The Best Things in Life Should NOT Be Free

As The Flying Lizards song goes,

“The best things in life are free / But you can give them to the birds and bees / I want money.”

Don’t we all?

But being an “artist” in today’s economy (and pretty much every previous era’s economy) seems to come with an expectation that we do without it, and offer our creative contributions to society without appropriate compensation. And as a result, many of us have resigned ourselves to the life of the “starving artist,” and accepted that we either need to do our artistic work as a side gig, or simply not eat. I’m sorry to admit that I’ve been guilty of this myself.

But not anymore.

A recent NY Times article by acclaimed writer Tim Kreider brought the issue to light, and made an impassioned plea to all his fellow artists: “don’t give it away.” And it lit an equally bright fire in me. A lightbulb went on. Why am I giving it away?

Since I left my cushy corporate job back in March 2011, and set out on a fresh path of creative independence, I have been struggling from paycheck to small wad of cash to project backend points, desperately trying to keep my checking account afloat. And it’s made me a pretty miserable artist – a lot less creative and inspired than I know myself capable of, and probably much less fun to be around. Anyone who’s been on the verge of penniless, or buried in debt, can attest to this feeling – it’s a really scary thing to not be sure you can pay your bills this month, and that can really damage your attitude and ability to keep thriving.

We seem to be facing a prevalent attitude today (and pretty much all throughout history) that artists should give away their work. They may really admire your work, just not enough to pay one cent for it.

And for what? What’s the point?

Artists, as with any other profession, cannot survive on creativity and “exposure” alone. Clicks and retweets don’t pay the bills. Money does. Cold hard cash. There’s simply no replacement for it, as much as we wish, and hope, and are told there is. What we create and offer as artists is every bit of valuable and worthy of cash compensation as any other working professional.

Now there’s certainly something to be said for paying your dues. A great many different jobs and industries involve starting at the ground level with a low or unpaid internship-like position. In the film industry, this would be the PA (or Production Assistant), which is basically a gopher or errand runner job for any young newbies to the business who are just happy to learn.

But I’m no beginner. I’ve been doing this for long enough, headed enough projects, produced full feature films – that I shouldn’t still be paying my dues. I should be earning them. I’ve been on this path of no recompense for too long and it’s finally starting to wear on me, ruining relationships and killing the creative buzz. It’s time to shift my own mindset, and give myself permission to value my work and my time for what it’s actually worth.

I even wrote a book about how other artists and creative entrepreneurs can do this for themselves, and build a profitable business around their art. But I’ve yet to really take my own advice, and that should have been the first step.

So I’m taking that step now, and I’m not apologizing for it. It’s time to start really valuing myself and my work, and start making an actual living. No more unconditional favors or pointless giveaways! No more taking lower pay than I deserve! It’s time to take ownership over my career, so I can realize my full potential and actually achieve all that I say I want to.

So who’s with me?!

Are you in the same boat? Do you struggle with making a living from your career as an artist or creative entrepreneur? Well, then join me on my journey and start valuing your worth!

And if you want some guidance on that front, feel free to check out my book on Amazon for a step-by-step guide to building the business and life you deserve.

How To Have a Richer Life

Sit down my right-brained children. It’s time to talk about that dreaded topic we all fear and all struggle with – Finances. The most common financial frustration I observe amongst artists and creative people is the difficulty of balancing having enough money to live the life and create the things they want, without feeling like they’re “selling out.”

Everyone wants to have a richer life, but that means different things to different people. And while it’s important to value the non-monetary things that do enrich your life, you cannot ignore the important role money does play in your ability to continue thriving and (most importantly) continue creating.

It doesn’t have to mean making choices simply because they make you more money, or skimping on your midday latte purchases. That could be part of it, but it’s really so much more than that – and it doesn’t have to mean compromising your ideals or your art.

The real secret to having the money you need to lead a “richer” life is a combination of 3 steps:

(These were inspired from the wisdom of Ramit Sethi, author of I Will Teach You To Be Rich, so I’ve linked to his site for reference on each below)

  1. Earning More Money
  2. Saving More Money
  3. and Automating Your Money

1. Earning More Money

There is a difference between making tons of money, and making tons of money worth earning. It isn’t just about making more salary – it’s also about where that paycheck is coming from. Because money coming from a occupation you truly love will be worth more to you. And doing something you love will motivate you to work harder and keep you working there longer, encouraging more productivity and ultimately making you even more money! So there is an actual logical case for sticking with your creative passions so you can earn more there in the long term, rather than “sell out” for something that seems more profitable in the short term. The moral of the story is that in order to earn more money, you should earn it from something you are passionate about.

2. Saving More Money

I agree with Ramit Sethi’s theory on Big Wins. Making little changes to skimp on the everyday splurges (“I don’t really need another t-shirt” or “I’ll just get a small coffee today”) isn’t going to make a significant enough difference. It’s about saving on the big things that do have a large impact on your savings bottom line — things like your rent, your mortgage, your energy bill, etc. Take a look at your finances, track your expenses or just watch your checking account activity for a few months. Take note of which items or categories cost you the biggest chunk of change. If you can find ways to save in these larger areas of your finances, you will find it a faster and easier way to save larger sums of your money.

3. Automating Your Money

Automation is a wonderful concept that basically frees you from the hassle of remembering – when to pay your bills, when to pay off your credit cards, when to evaluate your savings and investments, etc. These can be easier managed by arranging direct payments on your bills from your bank (most banks offer this option), setting up automatic payments on your credit cards, working out a regular payment plan on your mortgage or other recurring expenses, or giving yourself automatic reminders (my favorite is creating recurring “reminder” events on my Google Calendar). There are many other methods as well, but the point is to utilize systems that alleviate your need to do any of the remembering.

Now if you can master all 3 of these steps, you’ll be able to live a richer life in more ways than one. You’ll be earning more money from an occupation that fulfills you and provides you the freedom and creative autonomy you crave. You’ll be better saving your money for a backup plan in case your creative endeavors don’t go as well as you hoped. And you’ll be freeing up your time from worrying about payments and money management, which you can instead spend on more valuable and enriching activities, like working in your studio or hanging out with friends and family.

Because as Ramit Sethi says, living a richer life is really composed of 3 areas: our jobs, our finances, and our relationships. So if you can master the 3 steps above, you will be able to optimize all 3 areas at once!

Happy richer living!

Questions? Comments? Absurd Ideas? Please comment below and tell us how you are going to live a richer life.

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Manage the Monies

Manage the Monies“Don’t matter how much money you got, there’s only two kinds of people: there’s saved people and there’s lost people.” -Bob Dylan

We spend so much of our time and energy managing our finances, budgeting our spending, preparing for retirement – it can be all-consuming and make us feel pretty lost at times. That’s why it’s so important to have a good system in place for your own finances management.

A year ago, I found my own finances to be in quite a state of disarray, having investments scattered across 5 different brokers, a left-over 401k lying dormant, and credit cards that were neither convenient to use nor properly rewarding. It was all such a headache to keep track of, and even harder to comprehend. So I spent the better part of 2012 working to consolidate all of my finances, banking & investments under one easily managed roof.

Now that I’ve successfully managed to do all that, I want to share my experiences with you and help you achieve the same state of financial solidarity.

Tracking Expenses

When I quit my nice cushy Google corporate job back in March 2011, I had to become extremely careful about my finances and tracking each expense. So I came up with My Finances Google Spreadsheet, which I’ve now also made into a template so I can share it with you as well.

It’s a fairly robust system, complete with a 4-week budget that I first set for different categories of spending (i.e. dining out, groceries, parking & gas, rent, etc) and then tracked my expenses against on a weekly and monthly (or 4-weekly) basis. I’ll admit it is a lot of manual work to enter in each expenditure, which I kept up consistently once a week, but it really did allow me to keep a close eye on everything, so it was well worth it.

That said, I still felt like were are a great many ways I could further improve my overall finances. And being in the state I was in really pushed me to re-evaluate everything and explore other systems that have been pre-designed and built especially for easier and more efficient finance management.

Then came the hard decision of what to use. For me, that meant one question: To Quicken or to Quickbooks?

The main, or at least most obvious, difference between the two is that Quickbooks offers you double-entry accounting capabilities, while Quicken is more single-entry, checkbook style accounting. However, since we’re talking more about managing personal finances, rather than business, this probably isn’t a very significant detail.

What might interest you more is knowing that Quicken will be much simpler, with less bells and whistles, and therefore easier to learn. It also has features for tracking stocks and investments, while Quickbooks does not. And it’s significantly cheaper.

On the other hand, Quickbooks offers a great deal more functionality if you DO want a system that can help manage your business AND personal finances, including more extensive reporting, multi-level Classes to categorize expenses, both inventory and payroll management, invoicing, and the ability to give access to multiple users (Quicken is strictly single-user).

Looking at my individual situation, I decided it would be a smarter choice to start with Quicken first, since it is much cheaper and still very easy to upgrade (and import all my data) to Quickbooks if I do find I require more functionality later on.

In the end, I ended up going with — since that is the online version of Quicken. (Quicken Online used to exist, then they bought and decided to sunset their own online product.) And I have to say I have been extremely happy with it. It’s even allowed me to stop spending the extra time maintaining my manual Finances Google Spreadsheet, since you can just sync your account with all of your banks and investment accounts and have all expenditures automatically uploaded for you.

Consolidating My Investments

The other crucial part of my goal was to consolidate my investments into one easy-to-manage system. As I mentioned, I had stocks and mutual funds scattered all over the place, and hadn’t the vaguest idea how any of them were performing. So I collected all my latest statements, laid them all out in front of me, and made a very important decision. I chose ONE broker to manage them all.

This was a hard decision, but it came down to what mattered most to me in a brokerage. I wanted a place where I could just set-it-and-leave-it, and didn’t care as much about low trading fees since I don’t intend to do that much active trading. What I did care about was knowing I’d have good advice and support in the event I do decide to adjust something, and an expert eye helping keep tabs on all of it in the meantime. But most importantly, I wanted to keep it all in the same place as my banking and credit cards, so I’d only have to log into one interface to see everything.

Chase Investment Services CorpWith all this in mind, I made my final decision to go with Chase Investment Services. I already banked with Chase, had credit cards with Chase, and had no complaints or desire to change that. Plus, they did offer everything else I was looking for in a brokerage. So it made perfect sense.

Armed with this decision, I met with a Chase Investment Services adviser and together we slowly moved all of my random stocks, funds and even my old Google 401k into shiny new accounts with Chase. Now when I log into my Chase online account, I can see my bank accounts, credit cards, AND investments all in one nice n’ neat view. And I couldn’t be happier.

Final Note

Now I’m running out of room in this blog entry (and no doubt you are running out of interest in reading), so I’ll wrap this up with one last piece of personal wisdom:

It doesn’t matter how much you have, it’s what you do with it that matters.

So try out these tips, and find your own ideal system for finances management, and perhaps you too can find greater sense of self & peace of mind.

Questions? Comments? Absurd Ideas? Feel free to comment on this post and share!