The following is a guest post from fellow artist and personal finance enthusiast, Chris.
Financial independence. Early retirement. Having enough income to live the life you want. The ability to be truly free.
Those things sound really great – totally like things that I should be working towards. And maybe if someone had introduced them to me when I was a little younger, my entire life would be different.
But they didn’t – so I became an opera singer.
Yeah, I know. You don’t have to be really familiar with opera to know that a ‘career’ in opera doesn’t really sound like a fast lane to early retirement.
On the surface, pursuing a life in the arts is everything that’s wrong with my generation. It shows a blatant lack of understanding of what the job market demands (it’s kind of insane the amount of opera students who are being pumped out of colleges, even though there are fewer jobs every year), and plays into the idea that we’re all just selfish, attention seeking narcissists who have given no thought to how we’re going to actually support ourselves after the applause dies out.
Yikes, talk about a damning self-assessment. I don’t actually think that about artists, but I won’t go into a passionate defense of the worth of the arts right now.
Here’s the thing. As much as I completely agree with the conventional road to ‘findependence’ – a good job, saving a ton, investing smartly, and then finally (or for some, pretty shortly) achieving a well planned and thought out freedom, it’s not for me.
I don’t want to wait for the financials to be in place to have the independence.
So I’m trying to do this whole thing backwards.
This reversal wasn’t some grand thought-out plan, it just kind of … happened.
I jumped from full time work on the family farm, to scraping out a living as an opera singer (yeah, that’s right, I’m an opera singing farm boy who writes about personal finance). When I started, I honestly had no real idea you could make money singing, but I fell in love with being self-employed. I fell in love with managing every aspect of my ‘company’: marketing, accounting, boss and employee of the month. I fell in love with the challenges that make every day different. I fell in love with my life.
And so when I started to straighten out my finances, to turn money from the huge stress that it was into the incredible tool it can be, I was already on the other side of the findependence equation – and there was no turning back.
On one hand, artists aren’t very different from entrepreneurs in every sector. We’re marketing and leveraging our skills, and trying to communicate effectively in order to build and grow an audience.
On the other hand, most of us didn’t get into this to get rich. Some people do, but if you’re a nineteen year old belting our your first aria with dreams of being a millionaire by thirty… well… you might want to think about a different career path.
What most of us want is ‘enough’ money to continue to do this thing that we love. ‘Enough’ money to create and live without constantly having to take gigs we hate in order to pay the bills.
Enough to be financially independent.
The difference is, instead of working to afford an early retirement, we’re working in order to be able to afford to keep working.
Same goal, but arguably a little backwards.
It’s not the ideal way to learn personal finance. I can’t rely on automated savings or company retirement plans. A huge part of the small amount that I do earn gets immediately rolled back into my business (in the hopes that it will eventually pay out). And when money does come in, it comes in fits and spurts, thanks to the roller coaster ride that is the existence of a working freelance artist.
So how, in the midst of all that insanity, do you build the kind of “findependent stability” that we all talk about so much in the personal finance world?
The truth is… I’m still figuring that out. But every day, with every lesson I learn about personal finance, I become more and more convinced that it’s possible.
And even though it may look different on the outside, the basics are the same. I live as simply as possible (keep those costs low), I save as much as I can afford (which is definitely more than I think I can afford), and I invest the rest (not just in the market, but in myself, in my business).
I’m still far away from the end goal, but I’m way ahead of where I was and I’m totally addicted to the feeling of empowerment that getting control of my money has given me. Seriously, there isn’t much I can control in this crazy freelancer world, but turns out, how I spend every dollar is firmly within my grasp.
Findependence doesn’t have to come from a left-brained sense of structure, it can also grow out of the creative chaos of the right-brain.
It might seem a little backward, and it is, but for me it’s the only way that makes any kind of sense.
Chris is an opera singer and founder of the blog From Rags to Reasonable, a personal finance blog for artists and storytellers.