The Artist – Your Exit Strategy

Last week’s post on Art and the Day Job must have been pretty important to a lot of folk given the number of views and comments.  However, there is a bit of business that is at least as important as the Day Job discussion….

..how to manage your finances so you can survive WITHOUT the Day Job.

That Day Job keeps you fat and happy (you may not agree, but just follow along for a bit)…you get do do things like pay the rent, pay taxes and insurance, and eat.  You also do a lot of extra stuff.  You watch TV, go to movies, play videogames, drink soda, buy books, charge stuff to credit cards and take wonderful vacations.

NEWS FLASH – You can’t afford those things if you quit your job to do art.  Not at the start, anyway.

So, how does one ever survive by selling art?  Well, you prepare now.  Remember that fable about the ants and the grasshopper?  The grasshopper was living it up all summer while the ants were working..storing away food.  Then, when the winter came, the grasshopper was hungry and the ants….well, they probably ate him.  I can’t remember that part.  It’s not important to my post, anyway.

What IS important is getting your financial house in shape so you won’t starve when you unsuckle from the teat of the Day Job (ew).  (As an extra, if you keep the Day Job and follow these simple guidelines, you’ll be rolling in so much clover that you’ll finally be able to afford that life-sized tuan-tuan statue you’ve been dreaming about).

There are two steps standing between you and the freedom to draw every day:

  1. Minimize your spending, and
  2. Kill your debts.

(If you’ve ever heard of a guy named Dave Ramsey, those should sound familiar.)

First step – Minimizing Your Spending

Remember those “extras” that I said your Day Job was paying for?  Well, you’ve got to learn to do without them.  Take a second and get the heavy sighs and whining over with and we’ll move on.

Ready?  Ok.

There’s tons of stuff that you are paying for right now that you probably can do without.  In fact, you’re going to HAVE to go without some of them if you want to spend your time doing art.  For instance, cable TV.  Do you have any idea of how expensive that is?  Stop paying for it.  You should be spending that time doing art.  If you want to watch a video, go to the library and rent one, or watch it over the Internet for free somehow.  Watch it at a friend’s house.  Stop paying for it.

Grab a sheet of paper and list out just how much money is coming into your house and where it is going.  I’ll bet there is fat that could be trimmed.  Do you really need that iPhone data package with unlimited texting?  You do?  Do you need it more than you need to be making a living from your art?

Watch out for what you are spending on eating out.  That’s an incredible waste of money.  My wife and I stopped buying soda and limited our eating out to once a week and saved a ton.  I also lost 30 pounds because of trimming off the extra calories!  An added bonus!

Think like Scrooge McDuck.  What else are you paying for that you could actually do without most of the time?  Why are you buying books when there is a library nearby?  Why are you buying the latest video game when older ones are so much cheaper?  (Why the heck are you playing video games?  GO DO ART!)

Consider selling the car or the house.  Seriously.  If you’re making payments on a new car, sell it for what you can get and buy something used with the cash.  Yes, it won’t be as nice, but you won’t be throwing your money at something that was worth half of what you paid the moment you drove it off the lot.

As for vacations, I agree that they are great…but there are ways to do them much cheaper.  My wife and I had our first vacation by sleeping at my parents and spending the day seeing all of the local stuff we always thought we’d want to go see, but never had the time.  Museums, antique shops, wineries, cemeteries (yep, I’m strange), and so on.

Finally, don’t buy new stuff just because.  There’s an old phrase that goes “Use it up, Wear it out, Make it do, or Do Without”.  If you can pull back your spending on stuff you don’t really need, you have a much better chance of living your dream life.

Second step – Killing your Debt (or “Damn you, student loans!”)

Take your hand and choke yourself with it.  That’s your debts strangling your freedom.  You can stop choking yourself now.

Sometimes we make bad decisions and wind up in debt.  Sometimes, we make good decisions and wind up in debt.  Debt, however, is not our friend.  It stands between you and your art career.  Debt needs to die.
Grab another sheet of paper and write down how much of a balance you have on each loan you owe.  Write down the interest you’re paying on each loan, and then the minimum payment for each.

There’s the battleground for the war you need to fight.  Now you need a strategy for winning.  Here it is:
Pay your minimum payment on every loan EXCEPT for the smallest loan you have.  See that tiny guy?  Cowering in the corner?  You bet he should be afraid.  You’re coming for him, baby.

Here’s how it works.  With minimum payments on all of the other loans, you channel any extra cash you managed to scrounge with step one into paying that tiny guy off.  Before you know it, he’ll be history and you’ll be one less monthly payment.

WHEN THAT LOAN IS DEAD, rejoice and take ALL of the money you were paying on that first loan and drop it onto the next-smallest loan.  BAM!  He’ll fold in no time.  Guess what you do next?  Right.  You keep working down the line.

My wife and I did this.  When we married, I brought nearly 36 grand of debt along.  I worked a low-paying, full time job, and my wife worked part time.  We reordered our spending (and thinking) and paid it off in 4 years.  My wife got another degree that put us nearly that much in debt, but with the job she got because of it, keeping to our KILL THE DEBT strategy, we’ll have that paid off by this time next year (that means it took 2 years to pay off, friends).

Picture all of that money you’ve been spending on cable TV and loan payments.  What would life be like if you didn’t have to pay for all that stuff?  Could you give making art for a living a try..maybe even get by on a part-time salary?  Even if you decided to keep the day job and make art on the side to sell…wouldn’t that be a better place to be?

You bet it would.  Welcome to Freedomville.

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