A Budget is a Great Step One, But a Terrible Starting Place

A Budget is a Great Step One, But a Terrible Starting Place

I was doing a finance workshop for a group of musicians last week, and half way into a rant about cashflow basics and the importance of financial technique… I realized that I was doing this all wrong.

It’s still frustrating to me when I think about it.

The thought process was sound. I wanted to start at ‘step one’. I didn’t want to leave anyone behind. I wanted to give them the tools they needed to get started.

The things is, that’s not how people usually start things, and since we were all musicians… that should have been abundantly clear.

 

No one wants to do scales

Anyone who was forced to do piano lessons as a child will remember the scales.

I can hear them in my head.

Painfully pecked out notes. Up and down.

I’m sure someone in the world finds them thrilling, but to most of us… they suck.

No one fell in love with music because they heard a scale and couldn’t wait to get home and start playing.

And yet they’re a key part of music. They help in a hundred different ways.

They’re a great step one…. but they’re a terrible starting place.

 

Where people actually start

I fell in love with music watching a production of Oliver. I sang those songs for years while mowing the lawn around the farm.

I fell in love with songs and stories. I fell in love with the performances of the greats.

I wanted to do what they did, and I didn’t particularly want to wait.

This is the want that has driven thousands of children to terrible recordings of some of the world’s best music. Music that they’re not nearly ready for, or equipped to sing.

But if someone would have sat me down on that first day and told me to do scales for three years before I could sing a song, I probably would have quit.

 

Technique matters, but it rarely comes first

The need for the basics usually comes after.

In music it came when I realized that I couldn’t do the things I wanted to do. When I realized that I wasn’t nearly as good as the people I idolized.

And if I wanted to get better, I needed to do the work.

But now the work was connected to something I really wanted. It wasn’t ‘work in a vaccum’… it was a tool to get me where I knew I wanted to be.

And that’s the mistake that I was making last week.

 

Non linear financial methodology

I need to learn to start with the questions and issues that are really present for people.

I need to help people get excited about the end goal, which often has nothing to do with money.

A life full of travel, and family, and success.

I need to tell stories of people who are using whatever money they have to tremendous effect.

I need to help artists remember that money doesn’t have to be a barrier… it can be a tool that helps you build a spectacular life.

And then we can talk about a budget.

But from now on… it’s not going to be where I start.

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.

Budgeting Bipolar: How to Manage Your Money When you Have Bigger Fish to Fry

Budgeting Bipolar: How to Manage Your Money When you Have Bigger Fish to Fry

This post was commissioned as part of a pilot program at Rags to Reasonable. In an effort to both support artists and gather financial resources and stories, R2R is offering money for content (written, visual, or video).

If you’re interested in pitching an idea fill out .

If you have any questions, email me at ragstoreasonable@gmail.com

Picture yourself at midnight. Your to-do list is just too long for you to successfully complete before bed.  Your bank balance is just thirty dollars under rent, and maybe you have that between your couch cushions, but you also have to buy food.

If you are anything like me, this might be when your alarm goes off to take your medicine. And here is where you learn two things about me: one, that I take a number of medications to keep me sane. And two, that on this particular night, I’m down to my last few. Time to stock up again.

So here’s a little background. I’m a full-time freelancer now, setting my own hours and working for hire on all kinds of music related work…and I’m also bipolar with a small sprinkling of anxiety issues. This means that on top of the regular struggles of being a freelancer I’m also balancing doctor’s appointments, sessions with a therapist, and the financial cost of medication, which adds up very quickly when you have multiple mental health issues.

So when you’re in this situation, what do you do? What happens when managing your money plays second fiddle to staying healthy?

I have a few strategies to manage this:

  • If you’re on expensive medications, ask your doctor about insurance options, or less expensive (generic) substitutions. In the province of Ontario, there’s a government drug subsidy that limits the amount you pay per year – your deductible – to 4% of your taxable income. And generic drugs, when available, are typically cheaper than their brand-name counterparts, but contain the same active ingredients. But don’t make those decisions until you consult a medical professional!

  • When budgeting/planning your spending, have strict priorities – and then have a category or two with no upper limits. When I look at my monthly income, the first gigs and contracts go directly towards my rent, and the next towards transportation. But after that, I have two categories where there is no limit – food, and medical expenses. I would rather go without just about everything else than go without food, and I need my medication to ensure that I’m sane enough to work, and that other people will still want to work with me. (This also helps me manage the manic spending impulses – buying all the snacks at the grocery store is still cheaper than buying too many clothes on a shopping spree!) So if you need to cut back in other areas, do it; make sure your essentials get taken care of first. No one cares if you wear the same clothes every day (well, unless you smell as well). But they will care if you’re a good person or not.
  • Preventative measures are smarter investments than damage control later. Staying physically active and eating healthy is essential. So, if that gym membership down the street or your yoga classes or the gear for your beer league is going to be money you’ll be happy spending, then invest in it. If you’re out a lot and healthier choices are a little more expensive, it’s probably still a better investment than that third latte. And if therapy is the answer you need: there are cost-accessible options out there. But putting the time into therapy and doctors and care you need means that you won’t end up in the hospital later.

  • Money is no substitute for time. If you need to take the time off to treat your mental health – even if it means taking a little less work – it is an investment in your future, both personally and professionally. Self-care is important!

Money, for me, is always one of the biggest stressors in my life. And we need it to survive. But you only get one body and one mind, and you can’t take care of your money if there’s no you around to save or spend it!

Chelsea McBride

Chelsea McBride

Paid Contributor

Driven by an endless need for expressing herself creatively, young composer and multi-instrumentalist Chelsea McBride has burst onto the Toronto jazz scene. Whether it’s her big band (Chelsea McBride’s Socialist Night School), her jazz trio (Chelsea McBride Group), her pop-fusion band (Chelsea and the Cityscape), her Latin-soul nonet (The Achromatics) or her video game cover band (Koopa Troop), Chelsea is a diverse musician who refuses to stay in one creative box. Chelsea can be heard around Toronto playing several shows per month. She has released three albums with Chelsea and the Cityscape and two albums with her Socialist Night School.

You can find out more at www.crymmusic.com

Want to start getting control of your money? How can I help?

I way overspent in December… now what?

I way overspent in December… now what?

Overspent in December

Listen up (this is really important). I need you to know something about this whole ‘getting good at your money thing’…. you’re still gonna make mistakes. If you’re anything like me… you’re going to make a lot of them. Also crazy expensive things are going to happen to you that are only partially your fault.

But, that doesn’t change when you understand how an RRSP works.

What changes is that AFTER you spend half your rent on something shiny… you have the tools to deal with it… you can make adjustments, you can get back on track, you can figure out what comes next.

I make mistakes all the time, and some of them are really stupid, but I can usually bounce back pretty quickly.

I think that’s something the financial industry doesn’t talk about nearly enough… and I will try to be more honest about my mistakes (and recoveries) in the future.

So in the spirit of that honesty…

Confession: I way overspent in December – like… double what I budgeted.

I’m sure I’m not the only one… and so I decided to make this video to walk you through exactly what I did after overspending.

It takes you inside my actual budget, and shows you the three things that I hope are going to help me bounce back (and avoid repeating my mistake).

I really hope that it’s helpful to go behind the curtain like this.

… oh… and be kind… I’m new at this video thing, and the intro may be one of the dorkiest things that I have ever put on the internet.

If you have any questions feel free to post them in the comments, send me a note, or sign up to chat during my weekly office hours.

Want to start getting control of your money? How can I help?

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.

You’re not a useless piece of shit if you can’t figure out how to budget – it’s hard

You’re not a useless piece of shit if you can’t figure out how to budget – it’s hard

Can we please stop pretending that budgeting is easy? Especially budgeting for artists!

Can we stop pretending it’s simple and anyone who isn’t a lazy sack of shit should be able to make one in an evening?

Because that’s not how it is at all.

Sure it can feel easy… once you’re already doing it.

Sure it can feel easy … if you’ve always been good with your money and you just need to sketch out something that your brain already understands.

But if I stood up in front of you and sang an opera aria in your face, and then talked about how ‘easy’ it was… you might want to punch me in the ear (maybe you’d want to do that 4 notes into the aria…)

And that’s how I feel when people talk about ‘just starting a budget’.

Starting a budget is hard.

Why? Because what a budget asks of a lot of people is to completely change the way they think.

It’s not just two columns of numbers: expenses and income.

It’s a whole different way to relate to money.

That’s one of the reasons it’s so powerful when you actually get it, but let’s not pretend changing how you THINK is easy.

LESS vs FEWER

I have, in my life, picked up a large number of ‘charming’ language habits.

One of them, that was brought to my attention about a year ago, was that I was using ‘less’ when I should be using ‘fewer’.

I never said ‘fewer’.

I knew it was a word, but I just used ‘less’ for everything.

For those of you who are similarly confused about the difference… ‘less’ is used when the item is uncountable… ‘fewer’ when it’s countable.

“Every day I have less time in my life.” vs “I have fewer blocks of cheese than you”.

Anyways… this is a tiny thing.

After I knew the difference, all I had to do was to start using ‘fewer’ in the correct situations.

Except… it wasn’t that simple. What I actually had to do was to reprogram my brain. I had to teach it to recognize the situation, and instinctually use ‘fewer’ instead of ‘less’. This was a considerably more daunting task.

But I did it.

IT TOOK ME A WHOLE YEAR … and I still get the damn thing wrong half the time. But I have started to use ‘fewer’ as an instinctual part of my speech.

Budgeting means reshaping your money instincts

Anyone can put numbers into two columns.

But that’s not budgeting.

That won’t provide any of the transformative benefits that we personal finance wonks keep blabbering about.

Budgeting is one part self-awareness, one part intention, and one part follow-through.

It’s about taking your money and saying:

  • How do I spend you?
  • How do I want to spend you?
  • How am I going to make sure that happens?

And it can look like a spreadsheet or it can be scribbled on a cocktail napkin if it has those three questions at its heart.

Part one: Self-awareness (How do I spend you?)

In finance speak this is the ‘track-your-spending’ step.

But in reality, it’s reprogramming your brain to really think about the money that you spend.

That’s why one of the best base level budgeting ideas I’ve ever heard came from New York Times writer Carl Richards. He encouraged people to try to build the habit of saying the following every time they bought something…

“I just spend $48 on groceries. That’s interesting”.

That’s all.

No spreadsheet. No writing down anything.

And if you did this for a month, I bet you would change the way you spend (or at least feel better about it).

Because you’re reprogramming your brain to pay attention.

Budgeting for Artists

Why it’s super hard:

It’s hard because we’re already paying attention to a bunch of other stuff, and because spending money is really really easy.

We don’t even have to take out cash these days. We can just use our phones or credit cards.

So it’s easy to do without thinking.

Making your brain pay attention is tiring. It’s annoying. Your brain doesn’t want to spend more energy on this.

But if you don’t teach it to pay attention, there’s absolutely no point in doing anything else.

How you can do it:

Carl Richard’s technique is a great place to start, but it won’t be for everyone.

What I get my clients to do is to get in the habit of taking 5 minutes every day to write down what they spent, and what they made.

And that’s it.

I tell them not to put it in columns, or try to look at yesterday’s list. They can even throw it away if they want.

But they have to sit and write it down.

Sounds easy, right? But even that small thing isn’t easy… because stuff comes up. It always comes up. And your schedule is crazy, and you’ll do it tomorrow… probably… and then you don’t…

It’s hard to get your brain to pay attention.

So, the exercise that we do is to really consciously plan what that ‘5 minutes’ is going to look like.

Where is it going to be? When? Is there something you do every day that you can attach this new habit to? What will you do if you can’t do it one day…. when will you catch up?

Then I make them write it down. Every detail.

It’s amazing how powerful the act of thinking through every part of something can be.

It still doesn’t make it easy… but it recognizes what’s actually hard about the first step to budget success… and it gives you a plan.

Here’s a video I made talking about those first few steps and demonstrating exactly what writing down your money ins and outs looks like:

Part 2: Intention (How do I want to spend you?)

This is where most people start, but unless you know how you’re currently spending, unless you’ve started to pay attention… it’s not going to matter.

But if you’ve got the building blocks of that awareness, you’re ready for the next step.

How to ‘verb’ your money:

In my life as an opera singer ‘intention’ plays a huge role.

It’s not enough to sing well (or even perfectly), but it has to mean something, and so we work really hard to fill every note with intention.

I guarantee that no matter who you are, you can tell the difference when a singer is singing with  intention and when they’re not.

One of the exercises I used to do was ‘verbing’ my text, I used it for spoken monologues, too.

I’d go through it line by line and write what ‘the action’ was behind the text.

For example, the words “I love you” can be said with a lot of different actions. I could be trying to romance someone – to romance – or I could be spitting in the face of an enemy – to offend. It all depends on the context, but as a performer it gives you a great and clear roadmap for how you’re using your text and music.

That’s basically how budgeting works.

Money doesn’t mean anything on its own. It’s like me singing loudly in your face.. at first it might seem impressive (or abrasive), but after a little bit it’s just a thing. There’s no purpose to it.

And you want your money to have purpose. That’s the whole point of a budget.

So when money comes in – you give it an action.

$100 gig – to pay the rent

$400 sale – to pay the rent

$2000 paycheque – $400 to finish paying rent, $400 to buy groceries, $300 to buy supplies, $500 to pay back Visa, $100 to buy beer, $50 to relax, $50 to give away, $50 to see awesome shows, $150 to make something incredible.

That’s a budget.

Budgeting for Artists

Why it’s super hard:

Because a lot of us have a bunch of jobs, and a bunch of income sources, and it changes and it’s hard to figure out how much is enough.

Because you’ll run out of money before you run out of ‘actions’ you want to do.

And do you know what the really hard question is…. WHAT DO YOU WANT?

That’s the question at the heart of every great aria or monologue… and it’s the question that’s at the heart of every great budget.

Not only ‘what do I want’, but ‘what do I want most’….

That’s just about the hardest question there is.

How you can do it:

First of all, you need to know what you need.]

Before ‘want’ comes ‘need’. ALWAYS.

When I’m helping a client make their priorities I constantly remind them that the most important part of your art … of your business… is you. You need to be happy and healthy, and that means taking care of your needs.

It’s not ‘just the rent’ or ‘just groceries’.

It’s your HOME, and the food that you fill it with. It’s the essence of your life.

Send money into those needs with joy. Every month. Every week. WITH JOY.

After your needs, you have to rank your wants.

Start by brainstorming all of the possible things you’d love to spend money on, and then put them in a list – the most important at the top.

That list can change every week, or every month… it’s totally up to you.

And lastly…you’re not going to try and figure out your ‘average monthly income’. You’re just going to take it as it comes…

When money comes in… give it an action… work your way down your list. Once your needs are full, start on the wants.

It’s going to take work to set up, and not ‘figuring out how to use excel’ work… real ‘on the couch figuring out what’s important to you in life’ kind of work.

Part 3: Follow Through (How am I going to make this happen?)

If you do the last few things, you’ll have the habit and the actual structure that makes up a budget.

Now you have to actually do what you thought through and said you wanted.

Writing down – $200 to spend on groceries – doesn’t actually make those groceries appear. Neither do written obligations towards your debt or future happiness.

A budget is a living document, it has to change and adapt and grow.

It’s like live art.

You can rehearse for weeks and plan out every single moment… but when the curtain comes up… you’ve got to make it work.

If I ran offstage every time something went wrong I would never make it through a show.

Why it’s hard:

Because life happens.

You don’t make enough money and go into debt, or you make way too much money and start spending a ton more than normal on bejewelled sweatpants.

Maybe you get sick and miss a bunch of work or maybe you fall in love and have 4 little kids.

Your budget ‘breaks’. It gets all messed up. It isn’t providing direction. It becomes just another thing to try and ‘make work’.

How you can do it:

You need to completely change your expectation on what ‘a budget’ is.

A budget is not a Picasso that hangs unchanged behind glass.

A budget is like a kid’s chocolate pudding finger-painting… it’s a freaking mess. But it connects the things that you love (in this metaphor – your child and chocolate pudding) and that makes it precious.

A budget is a tool of self-awareness and intention. There is no circumstance that can break those two things.

It helps you know where you are right now, and where you want to move towards.

Self-awareness and intention are both things that are 100% in your control, so don’t go crying that your budget is broken.

Your expectations are broken.

If it doesn’t work, change it.

If it isn’t helping maybe you need to reconnect with the basic questions you’re asking of your money:

  • how am I spending you?
  • how do I want to spend you?

Do you know how you can succeed with the kind of budget that will actually change your life?… the same way that you’ve succeeded as an artist.

Fail. Learn. Try something new. Get messy. Get creative. Ask the tough questions. Challenge your habits. Be unique.

That’s how you’re going to do it.

Need help getting started?

Budgeting is hard. If you need some help building habits and getting organized, I’d love to help.

Is it really worth it?

Yes.

It’s not worth it to download a template and write down some numbers and then follow it just long enough to feel like a failure. That’s just something that you’re doing to feel more adult.

But it’s worth it to spend the massive amount of time and energy that it takes to become more aware of the role of money in your life.

It’s insanely worth it to take a more active role yourself. To give every dollar that comes into your hands a really clear intention that’s based on what you really want.

I promise you, from someone who used to feel like a complete sack of shit whenever I saw someone make it look so easy…

I promise you that it’s not easy. It’s hard, but not for the reasons you think it is.

And it’s so worth the work.

It will make you richer.

Yes… with money… but also in so many more ways than that.

Want to start getting control of your money? How can I help?

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.

Budgeting doesn’t mean fewer cupcakes

Budgeting doesn’t mean fewer cupcakes

One fateful Sunday, in a fit of boredom I baked 2 dozen cupcakes.

I really didn’t need those cupcakes, and after the copious amount of batter and icing I ate while making them… I didn’t really want them.

But from that experience was born this tasty little budgeting infographic.

I hope you enjoy it, eat a bunch of cupcakes, and remember that budgeting doesn’t mean you get less stuff… it just means that you don’t have to feel bad about the stuff you do get.

Budgeting Infographic

If you’re interested in reading a bit more about the combined subject of budgets and cupcakes… might I suggest:

HOW TO BUILD A BUDGET THAT DOESN’T SUCK

and also (although it’s light on the cupcakes):

PLANNING TO BE SPONTANEOUS: HOW BUDGETING FREED ME UP TO BE IN THE MOMENT

Want to start getting control of your money? How can I help?

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.

Why ‘mezza voce’ and budgets really don’t matter

Why ‘mezza voce’ and budgets really don’t matter

Budgets don't matter

I was doing a podcast a little while ago, talking to two fellow opera singers about what I love about personal finance and financial planning and one of the hosts stopped me and said something like:

“Look, I hear what you’re saying, and it sounds great… like it’s this game changing thing… but it can’t be that easy.

(… that’s a horrible misquote of a much more eloquently expressed thought, but it’s been rolling around in my mind for a while now…)

It’s such a trap to write about something you believe is a transformative tool that everyone needs.

Because… everyone doesn’t need it.

That’s right. I said it. Not everyone needs this personal finance/financial planning stuff.

Some people are fine. And if everything is honestly working fine… why micro manage it. It’s working.

And for those of us that aren’t doing fine… it’s not easy. It’s really difficult… but not for the reasons you might think.

Consider this massive oversimplification of my job as an opera singer….

 

When I’m singing my main goal is to communicate an awesome idea or emotion to another person.

Budgets don't matter

There’s a lot of tools to help this happen: staging, lighting, vocal colour, and of course … the baritone claw. But the whole point it to get that idea from my brain to that other person’s brain.

But I forget that all the time.

I’ll be sitting in a masterclass, or a performance and hear some insane piece of technique. A mezza voce that stops my soul, or a bone shaking resonance and immediately I’m thinking…

“How cool would it be if I could do that?”

So I run to the practise room and obsess about mezza voce for the next 6 months or on one unfortunate period of my life it was trying to master the goat trill.

The problem is that the tool doesn’t matter on it’s own. If it’s not helping my overall purpose of communicating an awesome idea… it’s kind of useless.

Budgets don't matter

And let’s be honest. I’m oversimplifying the purpose of opera by saying it’s ‘just communicating an awesome idea’. It makes it sound like something simple…

… but you know it’s not.

It’s freaking hard.

It takes years of mastery. It’s not a matter of ‘just’ doing anything. It’s a combination of a thousand ever changing factors and tools that match with your deepest, darkest identity.

It’s the same with money.

What if the oversimplified purpose of your life is to take the values that you find really important (family, beautify, justice) and put them into the world.

Money is one of the tools that helps you do that.

The challenge is to connect your money with your values to create a life that you’re happy with.

Budgets don't matter

Now, you might need some tools to help you with that….

But that basic goal is what matters.

Not financial planning.

Not budgets

Not any tool or ideology at all.

There’s a million ways to communicate an awesome idea.

I sing opera. Maybe you paint on canvas, or channel your soul through the words of Shakespeare.

There are also a million ways to make peace with money.

I use financial planning and teach it to others.

But that doesn’t mean it’s the right tool for you.

Want to start getting control of your money? How can I help?

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