Building towards financial success in college

Dancers are expected to have a natural affinity for music, movement and artistic expression. But they also have smart, detail-oriented minds that can excel at understanding finance and economics better than they realize. Like the technique, it just takes training and practice, and it can start while you’re still a student.

Watch what happens

Taking charge of your finances starts with understanding and tracking how money comes in and goes out of your possession. Jessica Scheitler, owner of Financial Groove, a Las Vegas accounting firm that serves arts and entertainment professionals, recommends dancers track their variable expenses (i.e. not bills or other fixed costs) on a weekly rather than monthly basis. “It’s easier to focus on a week,” she says. “If you look at your bank statement or your credit card statement, you can quickly add that up and see how you did.” Tracking can be done on paper, in an Excel spreadsheet, or with apps like Mint and Truebill.

Beyond the security number

Scheitler says some dancers manage their expenses by relying on a “security number” under which they don’t drop their bank account. But she cautions that this tactic doesn’t allow a dancer’s financial situation to change over time — you always come back to the same number no matter how your situation changes. Instead, being diligent and honest about your spending can help you cut spending and start saving.

Enroll a friend

Mathew Heggem, former dancer with Nicholas Leichter Dance and ClancyWorks Dance Company and founder of 10kCreators LLC, a social enterprise designed to help artists achieve financial freedom, recommends having a financially responsible friend. Meet them for regular “money buddy” sessions, where you set aside time to tackle each of your financial tasks, like transferring money to your savings account, paying bills, or tracking your expenses .
If needed, don’t be afraid to lean on the support system provided by your college. If you encounter unexpected costs or if your financial aid does not cover enough, contact your program director. Some colleges have emergency relief funds available to students or other scholarships.

do you pay

Once your budget is under control and your bills are covered, do yourself the favor of saving an emergency fund to act as a safety net in case of unexpected expenses. Scheitler and Heggem suggest starting with online banking apps and options that automatically transfer change or small amounts to your savings account. As your savings grow, you get into the habit of investing in your financial future.

Make your money count

As important as saving is, how you spend the money also has power, and Heggem recommends putting money back into the arts when possible. “If you’re not participating in the art economy yourself, then you’re not contributing to it,” he says. “Even if it’s your friend’s $20 painting, it still counts. Getting into the practice of contributing to the artistic community is awesome.

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Finding a Side Gig

If you’ve limited your expenses and are sticking to a careful budget, but your money still isn’t enough for tuition or supplies, it might be time to consider the other side of the equation: increase your income. Choosing the right gig to suit your needs and your schedule as a college dancer takes creativity and strategy.

Invest in yourself

Mathew Heggem recommends looking for side jobs that help you develop skills you can use for your career. Choreography side performances and gigs are great for a dance student, but he sees social media, paperwork, and website building as other skills that can come in handy later on.

Use your time wisely

Jessica Scheitler points out that not all side gigs are created equal. Dance students have busy schedules filled with classes and rehearsals, so she suggests thinking creatively about income opportunities that really pay off for the time they need. Good side gigs can include judging dance competitions or selling line dance training packages. Scheitler’s own finance company started with her providing bookkeeping for additional income. “Be aware of where you are investing your time and energy,” she says. “Do the math and make sure you’re actually going to make money.”

Be tax proactive

If you earn money through self-employment, you cannot have taxes withheld by your employer. In these cases, Scheitler recommends setting aside 25-35% of your income for taxes.

What about student loans?

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Many dancers leave college with a lot of student debt. Mathew Heggem recommends approaching debt realistically, but fearlessly.

“Avoidance is not a strategy, or at least not a strategy that will work in the long run,” he says. He advises dancers to stay in communication with their loan providers and to be honest and proactive about the need for income-based repayment or forbearance periods.

Once you’re steadily investing money in loans each month, Scheitler suggests tackling higher-interest loans first, to reduce the overall amount of interest you’ll pay. This hierarchy should apply to all forms of debt you may have, not just student loans.

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