Managing your personal finances is tricky for most people, but can be especially tough for self-employed artists. With income that fluctuates from month to month and the reality that making art just doesn’t pay enough, often it feels really, really tight.

Unfortunately, I can’t tell you how to convince people to pay you more but there are simple ways you can take some of the stress out of managing your finances. Set aside a morning to implement these eight steps and you’ll end up with more money in the bank for those inevitable rainy days.

  1. Keep track of your income and expenses in a basic budget spreadsheet. I have created a Personal Budget Template you can use to get yourself started.
  2. Say yes to receipts when you shop so you can track all of your spending. Lunches out and small purchases add up and need to be part of your budget.
  3. Keep receipts for business lunches, gasoline and materials you purchase (music, sound gear, etc.). Also keep track of mileage if you drive to and from contract work. You can claim these things against your income at tax time.
  4. Take out cash from the bank for your monthly discretionary spending. If you can afford to spend $200 per month on entertainment and eating out take that much out and when the cash runs out, the spending stops.
  5. Set some money aside in good months to cover you for the lean months. And when I say set it aside, I mean literally move it into a different savings account (more on that in point six). Most of my income comes from teaching music and I’m a mom with kids home in the summer, so for me July and August are pretty bleak. I set my monthly budget lower than my typical ‘school year’ income so that I can put aside $200-$400 per month the help float me through the summer when my income gets much smaller.
  6. Open two separate savings accounts, one for the money you’re setting aside in point five and one for general savings. Make monthly deposits into both. Build general savings into your monthly budget and make it a priority! Only cut your savings amount if you absolutely can’t afford the basics. (Extra tip: I use Tangerine.ca for these savings accounts to cut down on bank fees.)
  7. What is that general savings account for? You should aim to have three months’ worth of expenses saved up in case of an emergency. Like, I dunno, a car breakdown, a lost job, a global pandemic…
  8. About the pandemic. If you are currently receiving CERB, make sure you are setting aside the amount you’ll be required to pay back in taxes later.

What it all boils down to is having a budget and making it easier to hold yourself to it. It seems like a pain in the butt at first but it is completely second nature for me now and it means I actually have retirement and rainy-day savings. Use this article as a checklist to get yourself set up and it will be easy to see where your money goes and how you can build a nest egg for yourself.