How am I feeling? Well, I was feeling pretty anxious about two weeks ago. The health implications are frightening and uncharted. Then my 20 year old refrigerator decided to kick the bucket. I had to venture out into the scary world to buy a new one, which was then delivered with a dent. I had to venture out again to find another one. I had been following my normal production schedule until then, but the refrigerator situation made me say “take some days off.”
I spent 9 whole days not working. I might be the only one saying this right now, but I am actually feeling pretty good. I spent the whole time prioritizing one thing … getting a good night’s sleep every night. I’ve been eating healthy (easy when you’re stuck at home), doing light exercise (not heavy exercise, which can have the opposite effect), avoiding alcohol, avoiding known sources of stress, reading, meditating, and watching Netflix. I keep up with the news, but not to the point where it gets repetitive. Once the new refrigerator was in place, things here have been so nice and quiet. Being in neutral gear for days is refreshing. My neck muscles have relaxed. I am now rethinking my whole workaholic lifestyle. Maybe I should be taking week-long breaks several times a year.
Notice there is one thing I am not stressing about … money. Even despite needing to buy two refrigerators, and waiting for one to be refunded. The stress from the dead refrigerator was about needing to venture outside, and potentially losing my stash of frozen food. Not money.
If you ARE stressing about money right now, then this crisis should be a wakeup call. If you want to be an independent artist, i.e. reject a conventional lifestyle and go after a big creative dream, you hereby forfeit your right to be a financial dumb dumb.
If this type of talk makes you feel bad, at least you’re not alone. Two-thirds of American adults cannot pass a financial literacy test.
It doesn’t take something as unforeseen as a pandemic to derail your income for a while. You could simply break your leg. If you are not willing to prepare yourself for these work layoffs, then you are not ready to be self-employed.
I don’t believe financial literacy should be taught in schools. I think it should be taught at home by parents. And if your parents didn’t provide this, you can teach yourself. The principles of good personal finance management are actually very simple. But the reason financial illiteracy is so widespread is because of psychological barriers that cause people to avoid the subject.
When I was in my 20s and embarking on self-employment, my mom gave me the book The Millionaire Next Door, by Thomas Stanley and William Danko. It was a real eye opener, and it legit made me change the way I live.
What this book teaches you is that when it comes to wealth-building and financial security, it doesn’t matter how much you earn. In fact, high-income earners are just as likely to be in financial trouble as low-income earners. What matters is how much you spend in relation to how much you earn, and what you do with the money you don’t spend.
It’s also common for “next door millionaires” to be small business owners, rather than regular paycheck types. Because there is less safety and predictability, we are more motivated to build our own safety nets.
In other words, you can make a modest potter’s income and still be financially healthy, and even become wealthy. Like I said above, you need to overcome the emotional barriers that hold most people back. Such as believing that spending money will increase their happiness and self worth, or make others like them more. Or, that the Joneses care about what they’re doing with their money. There’s an all too common attitude taught to artists, which is that being talented makes you “too special” to worry about icky things like bills and money, and that doing so requires you to sacrifice your creativity. This is just a form of denial, of course.
You might be thinking “easier said than done,” and sure, that’s true. But nobody ever said that owning your own business was supposed to be easy. It is supposed to be a serious mental challenge.
I live on an extremely frugal budget. And I never feel deprived. My needs are simple. I always have an emergency fund, which right now will cover my basic living costs for two years. When I need a new appliance, it’s not a problem. I can indulge in occasional luxuries. Though most of what I call “indulging” involves making improvements to my house. Which makes it nicer to live here, but is also improving my wealth.
But really, “normal” luxuries don’t matter much to me compared to what I consider to be bigger rewards … such as living a life of my own determination. I became self-employed (graphic design) at a young age, which is when I got serious about financial planning. It’s a long-term process of delayed gratification. Let’s be clear, I never made a high income as a graphic designer either, just a middle-class income. I was building up a pottery business at the same time. It was a crapton of work. Then one day I reached a point where I could safely let go of my design practice, because my pottery business was delivering a livable income, and I had built a sufficient safety net. I got the life that I really wanted. I get to set my own schedule and make all of my own decisions. I get to have relative peace of mind during a worldwide disaster. In my book, there is nothing I could have spent money on that would be better.
To some people this life sounds amazing, and to some it sounds like deprivation. It’s all a matter of priorities.
Again, if you are stressing hard about money right now, use the stress as motivation to build a financially sustainable plan and lifestyle. One that assumes there will be work stoppages along the way. If you are not currently on a sustainable plan, then you have a lot of work to do. But it’s not too late to start, and it’s too important not to do it. If you are a young person in your 20s or 30s, you have the gift of time. Don’t waste it!
Thomas Stanley recently wrote a follow-up to The Millionaire Next Door, titled The Next Millionaire Next Door. The first book debunks all the common myths about wealth and appearances, and the second book gives you nuts-and-bolts strategies for how to build wealth on any income. If you don't know where to start, then my recommendation is to start with these two books. They are both available as e-books and audiobooks, so you can get them from the safety of your home.
Here’s to prosperous times ahead for all artists.