The Year 2006 Was My Bridge To Financial Stability

Every year when I submit my taxes, I document the total amount I made in the year prior on a spreadsheet. I have been doing this since 2002 and it is always fascinating to look at the comparison of my annual earnings as I reflect on my career.

Here are two stats to frame the conversation.

  • In 2003, I had my first full year of teaching music in an elementary school. I made $34,252.82 that year and it felt like a luxurious amount of money.
  • In 2008, I completed my first full calendar year of teaching at Bowling Green State University in Ohio as a Tenure Track Professor of Bassoon. My salary was $46,403.

In this post, I want to spend my time on my earnings in the year 2006, a year that in many ways was my bridge to financial stability. 2006 was three years after my time as an elementary school music teacher and the year before I landed the full-time position at Bowling Green.

Here are my complete earnings for the year:

  • University of Michigan: $2,085 (One semester of TA Position as I wrapped up my Doctorate)
  • Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp: $540 (Bassoon Instructor for 2 weeks)
  • Ann Arbor Symphony: $326
  • Toledo Symphony Orchestra: $540
  • Vinology Restaurant: $3,736 (Waiter)
  • Private Bassoon Instruction: $5,220 (5 students X $60 a lesson)
  • Bowling Green State University: $5,742 (Sabbatical replacement from September-December of 2006)


Taking inflation into account, the amount I made in 2006 translates into $27,895 in the year 2023.

Not a lot of money, and yet….I remember feeling like my career was more on track than ever before.

Then in 2007, I found stability when I won the tenure-track position at Bowling Green and never looked back.

Here are some things that helped me get through that tough financial year:

  1. I relied on credit cards.
    I am not a fan of credit cards, however, they single-handedly got me through the year when I was fighting to find my footing as an artist. If you are faced with a low-earning year, you could consider using credit cards, but proceed with caution. Although they helped me get to the next phase of my career, it took me almost ten years to pay them off after I stopped using them at the end of 2006.
  2. I got rid of my expensive car.
    When I realized that I would have a low-earning year ahead, I traded in my 2002 Subaru Impreza for a 2000 Hyundai Elantra. I loved that Subaru so much but just couldn’t afford to make the $350 monthly payments. Purchasing a reliable, older, less-expensive car helped me stabilize in a down year.
  3. I lived in a part of the country that had a lower cost of living.
    The lower cost of living in Ann Arbor allowed my money to go further than if I were living in an urban center. This gave me more flexibility and time to prepare for interviews and auditions that came up throughout the year.
  4. I kept going.
    Someone recently asked me for advice on when to know if it’s time to walk down a different career path as an artist. I think this has a lot to do with the amount of risk one is willing to take on in order to make a career go. In my case, I was willing to take on quite a bit of financial risk (aka credit card debt) in order to pursue my dream of becoming a tenure-track professor. In the case of 2006, I kept going because I had some signs that I was close to landing a job; I was a finalist for several tenure track positions in 2006, which gave me the confidence that I just needed to keep my head down for a little longer before choosing a different path.

In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t taken on quite as much credit card debt in the process, however, I am grateful for the financial valley I went into in 2006 as it continues to give me great perspective on the rest of my career.

Was there a difficult year in your career that became a bridge to financial stability? What are some ways you navigated that year? I’d love to hear from you.

Photo Credit: Aleksandr Barsukov

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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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