About to hit the road with a touring production? Don’t pack another bag without reading these tips on how to come home with a savings account you can be proud of.
Looking at the contract of a touring production can make you see dollar signs! On paper, the deal seems sweet. In reality, to return home with money in your savings, you will need to be savvy and make some smart choices. Below you will find 12 tips for saving money on tour from experienced performers.
1. Gym. Don Brewer toured with Les Miserables for years. Don says, “If you are a gym rat, buy a YMCA membership before you leave New York. It will only cost around $55 a month. Finding YMCA's around the country is almost always cheaper than the $80 a week gym membership the company manager "finds".” Other performers find alternatives, like Amanda Kloots (Spamalot, 42nd Street, Young Frankenstein) who brings her favorite exercise DVDs and downloads to use in her hotel room or backstage at the theater.
2. Roomates. Andy Karl (currently starring in Rocky on Broadway, and recently toured with Tommy, Cats, Saturday Night Fever, and Disney's On The Record) insists that THE BIGGEST WAY TO SAVE MONEY ON TOUR IS to find someone you can live with. Sharing a room with another person on the road cuts expenses in half. Sometimes Andy even survived with three in a room, putting one person on the floor. That way the hotel bill was just a few dollars, allowing him to use only his per-diem money for the week and direct his entire paycheck right into savings. If sharing a hotel room with a few people seems claustrophobic, Meredith Akins (National touring companies of Wicked, Mamma Mia) recommends sites like VRBO (Vacation Rental by Owner). “They are cheaper than staying in a hotel room, and you can share the apartment and still have your own room.”
3. Hobbies. Andy Karl also recommends finding an inexpensive hobby. Touring can leave you with a lot of downtime in airports, on busses, and in small towns that offer little to do. A hobby can keep you from spending too much by occupying your time. It will keep you out of the malls and away from expensive tourist traps. In addition, finding a hobby you are good at and enjoy can lead to making money! Andy saw actors knit, design web sites, write music, write books, do photography, draw, and practice monologues. All of these “hobbies” could turn into money makers on and off the road.
4. Room Service. Never order room service. Aside from being pricey to begin with, room service often has fees attached to it upwards of 18%. Call the front desk instead, and ask if they have menus from restaurants in the area. Ordering pick up from area restaurants will save you several dollars in taxes and delivery fees alone.
5. Groceries. Request a mini fridge and/or microwave in your room for your stay. It may cost a few dollars for the week, but will save you several times that in food cost. Take a trip to a neighborhood grocery store and stock up at the beginning of your stay.
6. Savings. Ryan Duncan (Fiddler on the Roof, Man of La Mancha) advises to direct savings from your weekly paycheck into a savings account that you don’t have access to. Pick a standard amount that will be set aside, like 10%. In this day and age, with direct deposit, it is possible to split your deposits between several accounts. Speak to your Company Manager at the beginning of the tour to arrange it. You won’t miss what you never see and will be sure to return home from tour with at least 10% saved!
7. ATM Fees. Meredith Akins also warns against ATM fees. “Seriously, people would laugh at me when I'd wait to get cash at an ATM that was my bank. Those fees add up! It is not only the fee you pay at the ATM. There can be fees from your bank if you use another bank. People will spend hundreds of dollars to get their OWN money. That has never made sense to me. I always chose a bank that was popular. If my bank wasn't in the city on tour, I'd take out at least $300. Why people pay fees for taking out $20-$40 is beyond me. It's my money."
8. Shopping. Avoid shopping. Each new town will have a new mall. Understand that buying new things will weigh down your luggage and lighten your wallet. Buy ONLY what you truly need.
9. Budget. Create a budget and stick to it. Track your daily expenses, and after just a couple of weeks you will begin to know what you spend in an average week. Once you figure out what you are spending per week, you will be able to analyze your expenses and uncover ways of cutting back. Our many experienced voices insist that paying for nearly everything you do on a reliable credit card can be life saving. Each month you can look over expenses and track where and how you are spending your money. Don’t get in the habit of just spending without tracking. Accountability is key.
10. Cell phone package. Immediately call your carrier and discuss the parameters of the plan you have. Adjust the plan so that you will incur no roaming charges for calls or texts at anytime, anywhere.
11. Taxes. Save your receipts. Almost everything you do on tour can be written off on your taxes. Keeping receipts can lead to a pleasant surprise at tax time.
12. Reality. Most importantly, beware of losing touch with reality on tour and feeling that your paychecks will keep coming forever. Remind yourself weekly of what your financial goals are and reinforce the habits that will get you there.
There are many great (free) experiences to be had and places to visit while on tour. Take advantage of places that you might not otherwise visit and enjoy the opportunity to live in different parts of the country. Congratulations on your gig and enjoy your travels!