. So you wake up tomorrow and start again. It’s a practice and a process. And as long as you keep with it, you will become a master.” —Bailie Slevin, founder of entertaining finance and Backstage Expert

You’re conflating your finances with success.
“We do it because it makes us happy, it drives us, and it gives us the freedom to explore ourselves, on camera and on stage, in different characters, to have fun with like-minded people, to let go and not worry about the consequences. There’s nothing better than walking on stage for the first time and having the audience respond to you, or the first time you hit your mark and say a line on set. It is fulfilling in ways that other ‘non-creatives’ simply don’t understand. Some people choose to give up their secure corporate jobs with a 401k and amazing benefits simply for the chance to express themselves creatively, whether in a classroom or on a set. These are people that just want to live a more exciting life, regardless of the outcome. For most actors, it’s simply not about money, which is hard for “non-actors” to understand.” —Matt Newton, on-camera acting coach and Backstage Expert

You’re not abiding by the make-or-break number.
How much does it cost to run You, Inc.? This is not the time to be abstract or make estimations. Spend a month or two tracking every penny you spend. Then take a look back at the numbers and strip away the extras, the discretionary expenses unessential to your ability to live and work normally—vacations, drinks, dinners out, etc.

“Things like your Internet and cellphone bills should be included for the purposes of maintaining your business, but beyond critical lifestyle needs like housing, food, transit, and essential business tools, keep it to the bare bones. Be sure to factor in any mandatory annual costs (divided by 12) and quarterly expenses (divided by 3). Add everything up to find your total bare bones monthly cost of living. This is part one of your make or break number.

“Once you’ve established the sum of your monthly necessities, it’s time to build in the add-ons. I’m not talking fun stuff like happy hours and new shoes; I’m talking critical components of maintaining your long-term financial viability.” —Stefanie O’Connell, millennial finance writer, author, and Backstage Expert

You got one job and splurged.
“Remain grounded. A young actor should not change their spending habits if they land that high-paying commercial or life-changing pilot. Going from part-time or hourly pay to a full-time acting job can be a shockingly large increase in pay. Although it is important to treat yourself to your successes, always keep in mind that your overall lifestyle should not change. As history will show, a series will eventually end, and one successful movie does not guarantee three more. As an actor begins to achieve some level of success, then it is time for him or her to incorporate as a loan-out corporation for their acting services.” —Marci Liroff, producer, casting director, and Backstage Expert

Trite but true: You need to save.
There are probably going to be many important expenses that could be valuable to your career that you should be prepared for so save for them. (Remember, just because it’s inexpensive doesn’t always been it has value for you.) Research websites, read books and blogs and get financial advice from people who know.

“Bottom line, in order to finance your acting career, it is crucial that you make enough money, spend wisely, and save as much money as you can. It seems rather obvious but there are so many actors who need to heed these tips. Give your acting career the help it deserves and be very smart about money.” —Carolyne Barry, casting director, director, working actor, and Backstage Expert

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Casey Mink
Casey Mink is the staff writer at Backstage. When she's not writing about television, film, or theater, she is definitely somewhere watching it.
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