6 Tips for Surviving and Thriving on an Actor’s Budget

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When it comes to careers synonymous with financial instability, acting takes the low budget cake. Maybe you were aware of this from the get go, or perhaps it’s a truth you had to learn the hard way. Either way, you know it now.

But even though you have to mind your money more so than, say, your hedge fund-managing friend, you also get to pursue the career you love, and no one can put a price on that. Rent, however, is a different story, so we consulted with Backstage Experts to gather insight on the niftiest tricks to making the most of your budget.

1. Make a budget and stick to it—no exceptions.
“It’s a brutal lesson I learned while being a professional actor: Sometimes times are good and jobs are plentiful, and other times they aren’t. Non-theater life is like this too, but people often don’t have to face this reality the way actors do.

I still know a good many actors who live paycheck to paycheck, and when money feels tight many think a budget isn’t necessary. After all, you already know where it all goes, right? Rent-groceries-classes. But budgeting is absolutely necessary, because it’s one of the few ways you can ensure money gets set aside for savings.” —Lauren Bowling

2. Explore cost-free ways to further your craft.
“So you can’t get headshots, take classes, or attend auditions right now, correct? OK. Let’s look at what you can do. There are dozens of ways to cultivate your chosen profession without spending a dime, and others that cost very little.

Read, read, read—plays, actor biographies, books on acting technique. Have you got a library nearby? Join and give yourself some free education.” —Michael Kostroff

3. Embrace the sale rack.
“Sales are your best friend. Look for coupons and discounts anywhere you can. You may not always be able to afford new clothes. The Salvation Army and vintage shops are valuable alternatives for designer labels. Thrift stores often have half-off days. Be sure to clean any clothes or furniture after you purchase them. And generic items tend to be cheaper than brand names, even when it comes to medications (generic ibuprofen will cost you less than Advil).” —Frank Nestor

4. Do your research to avoid any surprises.
“I—like many—was a little bit disillusioned by the reality of the work consistency. Even on bigger and higher profile gigs, I found that the pay still left something to be desired. I didn’t want to live my life constantly constricted by that. I wanted to have freedom both in my career and in my life to pursue the things that are important to me without being limited by actor income. To deal with that I decided to start really researching the best ways to make the little bit of money I did have from work, work for me to the best and highest degree.” —Stefanie O'Connell

5. Never count your money in theoretical terms.
“Only count on money you actually make, not what you think might happen. For example, if you get cast in a pilot, don’t assume that it will be picked up or, if picked up, will stay on the air. The only money that is real is the actual money you got paid for the pilot.” —Joan Sittenfield

6. Know what’s worth splurging for—and what isn’t.
“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 mean it has value for you.) Research websites, read books and blogs, and get financial advice from people who know.” —Carolyne Barry

For more tips on living your best actor's life, check out Backstage's YouTube channel!

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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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