Wednesday, June 22, 2016

How Much Are You Actually Making?

By Jeremiah Johnson

Congratulations, you were offered a summer program contract!

Now that the euphoria of getting the offer has worn off it's time to figure out how much of that paycheck you're actually bringing home. Often the high of being accepted can make you agree without thinking about how much it's actually going to cost. Just because a summer gig pays, doesn't mean you are actually going to bring anything home. In just a couple easy steps, I will show you how to figure out how much that summer program will actually cost.

1) What are they paying you? Look....I know this sounds stupid, but unless we have a starting point, we will never be able to figure out how much you might be able to pocket at the end of the summer, or if you're gonna wind up in the hole.

2) What does the program itself cover? Is your housing provided? Are they providing food? If so how many meals and which ones? What about travel to and from the program? These are the biggest expenditures when you are living away from home. Know what the program is providing for you and what you will have to cover out of pocket. The answers to these questions are important to complete  the next step.

3)  What will it cost to cover the rest. Rather than just make up numbers, here is how to figure out what the actual cost of living is in the specific town of your program. A helpful website for this is There you can figure out all of the different parts of cost of living. Numbeo will show you the price of gas per gallon, the average cost of food at the grocery store, as well as the average cost of eating out. All the things you need to see what it will cost you to live, and it's all based on actual sales data gathered from that town specifically! Now you can find out exactly what living in city X costs.

4) Now it's just basic math! Take what you were going to make minus what it's going to cost you to live, and that equals what you can to take home for the summer (providing  you actually stick to the budget!)

Now that we've talked about the process I'll walk you through a hypothetical summer gig so you can see what it looks like.

TADA! You got accepted to Santa Fe Opera's YAP! You beat out a lot of people and they pay really well! However, it looks like you are responsible for all of your housing and food. Santa Fe is not a cheap town, so let’s see what the numbers look like:

Contract Pay

AGMA weekly rate - $575.00
Length of contract - 12 weeks
Total pay $6,900 (before taxes, dues, etc.)

Cost of living in Santa Fe

Rent in Santa Fe      $500.00 each (3bd room apt split 3 ways)
Food                        $475.00
Eating out                $150.00
Gas                          $170.00
*All costs are per month*

Total for 3 months - $3,885.00
Take home pay after cost of living - $3,015.00

So there you go! Now you know what it will cost you to accept a summer gig and what you will actually be able to bring home. The good news is, now that you know how to do this, you can do it for every gig in your career, and be able to plan your regular monthly budget much more clearly. Go forth and make money friends!

*Disclaimer - the weekly pay rate for Santa Fe may have changed in the last few years. Consult your contract!