Financial Planning and Retirement Strategies for Entertainment Professionals

Posted on: Feb 22, 2024

Photo Credit: LightField Studios // Shutterstock

By Andrea Joy Tucker

Last year, while on a job, I had a heart-to-heart with a fellow industry friend. We aired our grievances about the project we were on and the entertainment industry as a whole. She asked a probing question: “Do you see yourself retiring in this field?”

At the moment, I confidently said yes. That conversation triggered a period of introspection and I began to waver. If not in entertainment, where else could I envision my retirement?

A few months following our talk, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) initiated a strike. Shortly thereafter, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) followed suit. These actions reinforced the pervasive sense of uncertainty and the bleakness of work stoppages. It wasn’t long ago that we faced significant downtime due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the industry still seems to be recovering at a sluggish pace. The inconsistency of gigs has led to an exodus of talent in search of more stable employment.

The grueling hours, the elusive work-life balance and the physical toll are reminiscent of a never-ending rat race. We pour so much into maintaining our industry careers, yet our efforts don’t always expedite the achievement of our goals. I’ve recently battled burnout from stretching myself too thin across work, training, networking and maintaining personal relationships and the drive to achieve my goals has caused me to neglect consistent self-care and rest.

A Thoughtful Approach

Navigating the financial ebbs and flows of the entertainment industry requires a different approach to retirement planning. Unlike traditional careers with steady paychecks and employer-sponsored retirement plans, many of us in the industry work as freelancers or independent contractors. It is crucial to take an active role in our financial futures. Start by creating a diverse investment portfolio, including retirement accounts like IRAs or Roth IRAs, which can be particularly advantageous due to their tax benefits.

It’s wise to work with a financial advisor who understands the unique challenges of our industry. They can help you develop a plan that takes into account variable income, taxes and the need for liquidity. Consider setting up a separate savings account for periods of unemployment and investigate industry-specific retirement options, such as the SAG-AFTRA pension plan, which can provide a safety net in your later years.

The Impact of Industry Strikes and Disruptions on Career Longevity

Strikes and other industry disruptions can have a profound impact on our career trajectories. They not only halt current projects, but can also delay or cancel future opportunities. During the WGA strike of 2007-2008, for example, many writers had to seek alternative income streams, with some leaving the industry altogether. These disruptions force us to reevaluate our commitment to the industry, and often serve as a catalyst for diversifying our skill sets.

To mitigate the impact of such events, it’s essential to stay adaptable and maintain a network outside of your primary field. This enables you to pivot more readily to other roles or industries when faced with work stoppages. It’s also a reminder of the importance of having a financial buffer to weather unpredictable industry climates.

Adapting to Technology and Industry Trends for a Sustainable Career

The rapid evolution of technology and changing industry trends also play a significant role in our career sustainability. The rise of streaming services, for example, has revolutionized the way content is produced and consumed, leading to new job opportunities, but also to an increase in competition. As virtual and augmented reality gain traction, staying ahead of the curve by learning these technologies can open up new avenues for creative expression and employment. 

The growing importance of social media in marketing and personal branding means that developing a strong online presence can be a valuable asset. To maintain relevance, we must be lifelong learners, continuously updating our skills and adapting to the digital landscape. By embracing change and innovation, we can extend the longevity of our careers and remain competitive in an industry that never stands still.

When the industry slows down or budget cuts occur, it’s hard not to wonder why you weren’t called back for a project. Although we’re told not to take it personally, it’s natural to question, “Am I being forgotten? Did I say or do something wrong—or fail to do something right?” Doubts can multiply and during extended periods without work, you might contemplate alternative paths.

Some industry veterans launch production companies, while others dedicate themselves to personal projects like shows, films or podcasts that were sidelined due to time constraints. Others pivot to the hospitality industry, leveraging their entertainment experience to serve as a bridge between worlds.

Pondering your ultimate career destination comes with many considerations. Even if you don’t retire within the entertainment industry, you can take pride in having pursued your dreams before making a shift. Career transitions are daunting, especially for those with dependents.

Whatever you decide, it’s crucial to avoid self-criticism or succumbing to FOMO (the fear of missing out). Remember, retirement isn’t necessarily permanent—you can always make a comeback!

Andrea Tucker is a writer/producer is sports and entertainment.

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