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Brooke Benson of ‘Not Starving Artists’: “Financial freedom”

My parents instilled a strong value in my brother and I at a young age about the importance of managing and saving money. Although we both had to figure out new ways of doing this as artistic freelancers with irregular incomes, that value always stayed strong. It is this value that allows me to help […]

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My parents instilled a strong value in my brother and I at a young age about the importance of managing and saving money. Although we both had to figure out new ways of doing this as artistic freelancers with irregular incomes, that value always stayed strong. It is this value that allows me to help empower others about their money and chase after financial freedom.


The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.

As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brooke Benson

Brooke Benson is an Equity Actor + Financial Coach, founder of Not Starving Artists. She is arming the creative freelance community with financial education, coaching, and encouragement to destroy the “Starving Artist” trope and lead them towards financial freedom. She is an Expert Financial Contributor for Backstage and recently released her first e-book, “Creating Your Own Flexible Spending Plan”, on notstarvingartists.com


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

One of the first questions I always ask my clients is, “What is your first childhood memory involving money?”, so I’ll share mine. When I was eight years old, NSYNC just dropped their album “No Strings Attached”, and I knew I HAD to have it. I opened up a lemonade stand in our cul-de-sac (I didn’t yet understand the concept of foot traffic), and because the album was priced at 7 dollars, I decided to price one cup of lemonade at 7 dollars a pop. This way, I only had to sell ONE cup and I could get my hands on that album! Brilliant, right? Needless to say, I did not sell a single cup of lemonade that day. My dad convinced me to drop the price, which I reluctantly did, and by the end of the next day, I finally had my 7 dollars. That album still brings me joy and it was at 8 years old that I realized how important it was to understand money. I then proceeded to pursue a life as an actor, being fed the “Starving Artist” narrative at every turn, which lit a fire in me to destroy that toxic trope.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Marie Forleo’s big quote is “Everything is figureoutable”, and that is something that has resonated with me for years. As a freelancer, I was searching for resources and guidance in how to manage my money with an irregular income, and was getting so frustrated that there was so little out there that applied to me. I knew I had to figure it out, so I started to create my own systems, through trial and error, and now I’m able to teach those systems to so many other artists. The same goes for finding income; artists are really great at figuring out how to make money while they are in-between gigs, myself included. I wanted to figure out how to find a more sustainable source of income that still allowed me the flexibility to perform and travel, which is another reason that my business, Not Starving Artists, came to be.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

There is a podcast episode from The Happiness Lab with Dr. Laurie Santos called “The Unhappy Millionaire” featuring Dr. Dan Gilbert. They talk about how after 70,0000 dollars/year, the happiness that money can bring you levels off. But the fascinating thing is that in the studies done, people moving from 40,000 dollars to 70,000 dollars in yearly salary actually did have a boost in their happiness and well-being. This is because money can’t buy you happiness, but it can buy you freedom. This freedom means you don’t have to stress about paying rent next month or if you can afford a down payment, and you have the financial flexibility to indulge every once in a while. Creative freelancers tend to fall below this 70k dollars mark, which means it is so important to effectively manage what they do have and figure out ways to increase their income.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?

After graduating college with my BFA in acting, I was almost exclusively working as a stage actor in regional theatres and joined the actor’s union (Actors Equity Association) in March 2020. I had a few other freelance gigs writing and creating social content, but most of my income came from acting contracts and other theatre-based work.

What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?

When the theatre industry shut down due to the pandemic, along with the rest of the live performance industry, all of my job and income prospects disappeared as well. I adore working as an actor, but I had given little thought as to what I would do if theatres ceased to exist (which is exactly what happened). In conjunction with lots of wine and mourning, I started to dabble in other work prospects that sparked my interest. Having always been passionate about personal finance, I decided to start blogging about it. What I found was that so many other artists and freelancers were confused and frustrated with all things surrounding money management, and I knew I could help. This is how Not Starving Artists was born, and now offers 1-on-1 coaching services, digital products, and an online community full of resources and encouragement.

Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?

When I first started blogging about personal finance, with no intention of starting a business, I got a call from an old friend saying one of my articles inspired him to pay off two credit cards and create a spending plan. That phone call made me realize that this stuff was resonating with people, and creative freelancers need one of their own to speak directly to them about how to manage their money differently than 9–5ers.

How are things going with this new initiative?

I am loving where Not Starving Artists is headed. I have met so many amazing creatives via free consultations, and even more amazing clients in my Deep Dive coaching program who I’ve gotten to build strong relationships with over the course of six months. I created a Flexible Spending Plan e-book which has helped so many begin their money management journey, and there are more digital courses and products in the works! We are also opening up larger conversations about artists being paid what they’re worth and how economic policy affects our day-to-day finances.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My parents instilled a strong value in my brother and I at a young age about the importance of managing and saving money. Although we both had to figure out new ways of doing this as artistic freelancers with irregular incomes, that value always stayed strong. It is this value that allows me to help empower others about their money and chase after financial freedom.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?

I was recently asked to write a blog article for a major theatrical publication titled, “How to ask to be paid what you’re worth”. . . but they weren’t willing to pay me to write the article. I have found that this is not a rare occurrence and it is one of the things my business will fight for in the future: no more asking for unpaid labor from creative freelancers.

So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?

For me, I had to let go of the “hustle and grind” culture that pervades the entrepreneurial space. I was simultaneously growing my small business while mourning the loss of a career path I loved dearly. I had to allow myself days where I didn’t work on scaling and just allowed myself to be sad and focus on things that brought me joy. Along with that, the political climate, racial injustice, and growing pandemic numbers took up a lot of mental space, and I had to allow time to process those emotions as well. Long walks and bubble baths were my go-to decompression tools, with a little bit of trashy reality TV sprinkled in.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I want to end the unpaid internship and underpaying actors for their work. We love what we do so much, and that is frequently taken advantage of, knowing that there is someone else out there who is willing to do it for less. I’m all for paying your dues, but if you’re asking for labor in any way, artistic or not, you must pay them a livable wage.

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!

I think Stefanie OConnell is brilliant, and she was one of the first millennial finance voices to speak out against old-fashioned money advice. She empowers women, has great energy, and I’ve learned so much from her content!

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow me on Instagram at @notstarvingartists and @brooktylerbenson, and can find the rest of my offerings at www.notstarvingartists.com. Feel free to email me any questions or thoughts at [email protected]!

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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