Surviving on an Actor’s Budget: A Short Guide

Starving artists—it’s a stereotype that gets thrown around a lot, but now that you’re here, we know you know by now that there’s some truth to it. The sporadic nature of the work, the competition, and the constant uncertainty of booking a role make starting out an acting career definitely challenging. Even actors who make great money for each project know that some dry spells bound to be expected in between jobs. Going to bed thinking that days of zero earnings are always just one closing notice or contract end away is enough to induce perpetual anxiety. So how does one get by on an actor’s budget? Will you make it till you first big break?

Here’s a guide to survival on an actor’s budget.

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How Do You Survive on an Actor’s Budget?

Wants versus needs

This sounds obvious to any adult, but many of us choose to forget it on a date or upon finding out that our coveted pair of shoes is on sale. Let’s state the obvious to define what your needs are: housing, food, utilities, transportation, internet, cell phone, and sometimes classes or workshops. These are the things that you need to live and maintain an acting career. Loans and debts owed should also be counted in the category of needs because not paying them actually costs more money in the long run. Wants, on the other hand, are just about everything else: clothes, travels, buffets, drinks, leisure activities, Starbucks, and movie tickets.

Expenses versus income

Here’s a rule: your income has to be double (or more) what you pay in rent to be safe. You can’t spend money you aren’t committed to making. Live within your means, or else you’ll be buried in debt. If it turns out that your expenses are higher than your income, you need to either increase your income or lower your expenses (or both). 

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  • Reduce your expenses. Examine every item in your monthly expenses to see where you can remove or reduce. Remember that even the necessities of life can be renegotiated to be made more affordable. Perhaps you can get another roommate to reduce your rent and monthly utility expenses. Or downgrade to a lower-cost cell phone plan to reduce your monthly bill. Or temporarily cut back on acting classes and explore cost-free ways to further your knowledge. Look for coupons and discounts anywhere you can. Go to thrift stores for shoes and clothing. Use less electricity and water. Cut down on groceries. Buy food products that are on sale. Move to a cheaper apartment. 
  • Increase your income. If you want to keep living the life you’re living, you have to work hard for it. Ask for a raise. Start a side hustle. Find part-time work online. Sell stuff that you no longer use. Audition as a model or voice-over artist. Play music in cafés, bars, or restaurants. Create a YouTube channel or a blog. Don’t limit your earning potential or get stuck with the idea that your income is dictated by your employer, your job title, your degree, your experience, or anything else. The biggest driver of how much you can earn is you, so challenge yourself to create a demand around your skill set—artistic and otherwise—and command the value you need in return to live a life on your terms. 

Actor’s Budget: Savings

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Beyond your budget for your monthly needs, you need at least 10 percent of it allotted for emergencies (unemployment, car breaking down, medical bills, etc.). Long-term savings should also be a nonnegotiable part of your budget, even if you have to start super small. Committing to long-term savings builds big picture dreams into your present reality. You’ll be surprised at how quickly putting aside even a little bit of money can become a habit, and how little you’ll miss it. Also, it adds up quicker than you think. Thank us later.

Grind

Do everything you can to slowly climb up the ladder. Improve your audition piece. Join every audition that you fit in. Read, read, read—plays, actor biographies, books on acting technique. Have you got a library nearby? Join and give yourself some free education. Save for classes and workshops. Market yourself in all areas. Increase your network. Grow your online presence. The more dedicated you are, the busier you get.

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