By Matt Parker
Managing money (predominantly, the lack of it) is one of the biggest challenges new creative workers face, yet we are often afraid to discuss it. After a decade of working as a music journalist and spending thousands of hours speaking to people in the industry, I’ve come to see this as a particularly harmful status quo.
Those of us in creative roles actually need to be BETTER with money than our counterparts in desk jobs. To do this we need to educate ourselves and share our knowledge and resources, not treat it as taboo. We need to talk about money.
It’s an optional course that runs across five-week periods and is open to students from all the participating colleges (currently Brighton, Bristol, London and Manchester). The next one kicks off on Monday 28 February and runs until Thursday 31 March.
The idea is to give BIMM students the tools and motivation to get a handle on their finances and establish habits that will help them to sustain themselves in the music industry.
To give you a sense of the things we cover in Run Your Money, I’ve put together a list of the ideas that students have told me have made a real difference in their own lives. Give them a go!
Understand what you’ve got
In order to plan a route on a map, you need to mark where you’re starting from and where you want to go, It’s the same with your finances.
Whatever your goal, taking five minutes a month to regularly check ‘what you’ve got’ tells you where you are on that journey and whether you’re heading in the right direction or not.
Pick a date (e.g. the 1st of the month) to do a monthly check of all of your account balances. Add them all up and deduct any debts like overdrafts or credit cards. Make a note of the total. This is your net worth.
Repeating this simple process every month will give you real clarity on the overall direction of your finances. If it’s falling too quickly to make your next loan instalment, then it’s a handy sign that you’ll need to make some changes.
Track your spending (without the effort)
You are wearing a blindfold and sitting at a table. Someone sets down enough food for the month. You start eating but you can’t see what’s left. Can you make it last for the whole month?
This is essentially what happens when we spend without keeping track. We don’t know how much we have left and it usually runs out much faster than we might expect.
History (and music) is littered with the tales of those who struck it rich and blew it all. Whether it’s a lottery win or a student loan, it really doesn’t matter how much money you start with, if you don’t keep track, it will disappear. Money is sneaky like that.
Budgeting apps, such as Money Dashboard or Emma, help you to remove the blindfold, tracking and grouping your transactions for you so you can see exactly where the money is going and how much you have left.
Debt is a problem best shared (but not like that)
If you get into financial difficulty, help is available. However, no one (outside of the bank) knows your true financial situation, so it’s on you to ask for that support.
It quite literally helps to talk about it and knowing who to turn to can make a big difference. Friends can be a big support but it’s usually not a good plan to rely on loans from them – you risk making your debt theirs. However, there are other good options.
BIMM’s student support teams can help you with financial issues, whether it’s creating a budget or offering support from your college’s Hardship Fund to help cover essentials. Outside of the college, charities like StepChange are specialists in supporting those in debt. They can help you to talk to debtors, arrange repayment plans and find a path out of debt.
Debt is a sneaky, spiralling thing – it gets progressively worse – so don’t suffer in silence. Talk about it and get help.
You can train your brain to like saving
Vicki Robin, author of Your Money Of Your Life, says you should think of money as life energy. To make money, you have to expend your life energy – and you only get so much of that.
Put it in these terms and saving money becomes a really positive thing. It makes sense to prioritise spending on the things that are really important to you. The stuff that brings you lasting happiness.
Instead of feeling prohibitive, the process of saving suddenly enables you to travel, to spend time with friends, to make music – whatever your goal might be. In comparison to that deep, personal motivation, everything else starts to seem like a waste and making good spending decisions gets much easier.
I have several previous students who have quickly built significant amounts (£1,000+) of savings in the months following the course – and, ultimately, tell me that it’s changing their mindset that made the most difference.
Keep it simple
When it comes to money the best ideas are the simple ones. I often ask new students to create a plan for getting rich and am met with all manner of responses (hello, crypto fans!). But really it is as simple as spending less than you earn.
While most of us aren’t after untold riches, this knowledge remains incredibly helpful in both our personal and professional lives. The sooner you accept it, the better.
Whether you’re trying to build savings or keep your band on the road, run a studio, or retire – almost every positive financial outcome comes from creating a situation where you regularly spend less than you earn.
Likewise, if you’re struggling with money, the solution will always come down to adjusting one or both of those dials: lowering your spending or increasing your income. When in doubt, return to this principle. Everything else is just noise.