Advice on how Artists can live on a small income when moving to a new city.

Today’s post comes from a question I recently received from a reader:

Do you have any written tips or advice for how to live on a very small income when moving into a new city?

This is an excellent question that many of us don’t think about when moving to a new city in pursuit of our art. Settling into a new city can be challenging, but also one of the most exciting experiences of our life. Here are some tips to consider when calling a new place home:

  1. Live with multiple roommates–Sharing the cost of living expenses with others when you move into a city. Having multiple roommates greatly reduces your expenses and gives you more flexibility to build some stability.
    Advice: Find people in which to live before you move. If that’s not possible, check in with your network to see if anyone you know has a room available. Set a deadline for when you will move out to find your own place.  My suggestion is to wait to move out until you have at least six months salary in your savings account. 
  2. Live a minimalist lifestyle–Get rid of cable, wifi, gym memberships, eating out budget, entertainment budget, etc., in order to give yourself some breathing room while you get comfortable.
    Advice: Look at your current monthly budget and divide it up into two categories: Necessary and Nice to have. Sacrifice the nice to have items immediately and set a goal for a date when you can start to bring them back. 
  3. Figure out your income streams–Figure out additional income streams that are outside your art in order to give yourself some stability while you’re building upon your art.
    Advice: When you move to a new city, tracking income is more important than tracking expenses. Divide your potential income into the buckets below. As you begin to make more money in your art, you can start to pull back on other jobs, giving you more time to make great art:

    1. Traditional: Income that involves regular, recurring hours, like a desk job. 
      1. Pros to traditional income: Consistent and reliable source of revenue.
      2. Cons to traditional income: Little to no flexibility when an artistic opportunity comes along.
    2. Flexible: Income that relies on an expertise you have (like teaching lessons, hint, hint) but has flexible hours.
      1. Pros to flexible income: You set the schedule and the income is fairly reliable. 
      2. Cons to flexible income: You sacrifice the regularity of income, especially during low seasons (IE, Summer for private lesson instruction) 
    3. On Demand: Income that is reliant upon you picking your schedule (IE Driving an Uber). 
      1. Pros to on demand income: Extreme flexibility for the work.
      2. Cons to on demand income: Typically, lower wages. 
  4. Teach–My advice to any artist looking for sources of income in a new city is to build a private lesson studio. There is no better way to develop a steady stream of income than starting a studio because your hourly rate would be so much higher than other income sources. Advice: Build a website offering private lesson instruction and start networking around the city. 

Thanks for reading and I’m curious to know what strategies you used when you moved to a new city. Please share them in the comments below so others can learn. Congratulations on the big move and remember, if you have a burning question you’d like to have answered, please send it my way.


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Nate Zeisler is the Dean for Community Initiatives at the Colburn School in Los Angeles. He envisions a world where students majoring in the arts have a clear path to a sustainable career, where creative minds are empowered and inspired to rule the workforce, and where access to the arts is not just for the privileged few, but for all.

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