Dream Job, Nightmare Salary: Make It Work
With irregular cash flow and notoriously low wages, ballet dancers can have a tricky time keeping their bank accounts healthy—especially when they'd much rather focus on what's happening at the barre than what's happening in their checkbook. In Pointe's June/July issue, we broke down the paychecks of four corps members, and asked each dancer how she makes it work on a starting salary. Here, expert Elaine Grogan Luttrull, CPA, who recently wrote Arts & Numbers: A Financial Guide for Artists, Writers, Performers, and Other Members of the Creative Class, offers her tips for dancers.
What's the biggest financial issue for young ballet dancers?
Relevance. Many struggle to see the connection between mundane financial tasks and what they really want to be doing: performing. It can also be hard to see the importance of saving for the long term. And easy to forget that income can come at irregular intervals. Many ballet companies have a layoff over the summer, but you still need to pay for rent and utilities.
How can dancers deal with inevitable unexpected expenses?
Have a rainy day fund for injuries, last-minute flights, family issues, car repairs, life transitions. Of course, it's easy to advise to “have a fund,” but it's much harder to get one, especially if your income is barely covering your expenses. That’s where a budget comes in handy. If your goal is to save $1,500 during the year, find opportunities for additional income—extra teaching hours, for example, or writing guest articles for a dance publication—or look for ways to curtail your expenses
What should a dancer do if she's completely overwhelmed by her financial situation?
Exhale. And then maybe exhale again. Start small, track your progress and focus on what you can improve one step at a time. You also may want to hire a CPA or someone to help with financial planning (or find a volunteer willing to help you for free). “Help” can also be talking to peers and colleagues. Sometimes just talking about our challenges makes the solutions seem more attainable.
When you were younger, what was one creative way you cut costs?
Looking at my budget, I found that I was spending a lot on reading material without realizing it. I made a conscious effort to use the library instead, and it helped me save more than I’d like to admit per year. The collection of DVDs helped me eliminate cable and Netflix too!
How does Arts & Numbers differ from other personal finance guides?
There are plenty of technically accurate financial guides out there, but I found they weren’t really relevant for creative professionals. What I wanted to do with Arts & Numbers was translate the technical information into a usable format. Arts & Numbers is full of case studies to present the information in a relevant way.
Any additional advice?
Keep doing what you love—it will set you up for long-term success, financially and creatively. And it probably wouldn’t hurt to have a rainy day fund too!