One of the hardest things to do as an actor/server in L.A. is budget. Having lived in Louisiana all my life where cost of living is fairly low, I’ve never really worried about making a budget. Over the last few months living out here, however, it has become quite clear that without some type of plan every month is going to be a struggle.
The biggest problem I have is that, as a server, my job has no set income. I’m paid an hourly wage, but most of my income is based on the generosity of the public. Since I have no real clue as to what my tips will be each shift, I’ve come up with a sort of averaging system.
Back in March, I decided to start a spreadsheet to keep track of my tips. After a few months of this, I realized that my monthly income fluctuates so wildly that basing it on any one month would be impossible. I also didn’t want to put in a random number; I wanted to predict an income that I knew I might actually make.
I ended up averaging all the months and subtracting about 10% just in case I had a few bad nights or took some time off. Then, I started filling in spaces on my spreadsheet of what I thought I would spend each month on different things like groceries, acting workshops and clothing. I compared my estimated cost of living with my estimated income and, well, the results were honestly horrifying.
My “budget” of all my bills and personal expenses came out to nearly twice as much as my income. I couldn’t figure out how that was possible if I had managed to get by for so long paying all the same bills and making about the same amount on average. It took me a while of doing this to realize my fatal flaw:
I hadn’t actually made a budget.
What I had really done was type up a bunch of numbers in a bunch of categories for “just in case” things. Like, “Oh, well I don’t know if I’ll need a new shirt this month so I guess I’ll just put a few dollars in that category just in case.”
I did that with tons of things from dining out to cat toys. The problem is, those kinds of things aren’t entirely necessary. It’s great to set money aside to have fun, but at this point I know I just don’t have the income to support a bunch of extras. If it’s not bills or food and it doesn’t help my acting career, it shouldn’t even be a number on my spreadsheet.
It’s only recently that I’ve gone back and looked at my budget and really tried to find the problem spots. When I first made it, I wasn’t being realistic about what I actually needed the money for or what I would actually spend. I also never stuck to it. I would spend whatever I needed to on groceries or laundry and if I went over, oh well.
But that’s not a budget.
So, it’s a work in progress, but each month I learn to be a little more realistic about money. And after a year of living out here, I know that’s one of the most important lessons to learn.