Monday, February 1, 2016

Feast, Famine, or Flood: Don't Spend It Unless You Have It!

Money can be an odd thing when you are a professional storyteller, or artist of any kind. Sometimes it seems like our bank accounts are very healthy, we turn around, and they are completely empty. This is typically called feast or famine.

Work is the same way. We have months and months when it is flooding, and then it dries up for a while and we are just staring at our barren calendars.

There is only so much we can do as artists. Oh, we can market like there is no tomorrow, and work as hard as we can to get work, but we can't make it show up if it isn't out there.

We can budget, and we can save, but if that dry spell gets long, things get worrisome.

So, in honor of the fact that I saw a post by Antonio Sacre lamenting the in-between moments when contracted money has yet to show up, and contracted work has not yet been completed, I thought I'd do a post about the taboo subject...Money. In our business, you can be paper rich and cash poor.

Not only that, it is tax season, so here is a post about artist finances.

First - Did you pay quarterly taxes last year? Should you pay them this year? If you are self-employed, you might need to pay quarterly taxes to reduce your tax liability. The link  is a great way to find out if you should be paying them, and how you go about doing that.

Second - Do you have an accounting system that helps you deal with your finances? There are many different ways to deal with keeping track of your expenditures and income. Here are a few I've done in the past:

1) You can throw all of your receipts into a box, and then take them to an accountant when it is tax time. Leave hastily as they open the box and begin trying to make sense of what you've given them.

2) You can put receipts from different months in different envelopes and then go through them at the end of the year, tally them, and use the numbers to fill out your taxes.

3) You can put everything in Quicken. (I recommend this one)

4) You can keep a long hand account book. (I used this until things got changed over to Quicken)

5) You can do a combination of all of the above based on how good you are with sticking with a system, or if you get overwhelmed and things start piling up until you get around to it!

Third:  Who does your taxes?

If you do them yourself, great! Make sure you are taking advantage of as many perks as you can.

-deduct the business use of your home if you don't have an outside office
-deduct your per diem (easier than keeping track of all your individual receipts for food. You'll most likely come out ahead unless you have really expensive tastes)
-deduct your mileage (Usually more beneficial than deducting your expenditure on gas)
-deduct your supplies
-deduct your postage
-deduct your performance clothes
-deduct your cabs
-deduct your hotels
-deduct your plane fare
-deduct your luggage fees and the purchase of your luggage!
-deduct your fees for anything you ship anywhere
-deduct your fees for conferences, festivals, storytelling events
-deduct your organization fees
-deduct whatever you can think to deduct
Good Luck.

If you use an accountant, it is great to get an accountant who works with artists. They are really, really good at finding things to deduct. Before we became a company, I used the same accountant as Donal Davis. Judy Crook could figure out how to deduct anything. She was fabulous!

If you discover that you owe the government money, and you can't afford to pay, here are some suggestions for dealing with that.

My last bit of information has to do with the way we artists deal with our bottom line.

As an artist, there are three kinds of money .




Ifcome: This type of money is defined as any money that might come in 'if' certain events align.

"If this grant comes through, I will make twenty thousand dollars in November."
"If this residency is fully funded, I will work the entire year."
"If this librarian can get all ten schools in the district, March will be a great month."

Do not spend this money. It is not real.

Income: This one is easy. It is contracted, and you can expect it to show up at some point, and end up in your bank account. Now, be wary of this type of money, because we all know that even if it is contracted, things can happen. The organization could take sixty days to pay you. They could lose the paperwork or invoices, and it could take even longer to get you your check. You could be snowed out and the check will be delayed. I'm sure you know the sorts of things I mean.

Don't spend this cash until it is in the account.

Wishcome: This is really imaginary money.

I wish this book was a best seller
I wish I could get a contract off Broadway
I wish this CD could win a grammy

Do not spend this money. It is pure fantasy for the most part, and utterly non-existent to boot.

Now, it seems obvious that you wouldn't spend money that is iffy, or wishy, but lots of artists do just this, and find themselves in a hole when things they were hoping for don't pan out as they thought.

Heck, we can't even spend our income about a quarter of the time because it is overdue!

Last but not least. Consider saving out money when you have it. This can either become a cushion for a future shock, or seed money to invest in something you want or need like a portable sound system, or stocks.

So, let's be smart about how we deal with the money that is coming in the door. It is hard since we always seem to need something for the business that we have been putting off forever, but making more conservative economic choices can make being a storyteller easier in the long know, unless you win some huge lottery jackpot, or write the next 'Harry Potter', then you can just do whatever you want without worrying about it.

Happy Earning!


  1. Just the facts and such important factoids they are. This is one of the best articles for artists dealing with fragile performance dollars I've read to date. Thanks!

    1. I try to write pieces that I would have liked when I was first getting into this business!

      Thanks you for stopping by the blog!