The Art of Budgeting

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Written by Kimberly Leefatt

A good budget is an empowering planning tool that, when done correctly, fosters predictability as you pursue your craft and mitigates the fatigue that often accompanies unexpected financial setbacks. While there’s no one-size-fits-all money management plan, the following four principles will help you to thoughtfully develop your personal budget, so that you can focus on your skills, instead of your next paycheck. 

1.      Map-out your expected income for an entire “year”.

The creative process takes time.  By creating a budget for an entire year, you will be able to identify when to take on more challenging or time-consuming gigs, or gradually prepare for more expensive projects.  Regardless of your industry, creating a budget for an entire year, divided into months, provides a reliable backboard against which to plan your hustle. To do this you must identify your income (i.e. the money you are bringing in).  When determining your income, make sure you have a strong grip on reality. Failing to identify your reliable income is a reliable way to end up relying on others. If you have a salary, you know what your monthly income will be.  If you work hourly, calculate the number of hours you expect to work per week to estimate your monthly cash flow.  Project this across every month for the entire year, or for as many months that you are certain to hold the position.  If you get into the habit of budgeting into the long term (whether that means three months, six months, or a full year), you will feel more in control when “life happens.”

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2.     Set aside your Living Budget to identify your “Wiggle Room”.

The next step is to plan for your necessary living expenses.  The biggest mistake one can make when budgeting is planning from a place of WANT and not from REALITY.  My advice – identify the items in your Living Budget first. These are the things that keep “the lights on” and a habitable “roof over your head.” The best way to identify your necessary expenses is to break them down into categories. Here are a few categories to get you started: Household, Transportation, Food, and Debt Payments.  Once you subtract your monthly bills from your monthly income, what you have left over is your “wiggle room” that may be used to finance your creative workflow. If you find that you don’t have any wiggle room, you may want to consider exploring additional sources of income or ways to lower your expenses. 

3.      Identify the Routine Expenses of Your Trade.  

Before jumping into your creative projects, the first expenses that should come out of your wiggle room surplus are the unique routine expenses of your industry. These are expenses you cannot escape or items you cannot be without if you are to create art in your discipline. Here are examples of a few traditional expenses different types of artists typically need to consider:

Actor: Annually updated head shots, networking subscriptions, transportation to auditions/rehearsals

Writer: Professionally bound manuscripts of current work, copyright protections

Songwriter/Producer: Demos of current work, editing software

Musician: Instruments and maintenance, recording devices, data storage subscriptions

Photographer: Domain names and websites, editing software, camera body, lens and additional equipment.

General: Classes/lessons within your industry, online tools to increase your profile and promote your brand, financial accounting, legal consultations, networking events

Once you identify these routine business expenses, you can plug them into your annual budget by identifying the month when you would feel most comfortable investing in the item. You may want to schedule the bigger-ticket items toward the end of the year so that you can save “wiggle room” money over time.  

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4.     Budget for Creative Projects last.

Creative projects are what define your image as an artist.  A creative project can be one you were hired to do, such as a performance or commissioned piece of work; or a passion project that you voluntarily pursue to build your portfolio.  By keeping your Project Budgets in a separate category, you can ensure you don’t go broke before the project is over. In other words, your project budgets become line items, along with your routine business expenses, that are deducted from your wiggle room surplus. 

Just like when putting together your Living Budget, your Project Budget will consist of your income minus the expenses necessary for the finished product.  For passion projects, the income will be a portion of your wiggle room surplus.  For hired projects, the income will be the fee you charge for your services – and your wiggle room could be used to front the expenses if you’re not compensated in advance.  Keep in mind, if your hired project nets no profit or goes into the “red” then you should probably reconsider the fees you charge.  Try identifying the expenses you expect to incur before agreeing to your fee.  This will give you confidence while negotiating and demonstrate a level of professionalism.

Many of the routine expenses of your industry and expenses from creative projects can be written off on your taxes, which is why it is important to keep track of them separately from your Living Budget.  Additionally, there may be tax implications if your creative projects become your reliable source of income, you start offering your passion projects for sale, or are hired as anything other than an employee for a creative project.  Please consult a tax expert or certified public accountant for advice on these issues.

Remember, a budget is not just about tracking your expenses.  It’s also about taking control of your finances and putting plans in place to reach your goals, financial or otherwise.  For additional resources to help apply these financial principles, check out the following: 

“Living Budget” Templates:

One Big Happy Life: https://onebighappylife.com/money/the-one-year-budget/ 

Dave Ramsey: https://www.daveramsey.com/blog/the-truth-about-budgeting

The Financial Diet: https://thefinancialdiet.com/10-easy-steps-to-creating-a-budget-spreadsheet/; https://thefinancialdiet.com/the-minimalist-budget-a-simplified-money-system-that-actually-works/

Project-based Budget Categories:

Creative Capital: https://creative-capital.org/content/docs/Budget-Tips-Examples-2017.pdf

NYFA: http://current.nyfa.org/post/159438258223/building-a-project-budget

Monthly and Annual Budget Examples:

Creatives and Business: http://creativesandbusiness.com/3159-artist-goals-2014-budgets-and-why-you-need-one/; http://www.collegeart.org/pdf/ExampleBudgetforArtists.pdf


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Kimberly Leefatt began blogging in 2017, sparked by her passion for personal finance.  Inspired by her own debt-freedom journey, with each post she hopes to inspire other 20 and 30 somethings to develop financial literacy.  Kimberly plans to expand her blog to encourage everyone to not only make deliberate decisions about their finances, but also with respect to personal organization and engagement with society. To learn more, visit her blog, “With Deliberate Interest”.