Whenever I talk about my career as a concert promoter, people tend to imagine a more exciting gig.

In their minds, it was all about rubbing elbows with celebrities, scoring backstage passes, and traveling to new, glamorous locales on the company’s dime.

Those things were rarely true.

More often, I spent many hours holed up in the venue’s production office, pouring over bills and crunching numbers. Being mired in spreadsheets may not scream ‘rock and roll,’ but I did develop some major accounting chops. For seven and a half years, I budgeted and reconciled hundreds of concerts—clubs, theaters, arenas, and even festivals.

Here are some unexpected things I learned.

(Almost) every expense is negotiable.

For sold-out concerts, the artist’s share of the profit is usually affected by every single expense. Lavish catering, overstaffed security, and complicated lighting rigs—these things add up fast. I often haggled over marked up bills or unnecessary charges and watched in awe as the numbers dropped.

Believe it or not, most of your monthly bills are the same way. Nothing will slash your cable bill faster than calling and threatening to cancel. Their customer retention team expects to negotiate. The same goes for your internet bill, car insurance, and even your monthly rent.

Nothing gets cheaper if you don’t ask, so what are you waiting for?   

Expect your expenses to change.

The artist’s paycheck depended on the accuracy of my projections. One wrong item could shave hundreds—or even thousands—off their bottom line. As you may expect, there was constant pressure to keep the concert’s expenses down.

But sometimes, the numbers changed. Someone’s original estimate was off. Or, the artist asked for too much extra stuff. Unfortunately, I couldn’t revise my original projection.

All I could do was try to adjust future expenses to offset the difference.

As your needs shift, monthly expenses may go up. And sometimes—like it or not—you are going to overspend on Postmates or your friend’s baby shower. When your budget is out of whack, skip the guilt, and recalibrate for next month.   

Give yourself a buffer.

Some expenses, like the venue’s rent, were easier to plan for. But others were a lot more difficult.

If an artist wasn’t sure about their production needs, it was tough to estimate the cost for stagehands or equipment rentals. To be safe, I often looked at similar types of concerts and padded my estimates to be safe. It was the best way to avoid those uncomfortable “we’re over budget” talks with management.

One of the best ways to improve your budget is by adding some wiggle room. Especially on the expenses that tend to ebb and flow.

For instance, it’s not easy to predict things like your car or home repairs. But if you save for them every month, and add a buffer, these bigger bills won’t derail your progress.  

Being creative saves a lot of money.

A little creativity went a long way on the road. When the artist had champagne taste with a limited budget, I had to think outside of the box.

It’s was easy to scale back on some things, but others were must-haves. I traveled with coffee makers, reused boxes of tea, repurposed untouched fruit, and regifted leftover candy. One time, I even made a deli tray (garnished with baby’s breath!) No regrets.

When a show was losing money, I was ruthless with expenses. If there was a cheaper way to do something, and it didn’t sacrifice quality, I asked about it. The same went for my travel expenses. I often downgraded hotel rooms, rental cars, and food choices to save money.  

Being creative with your own budget may be easier than you think.

Instead of weekly #SundayFunday on the trendiest restaurant patios, alternate hosting duties with your friends. Look for free local events. Skip pricey gym memberships for local hikes. There are endless affordable ways to spend your time—if you are willing to spend the time to find them.

Sometimes, the answer is earning more income.  

No matter how much I saved on concert expenses, selling more tickets always made things easier.

Sometimes, I used fewer free tickets than expected. Or, the venue agreed to open standing room tickets. If we went over budget on stagehands, higher gross income eased the sting. As long as the artist made the same money—or more—than they expected, their tour manager was happy.

Frugality is a beautiful thing. It shields you from the allure of lifestyle inflation.

Spending less is generally good, but it’s not everything. Boosting your income may be the fastest way to speed up your progress—making your financial goals that much more achievable.

Kate Dore is a freelance personal finance writer based in Nashville, TN. She is a Candidate for CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ Certification and serves as the Director of Public Relations for the Financial Planning Association of Middle Tennessee.

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