The approach to money that helped comedian Chris Gethard 'survive as an artist'

Chris Gethard.
Mike Coppola/Getty Images

Over the past two decades, comedian Chris Gethard has put out an HBO special called "Career Suicide" and a critically acclaimed podcast called "Beautiful/Anonymous." He's also made appearances in films like "Don't Think Twice" and TV shows including "Broad City" and "The Office." He's currently helping young comedians as they rise up the ranks by hosting and producing "Chris Gethard Presents,"  a show spotlighting young comedic talent in New York. 

But Gethard's career in entertainment has included low points, too. Like all comedians, he's had to worry about where his next gig and paycheck will come from. Having experienced the financial ebbs and flows of working in a creative field, Gethard is in a good position to offer insights into how to get by when your income fluctuates.

For example, he says, don't let yourself fall prey to lifestyle creep. Instead, live within or even below your means.

His insistence on saving as much as he can when he's earning good money has helped him get by when he was between jobs. "That attitude allowed me to survive as an artist," he says.

Here's his best money advice for anyone without the benefit of a regular paycheck. 

How Chris Gethard created a successful public access series

Video by Ian Wolsten

Create a financial safety net for yourself

"When you're an artist," says Gethard about the piecemeal nature of work in the entertainment industry, you're "removing the [financial] safety net from the rest of your life. There's no safety net." Some jobs will offer hefty paychecks while others won't. 

Gethard got his first big TV writing gig in Los Angeles soon after leaving college. It paid $800 per week but, he learned, when it was over, "that the next gig doesn't always come quickly."

Understanding that, and therefore saving money as he earned it, was critical to Gethard's success. In 2010, after he booked the lead role in a 10-episode sitcom, he put every penny he earned in a savings account to ensure that money would be there if he needed it — which he later did.

If you get into the habit of putting even a little bit of money aside from every paycheck, regardless of its size, you'll be prepared for those dry months. 

Know how much money is coming in

Gethard warns that stand-up comedy is not usually lucrative. "If you're a standup," he says, "you work for years scraping by. … I've been doing it 20 years. Forty dollars, that's what I get for a club gig. Sometimes $20, sometimes $0. You work for drink tickets." 

Touring and performing at colleges provides bigger paychecks, but it takes a long time to build up to those offers, he says.

Know how much money each of your work opportunities will bring in, Gethard advises. And then make a plan to supplement those earnings and cover your expenses. That could be anything from a lucrative side hustle to a full-time job. The idea is to ensure that despite the inconsistency of your earnings from creative pursuits, you have at least one steady stream of income. 

If you're a standup, you work for years scraping by.
Chris Gethard

Don't forget to file quarterly taxes

If you're picking up work as a freelancer or earning by way of a side hustle, make sure to file your quarterly federal and state taxes on time. That lets you avoid owing a lot of money to the IRS all at once, and limit the risk of underpayment penalties

"I'll never forget 2007," says Gethard. "I had maybe booked a couple of commercials, but then all of the rest of my work was 1099s. And April came around and I gave all my stuff to an accountant and he was like, 'Dude … you didn't pay taxes.'" Gethard owed about $6,000 that year.

The clients or companies you freelance for often won't pull taxes out of your paychecks, since you're not an employee. That means it's your job to report the money you've made to the federal and state government. Keep track of all of your earnings throughout the year and set aside about one-third of each paycheck for paying those quarterly estimated taxes.

Here's more on how to avoid common mistakes when handling taxes as a freelancer or as someone with a side hustle.

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