You Need a Budget…And Maybe Some Donuts

You Need a Budget…And Maybe Some Donuts

My name is Dashon and I’m an opera singer just like Chris. We met after many years of hearing of each other, but, as it often works in the classical singing world, we didn’t meet each other until we were eating meringues together in the heart of Paris. C’est la vie!

I have known Chris’ wife Mireille Asselin, another amazingly accomplished opera singer (seriously, you have got to listen to her amazing voice!) for many years, and she has told me about Chris many times. To meet up with friends, old and new, is always a joy! Between bites of stuffing our faces with lovely food, we started to talk about our projects. As much as we love music, when you’re in “the biz,” it’s also great to share what gets you excited about the world outside of the arts, as well. When we got to sharing about our love of budgeting, it was a lightning bolt right in between my eyes!

We all have these moments when we know that we have found a partner to navigate the rough and choppy waters, and for me, even though I had just met Chris, I felt very welcome to talk about my finances and the practical pressures of being an artist. Having a mentor is absolutely essential in our field, and looking up to peers is just as important for me; they understand exactly what I’m going through in a way that few other people can!


The YNAB Connection

Chris and I both have wonderful histories with the app You Need a Budget (YNAB), and for good reason! It has truly saved my sanity, which has in turn allowed me to save my finances and to conceive of my limited resources differently. However, the road to using it as often as I do (I love getting to it every day, it helps my system not pile up, and it definitely helps to remind myself of my goals for the future) wasn’t always so straight.

I started using YNAB about 6 years ago, after I read about it on the Internet (my true love in this world, second only to an excellent donut…). People were saying all sorts of things that piqued my curiosity:

“It changed my life.”
“It’s amazing.”
“I finally got out of debt.”
“I was able to save up to help my family achieve their dreams.”
“This is the most delicious thing I have ever eaten, so perfectly crisp and filled with my favorite Bavarian Cream, I will definitely be back!”

(One of those might have been about donuts, sometimes I confuse my open tabs, of which there are many…)

So, I fired up the computer, signed up for an account and promptly used it with the vigor of a New Year’s Resolver for a few months.

Then, not really having identified any goals… it just became another way to track my money. I’d been using other apps to do so, and while it certainly was interesting to see how much money I was spending on various things, there wasn’t a true understanding of what it was doing for me. So I went back to my other hobbies and other interests, and I just let it go.


Rinse, and repeat. For the next two years.

I’d give it a go, and would get tired of tracking, and didn’t really know what I wanted anyway. Even though I had student loans, and credit card debt, I never really thought about that. To borrow a phrase from another friend: those things were “a problem for Future Dashon.”

After a while, though, I started to get a knock at the door of my heart. I have no clue who let him in, or how he found me (my sense of time as a musician is usually great, as long as I don’t have to count higher than four), but there he stood: Future Dashon.

He wasn’t so bad looking, which was nice, but he definitely had a few harsh words for me, which wasn’t so nice. My finances had become messy, and I started to realize exactly how stressed out I was.


As artists, we are so used to improvising, and the idea of the “starving artist” is so pervasive, that it becomes a part of our self identity.

I didn’t believe that I deserved to be free of stress, because I just thought that’s how things were!

Great things to hand down from generation to generation via the mentor/student relationship: vocal technique, an endless curiosity and love of your craft, and respect and love for the traditions that you encounter which speak to you. Not such great things to hand down: the idea that getting ahead is impossible, the notion that in order to be successful you absolutely must sacrifice everything financially, and other assorted stereotypes of artists.


Go time.

So, after a couple of years of back and forth, I decided to really settle in, buckle up, and ask for help. One of the best things about YNAB is the community of users on the Internet. The official support staff, as well as other wide-eyed travellers were at the ready to help me, and are definitely ready to help you with any questions. I explained my situation to them, posted a lot of screenshots, and they helped me clarify my needs and wants. Finally, things were starting to click in.

More so than the actual method, what was clicking in for me was the need to make goals. Even if I couldn’t stick to them perfectly, knowing what my priorities were (and are) saved my sanity. And that, in turn allowed me to know not only what to spend money on, but why I was spending on those things. That, my new friends, is true freedom. The “learning curve” isn’t as steep as it may seem, and if you can master Yelp to find the best donut shop, you can definitely master your budget. Equally delicious.

Celebrating my YNAB Birthday

Just as I am writing this, I’ve decided to think of one of my favorite days of my life: my YNAB birthday. February 25, 2013 was so important to me! Even though I had a very circuitous route to learning how to use the software in a way that brought me freedom and joy, it’s a great thing to celebrate. Make today your YNAB birthday! Reach out to any of us here and we’ll help you along the way. Your future self will thank you.

Check out You Need a Budget HERE.

Dashon Burton

Dashon Burton

Opera Singer and YNAB Enthusiast

Dashon Burton is a singer based in New York City, and dreams of donuts on the reg. Raised in the Bronx, he found a musical life while in high school in Williamsport, PA that changed his life forever. After graduating with a degree in Vocal Performance from Oberlin College, and later received a Master’s degree in Early Music from the Yale School of Music in 2011. Since that time, he has been a full time performer and educator, and has sung in opera houses and with orchestras around the world. For more information:
Making a Plan: With a Sketch and a Whole Lot of Stretch

Making a Plan: With a Sketch and a Whole Lot of Stretch

I didn’t jump out of bed on January 1st 2019 excited to face a new year. It was mid afternoon when I decided I was putting off the new year for a few more days.

“My new year starts on the 3rd” I told my wife.

… it started on the 4th, and the stress hit the next day.

I was sitting at my computer trying to wade through a pile of emails and tasks that I had secretly promised myself I would finish over the holidays with ‘all my free time’. After an hour I reached that place where my brain just said … nope… and any idea of work stopped.

I needed to step back and get organized. I needed a plan.

First of all, let’s talk about what a plan is (and what it isn’t)

I am not a born planner. For many years I believed that any kind of plan would stop me from being spontaneous and living in the moment.

What’s made me a convert is that I learnt that a plan is not a strict schedule that I must adhere to, but an exercise in which I use my imagination to sketch a version of the future which helps me answer one question: what should I do next?

This is true whether you’re making a plan for the day, the week, or for 2019. The point isn’t to make all your decisions for the next 12 months, but to collect all the stuff you know for sure, you think might happen, and that you really want to happen in front of you so you can figure out your first step.

The exercise of planning is one of stretching the scope of your attention

After waking up with a tension headache I decided to do a gentle stretch session. Shit. It was intense. I was so tight, that every bendy direction given to me by the woman on the youtube was complete mockery.

“Just sit upright and walk your fingertips to your feet.”

… and I attempted to sit upright while my muscles trembled with the intensity of the stretch.

If you’re not a planner, trying to imagine the entire year or even the next month might feel a bit like that.

That’s cool. Planning is an exercise and slowly over time you’ll find that you’re able to stretch your attention further into the future.

Pick a time frame that doesn’t fill you with panic. Imagine a year, a month, a week, the next two days and wait until your brain doesn’t totally freak out.

That’s your time frame.

Sketching out your plan

There’s no wrong way to plan. Well… there probably are wrong ways to plan, but there are lots of ways to get the job done.

Just remember that the point is to help clear up whatever question you have in the moment.
One of the big questions that lots of folks (myself included) have is what can I afford? Can I afford to spend three hours a week working out? Can I afford to take two weeks off in May? Can I afford to go out for lunch today (both in time and money)? Can I afford to get a new place this year?

These questions are especially difficult for variable income earners who have a limited idea of how much time and money they’ll have over the next year.

So here’s how to start laying it down.

The important questions to look at are:

  1. What do I know for sure?
  2. What can I reasonably guess?
  3. What do I really want to happen?

We’re going to take a look at a few examples of how to play around with this. Remember… it’s play, it’s imagination, it’s not going to happen this way… but it could… and it’ll help us with the actual problem that we’re facing in the moment.

Plan #1: Figuring out the week

Question: Do I have the time for ________________?

This was a big problem for me at the beginning of last year. I kept over-committing to stuff and then things would get backed up and I would be stressed. I needed a plan, but I had never really blocked my time out in a systematic way before.

I used Google Calendars because I love being able to colour code blocks of time and it’s really easy to move things around. I can set it one way on Monday, and then shift things as the week goes along. The thing that really helps is that even though I’m moving things around, I’m really connected to the fact that if I move something… it has to bump something else.

To make my week plan I follow the same routine.

First, I block what I know for sure: appointments made, time I want to make sure to take off (evenings or mornings… booking rest time first is another skill I’ve learned this year), you can even put in sleep and meal time to make sure you’re accounting for that.

Next, put in the stuff you’re pretty sure will happen. It might not be confirmed, but you want to make sure to hold time for it. This is a combination of stuff that you want to have happen and stuff that you know happens every week. You need to shop, do laundry, and maybe shower… when is that going to happen?

And lastly, what do you have left for the stuff you want to do. This might be work projects or social stuff.

The thing I love about laying it all out on a dashboard is that I see all the things that are bouncing around in my head, and I can figure out really quickly whether I’ve overcommitted or if what I have planned is realistic.

A note: this might seem really overwhelming to some of you. You don’t have to do this every week. Remember…. a plan is a response to a question or tension in your life. Use it when you need to use it, but the more thorough your process, the more it will help.

Plan #2 Figuring out the next few months

Question: Can I afford __________________?

The same kind of planning can be applied to your finances. Yes, it’s hard to do when you’re a variable income earner and especially for those of you who have multiple income streams, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t patch together some kind of plan.

The list of questions is the same, and you can use this handy dandy tool to play around with them. It’s a variable income spreadsheet that helps you look at the next few months of your life (up to a year) in order to figure out if you’re spending too much or earning enough.

You can snag your own copy to play around with here, and the video below will let you know how it works. 


Plan #3 Figuring the year

Question: Can I take a two week vacation in ____________?

I love this exercise (which I stole from a mentor of mine) especially for the self-employed. It involves looking at the whole year and blocking out your vacation FIRST. And I’m not talking about the kind of vacation where you bring your laptop to a new city and then never leave the hotel room because you’re working the whole time. I’m talking about real vacation.

Here’s mine so far. I’m still working on it, but since I’m doing a lot of travelling this year it was really valuable to plan out days to adjust to the jet lag and block off real planned vacation.

Once I had this information I could look at the days I had left and math out the amount that I needed to earn per month in those days. Once I found a balance that seemed realistic I could feel better about starting to make plans for these vacation weeks.

Now all I have to learn is how to actually relax while on vacation. Sigh.

Plan #4 Figuring out the next 5 years

Question: Should I be saving? What for?

Okay. This one for you planning pros who want to stretch yourselves a little bit. It’s a technique that is stolen from the book Designing your Life (which is awesome and totally worth a read).

You can use it to map out your month or your year, but it’s really effective when you’re looking at a larger block of time.

They encourage you to draw out the next five years. What do you know? What do you want? What milestones do you expect to achieve?

But don’t just do one version… do THREE. One for the life you’re living right now, one for a version of your life that you would turn to if you couldn’t do what you’re doing right now, and one for a life that you would love to try if you knew for sure that no one would laugh at you.

Here’s one of their examples.

I went through this exercise late in 2018 and found it a difficult and rewarding thing to do, especially the second two versions. I found myself drawing a future where I was a 100% stay at home dad and one in which I was a cartoonist.

Both of those potential futures have become a part of my 2019 planning… which is pretty cool.

Don’t get lost in the weeds. No one knows what’s going to happen.

If successful planning was perfectly predicting the future there wouldn’t be a successful plan anywhere in the universe.

Planning is a game, an exercise of the imagination and a tool to help you figure out what to do next.

This year don’t get too bogged down in the product. Get your hands dirty in the process. Draw a picture, colour out some time blocks, and spend the imaginary cash of your future self.

And then make your next step a little more confidently.

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.

Ideal Financial Solutions Don’t Work

Ideal Financial Solutions Don’t Work

It would be so nice to be able to make financial decisions in a vacuum. To just freeze the world, so you had time to sit with the problem and figure out a great solution.

But this stupid thing happens almost every time…


Sometimes it’s good life, and sometimes it’s nasty life … but it always happens.

And the problem that you thought you were trying to solve morphs into something different.


Ideal solutions rarely exist (and when they do, they don’t last)

There are times when I think my job as a financial planner is to come up with ideal solutions. The perfect series of actions that are going to lead you to success.

And sometimes… I actually think I found them.

I deliver a big ole shiny plan with numbers and charts and a gleaming pathway to your success.

It makes me feel great.

But, it probably won’t work, at least not as smoothly as that.


The reality of financial problem solving

The truth is the ideal plan sometimes doesn’t work, even if it looks perfect on paper.

One changing detail throws everything off, or it just doesn’t fit on your life.

And then my lovely plan is useless.

Well… it’s not useless, but it’s not useful on its pure surface value.

It’s useful because of the underlying process. The thoughts and questions at it’s core.

That’s what we come back to over and over again.


Financial problem solving Take 2, 3, 4, and on…

Often when I work with clients we spend 3 months gathering information, building up a plan and setting up a structure for making it all work.

And then in the fourth month we start to figure out why it doesn’t work.

And it probably doesn’t, often in some big ways.

That doesn’t mean either of us has failed (although I’m sure both of us will feel that way a little bit).

It’s because of that stupid ‘life’ thing.

The goal now becomes about adjusting, going back to the process and the fundamental goals and questions and finding a way that DOES work.

Finding a way that works with how you actually live your life, and want to use your money.

At least one that works for 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.