You and Your Money: Facing the Music

Musicians Assistance Program

Volume CVII, No. 1January, 2007

Janet Becker, LCSW, Ph.D.

For most of us, the temptations to spend too much money for holiday gifts and celebrations can seem overwhelming. Despite our best intentions, we are lured by advertisements, store displays, and a heartfelt desire to give generously to the people we care about. Nevertheless, the debt that is incurred follows us into the New Year, and adds to the burden of monthly expenses for a long time to come. And despite our earnest intentions to pay these bills off completely, more often than not our credit card balances continue to rise. And as time passes, we may find that we will be approaching next year’s holiday season, still carrying the debts of Christmas Past.

For some musicians, the holiday season may bring additional income, as work may be more plentiful and available. It may be especially difficult to conserve on spending when spirits are buoyed by a sense of affluence. However, we know that gigs may come and gigs may go, and it isn’t always a safe bet to expect that the increased income will continue in a steady way throughout the coming year.

Now that the holidays have passed, and the credit card statements are arriving in the mail, you may find yourself falling further behind with your bills and worrying about how to pay them. What can you do to cope with this holiday hangover of financial stress?

First of all, don’t panic! And don’t ignore the problem. It’s often tempting to push the bills aside and try to forget about them. Needless to say, this will not be a helpful solution. The bills and eventual threatening letters will not disappear.

Also, try to avoid borrowing further in order to pay off your existing debt. This will only compound the dilemma.

Do talk to your creditors. Don’t just stop sending payments and avoid contact with the credit companies, offering no explanation for your delinquency. Sometimes, people are surprised that creditors may be more understanding than they might expect. It might be possible to negotiate a better payment plan, if not a lower interest rate. You will be in a much better position if you show good faith by staying in touch with those to whom you owe money.

Try putting your credit cards away. Limiting your use of them will not only help to reduce your current balance, but will also raise your awareness of what you really can afford. This awareness can help to alter your spending behavior, as it becomes clear that your available cash, rather than your plastic cards, is what you actually have to pay for purchases.

Sit down and attempt to put together a budget. Most of us tend to avoid doing this, as we are forced to look at the hard facts of what we spend and what we earn, further raising our anxiety. However, in the long run, doing this will help to clarify what we need in order to become solvent. If you find that it isn’t possible to cover your expenses with the amount of money you are earning, then you will need to think seriously about what you might do either to decrease your spending or increase your income.

This is often a difficult challenge for those who are dedicated to their music as their sole means of earning a living. The reality is that work in the industry is not always available in a consistent or predictable way. However, it can become very costly, not only financially, but emotionally, as well, to continue living with the ongoing anxiety and stress of mounting debt. It might be important to consider some kind of sideline work which you can depend upon to fill in during lulls between gigs.

At the MAP office, we see many musicians who struggle with these kinds of financial challenges. Beginning in February, we will be conducting an eight-week series of groups for musicians to look at attitudes, feelings, behaviors and assumptions regarding money — making it, having it, spending it and managing it. In a supportive and non-judgmental environment, surrounded by others who face similar issues, it can be possible to examine and alter some long-held beliefs and behaviors. You may find that you will understand more clearly what kinds of baggage you have unwittingly attached to money matters, and how this may unnecessarily get in your way. Imagine yourself feeling empowered to take control of this important aspect of your life! It really is possible.

Give us a call and make an appointment to come in so that we can talk about whether this short-term group might be a good thing for you. We invite you to join with others to face the music of your financial situation. We look forward to hearing from you.

MAP’s money group will meet for eight Wednesdays, from Feb. 7 through March 28, from 1 to 2:30 in Room B. Call the MAP office at (212) 397-4802 to apply.