Building Toward Financial Success in College

April 26, 2022

Dancers are assumed to have a natural affinity for music, movement and artistic expression. But they also have intelligent, detail-oriented minds that can excel at understanding finance and economics better than they may realize. Just like technique, it simply takes training and practice—and that can begin when you’re still a student.

Watch What Happens

Taking charge of your finances starts with understanding and tracking the way money moves in and out of your possession. Jessica Scheitler, the owner of Financial Groove, a Las Vegas accounting firm that serves arts and entertainment professionals, recommends dancers track their variable spending (i.e., not bills or other fixed costs) on a weekly basis, rather than monthly. “It’s easier to wrap your head around a week’s time,” she says. “If you look at your bank statement or 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 Safety Number

Scheitler says some dancers manage their spending by relying on a “safety number” that they don’t let their bank account fall beneath. But she warns that this tactic doesn’t allow a dancer’s financial situation to evolve over time—you’re always falling back to the same number, regardless of changes to your circumstances. Instead, being diligent and honest about your expenses can help you reduce your spending and start saving.

Enlist a Friend

Mathew Heggem, a former dancer with Nicholas Leichter Dance and ClancyWorks Dance Company and the founder of 10kCreators LLC, a social enterprise designed to help artists achieve financial freedom, recommends having a financial-accountability friend. Meet up with them for regular “money buddy” sessions, where you set aside time to tackle each of your financial to-dos, like transferring money to your savings account, paying bills or tracking your spending.
In times of need, don’t be afraid to lean on the support system provided by your college. If you run into an unexpected cost or your financial aid isn’t covering enough, reach out to your program director. Some colleges have emergency relief funds available to students, or other scholarships.

Pay Yourself

Once your budget is in check and your bills are covered, do your future self the favor of saving up an emergency fund to serve as a safety net for unexpected expenses. Scheitler and Heggem suggest starting out with apps and online banking options that automatically transfer change or small dollar amounts to your savings account. As your savings grow, you build the habit of investing in your financial future.

Make Your Money Matter

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

Courtesy Getty Images.

Searching for a Side Gig

If you’ve limited your expenses and you’re sticking to a mindful budget, but your money still isn’t stretching far enough for tuition or supplies, it may be time to consider the other side of the equation—increasing your income. Selecting the right side gig to fit your needs and schedule as a college dancer takes creativity and strategy.

Invest in Yourself

Mathew Heggem recommends seeking side jobs that help you develop skills you can use for your career. Performance and choreographic side gigs are great for a dance student, but he sees social media, administrative work and website building as other skills that can benefit you down the road.

Use Your Time Wisely

Jessica Scheitler emphasizes that all side gigs are not created equal. Dance students have busy schedules filled with classes and rehearsals, so she suggests thinking creatively about income opportunities that are truly profitable for the time they require. Good side gigs may include judging dance competitions or selling online dance training packages. Scheitler’s own financial firm began with her providing bookkeeping for additional income. “Be mindful of where you’re 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 are making money from freelance work, you may not have taxes withheld by your employer. In these instances, Scheitler recommends setting 25 to 35 percent of your earnings aside for taxes.

What About Student Loans?

Courtesy Getty Images.

Many dancers leave college with a large sum of student debt. Mathew Heggem recommends approaching the debt realistically, but not with fear.

“Avoidance is not a strategy, or at least not one that’s going to work in the long haul,” he says. He advises dancers to stay in communication with their loan providers and be honest and proactive about needing income-based repayment or periods of forbearance.

Once you are consistently putting money towards loans each month, Jessica Scheitler suggests tackling the loans with higher interest first, to reduce the amount of interest you’ll pay overall. This hierarchy should be applied to all forms of debt you may have—not just student loans.