Shifting the Money Talk: 8 Pieces of Advice All Independent Musicians Need to Hear

October 1, 2015

[Editors Note: This blog was written by Cheryl B. Engelhardt, and it originally appeared on her music industry blog, Living On Gigging. Cheryl is a singer/songwriter (with multiple releases via TuneCore!), founder of sonic branding company CBE Music LLC, and editor/founder of In The Key Of Success, a resource site for artists pursuing creative careers.]

Shifting the Money Talk

money heartMoney. At times, just the mere thought of it (managing it, finding it, and keeping it) can bring out the worst in me. As a touring musician, a singer/songwriter and a freelance composer, I have struggled with my relationship to money and all the anxiety I let it breed in my life for quite a while. I decided that it is time for it to no longer get the best (or worst) of me. Here’s how:

1) Stop treating money like it’s scarce. Of course it’s feels scarce on a personal level, but part of that is caused by a common social idea that there isn’t enough for everyone to be rich and happy (and then that little voice kicks in: “…so why should I be the one to deserve it?”). Realize that there is enough of it to go around. I heard a great analogy once- money is like air. The more and more you try to preserve one breath, the less and less you can breathe. Let it flow in and out; there is enough for you, and everyone else, to do this for a lifetime.

2) If you are struggling with a budget, don’t. Just keep track of every dime you spend. This has been the MOST useful advice I’ve ever been given. Kind of like when you are trying to lose weight and you keep a food diary- you think twice before eating that third cookie, knowing that you have to actually write it down and put it into existence in the world! For 6 years I used an excel sheet to categorize my spending (I have since moved on to Quickbooks) and I record every single dollar. From coffee to keyboards and Skittles to studio speakers… It’s amazing how much less I spend just by recording my purchases.

3) Figure out how much you need to live every month. This means rent, food, utilities, phone, paying off debt (not in big chunks but in one predictable, controlled amount), etc. Some people are very unaware of this number and it’s a good one to know. If you can manage to make just a little more than you need, you are on the track to saving and becoming financially free. Take away that feeling of being in the dark by figuring this out asap.

4) Split and save. Get rid of the story in your head “I’m not making enough money to save yet.” Or “I have too many credit card/school loans/other debts to save.” Set aside a percentage of your income every single month (I’d start at 5% and increase it in 6 months if you are able) to go into a savings account. I actually have several accounts that I split small amounts (usually 5% of my monthly income) into – one for long term spending (for bigger purchases like furniture or gear), one for retirement savings that will eventually go into my IRA account (don’t have one? Head into any full bank branch and ask to talk to a financial advisor- most banks like Citi, Chase, and Bank Of America have this service and offer it for free), and one account for education and gifts (so I don’t need to pull from my necessities, spending, or savings accounts when the holiday or wedding season comes around, or I decide to take a class). It adds up over time. Give it a whirl.

5) Beat down debt. Credit card companies want your business. Especially if you have been with them for a while. Every 6 months, call the number on the back of your card and ask them to lower your rate. I do this religiously twice a year. I usually get the rates down by at least 1%. But if you have never tried, you could get a lot more! I recently told a friend about this and she got her rate from 18% to 8%! And like I said in #3, plan to pay off your debt by setting a monthly payment (slightly higher than the minimum), pay that every month, and then stop worrying about it.

6) Don’t spend what you don’t have. Especially if #5 is interesting to you, if you don’t have it in your bank account, don’t spend it with a credit card, unless you are planning to pay it off immediately. The lack of immediate impact is a dangerous trap when “buy now, pay later” offers haunt us everywhere. Be strong and resist!

7) Look outside the box for income, and be okay with it. Every once in a while you may need to take that babysitting gig, teach a semester of piano lessons, bartend, wait tables, or go SCUBA diving for mussels for a government research project (true story). It’s okay. Cut yourself some slack and do what you need to do.

8) Do your thing. The biggest thing I have learned about money, is that it shows up when you need it, if you are working hard and doing what you know to be doing (which includes #6). It’s tough as a musician having lots of costs and unpredictable sources of income. But worrying about it doesn’t help. Anxiety wastes energy. Take in that breath and let it flow.

Everyone has a different money situation, so this list is merely a guideline that you can use, mold and cater to your personal needs. Stay tuned for more on making ends meet as a musician next month.

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