You Can’t Frugalize What You Don’t Earn
I’ve always regarded my frugality as a means to afford the things I truly value. Being mindful of spending that doesn’t serve my priorities has been a critical part of enabling my life of passionate pursuit – specifically, my career as a professional actor.
But what if what you value in and of itself isn’t very frugal?
While Mr. Frugalwoods and I enjoy/attempt to survive our first few months as parents to our daughter, Babywoods, I have a delightful slate of guest posts from my friends lined up for your reading pleasure. Today, please welcome the lovely Stefanie O’Connell!
By: Stefanie O’Connell
Unlike the stories of chance encounters on the street sky rocketing unknowns to celebrity stardom, the true pursuit of a career in professional acting is a costly endeavor. Every audition room I’ve ever set foot in has been packed with well trained, highly-educated individuals – the debt inducing price of which is just one line item on a long list of start-up career costs.
Dance shoes alone carry price tags upwards of $250, and quality professional headshots, another $800. Add on the expense of New York City living, center of the professional theater world, and the cost of ongoing skill maintenance – voice lessons at $150/hour, dance classes as $20 a pop and six-week acting classes at $800 – and the price of professional theatrical pursuit quickly becomes overwhelming.
Now if you’re sitting there thinking about how these costs compare to two years of grad school, they may not seem so heinous, but keep in mind the relative return on investment. According to NPR, just 17,000 of the 49,000 members of Actors Equity Association, the union for professional theater actors, are estimated to work in any given year. Of the members who do work, the median income from work in theater is just $7,500 per year. Subtract taxes, agent fees and union dues, and the number is only a few thousand, barely more than the cost of pursuit and insufficient in covering even the most minimal cost of living.
I don’t know that return on investment is the best way to measure what you value, but I do know that the numbers and averages associated with this particular pursuit would be hard pressed to fit any definition of frugality. If you scrimp and save on nearly every expense, just to burn through your cash on one with minimal payoff, is it really frugal?
You could argue that the value manifests in other forms like fulfillment, and I’d agree, but when you’re relying on that payoff as your primary income stream, things quickly become more complicated. Fulfillment doesn’t put food on the table, and it certainly doesn’t your diminish your student loans or credit card debt.
Saving where you can so that you can splurge where you want is the kind of frugal philosophy I’ve often championed. That said, both my numerical analysis and my personal experience as a professional actor have taught me that frugality can’t be practically applied without a critical level of earnings.
If you’re not making enough to meet the demands of even the most minimal costs of living which, at an average of $7,500 annually, you’re probably not – remember to consider the other side of the equation – making more.
Instead of limiting my earnings pursuits to the already oversaturated market of professional acting, I began thinking of new ways to apply my skill set. I found that the creative thinking, storytelling and public speaking I’d mastered as an actor were in massive demand in nearly every other market, and so I began creating work that was both personally fulfilling and financially viable, simply by expanding the application of my skill set into markets with true demand – specifically, financial services.
In shifting my focus away from ways to live on less and less, and finding ways to make more money, I stumbled upon the elusive financial freedom I’d so often read about. Frugality is an undoubtedly powerful tool, but the financial freedom frugality affords you only surfaces once you’ve reached a certain threshold level of earnings – enough to be frugal by choice rather than necessity.
So if you find yourself reading through all the tips and tricks on spending less, frustratedly thinking, “I’m doing all that and getting nowhere”- challenge yourself to tackle the other side of the equation: making more – and enjoy the freedom that the powerful combination of less and more can bring you!
Stefanie O’Connell is a millennial finance expert, professional actress and author of “The Broke and Beautiful Life,” a guide to living big dreams on a small budget.