As things begin to open up, there is an ever growing conversation about what is ‘essential’ and what is not. It’s something those of us connected to the arts sphere have been feeling acutely.

Although there is a lot that people disagree on these days, a general consensus (outside the arts world) seems to be that the easiest thing to dub non-essential is art.

It’s a hard thing to hear, when the thing at the core of your life, the thing that has been truly essential to basic functioning is the first thing the world seems to throw out.

And so we argue. We yell about the importance of art in people’s lives. We tell them that they would miss us if we were gone. We insist that they’re wrong, whether they know it or not.

On a micro level, it’s a fight that I see happen quite a lot. As someone that gets to be part of people’s spending conversations, the argument over what is ‘essential’ is one that dominates, and the thing that I’ve learned is that there are no hard and fast rules.

For some people, spending on clothing is essential. There are lots of reasons this can be true, none of which I feel the need to justify to anyone. It is essential in their lives.

For others, it is the last thing they spend money on. They are happy in the same old shorts every day. It is non-essential. I have to fight for them to acknowledge that one day they will have to replace those shorts, and maybe they should put a few dollars aside for it.

This comes up in every category: food, travel, business, subscriptions.

Something that is non-essential to us seems like a frivolous thing to even think of buying.

…turns out …people are different.

So, to the arts world I say…to some people, art is not essential. I’m sorry, but it’s true. It’s just not a big part of their lives, and they don’t really miss it when it’s gone. Maybe they’re not really thinking it through, or maybe it’s just not a thing for them.

To the rest of you I say…please be gentle on the arts world right now.

For many of us we are nowhere near to getting back to work. The side jobs that we held to diversify income and provide stability in down times, they’ve also dissolved. We are not only dealing with an anvil blow to our industry, but the questions of identity that come with it.

I know we’re not the only ones, but many of us (particularly those in live theatre) are just starting to process what the next 2 years of our lives may be.

I know you need to make decisions about what’s essential and what is not.

But understand that art has been essential to us. It has been essential to our identities and to our work. It has been essential to our families and our homes. it has been essential to our friends and our communities.

To us, it is not debatable. We have lived its essential-ness, and it has changed…and we’re struggling.


Taking a Walk Helps

I had a lot of resistance to cutting expenses when I first sat down to look at my financial picture at the start of the pandemic.

There was a lot of:

“I couldn’t possibly cut that!”


“I need this to run my business.”

In that first session I found it helpful to get up and go for a long walk. When I came back, it was a bit easier.

Now, I’m finding another level to that ease. Looking at what I spend, it’s easier to imagine lowering costs that were ‘uncuttable’ in the beginning.

For me, the failure (if you can call it that) was that of imagination. Now that I have some more emotional capacity, I can more easily imagine what some alternatives to certain business subscriptions might be. Or how I can cut my grocery budget back a bit more. Plus, I’ve realized I never need to cut my hair again (LIFE HACK!).

Maybe that will be true for you too. And if it’s not… walks help.


4 Dimensions of Financial Goals

Sometimes I get bummed out when I think about ‘goal planning’. It just feels like another thing I should really be doing. Another thing that I can use to feel like I’m failing.

But… I also really believe in it. I make all my clients do it. I think it’s the heart of making a space that matters in your money. It just needs some more depth to it.

Here’s how I think about goal setting and financial planning….

In my work, financial coaching is about making 3 dimensional goals, and financial planning is about adding time to that equation and seeing how they stretch out over the years.


Those who do not grow old

One of the big problems we try to solve in financial planning is… how much money do you need in your life?

We talk about expenses, potential costs, investments, savings but one big piece of the puzzle is missing. When will you die?

Tomorrow? Or at age104?

It’s a pretty major factor that we have no clue about.

We “solve” that problem by making a reasonable guess. By looking at actuarial tables we say – what’s the % chance that you at age ____ will live to age _____.

The financial planning standards are to plan until you have a 25% chance of living past a certain age.

Isn’t that simple? Not really.

The hard question at the core of this problem is not the math of “how much do I need to live to 95”. That can be estimated with a few formulas and a financial calculator.

The hard question is how do we balance your need to live and enjoy your life now with the fear of running out of money in the future.

My dad died at age 72. His chart said he should be planning for another 20 years.

I’m so glad he didn’t. I’m so glad he focused more on enjoying his life than worrying about age 95.

That’s easy for me to say now, because I know the answer to the when–will-he-die question. And his death has called into question the true complexity at the heart of retirement planning.

It must be balanced. Some of you are excellent, intentional, in-the-moment spenders. Some of you are great in-the-future savers. But you need to talk. Learn from each other. We need both of these skills to have a shot at the right balance.

This is really hard, but it’s an area in which planning can really help. Not because it’ll show you what will happen, clearly we have no idea. But what it can do is guide you through the process of fully considering what you want, both now and later. What do you want your impact to be? Where do you want resources to go after you’re gone? How do you want to live now, and how can you build meaningful spending towards those values now, while balancing potential futures?

Never let anyone convince you that saving is all there is to solving your later life planning. It’s only a piece of the puzzle.


Illiterate doesn’t mean unskilled

Just because someone is financially “illiterate” with the conventional financial system does not mean they are unskilled at managing the base problems that the system was built to solve

We must never forget how much can be learned from those who do things differently. How important it is for those of us who teach, to also listen and learn… not just about the latest tax law, but from those who have never heard of it.

This belief is built off of my firm stance that finance’s true complexity is not based in formulas and opaquely constructed instruments. It’s complex because at its heart are the fundamental questions of:

What do I want? What is enough? And how do I take one step forward in a world full of uncertainty?


I need you to know that bankruptcy (or a consumer proposal) will not be the end of your story

There will be bankruptcies. How can there not be, with work stopped all through the film and theatre worlds.. and with the typical side jobs in service and hospitality spaces limited at best .. how can there not?

There will be hard choices. Homes will be sold. Families will be moved. And yes, bankruptcies will be filed.

There’s a lot of stigma around that word. It is, in some circles, synonymous with failure. This is not true. It, like so many financial tools, is a relief valve for those of you who may be completely buried.

Here are a few things to know about bankruptcies (in Canada):

  1. They can include credit card, line of credit, tax and some student loan debt (if you’ve been out of school for at least 7 years)
  2. Once you’ve gone through the process, it drops off your record in 7 to 10 years
  3. You can talk to a bankruptcy trustee without having to start the process. They can give you more information on how this will look for your specific situation
  4. Another alternative is a consumer proposal, which means setting up a structured plan but means paying less than you owe. Ask a trustee if that might be better for you (or email me if you have a few questions)

COVID has been a disaster for the arts industry. I don’t know what you’ll have to do, but I want you to have a good idea of the tools at your disposal.