Money Matters

November 9, 2008

Let’s be honest. Working as a professional dancer is not going to make you a millionaire. And unless you’re an international superstar or you’ve put in a few years at a top-notch company, you probably won’t be well off either. But don’t despair! Here are some ways to pinch your pennies, without resorting to a life of ramen noodles.

#1 Pack your lunch.

Preparing food at home is one of the most effective ways to spend less money. Invest in some Tupperware, and make your meals to go.

Turkey sandwich at Quizno’s, for five days: $40

Materials for five homemade turkey sandwiches: $16

#2 Join a union.

If you belong to a union like the American Guild of Musical Artists (which represents companies such as New York City Ballet), you’ll be eligible for discounts on everything from studio rentals to dance classes. Other benefits may include emergency assistance and access to health plans. (AGMA dues are $78 a year—but it’s worth it.)

#3 Skip the fancy coffee.

The cheapest way to get your caffeine fix is to buy a travel mug and brew your coffee at home. But that isn’t always possible, especially when you’re meeting pals for a post-rehearsal cup. Make it a rule to order plain coffee, instead of that half-caf-skim-soy-mocha-latte.

Coffee brewed at home: Approximately $0.48 per cup

Grande Starbucks coffee: $1.95

Grande Starbucks latte: $3.75

#4 Save your receipts, and track expenses.

There are two good reasons for this: The first is that you can add up your expenses and see where you’re spending too much. Then you can strategize on how to use your money in a more productive way. The second reason is for tax purposes. Some job-related purchases are deductible, like classes, dance shoes and gas for driving to auditions.

#5 Know thyself.

Do you get stuck with a big cell phone bill every month, because you go over your minutes? Use a prepaid phone instead. Are you a sucker for online shopping? Unsubscribe from e-mail newsletters from your favorite stores. The point: Know your habits. Figure out what tempts you, and be vigilant about avoiding those temptations.

#6 Order your prescriptions generic and online.

Ask your doctor to prescribe generic brands whenever possible. Name-brand birth control, for instance, will run you as much as $50 a month, while a generic brand can be as inexpensive as $10! Most insurance companies also offer discounts for ordering prescriptions online.

#7 Get a side job with perks.

Two words: employee discount. Look into jobs at dance retail shops, theaters and dance studios. Some teachers may also offer free classes in exchange for helping them take attendance, unlock/lock up dance studios or maintain their website.

#8 Get certified.

Many dancers choose to get certified as Pilates or yoga instructors. Not only is it lucrative, it’s excellent cross training. Bonus: If you teach at a gym or studio, you may get a free or discounted membership.

#9 Don’t carry a credit card.

Some people say it’s important to carry a credit card in case of emergencies, but if window displays lure you to the checkout counter, then it’s better to leave your plastic at home. If you feel unsafe without it, carry a prepaid credit card instead. If it gets lost or stolen, you can still get your money back.

#10 Never charge basic living expenses.

This is important: Only use a credit card to pay for a basic living expense if it’s an absolute one-time emergency (you had to buy a plane ticket to go see your dying aunt and now you can’t pay this month’s energy bill). Why is this important? Eventually your credit card will max out. You’ll be stuck without a way to pay your cell phone bill and you’ll still have to pay for all those months you charged it! If you can’t pay for basic expenses (rent, food, transportation, energy bills, etc.), then you need a side job.

#11 Buy a fan and an extra blanket.

The cost of energy keeps going up. Take it easy on the thermostat (and Mother Earth) with a fan in the summer and an extra blanket in the winter.

#12 Volunteer for studies.

OK, we’re not suggesting you let medical students cut off and reattach your toes. Sometimes health studies compensate participants, and you won’t necessarily have to take strange drugs or volunteer your appendages for a chopping lesson. A research team may want to find out if people who take vitamin C every day are less likely to get the flu than those who don’t. Ask your doctor about volunteering for clinical trials. But please be smart about this. Don’t do anything that could interfere with your health or your number-one priority: dance!

#13 Be commuter-savvy.

If you live in a city with a mass transit system, take advantage of multiple-trip discount tickets. For instance, if you ride the NYC subway twice a day, you’ll save $44 every month if you buy a $76 unlimited MetroCard instead of paying as you go ($2 per ride). If you must drive, carpool as often as possible and split the cost of gas.

#14 Be smart about sales.

Using sales to your advantage means purchasing the yogurt brand on sale at your grocery store instead of your usual brand—it doesn’t mean buying a $500 Fendi bag because it’s marked down from $2,100. No matter how great the sale, you’re still out $500! Moral of the story: A sale only saves you money when you’re buying something you would have purchased anyway.

#15 Big purchase? Compare costs online.

It may be convenient to hit the local Comp USA for a new computer, but you’re better off comparing prices online first. Websites like and list all sorts of products so you can compare costs and find the best deal.

#16 They don’t call it happy hour for nothing.

If you’re 21 or over and you and your friends like spending Thursday nights at the local watering hole, schedule your plans for happy hour, when drinks are seriously cheap.

#17 Buy a Brita.

Instead of buying bottles of spring water or using a delivery service, invest in a water filter (like a Brita) and a metal or plastic reusable water bottle. Some water delivery companies will entice you with offers like $1 a day, but you can still do better—and you’ll be helping the environment, too!

Three months of bottled water: $93

Three-month Brita filter: $8.99

Reusable water bottle: $2 at a dollar store!

#18 Use free wi-fi.

Stealing your neighbors’ internet doesn’t count! An increasing number of city parks, libraries and cafés offer free wi-fi these days, so pack your laptop and save a bundle. Check for a state-by-state directory of free wi-fi locales.

#19 Don’t smoke.

Besides the obvious health risks—like, um, death—cigarettes are just plain pricey. One pack of cancer sticks in NYC is about $8. At three packs a week, that’s $1,248 a year!