This is a guest article from Stefanie! She’s trying to find ways to stretch her budget in one of the most expensive cities out there, New York City. A graduate of New York University’s drama and psychology programs at the height of the financial crisis, Stefanie discovered the world of financial planning out of necessity. Thanks for sharing your insight, Stefanie!
For those who don’t know, I am a professional theatre actress. At 27 years old, I’ve never made more than 30k in a year. Most of the time it’s somewhere between ten and twenty thousand; although, I want to say closer to ten. I face frequent and long periods of unemployment. After every job I don’t know when or even IF I will work again (in my field).
I can supplement my income by working in a place that doesn’t interfere with my job search (aka, auditioning, which limits me to service, babysitting, trades show hostessing, bartending, and any other place you’d expect to find a wannabe, or rather, a professional actor). My career also necessitates that I live in one of the most expensive cities in the world which compounds the fiscal strain.
While I’ve found a way to make the financial implications of my chosen career path work for me, the desire for a home, family, stability, etc., makes me question my endurance in living this nomadic and uncertain lifestyle. I see friends and coworkers deferring their other life dreams and continuing to tackle “the grind” at 30, 40, 50, 60, and beyond. And I don’t mean the grind of daily work, I mean the grind of getting up at six AM to stand in line for an audition, run across town to get to the next audition, take what little money there is to buy new headshots or take an acting class, then rush to work at four o’clock and close out at two or three in the morning. It’s the grind of trying to survive on passion.
It’s hard. They said it would be. I knew it would be. The only thing I didn’t count on was the trajectory. In most professions, careers are linear. There may be unexpected setbacks or a change that requires a temporary hardship, but generally speaking, you can progressively work your way up in a logical manner.
In my field, it’s more like riding a rollercoaster. You get a job, it ends, and you start back at square one. To be fair, it’s not quite square one because you develop relationships with people, theatres, and companies every time you work. These experiences are invaluable and have actually gotten me subsequent jobs. But still, you have to start over again, unemployed and waiting in the audition line until that opportunity or a new one arises. There’s no telling if it will be better or worse than the job you had before.
Sure, it’s up to you to choose which offers you accept, but when you’ve been waiting tables for a few months, it’s really tough to turn down that performing job, even if it is in Phoenix, in the middle of the summer, for $300 a week. Plus, you don’t get your health insurance benefits if you don’t meet the 12-work week quota. Sometimes you have to accept a job where you’re essentially LOSING money just to qualify for insurance.
It’s hard to take a step backward, in either pay or prestige, but such are the realities when “living the dream”.
The only way I’ve managed to handle a lifestyle where I have so little control is to empower myself where I can, and financial planning is an excellent way to do it. Knowing the uncertainty of my future, financially and otherwise, I put systems and strategies in place to reach my goals regardless of the “dream” trajectory.
I save diligently, I have a substantial emergency fund, and I’m cultivating my “side hustles” like crazy. Maybe in the future, my other dreams will require me to put this one on the backburner. But for now, while I can, performing is priority number one – even if it means sacrificing a stable income, certain employment, likely advancement, and the benefits that come with all of those things. Some dreams are worth fighting for.