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Can you buy happiness? 5 principles for happier spending

Trying to buy happiness itself is unlikely to work, but changing the way you spend and consume can help you to get more of it

No one gets into creative work for the money. However, as I started to discuss last week in my How to spend money piece, the resulting limitations on our funds mean we need to be smarter-than-average when it comes to our spending. This means it needs to make us as happy as possible for as long as possible. So how can you buy happiness?

Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton are two US academics who spent years researching the impact of different spending approaches on people’s happiness levels. Dunn, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia and Norton a marketing professor at Harvard Business School, eventually recorded their ideas in a helpful book entitled ‘Happy Money’.

Happy Money: The New Science Of Smarter Spending book cover

I stumbled across ‘Happy Money’ when I was working in my local library and I’ve since found it really useful in helping me to reframe spending decisions.

‘Happy Money’ resists the temptation to get preachy, which means it does not trigger my internal ‘f***-off!’ sensor

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It’s an impressive book because, although there’s a substantial amount of research behind their recommendations, it reads in a very straight forward, useful fashion. It also resists the temptation to get preachy or dogmatic, which means it does not trigger my internal ‘f***-off!’ sensor.

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Inside, they identify five key principles of happy money. You can learn more about them below, but the book goes into much more detail and has loads of compelling evidence and useful examples to back it all up. As such, I really recommend you consider reading ‘Happy Money’. You can buy it over on Amazon or, even better, drop by your local library (when possible).

  1. Buy experiences
  2. Make it a treat
  3. Buy time
  4. Pay now, consume later
  5. Invest in others

1) Buy experiences

photo of assorted-color air balloon lot in mid air during daytime
Photo by Mar Cerdeira on Unsplash

Buying experiences instead of stuff usually makes us happier and in a more lasting way.

Cleverly-marketed shiny things are designed to persuade you to buy a lifestyle by purchasing a product. We want that positive change – it’s part of process called ‘self-actualisation’ (an awful term for the process of trying to become the person we want to be) – and advertisers are very good at telling us that buying their stuff will get us there.

Look to buy experiences that match Dunn and Norton’s criteria. You’ll be happier for it

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The problem is that it usually does not. Just look at the scores of high-earners who find the big house and the statement car to be somewhat hollow victories, once acquired.

A sense of self

Instead, Dunn and Norton cite a Cornell study that shows how things like travel, theatre trips, gallery visits and dinner with friends come to define their subject’s sense of self much more than their purchases.

Interestingly, when given the option to go back in time and change one of these purchases for an alternative, those who had bought an experience were much more likely to stick with their initial decision.

This makes sense to me. In my role as a music journalist, I’ve often heard musicians say as much: “There’s nothing I’d change, it all made me who I am…” etc. Indeed, it happens so often that I’ve written it off as a crap question.

Notably, Dunn and Norton say experience-based spending proves even more satisfying when it…

  • brings you into contact with other people
  • results in good stories
  • is linked to the ideas you have about who you want to be
  • is in some way unique

Resist the urge to buy the shiny thing whenever you can and instead look to buy experiences that match Dunn and Norton’s criteria. You’ll be happier for it.

2) Make it a treat

white teacup near bread
Photo by Linda Söndergaard on Unsplash

Being conscious of what you consume and spacing-out (or varying) the good stuff allows you to gain more enjoyment from it.

Have you ever been round the likes of Borough Market in London (or any farmers market/purveyor of posh produce) where they divvy out free samples?

You try a sliver of cheese and, suddenly conscious of the flavour, it tastes phenomenal. Four hours later, on the sofa, you can be ladling fat wedges of barrel-aged cheddar into your gob in front of Netflix and feel only a fraction of the joy. The more you consume, the less benefit you experience.

Diminishing returns

This is the psychological effect to look out for and that Dunn and Norton say justifies their ‘make it a treat’ approach. That aforementioned owner of the big house and statement car will find it stops making them happy because they soon get used to it. It’s the same with most things in our lives – and even our lives themselves.

Identify the good things and savour them by limiting consumption and being more conscious of them

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A bit of mindfulness helps here, the authors say we should identify the good things and savour them by limiting our consumption and being more conscious about enjoying them.

So, if fancy cars really matter to our hypothetical ‘high-earner’, they might be happier buying something dependable and efficient, then using the savings for regular track days, or just renting a posh car once in a while.

At the other end of the expense scale, there’s a lot of happiness to be gained in your daily life, whether it’s being a tourist in our your own city, savouring your food (away from the TV) or making the most of those first few drinks.

3) Buy time

person holding yellow round analog clock
Photo by Morgan Housel on Unsplash

I think this is probably the most important lesson for creative workers to absorb. If one thing from this list is going to make the most difference to our ability to develop the work and lifestyles we enjoy, it is buying time.

For most of us, the sense is either that money is scarce and you need to work more to earn more, or that your time is very valuable and therefore also scarce. Either way, we all feel time poor. So what can we do?

Astonishingly, they report an hour long commute has a similar sized impact on your happiness as having no job at all

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Well, they say if you want something give it away, and it is apparently the same with time. For instance, in a study cited by Dunn and Norton, those volunteering for just 15 minutes a week felt like they had more free time as a result of giving some up.

So how do you buy time? It’s usually a trade-off. Maybe you take a lower paying job closer to home, or you leave the overtime on the table, or (as the authors suggest) resist the urge to invest in time-sinks like cinematic TVs.

The three big ‘time wins’

Dunn and Norton say the big three areas to focus on are commuting, watching television (and I think we can safely extend this to screen time in 2020) and socialising.

Astonishingly, they report an hour long commute has a similar scale impact on your happiness as having no job at all. While another survey found that one of the greatest sources of happiness was simply playing with your kids.

Even if you feel you’re stuck with the commute, making a conscious effort to directly trade screen time in favour of social interaction could have huge benefits on your happiness.

Time and money don’t have to be rivals, but we can probably spend both more wisely.

4) Pay now, consume later

white yacht on dock

Photo by Karim MANJRA on Unsplash

Reverse the debt process – take the purchase pain on the chin now and you’ll enjoy it more later.

We live in a culture where it’s possible to fulfil small desires very quickly, without paying for them upfront. This phenomenon is only speeding up – look at the rapid rise of store credit firm Klarna, as a recent example.

The products often don’t make us happy in a lasting way, while the debts definitely make us unhappy. They also limit our future spending power and, by extension, future opportunities to use that money in beneficial ways.

Our natural instinct is to seize a benefit and delay the pain (payment). Reversing this process makes us happier

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Dunn and Norton say that reversing this process, conversely, has great benefits in terms of happiness. Paying upfront for something – whether it’s a city break or an Xbox – and spending some time anticipating it can actually increase our enjoyment of the product or experience.

What’s more, they say that regularly using this anticipation process, even just thinking about tomorrow’s dinner, makes you a more optimistic, happier person.

What purchases can you make now and anticipate?

The process works best when delaying the experience allows you to research aspects of it that will increase your expectations of a positive experience (e.g. looking up menus, looking at hotel pics).

They say it’s also particularly effective when the experience itself is likely to be brief, as it allows you to maximise your happiness from the consumption. Of course, this doesn’t work for everything: don’t delay your MOT, for example.

The authors also point out that our natural instinct is to seize a benefit and delay the pain (payment). This is the sneaky power of debt – the reason we find it easy to use credit cards, but hard to save for pensions – but it’s also the thing least likely to make us happy.

Dunn and Norton’s research tells us that if you can do the reverse of that instinct, pay upfront and ideally consume later, you’ll be a lot happier as a result of your spending.

5) Invest in others

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Photo by Javier Molina on Unsplash

Spending money on others makes us even happier than spending money on ourselves.

Dunn and Norton recount an experiment in Vancouver in which a student handed people $5-20 to spend on either themselves or someone else. Those who did the latter reported a much higher degree of happiness than those who spent the cash on themselves – no matter how much they’d been given.

The link between happiness and what they call ‘prosocial spending’ is remarkably universal

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A much broader study of US citizens found a similar correlation, as did one that compared similar experiments between a rich country (Canada) and a poor one (Uganda). Dunn and Norton describe this link between happiness and what they call ‘prosocial spending’ as “remarkably universal”.

Make it a choice, make a connection, make an impact

Again, Dunn and Norton say that there are things you can do to increase the happiness return. 

First, make it a choice (mandatory charity is less satisfying). Second, make a connection (perhaps by giving in person or to someone that’s close in some way or even just to a charity of your choosing). Third, pick something that has a notable impact, even if it’s a small donation (they cite examples like malaria nets, or spontaneously buying meals for strangers).

Interestingly, even if you don’t have a philanthropic bone in your body, Dunn and Norton note studies that found those who routinely gave money away also wound-up wealthier over the longrun.

Those are the five principles behind ‘Happy Money’. They’ve certainly come to shape the way I think about my spending. How can you adapt them in your life?

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7 reasons to be cheerful: what’s working in the creative industries right now

Creative workers seeking silver linings, start here

It seems like there’s been nothing but bad news for the creative industries since the start of the pandemic. However, good things have happened. Let’s take a moment to celebrate some of them…

We should start by acknowledging the giant, viciously-tusked elephant in the room: things have not gone well lately for creative workers.

Camera operator, dancer, opera singer, publisher, podcaster, designer, writer, photographer, or musician: the one thing we all have in common right now is that our industry, our finances and our access to wider opportunities, have all taken a considerable hit.

It can be easy to lose hope in the face of such news, but this is exactly why it’s crucial to recognise and celebrate the victories of the last few months. And there have been victories. Skills have been gained, organisations formed and new community champions have emerged, all of which will have lasting, positive impacts on the creative industries.

Ever the optimist, below I’ve rounded-up a few reasons to be cheerful…

Freelancers make theatre work – established June, 2020

1. Our professional communities have grown much stronger

Wherever you look in the creative industries, you will see new organisations forming, new voices emerging and established bodies finding new ways to connect with their communities.

Take Freelancers Make Theatre Work, for example. They only launched in June, but have since worked relentlessly for UK theatre workers, sharing a huge variety of useful resources (from mental health to financial guidance), showcasing the people behind the industry figures and being somehow both fierce and friendly in articulating freelancers’ needs.

Elsewhere, the mentoring and development opportunities on offer from existing bodies like Women In Film & TV, ScreenSkills and Presspad UK have been really well-received. Helping their respective industries to open-up a little more and start to move beyond simply paying lip service to the idea of community.

2. Tom Gray’s #BrokenRecord campaign is raising awareness of an inadequate royalty system

Songwriter and Gomez man Tom Gray has been doing a fantastic job of highlighting streaming services’ low royalty payments at a time when musicians and writers most depend on them.

A songwriter might get just 6.5% of a song’s streaming revenue of “approx £0.005 per play, ” Gray says – and this can be split across multiple writers.

The problem is by no means solved, but more people are aware of it than ever, the pressure on the streaming services to change has never been higher and there are now real conversations being had about alternative models and solutions.

How to get started on Patreon
Patreon passed the $2 billion mark recently

3. Fans are backing artists and creators in more ways than ever

Patreon says creators have now raised more than $2 billion via its platform. It reportedly took six years for the first billion, but just 15 months for the second. Meanwhile, 100,000 new creators have signed-up since March. It’s no panacea but it shows people are realising that their favourite creatives need real backing, not just meagre royalties or Google Ad revenue.

Elsewhere, BandCamp – hailed by the industry as one of the best ways to support musicians – has risen to the challenge. Since they start of the pandemic they have channelled some $20 million directly to artists and labels via the BandCamp Friday scheme, which sees the firm wave their platform fees on the first Friday of the month. They also report that since March, fans have bought over $75 million worth of music and merchandise via the platform.

Want to know more about Patreon? Check out our guide How does Patreon work for artists and creators? featuring UK podcasters RedHanded.

4. The Music Venue Trust’s #SaveOurVenues campaign has already helped save 140 iconic small venues

The Music Venue Trust is a charity that aims to protect the UK’s grassroots venues, recognising that our world-beating music industry needs to be supported from the ground-up. They have performed phenomenally well during the pandemic, playing a big role in securing the £2.25 million emergency support package that kept the lights on in over 140 of the UK’s finest small venues. They are still over 400 that need help, but they’re still coming up with innovative ways to raise cash and awareness.

In addition, they’ve also raised £1 million for their own crisis fund, led a new ‘Passport Back To Our Roots’ (big artist, small gig) initiative for re-opening and secured £2.2 million support for Scottish venues.

The #SaveOurVenues campaign still needs support and you can donate here

Excluded UK logo
ExcludedUK have done much to champion cultural workers

5. Fierce new champions have emerged

Yes, it’s a bit comic book, but the work of those behind the collective #GapsInSupport campaign has been nothing less than heroic. Rishi Sunak may pretend he isn’t listening, but he’s definitely heard.

Meanwhile, the seemingly tireless efforts and punchy campaigning of the likes of Ellie Phillips, Jodie McCallum and all those behind the Forgotten PAYE, New Starters For Justice, Forgotten Ltd and BBC PAYE freelancers groups is raising real awareness of the issue, with new major media coverage appearing every day.

It’s been a really tough time for some of us, but the campaign has, I suspect, provided a quite literal lifeline to those they represent – many of whom have now gone many months without income or appropriate government support.

Looking for funding opportunities?

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6. That £1.57 billion support package

There are valid concerns about the government’s £1.57 billion support package for the arts. Are we going to wind-up sustaining cultural venues at the expense of our creative workforce? Is it going to materialise on time? Is the Arts Council funding process inherently biased to organisations overloaded with hefty salaries and administrative workers?

However, £1.57 billion is nonetheless a huge figure and a significant statement of support for the sector. Some of it has already fed through to the small venues fund (above), while £2 million has been split between HelpMusicians Financial Hardship Funding programme and UK Theatre’s Theatre Artist’s Fund.

What’s more, following this week’s deadline, the Culture Recovery Fund will soon be distributing grants between £50,000 and £3 million to successful applicants.

7. The tide just might be turning (albeit slowly)

It will come too late for many and maybe we’ll take a step backwards before we move forwards this winter, but the wheels of democracy are slowly turning in the creative industries’ favour. The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee (which scrutinises the government’s DCMS department) has completed its inquiry into the impact of Covid-19 and has recommended the creation of “a sector specific deal that provides continued support for cultural workers, including freelancers and small companies…” Encompassing “long-term support, including tax reliefs, to rebuild audience figures and investment.”

This is by no means a done deal – the government has two months to respond and may well mumble about the £1.57 billion and do little else – but it is a positive step. Let’s hope it’s the first of many.

Silver linings for creative workers
Photo by Aakanksha Panwar on Unsplash

Creative Money Blogs include principles, resources and opinion pieces relating to personal finance for creatives.

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Opinion Short Cuts

Short Cuts: “Sometimes you have to work”

Every one in a creative career has to do other work at some point. So why do we act like this is some kind of failure?

Sometimes you have to work. This is something that has stuck with me from the recent How I Make It Work interview with Stephen Mallinder.

Mallinder’s innovations with Cabaret Voltaire and continuing contribution to electronic music (via the likes of Wrangler and Creep Show) have proven to be hugely influential. He has played all over the world, received great critical acclaim and sold a significant amount of records. He is, by almost every criteria, a very successful musician and yet as you’ll see in the piece, he has nonetheless operated in a huge variety of (mostly enjoyable) roles in order to sustain himself throughout his three decades in the music industry.

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For those of us who earn the majority of our living from creative activities, it can be easy to think that engaging with ‘other work’ is a kind of failure. That if you do, you’ve somehow cocked it up – you had it and it got away. Hearing Stephen’s succinct point that “sometimes you have to work” was liberating, in this respect.

Thinking that you’re a ‘creative’ or nothing is, ironically, likely to hasten your permanent exit from a creative industry

Last week, DJ/presenter Shell Zenner discussed how important it is to diversify and to have multiple skillsets. The longer you want to sustain yourself in the creative industries, the more important this becomes. Likewise, it’s perhaps equally important to accept that there will be times when things are off-the-boil with your ‘main’ activity and you might just want, or need, to try something different.

The binary thinking that you’re a ‘creative’ or nothing is, ironically, likely to hasten your permanent exit from a creative industry – either due to the financial pressures of operating solely on the ‘starving artist’ axis, or because doing the same work becomes so unsatisfying that you become disillusioned with the whole thing.

Primary path

Mallinder talks instead about dedication to a ‘primary path’ – from which you will periodically meander and return. He discusses this in terms of making music, but it could be any creative practice that you consider your ‘core’ activity. Our conversation made me realise that the longer you are in an industry, the more likely it is that you will diverge from that primary path and that at some point this becomes not just acceptable, but entirely necessary.

Inspiration and opportunities tend to come in waves – bills do not…

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You need to learn new things, to question what you do and push yourself in order to develop your creative practice. Otherwise, it just gets stale. Doing different work, whether developing a new skillset in your existing industry, taking a role outside of it, or doing something like teaching, can therefore be really beneficial not just to your finances, but also to the way you think about your ‘primary path’.

Sometimes you will have to do certain jobs simply to keep the lights on – and they won’t always feel beneficial. Inspiration and opportunities tend to come in waves, after all – bills do not. What matters is understanding that you can, and likely will, come back to that primary path – that there are multiple ways to be creative and to make that your life. Sometimes you will have to ‘work’ then, but that is no failure.

Short Cuts is Creative Money’s series of quick tips, tricks and thoughts about saving or making money in the creative industries.

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Photo by Mindspace Studio on Unsplash

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Guides Resources

UK arts funding, grants and development opportunities

Here you’ll find a list of UK arts funding opportunities, split into sectors. Also included are other grants and selected development or training opportunities relevant to the creative industries.

Current opportunities will usually appear first in the Creative Money newsletter and then filter through to this page. The newsletter is totally free, so sign-up below if you want to get a head start.

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Want to let an audience of UK creative workers know about a funding, grant or development opportunity? Seen something we’ve missed? Drop us a line using

Skip to sector:

Relevant ‘evergreen’ funding opps or resources will be listed under the ‘ongoing’ section for each sector.

In need of financial support amid the Covid-19 pandemic? We’ve rounded-up some options here: Coronavirus support: resources for the creative industries

Multi-sectoral support

The Arts Council National Lottery Project Grants

Supports artists, community and cultural organisations with grants in the range of £1,000-£100,000. Their remit has been tweaked (and will remain so until April 2021) for the recent relaunch in order to better respond to the needs of individuals, freelancers and small organisations working within or supporting the arts.

Clore Duffield Foundation

Funds UK arts/social charities (particularly performing arts) on an ongoing basis with grants ranging from £10,000 up to £1 million. You can apply anytime but it’s worth noting that the trustees only meet to make decisions twice a year – normally in June and December.

The Idlewild Trust

Funds registered UK charities working within the arts sector – in particular, projects relating to the nurturing of talent and development of professional opportunities – with grants of up to £5,000.

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Up to £25K grants for British Council Arts UK in Australia season

All or part of the project must be presented in Australia between 1 September 2021 to 13 March 2022 and align with the theme ‘Who are we now?’ Deadline: 17 August, 2020

Work/Leisure wants has put out a call for new and mid-career artists

Work/Leisure is inviting emerging and mid-career artists, living and working in the UK/Europe, to create new work in 2020. Successful applicants will be provided with an overall budget of £1500 and administrative and curatorial support from the W/L team, Abingdon Studios, and residency partners. Deadline: 17 August, 2020

Jerwood Art Fund Makers Open 2021

Jerwood Art Fund Makers Open 2021 has five £5,000 grants for early-career UK-based artists and makers to develop and present ambitious new works. Deadline: 26 August, 2020.

Unlimited launches new commission round for disabled artists

Unlimited is an arts commissioning programme that enables new work by disabled artists to reach UK and international audiences. They will have £500,000 to commission work from disabled artists and companies in three strands: Main Commission awards, Research and Development awards and Emerging Artists awards. Applications don’t open until October, but they’re getting the word out nice and early. Deadline: 27 October, 2020

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Update coming soon…

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BFI/Doc Society Short Film Fund

A fund to support emerging UK creatives in all-forms of non-fiction film, including immersive and VR projects. Successful applicants will get a grant of up to £15,000 for production costs and projects must not be more than 40 minutes in length. Deadline: 18 August, 2020

€1.5 million for Cinemas as Innovation Hubs for Local Communities

The Commission is launching a €1.5M call for proposals to create innovative cultural hubs around cinema theatres, notably in areas where the Covid-19 crisis has had a very strong impact. Deadline: 21 August, 2020

Creative England’s New Ideas fund

Creative England’s New Ideas Fund can offer grants between £1000 and £25,000 to support the development of new and innovative ideas for screen-based storytelling entrepreneurs and businesses in the English regions. Applications considered on a rolling basis.

BFI Young Audiences Content Fund

A fund supporting the development and/or production of broadcasting content with public service values for under-18s in the UK.

BFI Network

A development and networking platform from the BFI, aimed at supporting new and emerging film talent. Offers some funding, though its short film grants have been currently paused due to COVID-19.

BFI Development Funding

Intends to back projects that might not otherwise secure early-stage financing, though you need to demonstrate prior filmmaking experience to qualify. Funds have been tweaked to front-load payments, if necessary, during COVID-19.

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HelpMusicians Funding Wizard

Yes, the name is daft, but this is an incredibly helpful tool for quickly assessing your music funding options. You simply enter some information in the form (type of musician, genre, career stage etc.) and it produces a list of potential funding opportunities for you.

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Call for disabled writers to pitch arts pieces

Art UK is looking for pitches from disabled writers who want to write about art and artists. Explore for inspiration. Rates are around £100–£150 for pieces between 700 and 1,200 words. Send your pitches to and

Journo Resources: funding

The website Journo Resources has a great section and newsletter on funding for journalists.

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Theatre and Performing Arts

Update coming soon…

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Creative Money Guides are ‘How-to’s and explainers relating to specific aspects of money management for those working in the creative industries.

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Blogs Opinion

The ‘starving artist’ vs ‘the sell-out’ – the struggle of the creative worker

Our thoughts on the financial outcomes of life as creative workers often seem to fall into two categories: ‘the starving artist’ and ‘the sell-out’. If only it were that simple…

I would wager that everyone who earns money from creative work has wondered at some point whether or not they’re ‘selling-out’. The tropes at the heart of this struggle are are within us all: the starving artist has unimpeachable integrity but negligible income, while the sell-out picks their gigs by the paycheque. They remain locked in combat, fighting for our very souls.

We’ve all likely had cause at some point to embrace the starving artist and some of us even come to experience life at sell-out end of the scale – gaining a full understanding of the ambiguous privilege of considerable wealth and fame.

Straight line thinking – how people often think about income and integrity

Sometimes, we may also consider the evener rarer ‘third way’, wild success on our own terms – let’s call this ‘the rockstar’ – but this often seems even further removed from our view of the achievable (though Seth Godin’s The Icarus Deception argues the opposite).

At other points, we may feel we have no option but to leave an industry, or take some other work on in purely to pay some bills.

Anyone who’s even come near to experiencing true poverty knows that the starving artist cliché is a false romance

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What’s interesting is the extremities of these viewpoints – that we seem to ascribe the myriad outcomes of our creative work as an ‘all or nothing’ endeavour. The truth of it, though, is that it is a spectrum – and that existing on that spectrum, rather than at one of two extreme poles, is not such a bad place to be.

Anyone who’s even come near to experiencing true poverty knows that the starving artist cliché is a false romance. It’s been perpetuated throughout history, often by patrons in positions of wealth, but while understanding or experiencing poverty and the broader human condition has no doubt informed great creative work, it is certainly not a route to happiness. In fact it is, by definition, a direct route to unhappiness.

What’s it worth?

At the other end of the scale, it is widely acknowledged that while wealth can help you ‘buy’ a certain level of happiness, the benefit of greater wealth tails-off dramatically once you’ve covered your basic needs and a few extra comforts. This is a phenomenon that US blogger Mr Money Mustache has popularised and termed the Marginal Utility of Money.

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Even Warren Buffett, the 89 year-old billionaire CEO of Berkshire Hathaway – and at one point the world’s richest person – counsels against the pursuit of wealth for its own sake. And this is a guy who bought his first shares aged 11.

“Doing reasonably well in this country really is pretty darn good,” he said, talking to US students in 1999. “Great wealth is the tiniest bit different, in a real sense, than having just a decent income. To trade a decent income and something you love doing… for huge wealth where you trade a lot of your principles would be a terrible mistake.”

So, if we agree that both extremes are flawed and stop trying to define our financial personalities against a minority of outliers, what does the right path actually look like? And what’s a reasonable income?

Great wealth is the tiniest bit different, in a real sense, than having just a decent income

Warren Buffett
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That is yours to decide. For me, it’s enough to cover living expenses, to be able to pay for a few home comforts and holidays and to save enough to retire within the next 25 years (WHAT!?) At the more luxurious end, I’d like to spend as little time on compulsory work as possible. I like my work, but I value freedom even more.

Figuring out the numbers behind these goals is really useful to making sure you’re actually on course to meet them.

I discussed why tracking your spending is key to understanding your cash flow (and therefore getting some control over a variable income) last week, but there are other benefits to that process, too. When you know how much you spend, you know how much is enough. You know when you can stop, or say no.

As far as possible, I’d also like to get to these points above without doing work that I do not personally believe in.

Don’t do dogma

A line from our recent How I Make It Work interview with freelance journalist Lydia Wilkins sticks with me here.

“‘At the end of the day, you only have yourself to answer to.’ Regardless of having to pay your bills, keep to deadlines… if it ‘sits right’ – then that’s okay.’”

If you operate with integrity, then you avoid selling-out yourself, but only you can judge what that might look like.

The ‘starving artist’ trope comes from a belief system and, as with any belief system, there will always be a vocal minority of hardliners, who refuse to question the dogma out of some fear that the world will unravel. Instead, each of us needs to decide on our personal beliefs and principles around money and creativity – and make decisions accordingly.

There’s a broad, rich spectrum between ‘the starving artist’ and ‘the sell-out’

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If you lean towards the starving artist axis then, contrary to the thinking of many, you’ll likely need to watch your expenses closely. What’s more, planning for the future and times of poor cash flow becomes even more essential.

If you lean the other way, gaining a higher income, then you may have more flexibility with your spending and insurance against the risks you take (some of which might pay-off handsomely). However, to gain true satisfaction from your work, you will likely still need some measure of your personal values built-in to it – lines you don’t cross. This might be to do with the ethics of the organisations you work with, the relative creative appeal of jobs etc. Knowing your values helps you to navigate the path.

The full spectrum – the options are much broader than many of us realise and the path you tread might change according to your priorities at the time

For instance, in my case, I am open to many different types of work. My main gig is music journalism, but I’ve written copy and advertorials, I’ve run events and managed projects, I’ve led degree courses and taught. But I’ve come to understand that if the only reason I want to take a job is the money – and I can find no other appealing features in terms of the work, my personal or career development, or the organisation I’m working with – then I am going to regret that decision.

Not everyone will feel that way – or feel they have the option to do so (particularly right now) – but that’s OK. Indeed, that’s the whole point. Creative Money is not here to promote the pursuit of untold riches, but simply to help you figure out how you can sustain yourself over the long term as a happy, creative person.

There’s a broad, rich spectrum between the tired clichés of the starving artist and the sell-out. Where do you want to be?

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Photo by Alice Dietrich on Unsplash

Creative Money Blogs include principles, resources and opinion pieces relating to personal finance for creatives.

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Blogs Opinion

You are not bad with money

How stereotypes prevent us from sorting out our finances

Creative and financial ability need not be mutually exclusive. The pervasive idea that if you are creative, you are bad with money, yet those with the artistic sentiment of a doorstop naturally have a handle on their finances, is a harmful cliche.

Image credit (above): Jp Valery on Unsplash

I saw the above quote referenced in MoneyWeek the other day and, while amusing, it also struck me as a perfect encapsulation of the creative industries’ self-defeating mindset around money. We’ve all been guilty of it at some point, myself included. ‘I’ve never been good with numbers, I just draw pictures…’ ‘Pension? I can’t afford dinner…’ etc.

‘Natural talent’ is just a starting point – it is how we develop our craft that really helps us succeed. The same is true of our financial ability

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We love the idea of ‘natural ability’ defining the destinies of the great and good. It allows us to buy-in to a bit of real life magic and marvel at humanity’s shared prowess. However, it also offers us a handy excuse for our own shortcomings – a get-out clause that says, ‘If we’re not born with it, we can’t do it… So I won’t try.’

My experiences in interviewing musicians and other creative types for the last 15 years have taught me that whenever we discuss ‘natural ability’ there’s a bigger picture being missed.

Take two famous examples of ‘natural talent’: Daniel Day Lewis and Jimi Hendrix.

Day Lewis made his big screen debut aged 14 in Sunday Bloody Sunday, which is undeniably impressive. However, he spent another 13 years studying and developing his craft on theatre stages before he landed his first major film role.

Hendrix? Hendrix really was an amazing guitarist, but he practised so much he wore his guitar while cooking. And on the toilet.

Whether we’re talking theatre or fashion design, ‘natural talent’ is just a starting point – it is how we develop our craft that really helps us succeed. The same is true of our financial ability. You are not inherently ‘bad with money’.

Burning cash. But remember you are not inherently 'bad with money'
Photo by Jp Valery on Unsplash

It’s not all or nothing

In the site’s first post, I discussed the stigma of talking about money in the creative industries, but also how harmful it is to view these two aspects of our lives – the creative and financial – as the antithesis of each other.

Instead, we should consider both our creative and financial abilities as different but complementary skills – both building blocks for the attainment of lasting happiness. In that sense, the most important question to answer is, ‘How can we sustain our ability to do the things we love?’

If you are making your way in these industries, you very likely already have the creativity and the drive required to figure this stuff out

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In trying to solve this problem, learning to handle our finances can really help. The good news is that if you are making your way in these industries, you very likely already have the creativity and the drive required to figure this stuff out.

That might involve honing what you do to the point where you earn more money doing it; figuring out how to syphon off income when you have it, ready for the times when you don’t; or making a smart move to a more affordable location. The more you start to think about it, the more solutions you will find.

Everyone can do something to get nearer to their, er, happy place. And you’re not alone, either. The more ideas, options and resources we share here, the easier that process is going to get, so if you have questions or suggestions, don’t hesitate to get in touch. I don’t have all the answers, but we have a better chance of finding them as a community.

Most importantly, though, do not let yourself fall in to the belief that because your work is creative, you are destined to be bad with money, or that it is hopeless to try. If anything the reverse is true, you’re likely already better with it than most of your peers, because you often have to manage on less – and you’re certainly better equipped to work around your limitations.

If you can come up with ideas for your creative work – be it scriptwriting, or sculpture – why not redirect just a little of that energy to thinking creatively about how you could make this thing last? Can you be creative with money?

Blogs Opinion

It’s good to talk – addressing the stigma of money in creative careers

Does choosing a creative career mean you can’t talk about money?

Money is not evil. We should probably start there. Money is maligned, misunderstood, mismanaged, misused and, sometimes, misappropriated in creative careers. But in and of itself, it is not evil.

Working in the creative industries, it’s easy to fall into this way of thinking. Ascribing money a vindictive, immoral personality enables us to dismiss our worries or confusion about how to deal with it. Considering money as ‘evil’ also makes us feel better about the choices we made that have sometimes led to us having less of it compared to our office-bound peers. We chose ‘passion over a pay cheque’.

We’ve come to define a means of exchange in opposition to a means of expression, but that’s like comparing apples to Ancient Greek.

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The emotional and mental programming we receive about money throughout our lives starts early and is rooted deep in our psychology. It’s built and cemented through our childhoods and our role models – be it your parents, or your teen idols. Your favourite band rejected a major label deal in favour of ‘creative control’ = money is bad, creativity is good.

We’ve come to define a means of exchange in opposition to a means of expression, but that’s like comparing apples to Ancient Greek.

As a child (at least mentally) of the 2000s DIY punk scene. It took me a very long time to even question this black-and-white thinking. To consider that there might be an alternative to worrying about payments clearing, or making my tax bill, or (going really wild) buying a house and, ideally, not dying at my desk.

Even now, the ‘sell-out’ thought flashes by whenever I think about finances. I’m still forced to wonder if it’s rude to discuss it with close friends in my industry.

An open dialogue?

Any other stigma or taboo is challenged by those in the creative industries. No matter what medium you work in, we hold shared ideals: to be brave, to encourage open dialogue, to challenge norms and provoke thought.

Except when it comes to money. Because money is bad.

By not talking openly about money with our friends and colleagues, we shut-off our most valuable source of information

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This culture directly and visibly harms those of us who work in the creative industries. Yet those in self employment, or surviving on the low or variable incomes typical of such industries, are the groups who most need to understand good money management.

What’s more, by not talking openly about money with our friends and colleagues, we shut-off our most valuable source of information.

Subsequently, we cannot establish reasonable rates for our work, nor can we navigate the financial infrastructure (pensions, investments, insurance) that is automated for most of the workforce.

Meanwhile, it is often the largest and most financially-secure businesses that benefit from this insecurity. In turn, they further establish their monopolies and suppress wage growth in the creative sectors.

There are reasons to be optimistic. Campaigns for clarity around rates – for instance, the Freelancer Pay Gap run by Anna Codrea-Rado of The Professional Freelancer – are attempting to shine some light on the darker corners of the media, but there’s much work still to be done across the creative industries.

“That’s some catch, that Catch-22”

The wider issue is that this is, essentially, a poverty trap – a cycle – and, as anyone who has been in debt can attest, cycles are difficult to break. Like most poverty traps, it is also one that disproportionately affects women, people of colour and those from low income backgrounds.

It’s a Catch-22 situation, but if we break the stigma of talking about money in creative careers, we break the cycle. This is why I started Creative Money and why everything we do here will be in service of three goals:

  1. To break the stigma of talking about money in creative professions
  2. To share financial resources and principles that can make creative lifestyles more sustainable
  3. To create a support network for creative professionals

Money itself, then, is not evil. It is a tool – and one we need to learn how to use. First, though, we need to talk about it.

Creative Money Blogs include principles, resources and opinion pieces relating to personal finance for creatives.

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