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How to sort out your personal finances in 5 stupidly simple steps

Keeping track of your personal finances can be confusing and painful, so let’s try to layout a path that’s easy to follow

The problem with money is that it’s everywhere. It is in your fridge. Your shoes. Your education. The very screen you are reading this on. It is zapping from your smartphone in myriad micro transactions. Amid this endless swirl of decimal points, it’s really easy to lose yourself in the details and miss the bigger picture.

You know the drill: we think nothing of buying lunch at work or university, but don’t start a pension. We stress daily about our fluctuating incomes, but do not set aside cash when it does come in.

We might even spend some time beating ourselves up about this. But none of this is your fault. You are not bad with money. Rather, as a quirk of evolution, the human brain is just not wired to deal with this stuff.

“Everyone has their own priorities in life, but there are some principles that apply no matter who we are”

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Our brains are capable of a lot, but at our deepest level of mental programming, we think we are still hunter gatherers. As creative freelancers in 2020, that means we mostly hunt for work and gather sandwiches. We are trained to acquire and quickly consume the things we need because, historically, the things we need have been perishable.

However, the perishable items we need are now easy to acquire. We do not need to down a mammoth before we can make dinner. Money is not something we can directly physically consume and it is usually intangible, meaning our brain’s default position is to file these things away in our bulging ‘stuff to deal with later’ folder.

Map it out

In order to tread a better path for the longer term, it helps to use a map. Everyone has their own priorities in life, of course, so these maps will vary for us all, particularly as creative workers, but some principles apply no matter who we are. These are what I call (in annoying-but-catchy blog parlance) the five stupidly simple steps to financial freedom.

These steps are…

  1. Spend less than you earn
  2. Save the difference
  3. Pay-off debt
  4. Build an emergency fund
  5. Invest to support your goals in life

They are simple ideas, but they have huge pay-offs. Making ourselves conscious of these steps, periodically checking the map and taking some action to progress along the route, stops us from getting lost, or worse, into debt cycles or nasty financial outcomes.

Below, I’ve broken down each step and listed some of the resources you can work through that might help you with each stage. Take it a step at a time. This is not an exhaustive list (yet!), this page will act as a bit of a hub and I will update it as I get more relevant material on the site.

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What if I don’t do this stuff?

If you’ve got this far in life without thinking about these steps, again, I get it. We’re all here because we want to make our living from creative work, not sweating over spreadsheets.

The issue is that money problems absolutely will raise their head at some point in your life and if you’re not prepared for them, the outcomes are not good.

The upside to following these steps is huge. The potential downside that comes from ignoring them is far, far greater

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At the milder end, you could wind-up forced-out of your industry, missing out on personal and professional opportunities, or ruining your parents’ retirement.

However, it’s also not uncommon to face spiralling mental health problems (the link between money and mental health is well-established, while depression is three times more likely among creative workers), relationship issues (money worries are the biggest cause of divorce) or even homelessness.

Even if you’re confident that someone will bail you out, how long will that be the case? And how long will you feel comfortable taking that support?

The upside to following these steps is huge. The potential downside that comes from ignoring them is far, far greater.

Most of us would agree that the hour or so a month it will take you to avoid these outcomes feels entirely worth it when you consider it in this context. What’s more, that time will help you to not just avoid that pain, but very likely give you a disproportionate return in terms of improving your longterm happiness.

Here we go, then, the five steps…

How to spend money
Photo by Igal Ness on Unsplash

1. Spend less than you earn

If you take away one principle from this post, or indeed this entire site, make it this one.

Cracking this is key to the whole thing. Consistently spend less than you earn and you can make horrible investments, blow your life’s savings at the roulette table and still likely come out ahead of over half the population of the US.

How do I do this?

You have two methods at your disposal: it’s all about reducing your spending and increasing your income.

Reduce your spending
Boost your income
Photo by Fabian Blank on Unsplash

2. Save the difference

We often tell ourselves that building savings is a process of rigorous, joyless discipline. However, thinking in those terms is really unhelpful.

Instead, think about how you can make it easy for yourself to do the right thing. For me, I’ve associated a savings habit with some fairly motivating, positive ideas: mainly the freedom to turn down work I don’t like and the desire to comfortably sustain myself in the down times associated with freelance/creative work.

How do I do this?

  • Just make a start – remember any savings are better than no savings. The main thing is to get used to getting that money out of your current account (where it might easily be spent) and putting it to better use elsewhere. You might find this piece How to start saving (when you don’t think you can) helpful here.
  • Know why you’re saving – a deep, personal motivation can make a huge difference to your ability to start saving some cash. Some people want an emergency fund (see below), but sometimes reframing it as ‘the freedom fund’, or ‘the f***-off fund’ can really help. This piece from The Billfold lays out a compelling case for having a f***-off fund.
Photo by Jp Valery on Unsplash

3. Pay-off debt

If you’re in high interest debt, redirect the money you’ve started saving towards repayments. Treat this as a priority – and I mean a genuine priority.

Think about your wealth as water in a bucket. Most of us in creative work have little desire for infinite wealth, but we do want to raise the water level in that bucket to a point where we have a sense of freedom and security.

The bucket - a metaphor for your personal finances

In this instance, our income is like the tap, sometimes flowing fast, sometimes slowly. However, each debt is a hole in that bucket and if you’re paying interest on those debts, then not only are you losing water, but each of those holes is growing bigger every day. The sooner you act the easier it is plug the holes.

Ignore them, though, and they will grow to the point where the bottom drops out. That looks like bankruptcy, homelessness, relationship breakdown and other things that we very much do not want in our lives.

The excellent US blogger, Mr Money Mustache says you should treat high interest debt as an emergency – as if “your hair is on fire”, so hurl everything you’ve got at it.

How do I do this?

  • Move high interest debts to lower interest accounts (e.g. a 17.9% interest credit card to a 0% balance transfer card) – this will slow the growth of the debt and mean you can direct more to the actual repayment.
  • Focus on paying off the highest interest debt – Make minimum payments on the others, when that’s paid off, roll the same payment amount over to the next highest interest debt and so on. This is the time to tighten the belt, maximise that gap between your earnings and spending and funnel everything you can to the debt.
  • Struggle with motivation? Try Dave Ramsey’s ‘debt snowball’ technique – This approach asks you to order your debts by total owed and pay off the smallest one first, then roll all the payments over to the next smallest and so on. Some people find that clearing those first few small debts is really motivating. One caveat is that it is usually not the best option mathematically, because it can leave you paying more in interest.
  • Learn to differentiate between good debt and bad debt – not all debts are equal. Taking on a mortgage for the right property might represent a great investment, while racking-up high costs debts on a Buy Now, Pay Later service (Klarna etc.), or putting pints on a credit card, are signs you’re taking on bad debt. These are the ones to jump on ASAP and avoid in the future.
How to start saving money - build in steps
Photo by Damir Spanic on Unsplash

4. Build an emergency fund

Everyone should have an emergency fund, but if you’re a freelancer or on a variable income (like the majority of creative workers) you absolutely need one.

There is a reason that all good financial advisors and personal finance experts recommend this: you can’t predict what an emergency will look like or when it will come, but it will happen.

Vehicles breakdown. Technology turns on you hours before a show starts. Things get lost or stolen on tour. A work or personal relationship sours suddenly. Houses flood or go on fire. There’s a bloody great pandemic and all work dries up. You get the picture.

How do I do this?

  • Pick an achievable target – the common advice, and I think it’s solid, is to save £1,000 or a month’s expenses. If things go well with that goal, you can then build that up to three to six months expenses over time.
  • Keep it somewhere accessiblenot in a shoe box, but in a savings account that you can reach with a few hours or at most a few days notice. You will earn horrible interest on it. Accept this.
  • Do not skip this step – some people think they can do without the emergency fund and move on to the fun ‘make me money’ investment stuff. I have totally tried this approach and am here to tell you it totally does not work out. If the investment drops at the same time as an emergency expense* you are forced to withdraw your money at a point when it’s worth less than you paid-in.

*Finances seem to operate on a ‘Sod’s law’ basis, so if you gamble that it won’t happen, it probably will…

Sort out your personal finances so you and enjoy doing the work that you love
Photo by Alice Dietrich on Unsplash

5. Invest to support your goals in life

Most people who have built their own wealth have done so via investing or creating businesses. It’s very, very difficult for most of us to simply save our way there.

Investing is the process of buying assets – things that hold some value and can be expected to produce an income (for instance, stocks and shares, which pay a share of a company’s profits, or a property which pays you rental income). In other words: putting the money you save to work making more money.

If you’re not in love with the idea of investing, the trick is to pick something you understand and keep it simple. I have not covered investments on this site yet as I’ve been focussing on some of the previous steps in this list. This will change in the future, but for now here are some key pointers…

How do I do this?

  • Get going ASAP – the hackneyed phrase in financial circles is that “the best time to invest was 10 years ago, the second best time is today”. This is annoying but also true. As soon as you’ve got debts in hand and some emergency savings, direct that cash to investments.
  • Start a pension – there is a pensions crisis looming in the creative industries and it’s going to hurt a lot of people. Only 24% of the self-employed save into a pension. The current UK state pension is just £134 a week and likely to fall in real terms over the coming decades. If you don’t have a workplace pension with a company, consider opening a SIPP (Self-Invested Personal Pension). Any amount on top of that state pension is better than no amount. What’s more, even if you’re self-employed, the government will automatically top up your payments by 20% in the form of tax relief, meaning that if you pay in £100 it becomes £120 – and that’s before any return from the investments you put it in. Don’t miss out on that.
  • Diversify your investments – it’s a very good idea to spread the risk of your investments, so that if things don’t work out then you’re not at the mercy of one market or firm. For this reason, it might be wise to invest in whole markets via low cost index funds (in which you buy a single fund which automatically invests your cash into a small share of every company in the index or stock exchange of your choice). Have a look at Alan Donegan’s guide to index funds. It’s really not hard to get set-up.
  • Invest for the long-term – if you invest in stocks and shares, think long-term – like 10 years plus. You’re not locking that money away forever and (if you use something like a Stocks & Shares ISA) you can often access it within a few days if need be, but leaving it in there for the long term gives you a far better chance of a decent return. The stock market fluctuates wildly day-to-day, which is why picking individual stocks and so called ‘day trading’ is tantamount to gambling for most. However, it almost always goes up over the long term.
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Acknowledgements

The thinking in this piece has been heavily influenced by a number of financial gurus.

Dave Ramsey we owe for the debt snowball and his renowned concept of the seven ‘Baby steps’, some of which has filtered through here (I don’t agree with it all). Mr Money Mustache continues to influence a lot of my thinking about saving, dealing with debt and investing. Alan and Katie Donegan’s Take Control Of Your Finances course was also really helpful to me in terms of simplifying this overall journey. They were both very generous with their time and humour. They deserve much praise and Mars bars.

Disclaimer

The information does not constitute financial advice or recommendation and should not be considered as such. Creative Money is not regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), its authors are not financial advisors and are therefore not authorised to offer financial advice.

Investing carries risks – the value of investments and any income derived from them can fall as well as rise and you may not get back the original amount you invested. Always do your own research and seek independent financial advice where required.

Categories
Guides

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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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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Categories
How I Make It Work

How I Make It Work: Lily Canter (freelance journalist)

From monetising hobbies, to podcasting and pensions – we discuss managing your money as a freelancer

Lily Canter is a freelance personal finance journalist and lecturer (among other things) who writes for this likes of the Metro, The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, The Times and South China Morning Post.

I first heard of Lily via her excellent Freelancing For Journalists podcasts, which she launched earlier this year with fellow freelancer Emma Wilkinson. As someone who spends much of their days pitching and writing about personal finances, I figured she would have some great insights on the trickier issues facing freelance creatives (hello again irregular cashflow and lack of pension/holiday infrastructure!) I was not disappointed.

We spoke about Lily’s portfolio career, the challenges and merits of her Freelancing For Journalists side hustle and the methods she’s using to funnel a significant slice of her earnings into savings.

Lily Canter on how she manages money as a freelance journalist
Lily Canter… Freelance journalist, lecturer, author, trainer and so on!
How would you describe your role? It’s definitely in the multi-hyphenate territory, right?

“I say I have a ‘portfolio career’! Fundamentally, I’m a journalist, but I’m also a lecturer, a podcaster, trainer, I’m also a running coach and I’m starting to write books as well, but I suppose it comes under the journalism. Then Freelancing For Journalists is part of what I do. I think it’s probably about 10% but that changes depending on what is happening, like when we’re running a training course. Then my teaching is about 30% and my journalism work is about 60%.

“I’m very old fashioned, so I keep track with a diary and when I’m doing something with a person, I highlight it and I tend to work about a month in advance. “

“How do I split my personal and professional finances? I don’t really!”

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The Freelancing For Journalists podcast has found a loyal audience pretty quickly. What was the impetus for that?

“We wrote the book first and then got some funding from the university to do the podcast series. It was initially meant to be a learning tool for students and it spun off from that. We had an initial budget for six episodes and we based them on chapters of our book. We had a good three months of planning, we did it in the radio studio, with students helping us to record it and the idea was that it was also work experience for students.

“Then lockdown happened and we still had a few episodes to record, so we ended up shifting to Zoom and doing nine episodes. People liked that first series, so we convinced the university to give us money to buy mics and then we did a second series.”

I like that you found a way to fund it without sinking your own time and money into it. How is it going to in terms of sponsorship or monetising it?

“OK. We’ve had a lot of people who have been positive and we’ve got one sponsor lined-up [for the next series] and we need to decide if we wait for more, or go ahead and see if we pick them up on the way. I’d been warned that would be the case, though, and I’m always thinking of other ways of monetising it. We’ve not gone down the Patreon route as a lot of our listeners are new or starting out and I’m not sure if they can afford it. We have Ko-Fi but it’s just the occasional cup of tea, really! It’s fiddly to use though, you have to go on the site, but we thought we’d try it out. But at the moment it’s more about building the audience and then the training work we’re doing is a by-product of the podcast.”

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These projects often lead to things, don’t they? Even if the pay-off isn’t immediately obvious.

“Yeah. We’ve certainly got commissions to write stuff for other platforms about freelancing off the back of it, we can promote the book and it’s certainly a good marketing tool for the Freelancing For Journalists brand. I think it’s what we’re most known for. We’ve been doing guest lectures on freelancing as well. We’ve also run some of our own webinars and that’s been the nice thing about lockdown, people have found their own ways of making money. We did a couple in the summer and they both did well. It was a good way to test the market.”

How do you split your personal and professional finances as a freelancer?

“I don’t really! I still have my personal account. My salary from the university goes into there and my freelance stuff goes into there and then I have a savings account attached. So I have a target of what I want to earn every month and then anything over that is a bonus, then a proportion of that – nearly 50% – I save and that’s in there for tax and pension and anything else. We do have a joint account, too, and my husband and I put money in there as a holiday pot.”

“Previously, I had a full-time job as an academic with a massive pension, so I’m trying to match that and save like eight grand a year.”

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That’s interesting – I think a lot of freelancers and self-employed don’t think about regularly setting money aside for holidays and time off like that.

“It was sort of an accident. It was originally a pot to pay off a car, so we were each putting a certain amount away ready to pay it off, then once we did, we didn’t cancel the standing orders. We just carried on on and that became our holiday fund. I used to be really rigid with that stuff when I had a salary. I’m much more flexible now, because my income is much more flexible, but I do check my balance pretty much every day. It’s a bit like my diary, in that I keep track of it all the time. I’m also trying to save quite a lot into my pension. I had a full-time job as an academic with a massive pension [a perk that I lost access to going freelance], so I’m trying to match that and save like eight grand a year.”

That’s a decent savings rate! A lot of freelancers don’t like locking money into a pension because they feel they may need it before pension age. How do you handle that?

“I tend to let it build up over time and then move it over once or twice a year in lump sums. So, for instance, I didn’t get any [SEISS] grants, because last year I earned more from employed work than self-employed. Fortunately, I had some money saved which was [intended to be paid into] my pension pot – so I did need it and I’ve got to build that up again now.

“I have a LISA, which I put four grand a year into [as retirement savings], so I build it up and stick it in there, then I’m still sorting my personal pension with my financial advisor. We’ve got a rainy day fund elsewhere, for the joint account, and I always make sure we have at least £1,000 there as a float, so we overpay into that essentially. Then we’ve got other stuff, like we’ve never touched our child benefit, it just goes straight into savings. The idea is it’s there for when the kids turn 18, but if we suddenly need money to buy a new car, we’ve got it!”

Freelancing For Journalists
The Freelancing For Journalists podcast covers everything from finances to lifestyle and imposter syndrome.
What else helps you stay on track with savings?

“I look at my bank balance and try to keep a minimum amount in there and then anything over that goes into savings. But I’ve always saved. I’ve barely used credit cards. I’ve never got a car on finance. I just don’t believe in spending if you haven’t got it. Every six months I’ll do a kind of audit just to track if I’m on target with my savings, or earning enough and, if I need to, I look at my spending, or if I can pitch and deliver more work. Even the high street banking apps now tell you what you spend your money on and basically I spend all my money on running: gear, races and a personal trainer. That’s like 90% of my money and the last 10% is probably wine!”

If you’re trying to keep your spending low to build savings, then it’s important to direct the money you do have left in the way that makes you happiest. This seems like a good example of that.

“Well, I also coach a group of runners and I charge them now. I did it for nine months for free and it took up more and more of my time and I’d built up this relationship with them. My view was that I’ll be out running anyway, so why not make an income from it? So I started charging a small amount and I make an income from it. I’ve signed up for some coaching training and warned them all that as soon as I’m qualified, my rates will be going up. There’s tax benefits, too, so quite a lot of the gear that I buy is now tax deductible.”

“My view was that I’ll be out running anyway, so why not make an income from it?”

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Have you made any significant mistakes with money?

“I do splash out every now and then. We bought a painting right before lockdown, which we never do and that might not have been the best time to do it! We felt bad about it, which is daft because it’s been years since we’ve done something like that. Then once when I left a job and got a load of holiday money and I went and bought an £800 chair, which no-one ever sits in! So every now and then I do that kind of thing, but only if the money is there.

“There are a couple of things I’ve signed up for this year that I regret. There have been a lot of membership communities and one I signed up for after doing an interview with somebody who really enjoyed it and it was just a total waste of money. It was not what I thought it was going to be. But there are other things that have felt worthwhile.

What has given you good value, do you feel?

“I do subscribe to Journo Resources. We work a lot with Jem and I just really want to support what they’re doing. It’s useful and it’s good for keeping tabs on what’s happening on the freelance journalism world, but it’s more about just supporting what she’s doing. I also know that I can call on her for advice and I don’t feel guilty about it, if I’m subscribing! But I just think everything they do is really good and she’s nailed it, really.”

We do a lot of moaning as freelancers about payments (and, quite rightly, because the system is broken, really). But how would you fix it?

“There’s various things. Transparency about rates is one and that is happening. The #FreelancePayGap list that Anna Codrea-Rado started is really useful. It puts you in a better position to negotiate and allows you to push back when an editor is offering you a certain rate. I guess it’s also educating companies and editors that it’s not just an admin thing. It’s not just ‘Sorry I forgot to pay your invoice’, it’s people’s livelihoods. I’ve never enforced late payments fees, but I do send stroppy emails. I think we just need to be more transparent and not be afraid to talk about money or ask for more money and to be paid. But also, just don’t work for people who don’t pay you properly or pay you on time, in the long run it’s just not worth it, so don’t do it!”

Hear more from Lily Canter via the Freelancing For Journalists podcast and website.

The FFJ team are also running a four-week long training course ‘How to become a successful freelance journalist’ via Journalism.co.uk (costing £150), beginning on 2 November, 2020.

How I Make It Work is a series of interviews with a variety of creative professionals, where we discuss personal experiences and lessons learned about money in the creative industries.

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Guides Principles Resources

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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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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Guides

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 can we help you?

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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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Blogs

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.

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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Guides

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
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“[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
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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
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“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
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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.

Categories
Guides

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.
Categories
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 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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
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?

person holding click pen
Photo by Alice Dietrich on Unsplash

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

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.