Creative People Can Kick Butt at Managing Money

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You just might be scratching your head. Creative people? Managing money? Let’s be clear about one thing: Just because you may put other things above making money (pursuing your personal projects, taking time off to make art, investing in classes and supplies), doesn’t automatically mean you suck at managing your money — or don’t care about having money. We’ve long associated being passionate about something as an all-or-none mentality, that we have to completely eschew money and the pursuit of it as to not dilute our creative aspirations.

Artists have a money stigma. “You are stinky rich as a result of 1. Being mega successful, 2. Born into wealth. The rest of us are toiling away, starving for our passions. Otherwise we run the risk of the worst thing we could be as artists: sellouts.”

I think that’s a bunch of bull.


creatives managing money


We can all agree that money is a great tool to help you reach your goals in life. It’s not something to despise. It doesn’t make you corrupt or greedy or evil. It just amplifies who you already are. And the more of it you have, the better.

Artists are notoriously known for being bad at money matters, and that may be more of a result of circumstance. It can be tough to budget when you:
1) Have issues getting paid in the first place, and
2) Your money fluctuates like a mofo from month to month.

A lot of people feel as if managing their money can be boring and tedious, but I’ve found that it can be an extension of your creativity. As someone who was obsessed with money from a young age, having a good relationship with your money is a process that evolves and grows as you do. Here’s how I've found that creative people can be good at managing money.


artists managing money


Know that rules are meant to be broken

There are plenty of approaches, methods, and rules to managing money, from the 50/30/20 rule to the zero-sum budget and reverse budget, where you save first and then spend as you please.

For me, I used to spend a bunch of time poking around the Internet to learn about basic budgeting principles and systems. I’ve tried Excel sheets, the 50-30-20 rule, as a sort of template. The further I trekked along, the more I figured out my personal spending habits, and adopted a style.

With managing money, you can learn from the trial and errors of those who have been in the ring, then do some experimenting on your own. From my year of freelancing full-time, I’ve found that paying myself a monthly salary, putting my money in different buckets to help keep me loosely keep track of my spending, then (based on percentage) allocate whatever’s left over toward my different short- and long-term goals, works best for me.

I’m not an expert in personal finance nor will I ever claim to be. But what I can claim is that I am super obsessed with taming the money beast and have worked hard at it. For instance, trying to come up with a personalized budget. Since I don’t find much value in monitoring every single transaction,  I’ve put the work up front in devising a system and process that works best for me, then work on auto-pilot 80% of the time. I just make it easier for me to save than not to.

It takes time to come up with your personal budgeting style, but once you do, you’ll be able to make serious headway. The same goes for when you learn a new craft, such as writing fiction, composing a song, learning basic graphic design principles, and so forth. It’s only after you learn the rules that you can break them, and come up with your new style. Gain inspiration and insights from the greats, then adopt them to your own goals.


creatives managing money


Treat managing money as a game 

The rules of financial wellness are simple: spend less, earn more, and invest the rest. Now implementing them? That’s an entirely different story. By approaching wealth-building as the ultimate game, you’ll stay interested. More important, you’ll have fun. What expenses can you cut back on? How can you be the ultimate side hustler?

When I was in high school, I had a friend who was really into Calculus. I personally couldn’t get my head around the subject. My friend told me this: You have to work through the tough stuff. Only after that it starts to get fun. And of course, it’s only after you see results (i.e., I actually have some money in my rainy day fund? Or, the ultimate trip to Japan is going to happen next year!) that things start to get amazing.

The same goes for frugality. I’ve turned frugality into a game. How many uses can I come up with, say, baking soda? How I do without X? How far can I stretch a dollar? Once you realize that you don’t need that much stuff, and how much time and mental energy you waste buying useless junk, you can focus on what really matters. What matters most to me? Time. I’m a time hog. The more time I have to myself to think, wander, work on my own projects, and do whatever it is that I please, the happier I am.


artists managing money


Be in tune with your values and goals 

Self-exploration is a huge part of having a good relationship with money, and it takes time. For instance, you’ll want to know what your spending triggers are, what areas you tend to slack off, what you value the most, and how to align your spending with what’s most important to you. This is a lifelong process, and you’ll never be 100 percent done. The deeper understanding you have about yourself, the better equipped you’ll be to tackle any money struggles and hit financial wins.

Yes, all this sounds like a lot of work, and at first it is. But once you get the hang of it, managing money starts to get fun (or at least less painful).

Creative folks: What have you done to kick butt at managing money? 


Related: Confessions of a Digital Nomad

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Jackie Lam is a money writer based in L.A. Her blog, Cheapsters, is all about helping artists and freelancers get creative with their money. Aside from writing about money, she enjoys writing fiction, volunteering, and biking.

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