There is no doubt that we work in an industry with almost mind-boggling earning potential. Compared to most day-jobs, dancers come out squarely on top when it comes to raw income.
According to the 2014 census, the average earnings for an individual after adjustments were $34,940 a year.
In comparison, a dancer that works 300 days out of the year and earns $300 on average per shift is looking at $90,000 before taxes. That's almost three times what the average American brings in.
So where does it all go? Why do dancers that own shoes and purses and (lease) expensive cars often continue to rack up debt, and even struggle to cover basic necessities?
There may be many reasons for any one person to be short on money. Some of them are legitimate, some of them are not. The point of this isn't to judge or to compare, but to offer some strategies to help bring in what you're earning in line with what you have saved up. To get closer to those financial goals, I will be writing an ongoing series of articles that will cover some basics of:
1. Financial Goal Setting
2. Creating Clarity/ Tracking Your Income
3. Holding Yourself Accountable
4. Long Term Sustainability
But, before we go over all that I just want to outline one simple step that you can do today to start shifting your mindset from earning to keeping and then to maximizing your income.
First, decide what percentage of your income should be put away for savings. How much you want to save depends on how much you work, what goals you have for when you're done dancing, and on how quickly you want to get there. Obviously, there's a lot to cover there but for now you don't have to create the final set number. As an exercise, it's more valuable that you start to practice setting good habits to show yourself that you can do it. And you can always adjust the number later on as you get some clarity on your financial future.
For now, it doesn't matter if it's 5%. Doesn't matter if it's 50%- as long as you're willing to give it a go.
My split: 25% checking; 75% savings. A little extra for a treat :)
At the end of every night, after you tip out and cover your house fee, count everything that you made. After you do, take whatever percentage you decided is for your savings, and put it somewhere else.
I say somewhere else, because I realize that some dancers may still be opposed to the idea of putting money into a bank account, or of keeping it in a traceable format. If I were you, I'd look into that. But I'm not you, and how you keep your money is your own business. Doesn't matter if it's in a box under your mattress, or if it's in an underground safe in an offshore island. Or if it's in a savings account. The only stipulation is that the money that goes into your savings stays in your savings. Your savings are not in the same box/safe/account as your checking. It matters that they're separate, because they will not be interacting together from here on out.
This idea sounds easy enough, but I can tell you what will happen as soon as you start taking a chunk of your earnings and putting it away.
You will start having problems. Your car will break down, or your boyfriend will need help with the rent. Your family will need a few hundred dollars for a phone bill, or you will decide you need that really cute outfit you saw at the mall last week.
And there will be money sitting there in your savings, looking like it's just ready to be spent. But here's the deal:
That percentage doesn't belong to you now. I'm serious.
You can't spend it, because it's not your money. If you spend it, you will be stealing, because that money belongs to your future self. The one that won't be in this industry, and who will be working out ways to be awesome, self sufficient, and potentially retired after a lucrative and responsible career. She will need it much more than you do now, even if you feel like you really need it.
If you need money, then you need to go to work and make more of it- because whatever is left as your percentage is what you get to use now.
If you want a new pair of shoes or a purse, it comes out of your percentage.
If you need groceries, it comes out of your percentage.
If you need to pay your bills, it comes out of your percentage.
If your car breaks down, it comes out of your percentage.
If you have an emergency, it comes out of your percentage.
If you are paying off your debt, it comes out of your percentage.
But it is far less difficult than having to return to dancing after you want to move on with your life because it is the only easily available source of income. It's less difficult than being unable to provide for your family or for yourself in the future, and it's much less difficult than being prevented from following your dreams because you didn't make smart financial decisions in your past.
And the more your savings grow, the easier it will get. The hardest part of this process will be convincing yourself that it is possible to grow your savings. But it doesn't matter if you've been in this industry for a day or of ten years; as long as you're still bringing in income you still have the ability to make a change for yourself. The more you push forward and encourage yourself to save, the easier it will seem, until over time you look forward to increasing your savings because you know that it is providing a better life for you in the long term.
If this sounds doable, try it for a week. When it starts to get difficult, come back and read through this article- and go back and read through your goals. Remember why you decided to make the career change into dancing in the first place.
Then take a deep breath, and go back to work.