At 22, Being a Starving Actor Was Romantic, But at 26, It’s Getting Old

by Sarah duRivage-Jacobs

When I first moved to New York City in pursuit of artistic aspirations, being a “starving actor” was sort of a romantic idea. There can be a sense of camaraderie between fellow struggling artists. It can be fun to playfully bemoan being too broke to go out to dinner when you’re a super hip wannabe actor in a glamorous city. PBR is trendy and everyone partakes in dollar pizza on the regular. But what’s cute when you’re 22 is less cute (or not cute at all) when you’re 26. Lessons need to be learned. At what point has being a “starving actor” jumped the shark?

I’ve now lived in New York for three years and am still having trouble making ends meet. I have days when I can’t afford to eat, or days when I need to beg my parents (usually fruitlessly because I’m an adult) to pay for some random expense I “didn’t anticipate.” Having little to no money is pretty awful any way you slice it. Being broke is terrible in terms of being a person, being a friend, and being an artist. How can you celebrate a good friend’s birthday when there’s no money in the bank? How can you expect to be on the pulse of what’s happening in the theater world if you can’t afford to see anything? How can you afford to trim your bangs, which are so long that they’re poking your eyeballs?

The city can often encourage this sort of lifestyle. While rents are exorbitantly high across the board, there are countless websites and apps that can be used to decrease costs. My friend always tells me to pay $30 for a month of unlimited yoga. This would be a FANTASTIC idea if I happened to have $30 when I remembered to actually do it. The tough thing about this city is that you can actually get by pretty cheaply, which can stunt your (my) financial development. On the flip side, there is also ample opportunity to blow your hard earned dollars on bourgie food or entertainment. Hey guys, it’s pay day! Let’s go spend $28 on a martini! Who cares if I don’t have money to eat next week?

I have been terrible with money since as long as I can remember. In college I was fortunate enough to have everything — besides food, social activities, and shopping — paid for by my parents, so I never really had to manage my money effectively until I moved out of my dad’s house six months after graduation. I quickly learned that I have a ways to go before becoming financially secure.

The first week I moved to New York, I put a $550 diamond bracelet on layaway at a boutique on the Upper West Side. Now, this may have been forgivable (in a Manic Pixie Dream Girl kind of way) if I was some fresh-faced 18-year-old who had yet to learn the value of a dollar, but I was a college educated GROWN ASS WOMAN making a terrible error in judgment. I’d laugh, but…it’s not funny.

All I know is that this can’t keep going on forever. I don’t need to live in a luxury high-rise, or dine at five-star restaurants. If I can manage to have a few hundred dollars in the bank after paying my rent, I’ll feel pretty damn successful. But how does one learn how to manage money when it doesn’t come naturally? Do I need to encounter real, unfixable struggle before I finally get it? ’Cause it’s no longer/was never cute. I’d happily drop the “starving” from my title.

Sarah is an actor/writer/cat enthusiast living in Washington Heights.

Photo: Andy Roberts

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