How much do you spend on Starbucks?

Musicians' Assistance Program

Volume 112, No. 5May, 2012

Cindy Green, LCSW

The office of the Musicians’ Assistance Program is your one-stop shop for musicians’ health. We offer counseling – both one-on-one and in groups – as well as information on all kinds of social services, including health insurance, housing, food stamps and more. All services are free to Local 802 members. Contact us at or (212) 397-4802

An unpredictable income is one of the biggest challenges of being a musician. Preparing a budget is a great way for members of our profession to get and keep a clear picture of expenses as well as income. Although the process of budgeting might seem daunting, it is one of the most useful and, in the long run, stress-relieving strategies you can employ. Clarifying your spending decisions makes them more thoughtful and less impulsive, all in the interest of keeping more money in your pocket.

Regardless of what your personal income is, everyone should evaluate their resources, earnings, needs and expenses. This is especially true for those living with a very low income. Maintaining a budget is crucial to your keeping financial solvency. Given the inconsistent nature of musicians’ incomes, let’s consider useful ways to approach this kind of planning.

The first step is to determine your income. This can be a challenge for anyone whose earnings change from year to year. Consider the last five years and what your income was in each of those years. When working on your budget, it’s best to be conservative, so use the year in which you made the least amount of money for the purposes of your budget. Divide that by 12 and you’ll have your average monthly income.

Next calculate your expenses. Make a list of everything you spend. Rent, utilities and food are obvious, but other expenses can be a little tricky. How often do you wonder where all of your money went the day after you withdraw money from the ATM? It’s amazing how much you’ll realize you spend on Starbucks, lunch, and bottled water. For expenses that occur infrequently like union dues or car insurance, make notes about when they are due and how much you’ll need to cover them.

One of the most important items on your budget is savings. It’s certainly hard to think of savings when you’re income is so hard to make ends meet, but it doesn’t have to be hundreds of dollars at a time.

If you can put aside even ten dollars per month, you’re saving. Without designated savings, your budget is incomplete. We all face unanticipated expenditures from time to time; why not start to anticipate them? By preparing for the unexpected, these emergencies will feel less like a crisis and more in control.

By comparing your average monthly income and your expenses, including savings, determine how much you’ll need to set aside from your more lucrative months to make it through the leaner times. You’ll also be able to designate funds for those occasional unexpected but important expenditures.

Use separate accounts for your spending, monthly overages and saving-for-a-rainy-day accounts. Savings accounts are interest bearing, so you can earn a little extra while you’re at it. The Actors Federal Credit Union ( offers a savings account which incurs no fees as long as there is at least $100 balance. A separate fund for your overages might help you from spending it from an account from which you withdraw on a regular basis. The credit union is free for musicians to join, and there is a branch on the fourth floor of the Local 802 building.

Your savings should be a special account only to be used in emergencies like an unforeseen medical bill or instrument repair due to accidental damage. It can also be used if your regular overage fund is depleted due to unpredictable drops in income. It should not be used for a great pair of shoes or the new iPad 3. Those expenses should be calculated into your regular budget.

Although this information is fairly basic, putting it into action can be challenging. Managing money and budgets can trigger fear, anxiety and depression so it’s easy to put it aside. If you would like help developing your budget or dealing with the feelings that it triggers, please call the MAP office at (212) 397-4802 or e-mail us at