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: dashonburton@gmail.com
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