Debt Diaries #3: Riding the Waves of Variable Income

Debt Diaries #3: Riding the Waves of Variable Income

 

Current Debts:

Credit Card: -994.25
Bank Loan4,892.45

Current Debt Total: -5,886.70

So…I kind of feel like I’m crushing it right now. Not really because of anything I’ve been doing, but mainly because it feels like I’ve been really damn lucky. Since the last entry, I have killed 2,042.93 in debt. It’s been just over a month.

It’s been a wild ride. I know what you’re thinking: a variable income earner having ups and downs? No way!

But seriously. I settled an Employment Standards Act case with a previous employer and used half that money to pay down my credit card bill. I saved the other half to build myself a bit of a cushion. Then, I got fired from a serving job, booked a voice gig, got a sweet tax return, and contracted Hand, Foot, and Mouth disease. The last one has nothing to do with money, it just gives you an idea of the ups and downs I’ve been riding.

Some of these things are plannable, most are kooky dooky flukes. But I thought it might be useful to examine them to see which ones are repeatable or plannable.

  • Settling an Employment Standards Act violation out of court
    • This one isn’t really plannable, but I will say, when your (or other workers’) rights are being violated, speak the eff up. Even though it will certainly not guarantee financial gain, it will feel right.
    • Sidebar: if you feel you or your colleagues are having their rights violated, check out the ESA guide or speak to the Workers’ Action Centre or the Parkdale Community Legal Society. There are some badass folks at these organizations.
  • Getting fired.
    • I would say avoid this one…generally not great for income. But it does happen. And we, as variable income earners tend to have mega strong hustle. This one is easier if you have an Oh Shit! fund. I didn’t this time, so I called on my powers of hustle and networking to find extra gigs.
  • Booking a commercial voice gig
    • Oh man, if I could find a way to make this one a reliable source of income…well, that’s what I (and so many of you) are working on. Let’s just keep plugging away, folks.
  • Getting a sweet tax return/unlocking my tax savings
    • Finally, something that is actually plannable! I usually get a pretty sweet tax return because I’m meticulous about keeping my receipts. Also, as a financial literacy teacher/actor/writer/producer/server/French teacher/exercise teacher/childcare worker/administrator, you’d be hard pressed to find an expense in my life I can’t claim as a deduction. If you have questions about claiming deductions, check out this link. Save your itemized receipts, folks.
    • As for the tax savings, both Chris and I like to do what we call “fear saving” for taxes. Throughout the year, we set aside more than we need to on our self-employed income and put it in a taxes-only account. Once we have filed our taxes, there is usually money left over in this account that we now know we can use. Cha-Ching! To get an idea of what you might want to put away for taxes, check out this Simple Tax calculator:

Being self-employed is a bonkers journey, and we so many ups and downs. I’m still working towards regaining the sense of financial stability I had previously built for myself. But the waves will come, and when they do, our job is just to surf them, and plan as best as we can while we’re riding those gnarly A-Frames. This way, we’ll make the bombs feel like ankle busters. (PS I learned all my surfer slang here.

Emily Nixon

Emily Nixon

Rags to Reasonable Community Outreach Coordinator

Emily Nixon is an actor/writer/director/filmmaking Swiss Army Knife. She is also a big money nerd and Community Outreach Coordinator for Rags to Reasonable.

She came to this work after becoming completely fed up with living paycheque-to-paycheque and being too afraid to look in her chequing account. She is passionate about empowering other artists and variable income earners to keep doing what they love and feel confident about their finances.

Email Emily at emily@ragstoreasonable.com

Emily’s Favourite Stories from the Interweb

Emily’s Favourite Stories from the Interweb

Podcast Series: Nancy-Queer Money Matters series

It’s easy to feel like we’re screwing up because other people “get money” in a way that we don’t, but remember that not all people face the same financial challenges. When I was a kid, a lot of the models of people “doing money right” were straight cis able-bodied white men with conventional jobs. They were the ones who were “succeeding.” As a queer artist with an anxiety disorder, money was never going to work the same way for me. It would be unfair to hold up my experiences to their metrics.

Take a look at your own financial situation and have patience for the ways that your experience may look different than those traditionally “successful” models that you may have been presented with as a kid. Your money challenges are valid, whoever you are, and sometimes you’re working against systemic barriers that just make it harder.

In this series, Tobin Lowe and Cathy Tu (the hosts of the podcast Nancy) dive deep into the money issues that are unique to queer folks. They talk to a wide range of people in the community and present their stories with thoughtfulness and empathy–financial planners, parents, newlyweds, trans* folk, seniors living in retirement homes. There is a really wonderful mix of diverse voices. Although they are talking about the States, it is still very relevant for those of us not in the US. This series is both engaging and affirming and makes me feel super supported and seen as a queer person.

Podcast: Dear Sugars #69 “The Price of our Dreams”

Chris and I talk a lot about being a “real artist” and about how joe jobs (or survival jobs) are sometimes a necessary tool to make art. I don’t know what makes someone a “real artist.” My anxiety says the qualifier is earning 100% of my income from making art, but when I look at that metric it erodes quickly.

Do I really want to evaluate the worth of my art by how much people pay for it? I know that what people often pay most for is work that maintains cultural status quo. So my answer to that is no. This system of measurement also doesn’t allow for marginalized artists who may have fewer opportunities to make their art. Do I believe that queer, disabled, or artists of colour make less valuable work because they often have fewer opportunities? Hell no. And then there are the scores of great artists who rely on other income avenues. Composer Philip Glass was a plumber/taxi driver. Comedian Ken Jeong was a physician to support his comedy career. Writer Roxane Gay is still a professor at Purdue University. There are tons of reasons that an artist might need a day job that do not make their art any less valid.

In this episode of Dear Sugars, they take a very real look at how to make a life as an artist. Their
radical empathy-based advice is the best. I’ve listened to it several times and still feel challenged and affirmed by it. Warning: you will likely listen and then binge all of their episodes, like I have. Don’t get your heart broken when you discover that they finished making it in 2018.

“Aminatou Sow on Making $300,000 and Sending Money to her Family” by Maggie Bullock for The Cut

I would describe Aminatou Sou as a tech boss/content creator/hustler extraordinaire. She co-hosts the podcast Call Your Girlfriend and co-founded the network Tech LadyMafia, that aims to boost women on the tech-world ladder.

This interview is such a great reminder that as long as your spending is in line with your values, you’re doing it right. Aminatou Sou gives an invigorating perspective on spending. She also offers a much-needed Black female perspective on finance.

“How Tax Brackets Actually Work”

This video blew my mind. I totally get it now! I have heard this explained at least three times before this and just filed it in the “things I don’t get” brain folder. This rocked my world. In a really, really nerdy way. As per the poster in my high school stairwell, knowledge is indeed power. Want to feel slightly better at tax time or impress your parents when you casually drop your understanding of tax brackets? Watch this video.

“How to Successfully Work From Home Without Losing Your Goddamn Mind (Or Your Job) from Bitches Get Riches blog

This post is helpful and also a great introduction to the Bitches Get Riches blog. It’s got all the good things: silly gifs, recognition of ableism in the traditional workforce, and handy handy tips. I’ve been trying to work these tips into my own life. Specifically the one about keeping normal business hours, and it’s making my time feel more boundaried in a great way. The fern has yet to happen.

What’s your favourite? Any that we need to check out this month? Please send recommendations if you’ve got any!

Emily Nixon

Emily Nixon

Rags to Reasonable Community Outreach Coordinator

Emily Nixon is an actor/writer/director/filmmaking Swiss Army Knife. She is also a big money nerd and Community Outreach Coordinator for Rags to Reasonable.

She came to this work after becoming completely fed up with living paycheque-to-paycheque and being too afraid to look in her chequing account. She is passionate about empowering other artists and variable income earners to keep doing what they love and feel confident about their finances.

Email Emily at emily@ragstoreasonable.com

Debt Diaries #2:If You Don’t Have Any Grain, You’re Not Making Any Flour

Debt Diaries #2:If You Don’t Have Any Grain, You’re Not Making Any Flour

Current Debts:

My partner:
$130.00 for picking up my boots from the cobbler
Credit Card: -2,278.96
Overdraft on chequing account: $327.19
Bank Loan: $5,193.48

I like to think of financial literacy as a flour mill…

You pour the grain in the top, and flour comes out the bottom (I think that’s how a flour mill works). I say to myself that becoming more financially savvy isn’t necessarily about finding more grain to put in the top, it’s about improving the machine itself, so that whether you are putting in a small amount of grain or a lot of it, you know the machine is working as efficiently as possible.

I like this metaphor because (despite being oddly agrarian) it counters the trap of “I only need to learn about money when I make money.” See this and other kooky beliefs we artists hold about money HERE.

But recently, I have found the limits of this.

I’m currently hustling butt trying to get enough hours in at a couple new jobs while still keeping my time open and flexible for auditions. It’s meant I have a whole lot of no grain. I’m realizing that even when you have a real slick machine, it looks like “alright, that grain has been processed…” And then you sit there for a million years waiting for more grain to come in. Because if you don’t have any grain, you’re not making any flour, no matter how good you’ve made your machine.

So, onward hustle for me as I try to get enough money to live and also start to pay off debts. Wish me luck!

Emily Nixon

Emily Nixon

Rags to Reasonable Community Outreach Coordinator

Emily Nixon is an actor/writer/director/filmmaking Swiss Army Knife. She is also a big money nerd and Community Outreach Coordinator for Rags to Reasonable.

She came to this work after becoming completely fed up with living paycheque-to-paycheque and being too afraid to look in her chequing account. She is passionate about empowering other artists and variable income earners to keep doing what they love and feel confident about their finances.

Email Emily at emily@ragstoreasonable.com

Artist Debt Diaries #1: Having Debt Doesn’t Make Me Any Less of a Badass

Artist Debt Diaries #1: Having Debt Doesn’t Make Me Any Less of a Badass

I’ve recently taken on some debt. I was on EI for a while, supplementing with my savings. Lemme tell you, trying to live off 60% of your pre-tip server income is not cute. They want you to pay taxes on your tips but are not willing to insure them. Oyyy, don’t get me started. The only way to make it through this period was to use my savings. And woah mama, was it a hard to convince myself to touch that money. But, ya know, eating, so I did.

I decided to use this period to shift to making all my non-acting money in film production. I know I will be doing more directing, so I want to get a better understanding of how the positions work together. I decided to apply for my IATSE permit status. I took the required courses ($$) and submitted my application in November.

I waited to hear back from IATSE and, after waiting a month and a half, was rejected. “Get more experience,” they said. Fair enough.

So I spent the next couple months volunteering my butt off on short films and industrial videos. “Great!” I thought. “Now I know the proper names of all the equipment AND the dirty names. I’m set!” I finish off my savings and decide to take out a loan from the bank. I feel confident about making the minimum monthly payments and I’m eager to push forward with production work. I’m determined not to go back to the serving/childcare/catering hustle.

With a shiny new resume, I reapply. And was rejected again. Alright, okay, alright, okay…So now, I’m out of savings and have taken on a loan from my bank. I had planned to be moving into production daily work by this time, but clearly that’s not going to happen.

SO. Option…what am I on…F? I’m going to get another serving job and hustle my butt off doing odd jobs. I’m going to keep volunteering on films, then reapply to IATSE, then hopefully change all my non-artist work to being in production until the point where I hope I’ll be able to make all my income as an artist. Are there any other artists out there who feel like their employment plan is mega complicated? If x happens, then I’ll do y, which will temporarily pay my rent until option z kicks in, which will tide me over until x1 occurs. I feel like I need a big board with pictures and coloured yarn connecting everything.

At this point, I’m out of savings and living paycheque to paycheque which I haven’t had to do for years. I have debt from a $6,000 bank loan. Oh, and $2,000 on a credit card, which I haven’t mentioned yet. And I’m still planning on finding a serving job…which is exactly what I was trying to avoid.

This is both a super stressful situation (I haven’t had money-related hives in a while-hello, old friends) and an opportunity for me to do this work and share it along the way. A chance for me to do an artist debt diaries. Which is kind of rad.

I’m trying to remind myself that being in debt does not make me (or you) any less of a badass. I took it on with purpose, so I feel good about that. I used the time that it bought me to make my first animated film, write a ton, and apply (and reapply) for IATSE. I have ideas for how I can make income, and even though I know I don’t want to serve, cater, and do child care indefinitely, maybe knowing that I’m using them as a short-term solution will help me maintain a good headspace. I am driven. I have the skills to dig myself out of this. And even though it feels like I’m free falling right now, I know that if I gather my internal resources (how can I make this much money? Can I realistically cut back there?), I will make it through and begin the slow journey of building back up. I am still a badass.

If you’re also on this debt repayment journey as an artist, comment. I’d love to hear where you’re at on this debt crushing journey.

Emily Nixon

Emily Nixon

Rags to Reasonable Community Outreach Coordinator

Emily Nixon is an actor/writer/director/filmmaking Swiss Army Knife. She is also a big money nerd and Community Outreach Coordinator for Rags to Reasonable.

She came to this work after becoming completely fed up with living paycheque-to-paycheque and being too afraid to look in her chequing account. She is passionate about empowering other artists and variable income earners to keep doing what they love and feel confident about their finances.

Email Emily at emily@ragstoreasonable.com

I Felt Like I Had Screwed Up My Financial Life Entirely… That I Was Destined to Constantly be Broke and Insecure.

I Felt Like I Had Screwed Up My Financial Life Entirely… That I Was Destined to Constantly be Broke and Insecure.

*This was written by a client of mine (Chris) to help you understand a little more about what working with a financial coach/planner is like and so you can better decide if it’s something that interests you. 

I think until the time I started working with Chris, I was just nervous and ashamed about money in every way, and had an extremely hard time talking about it to anyone. I felt like I could never get it right with money; I never had enough of it, I was always behind my bills in some way, and I could never trust myself with it. I felt like I had screwed up my financial life entirely, that I was destined to constantly be broke and insecure.

To be fair to myself, I had never been taught how to handle it;

 I think my parents, who were both first generation college grads and came from working class backgrounds, felt like they were giving me a gift when they didn’t teach me how it worked. Because I didn’t grow up “on the farm” (literally), they thought I wouldn’t have the same problems they did, so I didn’t need to know the basics. Unfortunately, the opposite happened. I never got the financial education that they did. When I got out into the real world, I had nothing to fall back on, and I had to work it out on my own.

For a long time I was ok—I was making enough to get by without too much planning, but I was miserable in my day job. I started to take my art seriously by going back to school for my MFA, and everything changed. My income decreased as my quality of life increased. I was doing what I wanted to do with my life, but I couldn’t just pay for things that came up out of the cash in my checking account.

Simultaneously, I was getting older, and I started seeing the writing on the wall: Shape up or…else. Big questions started looming. I can’t wait tables/dogsit/babysit/be your assistant forever! I now know my body will give out at some point J. I felt like I was a teenager trapped in a middle-aged person’s body. Odd jobs were not cutting it. When they did, I didn’t know how to make them fit together to pay everything on time.

I had found a lot of relief from other kinds of therapy, so I thought there must be some sort of financial therapy that might be useful in the same way. That was how I found Chris.

What was surprising to me was how quickly after we started working together, I became in control of my finances.

 Once I took a look at what I really needed and what my options were, I was able to find a path forward. But freedom didn’t look like what I thought it would; it’s not like I magically made more money. But I was able to set up a system that worked without me having to freak out every minute. Making rent was so stressful to me before Chris; now, I know that the money is there. I don’t have to fake it, I don’t have to stress out on the 20th of the month, wondering how I will get it together before the 1st. I know what is happening, and I don’t actually even have to try that hard.

It has literally been the difference between me being able to do my work and not. Instead of letting my brain be occupied by endless small worries about money, I now know that my basic needs will be met. All I have to do is…make the art I’ve been trying to do my whole life. Without worrying about how I will pay rent next month. Truly, it’s amazing.

I’ve already recommended Chris to people I know, because so many artist friends of mine are in the same bind. We have dedicated our lives to making something meaningful out of our time on this earth. But making something meaningful both requires our undivided attention and a day job. How can those things that are opposites find a way to speak to each other? We don’t want to have to worry about money, but it is the not worrying about money that makes us unable to work.

Simultaneously, money is this thing we can’t talk about, it is the shame we all carry.

I’ve seen friends both with a lot of money and with no money who are terrified to speak about it, terrified they’re doing the wrong thing and that if people knew how terrified they were, somehow the smoke screen they’ve set up will disappear.

Working with Chris allowed me to devise a system that takes the pressure off day-to-day scrambling. It has become one of the reasons I am able to do the work that I love, that I feel driven to do. Just knowing that my bills will be paid gives me a peace of mind I never thought I would know.

Seriously, thank you, Chris! I didn’t know life could feel this (relatively) carefree. Can you write my novel for me now? 

Chris Enns

Chris Enns

Financial Planner/Opera Singer

Money never came naturally to me. In fact... I was a bit of a disaster. I remember (very clearly) what it feels like to be 'financially out of control'.

And honestly, I still get stressed about money... that doesn't stop... the difference is that now I have the tools to deal with that stress.

And those tools are what's made it possible for me to build a life full of the things I want: art, creativity, travel, family and more.

If you want to start getting control of your money I'd love to help. You can start with THIS QUIZ, visiting my GETTING STARTED PAGE or by checking out my SERVICES page.

Office Hours Roundup: How do I Talk to My Partner/Family About Money (and Other Questions)

Office Hours Roundup: How do I Talk to My Partner/Family About Money (and Other Questions)

We hold office hours once a month. People sign up for free and we talk about money.

We wanted to start highlighting a few of the many great questions people ask so that we can all learn from them and weigh in as a community.

The questions have been changed slightly and generalized to make sure to protect the privacy of these sessions.

 

Question #1: How do you help a partner or family member who isn’t as engaged in their finances as you’d like?

This is such a tough one and every situation is very different but I feel like the thing that spans every case is more communication … which is way easier to say than to do.

You’ve got to figure out ways to bring money into the conversation. Until that happens things are never going to get better.

BUT… let me be clear. Talking about money doesn’t mean that you jump right into the most stressful issues or tell them all about the things they really ‘should be doing’. Creating a foundation of communication is way harder than that. It will take time. It will take patience (on both sides).

I recommend to start with some fun topics. What do you wish there was more money for? What would you do with all the money in the world? What do you love spending money on (only a good question if it can be asked with judgement)?

And when the other person opens up… listen. Don’t try to fix things right away. Don’t leap into action unless they actually ask you to. Just listen. Just be there for them.

Most people avoid money because of the intense feelings of shame and inadequacy is brings up. Remember that and be as gentle as possible.

AND… if starting these conversations is simply impossible. Start having them on your own. Work in your own money fears and work into the conversation whether they respond or not. One day they might join the conversation.

Question #2: I’m doing okay and have a bit of extra money every month but I’m not sure what I should be doing with it… RRSP? TFSA? Mortgage? General savings?

First of all, it’s difficult for me to give any specific advice about what are the most efficient options without really diving into your numbers and projections, so here are some general thoughts.

What I would encourage you to do is to really think about what your overall goals are. Is this money for 30 years from now? Do you have upcoming things that need funding? Which out of these goals are the most important to you right now.

Getting really specific about which goals get fed first is going to help you allocate funds when they’re available. This is especially important for self-employed folks with variable income. We don’t know exactly how much we’re going to have available for these goals. But we can have a list of how we want to attack them when money is available.

Once you’ve got the list you can get a little more specific about action (this is not a recommendation, but just a hypothetical). 

  1. Pay off credit card – I’ve automated payments so this is done by November. Where did this debt come from? Am I making sure I’m protecting myself against building more debt?
  2. Pay down mortgage in 5 years – How much does it take to do this? What’s your pre-payment amount every year?
  3. Contribute to TFSA – how much do you want to aim for? What is this money for? Retirement?
  4. Build an emergency fund – what would this fund help you do? How much would you like to have in it?
  5. Contribute to RRSPs – how much contribution room do I have?

By looking at your numbers I can come up with the ‘most efficient’ choice, but that’s only one factor. When it comes to which tools are right for you make sure you’re always fixing yourself to a goal and then applying the tool … not the other way around. 

 

Question #3: How to I wrap my mind around the costs of living in another country?

 

This is such a stressful thing. Moving is hard enough, but moving to a country adds so many unknowns to the equation.

I think the most helpful thing for me would be to start getting organized. When I’m packing for a longer trip I have two piles: things I’m taking with me, and things I’m leaving behind. You can do the same thing for your expenses.

Make a big list of what you spend on right now. What are your fixed costs, your other monthly spending and the annual stuff that happens every year.

Now… make a second list for your new country of residence. What are the expenses that you’re taking with you? Which expenses will probably be different and what expenses are going to get added to the mix?

That list is the collection zone for all your stress and you can use it to slowly start researching and putting together an answer to the question of ‘how much are we going to need when we move’.

Spend the next few weeks and months chipping away at this list one item at a time: what will we have to pay for housing? Are there any curve balls in renting that are different than here (in some countries you need to bring your own kitchen appliances or provide your own floor)? What might food cost?

Use google or ask people who have lived in these places what good thoughtful numbers might be.

If you’re not sure or can’t find good resources for where you’re moving make sure to budget for ‘a period of adjustment’. It always takes time in a new place to get set up and find the less expensive stores. There are also extra costs for setting up a new place.

The most important part of this exercise is to actually write it all down. Getting these thoughts and numbers out of your head is going to make it way easier to start wrapping your mind around the move.

Chris Enns

Chris Enns

Financial Planner/Opera Singer

Money never came naturally to me. In fact... I was a bit of a disaster. I remember (very clearly) what it feels like to be 'financially out of control'.

And honestly, I still get stressed about money... that doesn't stop... the difference is that now I have the tools to deal with that stress.

And those tools are what's made it possible for me to build a life full of the things I want: art, creativity, travel, family and more.

If you want to start getting control of your money I'd love to help. You can start with THIS QUIZ, visiting my GETTING STARTED PAGE or by checking out my SERVICES page.

EMAIL ME