The Money Scoop: The Bogeyman of an Actor’s Career

Young woman shows empty walletThere is a lot of romance and mysticism surrounding careers in the arts. An actor’s life is often packaged by society to reflect the experience of Hollywood A-listers, or else the vague stereotype of the “starving artist.”

 

The problem is, there is not a lot of consistent practical advice on how to achieve one or survive the other.

 

When talking to young people about making a career of acting, I feel like there is a tendency to focus on the odds stacked against success, or the level of competition in the field. Which is all fair, but what I’m not hearing as much is practical preparation for the day-to-day financial minefield that is a career in the arts.

 

So here’s the thing. If you are about to embark on an acting career and aren’t independently wealthy, funds are something you’re going to have to consider. You’re going to need money for self-taping equipment and self-taping services. A proper laptop that can handle editing. Headshots, and keeping headshots-up-to-date over the years and your changing looks. You’ll end up pouring time and resources into your appearance and health. Gym memberships, teeth whiteners, audition outfits and more. Depending on your city, you’ll need to keep a car in working condition to get to auditions quickly on short notice. And then there’s training. Classes to keep you on the top of your game. Workshops to hone and learn specialized skills. Showcases to get in front of casting directors. It all adds up quickly.

 

If you’re starting from scratch, this will also slow you down. You’ll probably be working part time, fighting to make ends meet while retaining a flexible schedule for auditions and rehearsals. Just surviving is exhausting, and driving an acting career on top of that is going to leave little time or cash for saving up.

 

So what’s the solution? Honestly, I don’t have a good answer, and I’m sure it’s different for everyone. The desire to get practical experience under your belt as soon as possible is not misguided. But I think what young actors need to arm themselves for, mentally and socioeconomically, is that building an acting career from scratch is going to drain your resources. And once it starts it is hard to break that momentum.

 

If you’re new to a particular market, consider working a solid dayjob full time for a bit, saving a nest egg big enough to float you for a bit when you dive into freelance work. Or perhaps just saving enough to get all your artistic business expenses in order so you’re starting off strong. If that doesn’t work for you, find strategic breaks when the work is slow and plan exactly how you’re going to amass funds during the lean artistic times.


Regardless of overall strategy, you must learn to budget. This is likely going to be a lifelong concern, so prepare yourself as soon as possible. If you’re not good with money, find a way to learn. Take a course, download an app that keeps you organized, whatever speaks to you. If you don’t know where to start, write out your expenses for the month.

*Estimate high for any expense that fluxuates (power, water).

* Keep track of ongoing debt and the minimum payments you must make.

*Create financial goals for yourself. What you want to save. When you want to pay off certain things.

*Be realistic. Keep some aside for coffee, going out, the occasional pedicure. The little things that keep you sane.

 

The hard part is actually sticking to your budget. Apps can be helpful in this regard. Or keep a spending journal if you want to kick it old school. Don’t beat yourself up if you mess up. Freelance budgeting is a mess, and you probably won’t get it “right” the first time. Or the twentieth. I’m constantly revising my budget strategies. Strive for progress over perfection.

 

Forewarned is forearmed. Design your financial battle plan ahead of time, because once you’re in the fray you can only react. And your retaliation is going to be a lot less effective if you can’t afford the weaponry.

 

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Rachel Rachel Frawley is an actor living in Atlanta. She holds a B.F.A. in Theatre from Michigan State University (with cognates in Music and Professional Writing) and is an Apprentice Company graduate from the Atlanta Shakespeare Co. She also works as an education artist for local theatres, which have included the Shakespeare Tavern and Aurora Theatre. For more information, visit her website at www.rachelfrawley.com