From Famine to Feast

The issue of finances is a personal, sometimes painful subject for many, and one we might prefer to ignore. It takes discipline to look realistically at your resources and balance what you have versus what you need. Think of the old dental care slogan: “Ignore them and they will go away.” With regard to finances, you could say, “Ignore them and you will have nothing.” Knowing exactly what you have as income and expenses can be a painful reality, but the knowledge will be empowering. Facing a large debt may appear to be a seemingly impossible task. But how much worse will it be down the road, after you’ve blindly gone into more debt?

Here are some suggestions on how to begin the process of climbing out of debt.

1. List your monthly income. This includes church jobs, temp work, singing jobs, competition winnings, birthday money and anything else that fits into the category.

2. List your monthly expenses. Include rent, transportation, insurance, food and entertainment, voice lessons, coachings, known audition or competition fees and the like.

Subtract your expenses from your income. If you come up with a surplus amount, put it aside for investment, emergency living money, or for extra coachings or lessons. Extra money means freedom: for example, being able to say yes to flying into Paris next week for an audition for L’Opera Bastille. After all, you understand that this is not truly an expense, but rather an investment. Investing in the improvement of your product (singing) is only going to increase your chances for success.

Like many of us, you may have done this subtraction and come up with a negative amount. Go back to your second list and see what you can do without. In this process, trust the wisdom of your grandmother, who survived the Depression: “There is always something that you can do without.” For example, I’ve learned how to live for about $10 a day in New York City. You can’t cut down on your singing expenses very easily, but you can cut down on living expenses – so why not keep them separately? Here are a few suggestions.

1. Write down every dime that you spend. This act alone can greatly increase your awareness of where your dollars are going.

2. Try going back to that lost communication art form–the letter, to deal with the high cost of phone bills. Letters are only 32 cents, and who doesn’t enjoy receiving them? Or communicate by e-mail; there are a number of free e-mail options, such as or

3. Try to budget your socializing, or limit it to free activities such as going for a walk or a jog with a friend. Or call your friend and compare the contents of your refrigerators; chances are the two of you can have a great combined meal, à la vie bohème!

4. Walk to save transportation costs. I know someone who began walking to and from work. It only took 15 minutes longer than the regular commute, and he got a physical workout, along with the extra time to listen to tapes of his voice lessons and coachings. He saved $3 per day, which in two weeks adds up to an audition fee.

5. Check into getting a sublet if you are leaving town for a while. I have known people to sublet their place for as little as ten days. (Ed.: Classical Singer lists sublets, both in our magazine and on our website for a nominal fee.)

6. See if your family could help out, if the numbers still do not come out ahead. It may be better to ask for help with things that would seem most practical from their viewpoint, such as insurance, or help with your IRA contribution. Singers usually do not have a pension plan, so it is up to us to provide that for ourselves.

7. Finally, if even with these measures taken you’re still looking into second temp jobs and donating plasma (not the most pleasant experience, but it’s $30), you may get out those plastic tools of the devil, otherwise known as credit cards. But only this time. Be very, very careful with plastic. Credit cards drain you, not only of your hard-earned money, but also your career potential. When used correctly, credit can be a survival tool. But first and foremost it must be paid off.

The goal is to get your head above water and into financial fitness as quickly as possible. Solvency means increased potential for success in your career. In such a competitive field, every edge takes on great importance. You may have the world’s greatest high C, but if no one ever gets to hear you, no one will ever know.

If you have questions about finance, investments, credit or other money issues related to your singing career, contactus at