It's no secret that actors who are first trying to get into the industry usually don't make very much money. Many actors struggle to make ends meet, especially in the early stages of their careers when trying to break into the industry. However, with careful planning and smart money management strategies, it's possible to navigate the financial challenges of pursuing an acting career and achieve financial stability. Until you start booking consistent speaking roles, pursuing a career in the entertainment industry doesn't make you a lot of money until it does. Before that happens, and even after your big break, every actor needs to know how to manage their money appropriately. In this blog, I'll explore some money management tips and strategies for budgeting and saving that every actor should know.
When I first decided I wanted to be an actor, I was 12. I didn’t have significant savings, I still needed to grow up, pay for college, and pay for basic life necessities. Paying for all of that while also trying to be an actor was often difficult on my finances, but I saved every penny I could to ensure I still had the funds to continue pursuing my career if times got tough. Nearly ten years later I got a callback for this musical theater competition called Broadway Bound Live where the winner gets a $60,000 scholarship to AMDA College of performing arts. The show is incredibly time-consuming and requires a lot of commitment in order to win. But fortunately, I had collected enough savings to take time off of work for four months while I focus on doing well in the show. You never know when the next opportunity will come your way which is why it is important to budget your money and have emergency funds saved up for the right moment.
Even working actors could find themselves suddenly out of a job at the most inconvenient times possible and need to be prepared. No one expected the Covid-19 epidemic to shut down the world when it did, but I know many actors who booked speaking roles that were dropped after the pandemic.
On Tuesday, May 2nd, 2022, the Writers Guild of America initiated a strike that could take longer than we are expecting to dispute according to Andrew Dalton a reporter for Associated Press. This will significantly decrease the number of auditions released since no new content will be written by the WGA. While this may force many actors to seek other forms of income, it also shows how important it is to have plans for financial emergencies like this. Here are a few tips to not break the bank as you pursue a career in the film industry.
Create a budget:
The first step in managing your money as an actor is to create a budget. This will help you understand your income and expenses, and allow you to identify areas where you can cut costs and save money. While recreational activities and free time are good for you, it’s important to understand the limits of how much of your weekly income is being spent at the club on Friday nights, or wherever you spend your free time. Each week I look at my total income and set aside what I’ll need for bills and other monthly necessities, then set aside most of what's left for my savings. If there's anything left after that I’ll give myself a little bit of spending money to do something fun on the weekend. Discipline is very important when distributing your own income.
Build an emergency fund:
Since income can be unpredictable in the film industry, it's important to build an emergency fund that can cover your expenses for at least three to six months. This can help you weather any financial setbacks or unexpected expenses that may arise. One way that I’ve tried making it fun for myself is by turning my financial rules into a little challenge. As I work whatever jobs I have at any given moment, I try to get my savings up to the next thousands mark. If I reach that checkpoint, all of that money is now locked for future emergencies or investments appropriate for my career. For example, let's say I have $6,400 in my emergency savings account. If there are things I need or want to pay for, It can’t be more than $400 until I make more. But I will challenge myself to make as much money as I can to reach $7,000 and lock my savings at that new “checkpoint”. It takes time sometimes, but always striving to build my savings has saved me in emergencies when my tires gave out right before rent was due, or any other unexpected turn of events that could happen to you.
Find affordable housing:
Housing can be a major expense for actors, so consider finding affordable housing options such as roommates, sublets, or temporary rentals. This can help you save money and reduce your financial stress. Everyone has different housing situations but If you are in the position to buy a house or rent out a property you already own, it puts you in a great place to focus on your acting career while receiving monthly income from your tenants. For now, I’m sticking to splitting rent with a few roommates which means I have to do everything I can to save money. Don’t eat out all the time. Instead, find coupons and buy groceries on clearance so you can meal prep for the whole week. It saves so much money, especially if you’ve been approved for Snap benefits or EBT.
Diversify your income:
While acting may be your main source of income, consider diversifying your income by taking on side jobs or developing additional skills that can help you earn money in other ways. This can provide you with additional financial security and stability, and help you during any downturns of the industry. For most actors, it can take years before they are booking enough roles to live off of residuals, so working other jobs is very useful and important. You can even try out a few jobs on film crews if you want to stay around the camera. If that interests you, check out my blog on the IATSE 480 Union.
Manage your taxes:
Working multiple jobs around your acting career means you might have a lot of W2s to deal with at the end of the year. As a freelancer, you're responsible for managing your own taxes, so make sure you're setting aside money for taxes throughout the year. You may also want to work with a tax professional to ensure you're taking advantage of all the deductions and credits available to you. Another thing important to keep in mind is saving up for retirement no matter how early you think it is. Trust me your older self will thank you for setting up a Roth IRA savings fund that you start adding to every year.
Saving and budgeting are essential to ensure that you have emergency funds saved up for when the right opportunity comes along. Remember to find creative ways to save, such as finding clearance groceries, sharing rent with roommates, and taking on side jobs. By doing so, you can protect yourself against any financial emergencies that might arise while you pursue your dream career as an actor. For a more in-depth article from a professional, check out this page on this topic. Thank you for reading and have a wonderful day!
Daniel Ward is an actor, writer, and contestant finalist of Broadway Bound Live Season 2 and can be contacted on Twitter @wordsofward34 or Instagram @wardledorp