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Coronavirus financial help for UK creative workers

Want to know what’s available in your sector? Start here…

This piece was first posted in July, 2020. However, the pandemic has dragged on and with it the devastating impacts on the lives and livelihoods of many of those in the creative industries. We’re still very much in the grip of coronavirus, financial help for UK creatives appears to be drying up and there are some concerning stats floating around. However, there are still schemes and support options available.

Here I’ve rounded-up some of the key resources by sector. This list will likely be updated, so if you feel I’ve missed anything useful or important, please drop me an email on creativemoneycontact@gmail.com.

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#GapsInSupport

Creative Money would also like to take the chance to shout about the significant struggles faced by those who have fallen through the gaps in government support, an outsized proportion of whom work in these industries.

These groups include freelancers taxed via the PAYE system, those setup as limited companies and paid via dividend, plus the newly employed or self-employed.

Collectively, that equates to millions of taxpayers who have been unable to earn since the start of the pandemic and who have, effectively, been penalised by the somewhat arbitrary rules regarding Covid-19 support schemes.

If you’d like to help do something about this, then please support the excellent work of ForgottenPAYE, ForgottenLtd and New Starter Justice, by visiting their sites and following their social media channels.

More importantly, sign the petitions they are promoting, email your MP and make your voice heard. If you’ve not been impacted directly, it’s highly likely that your colleagues have been.

Hang In There artwork - Coronavirus financial help UK
Hang In There. Credit: Ayşegül Altınel.

Submitted for United Nations Global Call Out To Creatives.
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Coronavirus financial help: support by sector

Jump to your sector using the links below, or scroll down to take a look at the full range…

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Arts Council funding

Since the pandemic, the Arts Council (the body responsible for awarding public funding for UK creative work) to respond more readily to the needs of small practitioners and freelancers.

The government’s vaunted £1.57bn support for the cultural sector is being delivered via the Arts Council. However, the options below are not Covid-19-specific…

Developing Your Creative Practice

This fund focuses on helping creative workers to develop their skills and associated career options. The new round opens 21 December, 2020.

National Lottery Project Grants

Aimed at everyone from individuals to larger organisations, there is an enlarged budget of £75 million available until 21 March, 2021 and the fund is now designed to be “more responsive to the needs of smaller independent organisations and individual practitioners during Covid-19.”

Film/TV

Bectu

Media and entertainment union Bectu has been calling for a government to create a support package to specifically aid the recovery of the much-beleaguered creative industries.

They are asking people to write to their MPs and have created this handy letter template that will populate an email to your MP, based on your postcode. It’s very easy to use, you just have to pop in your name and address.

Covid-19 – Support for the UK Television & Film Industry

This is an active support page on Facebook for UK TV and film industry workers. It’s got 6000+ members and aims to share information on everything from financial support to spare rooms. You might find it useful.

Film & TV Charity

Offer a free 24-hour support line on 0800 054 0000, or if you prefer you can email or live chat. They can offer advice on financial issues, legal queries, health and wellbeing and even career development.

ScreenSkills

The industry body ScreenSkills is offering loads of genuinely good online training courses at present, some have a fee but many are free and offer direct access to commissioners and other industry experts.

Music

Aim Crisis Fund

This launched back in April and got bolstered by a further £300,000 (from PPL and others) in new funding in late September. It is directed specifically to support music freelancers who have lost work with AIM member’s artists. Requires nomination by an AIM Rightsholder (more info on the site).

CoronaMusicians

The excellent UK charity Help Musicians has built a dedicated site to compile a vast array of resources and support available for musicians affected by the pandemic. This includes links to government schemes, union support and charity funds, plus legal/contract advice, resources for those in music education and mental health support. Thanks very much Help Musicians.

Help Musicians Hardship Fund (Phase 3)

We’ve highlighted this separately as it’s one example of support that can be accessed without being a member of a union (though we’d still recommend you join one ASAP, if you have the means). You can support the fund by donating to the charity.

Update (13 November, 2020): The third phase of funding is now open and will support successful applicants with a monthly top-up until March 2021.

Music Minds Matter

A helpline for anyone working in the music industry. It’s free, confidential and open 24 hours. Just dial 0808 802 8008.


Does your work situation make it difficult to save money? Check out our guide: ‘How to start saving (when you don’t think you can)


Performing Arts

Equity Benevolent Fund

Full members of the Equity union can apply for grants for one-off emergency expenses like bills and food if they’re facing financial hardship.

Exchange Project

A great scheme that aims to connect the under-utilised, furloughed staff from the theatre industry with creative freelancers, in order to help the latter develop new projects and skills.

Royal Variety Charity Financial Assistance grants

The Royal Variety Charity is uniquely positioned to provide financial assistance to anyone who serves any facet of the Entertainment Industry. Deadline: ongoing

Theatre Artists’ Fund

Offers emergency grants of £1,000 to theatre workers and freelancers. It is one of the biggest funds around in this respect, having raised over £3.9 million thus far thanks to donations from Netflix, the Arts Council and Backstage Trust. You can currently apply until 20 November, 2020, even if you’ve previously applied and received support. Deadline: 20 November, 2020

TheatreSupport

TheatreSupport is the mega resource you need for a full breakdown of support for those working in the arts. They’ve even put together this extremely useful flow chart to help you figure out where to go, depending on your role/sector.

Publishing

NUJ

The National Union of Journalists (interesting note: it’s also open to those in publishing) has a charitable hardship fund NUJ Extra for members, which can issue one-off grants to help cover bills and other crucial expenses. You can donate to the fund here. They have also put together this briefing on government support schemes.

The Society Of Authors

Have set up the Author’s Emergency Fund, which issues grants of up to £2,000 to meet “urgent need” for writers and related roles (including journos, illustrators, poets, scriptwriters etc.) No need to be a member, as far as we’re aware.

The White Pube Writers Grant funded by Creative Debuts

Not Covid-specific, but might be useful… £500 given out monthly to a working class writer based in the UK. This grant has been set up to support writers of all ages who are early in their careers and would benefit from this no-strings attached financial support to help them in whatever they like. Deadline: ongoing

Writers Guild Of Great Britain

The WGGB has a welfare fund for members to help them meet debts, or cover essential business or personal expenses. Grants are usually limited to £1,000.

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Coronavirus financial help for UK freelancers

The Self-Employment Income Support Scheme has received numerous tweaks since it was first unveiled in Spring.

The latest is that there will be a third and fourth grant available to eligible self-employed workers, each covering a three-month period until March 2021. The third grant is now set to cover 80% of average self-employed profits for a three-month period and applications will open on 30 November.

No news on what the fourth grant will look like at this point. That’s likely to be announced in January, probably around the same time they review the furlough scheme.

The existing eligibility requirements, which have excluded millions sadly, remain unchanged for the third grant.

Regardless of your eligibility for SEISS, freelancers will now be able to further delay tax payments by spreading payments that were previously due on 31 January, 2021 across a period of 12 months using the Time To Pay scheme.

As ever with HMRC, if you’re struggling to pay tax it’s best to let them know ASAP. HMRC has a Covid-19 hotline: 0800 0159 559.


Trying to keep a closer eye on your finances? Check outThe best budgeting apps for UK creative workers


Coronavirus financial help for UK students

Many of the unions mentioned above are not extending hardship funds to their student members, so if you need help start with your student union and/or education provider.

Most universities have student hardship funds, such as this one from Sheffield Hallam, which may be open to applications and can help you with grants, bill payments, advice and food voucher schemes. Housing charities like Shelter can also offer support to those struggling to pay rent or facing accommodation issues.

And finally… a note on Universal Credit

Bear in mind that if you can’t get support through the existing government schemes or funds above, you will likely still be eligible for Universal Credit (provided you are on low/no income and have <£16,000 in savings).

The system is still far from perfect, but has reportedly improved dramatically since its launch. The standard monthly allowance is £409.89 for over-25s and £342.72 for under-25s, but this can be higher, depending on your circumstances.

What did I miss?

If you have anything to add to the list above, or any recommendations or resources that have proved particularly helpful during this time, please let us know in the comments below, or via email on creativemoneycontact@gmail.com.

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We don’t have all the answers, but maybe we can find someone that does.

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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

woman holding white and black coffee cup
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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We don’t have all the answers, but maybe we can find someone that does.

Send your questions and suggestions to creativemoneycontact@gmail.com.
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How to spend money

Never have enough money for the things you actually want? Try thinking about your happiness, instead…

Most of us think that we know how to spend money – it’s the one thing we don’t need help with. Yet adopting an approach where we question why we’re spending is the principle that will, over the long run, make the single biggest difference to both your happiness and financial health…

Many of us in the creative industries have to exist on slimmer financial margins than the average earner. We may well feel that we’re already diligent with our cash, but after the bills are paid, our ‘fun money’ runs out quickly.

There are things we can do to change this situation and increase our funds over the longer term (increasing income and reducing bills). However, why not start getting the best bang for your buck right now?

Finding a framework

To do this, it can be helpful to have a little bit of a mental framework for your spending decisions. There are three things that it’s helpful to bear in mind with any spending:

  1. Is this going to make me happy?
  2. Is that happiness going to last?
  3. Is this the most affordable way to get this happiness?

To maximise your… err… ‘happiness return’, you need to be able to answer yes to all of the above and make the purchase without getting into debt. This allows us to think beyond just what we’re spending every month and to consider why we’re spending that cash.

Coffee house rules

Let’s use an example: coffee is a perennial favourite of financial bloggers – and for good reason.

Most of us are well aware that if you spend £2.60 a day on posh coffee it soon adds up. Buy one coffee five days a week for 50 weeks of the year and it equates to about £54.16 a month.

Asking why I was spending that cash helped me to find affordable alternatives

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Lonely Smarter people will then factor in the return you could be earning on the cash elsewhere. So in this example, £54.16 per month (earning a typical 7% per year in a low-cost index fund investment) could become £9,370 over ten years. Not bad, as a trade-off for one coffee per week day.

But breaking that habit is easier said than done. We LOVE coffee. In our flawed human brains, it’s not simply a coffee, it’s a conversation with a friend, a place to go and work out of the house/office, an essential drug we require to function, or maybe we just really, really like good quality coffee.

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Flat wh-yyyy?

If coffee makes us happy and maybe even does so in a lasting way, then thinking about why we spend this money can help us find a more affordable alternative that may well deliver just as much happiness.

I just looked up my own coffee spending from 2018 (because I have a budgeting app) and I was averaging almost exactly the figures above – and often more like £70/month.

Asking why I was spending that cash helped at lot. I realised that A) I love good coffee; B) I dislike working at home all day every day and C) Going to hipster cafes makes me happy.

Yeah. My latte art need some work… But it tastes good!

Now available: affordable happiness!

Instead, I spent a small amount of money on a coffee machine and a grinder (for a combined cost of about £70 – at the time), ordered a kilo of good beans and learned, through trial and error, how to make good coffee at home.

Meanwhile, here in Liverpool, we have a swanky central library and a host of museums, galleries and other public-wifi-equipped spaces where I can work for free among other human faces. Then, about once a week or so in normal times I will duck into a cafe to support both the hipsters and my ego.

If I keep it up over 30 years (to retirement), that cash will very likely grow to a mind-boggling £66,000+

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This alternative plan has cost me less than £20 a month over the first year and I still get a lot of coffee-based happiness, but now I’m also saving about £30-50 a month in the process.

I’m certainly not the first person to point this out, but I wanted to show you how I’d used this approach to make a palpable difference.

What’s more, that cash is now going towards a self-invested personal pension (SIPP), which gets topped up 20% by the government – in the form of income tax relief – before it even hits the fund itself, so should make well over that £9,370 over the next decade.

If I keep it up over 30 years (to retirement), that will very likely grow to a mind-boggling £66,000+, which is a significant chunk of the £169,000 Which? reckons a person might need for a ‘comfortable’ retirement.

And I can make hipster coffee, to boot!


Does your work situation make it difficult to save money? Check out our guide: ‘How to start saving (when you don’t think you can)


What’s your shiny thing?

It doesn’t have to be coffee, of course. It could be smart phones, extra guitars, art materials, cameras, clothes… We all have our spending foibles and they can be really hard to spot day-to-day, especially if we associate them with our creative work (hello, musicians!)

Vicki Robin – who co-wrote one of the world’s best-selling personal finance books, Your Money Or Your Life – calls these impulsive spending blindspots, ‘gazingus pins’. I prefer the term ‘shiny things’, but the effect is the same – some blend of compulsion, misplaced aspiration and self-identity prevents us from noticing them.

We need to transform these decisions from ‘prohibition’ to ‘allocation’

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However, if before you drop the cash, you can ask ‘why?’ and determine a potential purchase’s lasting impact on your happiness, then it’s much easier to notice the shiny things that aren’t worth the money.

We need to transform these decisions from ‘prohibition’ to ‘allocation’ – and that makes a lot more sense to our flawed, human brains. Ultimately, if we consistently and consciously spend less on the things that won’t make us happy and more on the things that do, we wind up in a much better place. Remember:

  1. Is this going to make me happy?
  2. Is that happiness going to last?
  3. Is this the most affordable way to get this happiness?

The next time you find yourself hovering over a shiny thing and wondering whether it’s worth the cash, ask yourself the questions above. You’ll be surprised at the difference it can make.

What’s your shiny thing? And are there any hints, tips or coffee victories you can share? Let me know!

How to spend money
Photo by Igal Ness on Unsplash

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

How can we help you?

What issues are you facing? What questions do you have about managing your money in the creative industries? What would be most helpful to you?

We don’t have all the answers, but maybe we can find someone that does.

Send your questions and suggestions to creativemoneycontact@gmail.com.
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The best budgeting apps for UK creative workers

Untangle your personal finances with our guide to the best budgeting apps for UK creative-types

Working in the creative industries has its ups and downs – and not least when it comes to our cashflow. This can make it really hard to budget effectively. The best budgeting apps make this process much less painful, taking full advantage of the ‘open banking’ revolution to quickly and clearly calculate our cashflow and spending. What’s more, most of them are free, too

Often in creative careers our finances will vary greatly from month-to-month. One month you can be sat at home wondering where the next gig will come from, the next you could be earning and paying a second rent in a new city.

The budgeting process usually relies on predictability – and that is something that is in short supply in our field

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This makes budgeting exceptionally difficult for creative workers. It’s a process that normally relies on predictability – and that is in short supply in our industries.


Does your work situation make it difficult to save money? Check out our guide:How to start saving (when you don’t think you can)


Budgeting apps can be particularly useful to creative workers because the data will usually be much more up-to-date and easier to interpret. This is helpful when your income and expenses somewhat wildly fluctuate!

A good budgeting app can

  • Make it easy to track and sort your income and spending into categories
  • Give you a clear picture (via fancy graphs and charts) of your income, spending and cashflow
  • Help you compare the above across the months/years
  • Allow you to set budgets for defined projects/categories
  • Keep you up-to-date on how much you have left
  • Help you to identify potential savings on your bills
  • Help you to save or invest by siphoning off cash on a daily basis (for instance, by rounding up transactions)
  • ‘Gameify’ the process of money management

Most do this by connecting to your bank (with your explicit permission) and regularly importing your transactions for analysis. Some have the power to make transfers between accounts, but most just look at the data.

If this sounds a little suspect, rest assured that all of those featured on the best budgeting apps list are regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, which is there to ensure they behave themselves. Do not use any service which is not FCA registered.

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Things to consider when picking budgeting apps…

What do you need?

Each of these apps has different strengths and weaknesses. Some are great at budgeting, some can help you save more, others have better spending analysis or clearer interfaces.

I have my preference (below) but you might need to try a few. Ultimately, the ‘best budgeting app’ is the one you will actually use consistently. Just keeping half-an-eye on these things will help you to improve your finances (lowering expenses, increasing savings), so know thyself! Which one will most encourage you to keep track?

Cost

Most of the apps below are free, but some have a small subscription fee or premium tier that gives you more options.

How many accounts and types of accounts do you want to manage?

Do you want a budgeting app that’s a one-stop shop to plan and keep track of your assets (including pensions and the value of your home)? Or simply an app that makes it easy to monitor a basic set of current and savings accounts?

How will you use the app?

It’s good to consider how you will use a budgeting app as part of a wider system.

You might be keen to set goals and boost your savings or pension. Or you might want to use the app to easily calculate your monthly income, spending and savings and track those total figures in a separate spreadsheet.

Alternatively, you may want separate apps for work expenses and personal finances (perhaps you have an accountancy platform with whizzy apps for your work stuff and just want something simple for personal finances).

Most give you various export options for data so you have even greater flexibility if you require it.

1. MoneyHub

Best UK budgeting apps for UK users: MoneyHub

Best for making a complex picture clear

This is Creative Money’s preferred choice of budgeting app. It helps you to keep track of income, expenses and savings (like Money Dashboard et al), but you also can pull in an impressive range of investment accounts, pensions and even home equity.

For
  • Makes a complex web of account types easy to understand
  • Easy transaction tagging process (compared to other apps)
  • Great as a simple way to keep track of net worth
  • Spending and income analysis tools are really clear
  • Big range of accounts supported (including Vanguard)
Against
  • Some users say it’s not so hot on the predictive/forecasting side
  • Has a sideline in trying to direct you to financial advisors, too (but doesn’t rub it in your face)
  • It also comes with a small monthly fee of £1.49

2. Money Dashboard

Best budgeting apps for UK users: Money Dashboard

Best for those who want an established name

Probably the biggest name among UK budgeting apps. It set the template in many ways: you connect your accounts, tag your transactions and it will start to automatically group them into categories for tracking/comparing month to month.

For
  • Money Dashboard has won multiple awards
  • You can also set multiple budgets (telling it which categories to track) and add recurring bills etc. to predict cashflow
  • Was the first UK app to really crack the blend of an intuitive interface and mainstream connectivity
  • New features are rolling out all the time and a ‘predicted balance after bills’ feature is useful for those with a regular income
Against
  • The recent redesign, Money Dashboard Neon, has not gone down well with everyone
  • Some say it’s a little glitchy and lacks some of the utility of the classic version

3. Emma

Best budgeting apps for UK users: Emma

Best for finding those sneaky fees and expenses

The makers of Emma describe their app as ‘a financial advocate’. Their USP is that it analyses your transactions and tries to find ways to keep you in good shape, financially.

For
  • Keeps track of the sneaky stuff you often don’t notice
  • Seeks out subscriptions you don’t need
  • Uses notifications to help you avoid overdraft
  • Compatible with cryptocurrencies [this is NOT an endorsement of crypto – but that’s another post]
  • Clear interface.
Against
  • Can’t split transactions across categories on the free version
  • Some people don’t get on with the interface’s super-bold colour scheme
  • Pro plan is quite expensive (min. £4.90/month).

4. Yolt

Best budgeting apps for UK users: Yolt

Best for keeping it simple

Yolt likes to keep it simple. It offers you a place to connect and view multiple accounts and doesn’t get hung up on fancy tech to make predictions or do things for you.

For
  • Easy to use, with intuitive auto-categorisation
  • Simple to set and review budgets
  • Stealth mode allows you to show off app without personal info
  • Payday tracker
  • Free for life with no premium mode
Against
  • Pay tracker only works for monthly/four-weekly
  • Not as clever or customisable as rival apps
  • Unlike the others here, there are no options for savings goals/projects
An artist AND an app-user
Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash

How did we pick?

Through a blend of personal usage/testing, user reviews and considering research conducted by other independent platforms. Creative Money is 100% independent and has no affiliation, commercial or otherwise, with any of the brands mentioned above.


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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How does Patreon work for artists and creators?

Wondering how to start a Patreon page? Our in-depth guide takes you through the dos and don’ts, with expert insights from UK podcasters RedHanded.

Patreon is becoming an important platform for creatives looking to fund their work. Based in the US, the service launched in 2013 when YouTuber Jack Conte teamed-up with former college roommate and computer science graduate, Sam Yam.

Conte’s idea was to create a recurring payment system that would offer an alternative income stream for creatives who would be otherwise reliant on ad revenue. He contacted Yam, who coded it up and the rest is history – seven years on, the platform has overseen payments to creators exceeding $1 billion.

Here we’re going to take a look at how the platform works and what you can do to increase you chances of success on Patreon. To help us out, we’ve got Suruthi Bala from RedHanded podcast to offer some shrewd insights to the creator experience.

Alongside her podcast partner Hannah Maguire, Bala has taken their richly-reported true crime show from recording under a duvet (for sound-proofing purposes) to a point where it now generates an incredible $25,000+ a month from Patreon alone. Let’s get going…

How does Patreon work? Suruthi Bala of RedHanded podcast answers our questions
Suruthi Bala and Hannah Maguire of true crime podcast RedHanded

What is Patreon?

Patreon is technically a crowdfunding site. The platform’s great innovation – over the likes of Kickstarter et al – is that it allows users to set up a regular payment or subscription (as opposed to a one-time pledge) to the project or creator. This means fans can offer their favourite creators continuous support, usually in return for exclusive ‘rewards’ of the creator’s choosing.

Patreon benefits

The key benefit for creators is that it can simplify the process of earning money directly from their own work. If people like what you do, they can support you financially, enabling you to create more (or pay your gas bill). The idea is that this can be built-up over time to form a regular income stream for the creator, although success is by no means guaranteed.

“The functionality of the platform is outstanding,” says Bala. “[It is amazing] how easy it is to use and explain to listeners, as well as how flexible it is to build a subscription strategy that is right for you and your patrons.”

The platform also benefits from a high degree of brand recognition compared to many of its rivals – and that can be particularly beneficial when you’re asking people to sign-up with their payment details.

Patreon logo

Starting a Patreon – is it right for me?

There are a few factors to consider when starting a Patreon page and creating a useful level of income usually requires three things…

  1. An existing audience of a decent size and dedication (or the time to build one)
  2. The ability to create and understand the rewards that actually appeal to that audience
  3. The means to support yourself while you figure all this stuff out

However, the above can be said about almost all crowdfunding/ membership platforms. Suffice to say, you may not be quitting your day job straight away – as ever in creative circles, be very wary of any ‘opportunity’ that suggests otherwise – but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth starting.

“We’ve been using Patreon since December 2017,” says Bala. “It felt right for us, firstly because people seemed aware of it – our audience actually berated us into setting up a Patreon!”

At this point we would like everyone to note that when people ask to give you cash, you should help them to do so.

“Our audience actually berated us into setting up a Patreon!”

Suruthi Bala
Creative Money icon

“[Even then] we didn’t at first because we weren’t sure anyone would want to support us!” admits Bala. “But we were definitely wrong… It has been so transformative for us, the ability to monetise specific content and easily distribute it, as well as the way in which we’ve been able to build a community via Patreon, is fantastic.”

Of course, the transactional nature of Patreon’s reward tiers means you are essentially exchanging your creative output for cash. This is no bad thing in the eyes of Creative Money (obvs.), but some may feel they don’t want to price or paywall their work in this way.


Where do you draw the line? Read the blog post ‘The Starving Artist vs. The Sell-Out’ – the struggle of the creative worker for more thoughts on this.


Patreon membership – know and grow

“It wasn’t an overnight success,” says Bala of RedHanded’s debut on the platform. “But that was because we weren’t able to spend a decent amount of time creating for just patrons. The beauty of Patreon is to us: what you put in, is what you get out.”

As mentioned above, an existing audience is a big help, particularly, as you will likely only get a small percentage of the group who want to contribute something financially. However, the better the relationship you have with your audience, the higher the chance of success and the easier you will find it to create appealing rewards.

“I’d say that there are three types of patrons,” says Bala. “The transactional type – ‘what content have you got that I want – and can I afford it?’; The supporter – those who don’t care if you post on Patreon at all, they just want to help; and the in and outers – those who like a specific bit of content one month, pop in and leave.”

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What tiers and rewards should I set on Patreon?

A key piece of advice is to think about your fans and ensure that there are tiers suited to all budgets. After all, you don’t want to exclude anyone who wants to support you.

In terms of rewards, think about what (predominantly non-physical) things you can offer that will easily scale and do not require a huge amount of extra labour or man hours to deliver.

For instance, if you are a music producer, perhaps share some presets packs for your favoured software. If you make art, consider long-form videos of you working. If you produce written or recorded material, consider what evergreen content or access perks might appeal to patrons, or a reward that acknowledges your patrons in some way.

“Our most popular tier is actually our $10 tier and this was something we definitely planned”

Suruthi Bala
Creative Money icon

You might be surprised just how much your ideas about the best rewards differ from those of your fans, so it’s worth reviewing your tiers periodically in order to figure out what is working.

Our tiers are: $2, $5, $10 and $20,” explains Bala. “As part of our strategy we really wanted to focus on building volume at the $5 and $10 tiers. Our most popular tier is actually our $10 tier and this was something we definitely planned.”

For RedHanded, the lower tiers get shout-outs, early releases and ad-free episodes, while the higher tiers get extra podcasts and (at the top end) an exclusive enamel pin.

“We did a ‘rewards audit’ in December 2019,” says Bala. “We noticed that there was a big jump in value between $2 and $5 and between $10 and $20, but not much between $5 and $10 – meaning people were obviously opting for $5. Why double your subscription for not much more? So we added high-value content to the $10 tier, working on the theory that people would upgrade – and they did!”

Patreon for artists and creators – RedHanded podcast's Hannah Maguire and Suruthi Bala

How to make money on Patreon

Bala says ‘the supporters’ piled-in quite quickly, but it wasn’t until October of last year that they started to make exclusive content, increasing their appeal to more transactional fans. This is when the money it generated started to really grow.

They did as much as they could before that point and it seems that rather than going all-out, it was creating rewards that were easy to fulfil initially – early releases and ad-free offers – which allowed the duo to stay the course and, eventually, to go full-time on the podcast.

“Last month we made $37,386 – and this is now our main revenue stream for the show”

Suruthi Bala
Creative Money icon

“The growth was slow and steady but as our listeners grew our Patreon income grew organically,” says Bala. “In March 2019 Hannah went full-time – in large part thanks to Patreon – and at this stage we started doing Patreon-only content. The boost this gave us enabled me to go full-time in August 2019 [and] because we then had the time, we rolled out a massive Patreon strategy with clear and regular benefits for each tier. It changed the game for us!

“From January 2020 to now [August 2020] our Patreon income has grown by 130%! Last month we made $37,386 – and this is now our main revenue stream for the show.”

Once the money starts to come in, you can withdraw cleared funds whenever you want or setup auto payments from your balance using direct deposit, PayPal or money transfer service, Payoneer.

How much does Patreon take?

Patreon offers three plans: Lite, Pro and Premium. None of them cost anything to setup and all of them make money by charging both patrons and creators. The three plans offer various levels of support and perks, though its worth noting that you’ll need the Pro account to set different reward tiers.

The Lite plan takes 5% of your monthly income, while the Pro and Premium packages take 8% and 12%, respectively. All the plans will charge your patrons payment processing fees and these can vary according to the currency you use. The standard dollar rate is 2.9% + $0.30.

What mistakes do people make on Patreon?

A common error you’ll see people make on their Patreon pages is not creating any real motivation for potential patrons to subscribe, or to raise their tier.

If you set up a page and say ‘Help me to keep doing this…’ without anything in return, you’re unlikely to have much success. Instead say, ‘Help me keep doing this and I’ll send you these resources, plus exclusive insights into my process and behind the scenes extras.’ Be specific about what this will be.

“Once someone has a bad experience on your Patreon they are hard to win back”

Suruthi Bala
Creative Money icon

As you go up through the tiers, make sure, as RedHanded did to great success, you give people a real reason to increase their monthly subscription. Think carefully about what you can easily fulfil, though – if you’re offering fans the chance to name your firstborn and a custom wood carving of their face for every $5 membership, you might be over-stretching yourself.

We ask Bala what mistakes she has spotted. “Not being able to dedicate enough time to it,” she says. “And over-promising and under-delivering. Once someone has a bad experience on your Patreon – i.e not receiving physical rewards, or not liking the content, or the content not going out as promised – they are hard to win back.”

What does work then?

This is often overlooked, but you need to do something that at least some people really like and feel a genuine affinity with. RedHanded’s balance of humour, insight and terrifying detail has helped them develop something of a fan army – dubbed the Spooky Bitches – and they are really loyal.

“We are incredibly lucky with the following we have developed,” says Bala. “I don’t think we have any big secret as to how we’ve done it, though. We just focus on great, well-researched content, talking about topics we are authentically interested and passionate about and we put it out like clockwork. And we bring our personalities into it, which definitely makes people feel more attached to you, your success and the show.”

If she had to boil it all down then, what would Bala say is the key takeaway for Patreon newbies?

“Get started, have a plan, think about the strategy (ie. what is value for money at each tier), think through what is realistic (like how often can you really upload, and if it’s physical rewards – figure out how expensive that is), then TELL your audience regularly about your Patreon… And then just do it!”

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

How can we help you?

What issues are you facing? What questions do you have about managing your money in the creative industries? What would be most helpful to you?

We don’t have all the answers, but maybe we can find someone that does.

Send your questions and suggestions to creativemoneycontact@gmail.com.
We want to hear from you.

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How to start saving (when you don’t think you can)

You know you should start saving but you don’t. Can we change that?

Everyone knows they should be saving, but while this painfully obvious advice is wheeled-out ad nauseam, the bigger issue is HOW to start saving in the face of personal limitations, whether they’re financial or mental. Here are five tips to help you get started…

Savings are a catch-22 situation for many creative workers – if your earnings are low or inconsistent, then it’s more important to have the security of savings, yet harder to build that cash cushion. It’s no wonder many of us feel it’s impossible to start, particularly amid the current economic situation.

If you’ve tried and failed to save before, or are looking for a way to start, consider instead how you can create a process – a savings production line for yourself.

Lofty and unsustainable savings goals can do more harm than good. Make it your aim to simply start

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Lofty and unsustainable savings goals can do more harm than good for new savers, demotivating us before the habit is established, so try focussing on forming and rewarding the habit itself.

Make it your aim to simply start and set something aside for a period of time, if the amount varies or seems small that’s still a victory. You’re building a habit right now, not a war chest. Once the habit is formed, you can build from there by increasing amounts and starting to think more about where to direct the cash.

Whether’s it’s £1 or £100, most of us can save something – and something is always better than nothing.

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1. Automate it

If you have any form of regular income, whether it’s salary, recurring freelance work or even a benefit payment, set up a standing order to your savings account to go out the day it lands in your account. Start small. The aim is to set aside an amount that you won’t notice is missing later in the month.

If your income is entirely variable, create your own automation by setting aside a small percentage from each payment you receive – again, start small – try 5%.

2. Round-up your spending

There multiple banking apps out there now that will enable you to round-up transactions to the nearest pound and deposit the difference in a savings account. This can be useful for freelance and creative workers because it creates a form of automation that’s not dependent on having a predictable, consistent income.


Struggling with your cash flow as a freelancer? Take a look at our guide: ‘How to manage your money on a variable income’


3. Use a different bank for your savings

If you have an issue with raiding your savings, then pay them into an account with a different bank or building society and don’t check the balance. Just pay it in regularly and forget about it. Consider this money dead to you for the year – a gift to your future self.

Your future self might want to check the balance in 12 months, or in the New Year, or tax season. But by that point the habit should be set.

Finally, make sure any institution that you save with is UK-regulated and therefore covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) – this protects your savings (up to £85,000) if the bank fails.

How to start saving money - build in steps
Photo by Damir Spanic on Unsplash

4. Build in steps

This is a great idea if you’re used to spending all of your income. Start by setting aside an amount you know you won’t miss and then increase the standing order every month. It allows your spending to adapt slowly and in a way you will scarcely notice. Even if you start with £5 and increase £5 a month from there, after a year you could wind-up with £390 in the bank and a regular savings habit of £60 a month. At that point, even if you don’t increase the standing order any further, you would be setup to save a further £720 in the following year.

5. Get the government to help you

If you’re entitled to Working Tax Credits or Universal Credit, you may be eligible for a Help To Save account. If accepted, you can pay in between £1 and £50 a month and the government will give you a bonus 50p for every £1 you save.

The bonus is paid after years two and four and is based on the highest balance you managed to save in each two year period. If you pay in the maximum amount each month, you could save £2,400 over four years – and get an extra £1,200 from the government. That’s a guaranteed return of 50% on offer, which is huge!

How to start saving money
Photo by Damir Spanic on Unsplash

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

How can we help you?

What issues are you facing? What questions do you have about managing your money in the creative industries? What would be most helpful to you?

We don’t have all the answers, but maybe we can find someone that does.

Send your questions and suggestions to creativemoneycontact@gmail.com.
We want to hear from you.
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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 creativemoneycontact@gmail.com.


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

Ongoing
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.

Creative Money icon

Art/design

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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Audio/radio

Update coming soon…

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Film/TV/video

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

Ongoing
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.

Creative Money icon

Music

Ongoing
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.

Creative Money icon

Publishing

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 http://artuk.org for inspiration. Rates are around £100–£150 for pieces between 700 and 1,200 words. Send your pitches to andrew.shore@artuk.org and lydia.figes@artuk.org

Ongoing
Journo Resources: funding

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

Creative Money icon

Theatre and Performing Arts

Update coming soon…

green and white braille typewriter
Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

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

How can we help you?

What issues are you facing? What questions do you have about managing your money in the creative industries? What would be most helpful to you?

We don’t have all the answers, but maybe we can find someone that does.

Send your questions and suggestions to creativemoneycontact@gmail.com.
We want to hear from you.
Categories
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How to manage your money on a variable income

Are you self-employed, freelance, or a contractor with a variable income? Here’s how to cope with the financial peaks and troughs

Nearly half of creative workers (47%) are freelance or self-employed (source: ONS, 2017). Chief among those are writers, producers, artists and directors – it’s a large and significant part of almost all creative industries. One of the key challenges for this group is managing money on an irregular or variable income. So what can we do to smooth-out the financial ups and downs that we will inevitably face in a given year?

The key is learning to syphon-off your income in normal and higher-earning months into a ‘top-up fund’, so you can top things up from your savings when needed.

This would be easy if humans were calm, logical creatures, but we’re not – so we need a way to tell whether or not we should save or withdraw (and by how much) in a given month.

Turning a problem into a question

If we put a little effort in upfront, we can save ourselves from guesswork down the line.

In order to do this, we’re going to answer these five questions…

  1. How much do I earn?
  2. How much do I spend?
  3. How much am I normally left with?
  4. How can I create a more consistent income?
  5. How much do I need?

Why? Well, if you know how much you earn and how much you spend in a given month, you can figure out what you are left with. This is your personal cash flow.

All businesses ultimately survive or perish based on their cash flow (overall, is there more money flowing in than flowing out?) and it’s the same in your personal finances.

Once you have a predicted cash flow figure for the month, you know whether you will likely need to pay in or out from your savings (your ‘top-up fund’) for that period. This will help smooth-out that variable income over the longer term.

Answering the final question (‘How much do I need?’), gives you the comfort of knowing the minimum amount you’ll need to live on in a given month. The bigger the gap you can create between your income and this essential spending, the more you can potentially save into your top-up fund – and the bigger cushion you’ll have to smooth-out the financial ups and downs.

This is quite a lot of information to pull together initially, so I’ve put together a spreadsheet to help you keep track and – if it all goes to plan – to do some of the calculations for you.

Free spreadsheet!

The sheet is designed to be used to log your answers to some of these questions and calculate your cash flow for a typical month.

You can then stop there, or you can use it to keep track over the longer term. Keep it up-to-date and the sheet will help you figure out how to spread your variable income more evenly throughout the year. We do this using a ‘top-up fund’.

You can download the sheet above and there are links and tips (in bold, with the lightbulb icon) throughout this piece to help you understand where to enter the relevant information.

Even with the whizzy spreadsheet above, this stuff can take time, so don’t stress if you find you have to do it in instalments. The clarity is worth the effort.

1. How much do I earn?

First, let’s figure out what you have coming in normally.

If you have any salaried work (or state benefit) that pays a regular, fixed amount, use your bank statements or pay cheque to find out your monthly income.

Make a note, or add this into the top ‘Salary income’ box for your ‘Typical Month’ on the supplied spreadsheet.

But I’m freelance and my income is a nightmare…

It’s a bit messy, but finding a past average is probably the simplest and most helpful place to start. We’re looking to smooth-out future dips and bumps in income, so a figure that represents the middle of your ‘normal’ range is useful here.

Ideally, you want to represent a long period with the average – a year or more – but you can hone this and update down-the-line. Right now, settle for making a start.

So… add up your income for your chosen period and divide the figure by the amount of months it covers.

Total income for period ÷ Number of months in period = Average monthly income

For instance, if you earned £12,000 in freelance income over 12 months, your average would be £1,000 a month.

Some ideas about where to find this information:
  • Banking apps (you may be able to just filter income only transactions)
  • Your income statement (where you track invoices etc.)
  • Your tax returns (dig out that Self Assessment login)
  • Ask your accountant

If you’re setup as a company, make sure you factor in your dividend income for the year here, too.

Once you’ve found it, make a note.

You can drop your average freelance income figure in the ‘Freelance income’ box of your ‘Typical Month’ on the spreadsheet. This will then be added to any salaried income or benefits you specified, in order to tell you your average total income.

Then take a break…

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2. How much do I spend?

Now let’s figure out your spending for a typical month.

Sit down with your banking app or statements and go through your spending for the last month (or one you feel is truly representative of your typical expenses – if in doubt, be pessimistic).

Split the month’s spending into categories of fixed and variable expenses.

Fixed expenses

Your fixed expenses will be recurring bills and spending (e.g. rent or mortgage, insurance, gas/electric and other direct debits), which do not usually vary month-to-month.

You can enter your fixed expenses on the sheet, under – you guessed it – the ‘Fixed Expenses’ heading. Add the corresponding figures in the ‘Typical Month’ column.

Variable expenses

Variable expenses are things that may might vary month-to-month, for instance: travel costs, food shopping, eating out, or gifts and entertainment.

It’s a good idea to make groups under your variable expenses to reflect your spending priorities and help you to see where your money is going. There are some examples on the sheet above already. Keep it simple, though – no more than 10 groups.

If you just can’t face doing all of this immediately, settle for totting up any expenses not covered in your fixed category and lump them all in one ‘other expenses’ group.

(This sort of thing makes accountants reach for the smelling salts, but you can always come back and split this out out at a later date.)

Make a note of the totals.

You can enter your groups on the first column of the sheet under the ‘Variable Expenses’ heading and add the corresponding figures in the ‘Typical Month’ column.

Can I make a robot do this for me?

Yes! Or at least, sort of… There are several apps out there that will help to automate the process of grouping expenses. Some of the fancier bank apps do this and there’s also the likes of MoneyHub and Money Dashboard, which allow you to connect and monitor multiple accounts/banks.

You can set your own groups or categories for expenses, but you will have to check-in and tag/correct your transactions. However, it does ‘gameify’ it somewhat, so if you’re a phone addict, it could work for you.

Adding it up

Now add the total of your fixed expenses and variable expenses together. Hello, monthly spending!

Fixed monthly expenses + Variable monthly expenses = Monthly spending

Again, on the spreadsheet, it will do this for you and give you a figure for total expenses, as well as factoring in any savings you specify.

That’s the hardest bit done. Congratulations! Again, this is a good point to take a break.

3. How much am I normally left with (i.e. what’s my typical cash flow)?

If you’ve been using the sheet, just scroll down and look at the ‘cash flow for the month’ total to see what’s left in a typical month.

If you don’t want to use the sheet, you’re simply doing the following calculation for your example month:

Total income for month – total spending for month = cash flow for month

What does this mean?

If you have a positive number, this is an amount you can save to supplement leaner months, using a ‘top-up fund’.

Bear in mind, too, that this ‘Typical Month’ cash flow figure might look small, but you are using an averaged income at this point, so even a small surplus is a good thing. It suggests an overall trend of more cash flowing in than flowing out.

If you get a negative number at this point, it means that on average you are likely spending more than you earn (a negative cash flow), or are on course to do so in the near future.

Don’t panic – this is good information to have, but you will need to cut expenses or raise your income to sustain yourself over the longer term. Figuring out your essential expenses (Q5. ‘How much do I need?’) will help here.

4. How can I create a more consistent income?

The answer is to create your own overdraft, using a ‘top-up fund’.

As soon as you are earning more than you spend, set-up an easy-access savings account to set this remaining cash aside. This is your ‘top-up fund’. So how do we do use it?

One method is to simply use your average income (as logged under your ‘Typical Month’) as a guide, as follows:

Earn more than your average income?

Pay the difference into the top-up fund.

Earn less than your average income?

Withdraw the difference from your top-up fund.

Of course expenses vary as much as income and most of us will need to keep a closer eye on things.

If you want to keep a better track on your finances and expenses, update the sheet monthly with your income and predicted spending and it will tell you whether to save or withdraw the ‘cash flow for the month’ figure.

* Updating requires much less effort than finding the initial figures, particularly if you set up your expense groups using an app – you’ve done the hard work already.

My mind won’t let me do this. It needs shiny things.

I hear you. Some things that might help you:

  • Make the ‘top-up fund’ deposit/withdrawal early – as soon as you can once payments have cleared.
  • Keep your ‘top-up fund’ with a different bank. You still want easy access, but for some reason the mental difference of having to login to a different platform can make you less inclined to dip-in to those savings.
  • Use separate accounts for bills (fixed expenses) and variable spending. Direct your earnings to a bills account and then transfer a regular amount (your variable expense total) over to your spending account and spend according to your priorities that month, knowing your bills are covered. Once you run out of cash in your spending account, that’s your lot for the month.
  • Don’t think of your ‘top-up fund’ as spare money. It is essentially your future income. ‘Borrowing’ too much from it now is like a salaried worker asking for an advance.

5. How much do I need?

Need to create a bigger gap between your earnings and spending? First, find out your essential expenses…

Look over your spreadsheet/notes/crumpled napkin with your expense totals and consider which items could be cancelled or easily and quickly reduced, if necessary.

For instance, rent is still considered compulsory by most landlords, but you may be able to avoid the posh shops for a bit and spend less on food.

If you’re using the spreadsheet, simply duplicate your ‘Typical Month’ column expenses to the ‘Essential Expenses’ column and remove/reduce, accordingly.

Add it all up. Now you know your essential spending – the bare minimum amount you could exist on from either your income, or savings.

Are you asking me to remove all joy from my life?

No, but this figure is really useful to bear in mind for a number of reasons, for instance…

  • If you’re making an effort to boost your ‘top-up fund’ or other savings (because income – essential expenses = your maximum current saving rate).
  • If you want a minimum earnings goal, particularly if you are risk averse and keen to always avoid spending more than you earn (creating negative cash flow) within a month.
  • If you’re assessing whether or not you can afford to pass on that boring work you’ve been offered, or start that new thing.

Found it hard to save in the past, or looking for a way to get started? Check out our tips on How to start saving (when you don’t think you can)


I’m doing it! It’s worked! What next?

Keeping one eye on your cash flow is key to avoiding nasty surprises. If you keep the sheet up-to-date, it can help you do this.

It has columns for ‘Year Total’ and ‘Year Average’, too, which can be really helpful in showing whether your overall cash flow is positive or negative for the year, as well as your average income etc. The year average can then me imported to the next year to form the basis of your ‘typical month’ column and the cycle starts over.

As you get more confident, it’s a good idea to start to increase your top-up fund savings (by cutting costs, or boosting income) until you have at least a month’s ‘salary’ on-hand.

A final note…

This approach should be regarded as a useful rule-of-thumb. It is a collection of various techniques that have worked for me, but it is not 100% foolproof.

For instance, it initially relies on your past income and predicted spending trends prevailing to keep your top-up fund savings balanced, which (particularly in the current climate) will not always prove to be the case.

In addition, the more dramatically your income fluctuates (say, you have three or four ‘big’ paydays, which sustain you through the year), the more you will need to set aside before you start using this technique regularly. In this case, build the ‘top-up fund’ as much as you can for time being and implement the system following your next big payday.

Nonetheless, the above represents my best effort to date. As we gather more ideas and resources on Creative Money, I will endeavour to update this guide and the spreadsheet.

Ultimately, the minimum you’ll get out of it is a better knowledge of your earnings, spending and the importance of cash flow, all of which can be really useful. Give it a go and let me know how you get on!

Photo by Fabian Blank on Unsplash

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