finances for artists


For many artists, dealing with finances is not a top priority until a financial emergency strikes. It is typical for artists not to receive a steady paycheck, and so it is vital that artists understand their income, their debt, their taxes, and their savings.

Always balance your accounts, and keep track of your receipts. It is a good idea to look over your finances before the end of the year, instead of April of the next. You may need to make adjustments to your budget, by either saving some of your income or spending it on tax-deductible items for your business.

Plan Ahead

You should know how much money you make from your career on a historical and annual basis. You should also have an idea of what you would like to make each year, so that you can take steps towards your goal.

You should also know your annual expenses. How much goes towards your art career? How much do you spend on other items?

Creating and following a career-focused budget is a smart plan. This should include expenses such as proposals, archival material, business expenses and, of course, the material costs of producing new work.

A budget for your exhibition or project might indicate the need for a new and/or more economical strategy. Knowing this ahead of time can save you money, as well as time and aggravation. It does not look good to postpone a show or change your work at the last minute because of financial concerns that could have been avoided. 

Plan Way Ahead

Since many artists are self-employed, they must develop long-range plans, including a retirement plan. When you sell a work, put some of the income away in a safe place, such as a retirement account, bonds, or savings plan. It is never too early to start saving!


Download this worksheet to get started on your financial goal planning:

 Live on Less

Think twice about the way you spend money. Instead of buying a fancy vehicle or long vacation, consider doing something that costs less money and saving the rest. Living modestly does not mean living in poverty, but rather striking a good balance of saving and spending. You have to plan with both emergencies and retirement needs in mind.

It is recommended that a person with a steady paycheck put away 8 to 12 months of income in case of emergencies. If you are in the arts, it is suggested that you try and put away three years worth of income. This recommendation is not exaggerated, but rather based on prior experience of countless artists.

Credit Cards

Credit cards can get you into trouble faster than almost any other financial issue. Instead of buying lots of art supplies and exhibition materials on credit, consider postponing an exhibition or changing the work. If you cannot pay the bill at the end of the month, reconsider buying it in the first place. If you get into too much debt, you will not be able to make work in the future, and it could kill your art career.

On the other side of the coin is that you need to establish credit in order to make larger purchases on credit in the future, such as a car, or a home. Using a credit card to establish good credit by paying your monthly balance is a smart way to keep up your good credit score, or establish credit.

Keep Receipts

If you ever get audited, you will need to prove your expenses. Always keep your receipts, and keep them organized. Set aside one day a month to balance your checkbook and keep track of your expenses and income. It will save you a lot of time at the end of the calendar and/or tax year. You can scan your receipts and keep track of them with software to keep down the paper storage.


If you need an accountant, make sure that you find one who understands the arts. Many artists either get into trouble with the IRS, or miss the benefits of tax deductions, because they are using an accountant who is not savvy about the laws that affect artists. The fee for accounting services can be deducted from your taxes next year.

Pay on a Quarterly Basis

About one third of your income will go to taxes. In addition, you may need to pay Social Security, which is 15 % of your earnings. If you are self-employed, you will have to pay all of this yourself.

Paying quarterly taxes means that you pay an estimated amount up-front every three months. This spreads your tax obligations out over the course of the year, which is helpful for high-income earners. If you do not make a lot of money, you will get a partial refund. When you get the refund, consider saving it or paying off a debt.


Many artists feel that health insurance is something that they cannot afford, but it is financially prudent to do so because the cost of an unexpected illness or injury can put you deeply into debt. Compare prices for group plans against individual coverage. Renter’s insurance can also be an important investment in the case of fire, floods, or earthquakes. (See the Insurance section.)


Investing is not just about buying stocks. An investment is something you put resources into with the expectation of a return. Putting money into a savings account will result in interest, albeit relatively small. Research other kinds of accounts that may increase your gains. Be sure to understand the level of risk you undertake when investing.

Investing can also be something invaluable that you do for your own personal development, on par with attending workshops and classes, or maintaining your health.

Saving Cash Under The Mattress

If you save your money with no chance of a return, you will lose about five percent a year due to inflation. You also might forget which mattress you hid your money under, or it may burn up in a fire.

Savings Account

There is a low risk with a savings account, but it offers a low rate of return, and interest earned does not always keep up with the rate of inflation. 


Most banks are covered by depository insurance (they will say “FDIC insured”). However, FDIC insurance only covers a certain portion of savings. Always check your bank’s insured amounts.

Certificate of Deposits (CDs)

Certificate of Deposits usually have a higher rate of return than a regular bank account because they tie up money for long(er) periods of time—from 6 months to 10 years. There is usually a penalty for withdrawing money from the account before the time limit is met. Some types of CD’s are insured, and they are generally a safe investment.

Savings Bonds

Risks vary with savings bonds. Federal or City bonds usually carry a low risk, but do not carry a high rate of return, and do not offer immediate access to cash.

Saving Your Pennies

Precious metals are speculative and run a high risk, as the value can go way up or down. If you are Inexperienced or uncertain about this commodity, then do not pursue an investment. Saving pennies for their copper content is not the fastest way to accumulate income.


You can invest in a private company (a company that does not sell shares on the stock market) or a public company (a company that sells shares on the stock market), but be aware that stocks carry a lot of risk. If the company you invest in goes under, so does your money. Most advisors recommend that you educate yourself before playing the stock market without professional guidance.

Mutual Funds

Mutual Funds are a collection of stocks from many different companies. The idea is that if one company loses, then the rest of the companies balance the loss. Most retirement accounts are invested in mutual funds. They are meant for the long haul, and meant to grow over time.

Real Estate

Buying a home can entail lots of risk because you must make your payments on the loan or else lose the property. However, a home usually appreciates in value. There are tax benefits associated with owning a home. As with all investments, research is essential.

Investing in a Project or Business

This is considered a high-risk venture because it can have a high return. It might give you a new career or a lot of job satisfaction, but be cautious, well-informed, and plan ahead before considering such a move.

Getting Your Finances Organized

Here are some tips for keeping your finances organized:

Separate Checking Accounts and Credit Cards

Keep your personal and artistic finances separate. Dedicate a separate checking account and credit card just for your artistic income and expenses. Use the artist account to pay for artistic supplies, research materials, marketing expenses, licenses, etc. Deposit any income you make from your artistic endeavors into this checking account.

Mark Your Receipts

Each time you get a receipt make a note directly on the receipt about the purchase and what it was for (e.g., art supplies, copies, parking for meetings, or workshop fees). Make a habit of putting your receipts into a daily file. Once a week enter these receipts into an accounting program on your computer, or into Income and Expense Charts, and store the hard copies in a dedicated folder or other container. Set up categories that you use often for your artistic practice such as Supplies, Office, Studio Rent, or Research.


Taxes are an important part of your financial planning, so be sure that you understand how much you are going to need to pay at the end of the fiscal year.

See the Taxes section, or search online to learn about tax deductions that you may be eligible for because of your art practice.


Feel free to share this article with other artists.

You can also get our popular book for artists, Getting Your Sh*t Together: The Ultimate Business Manual for Every Practicing Artist, which includes all of this information and more here.