Important Things I’ve Learned About Money

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With clients like Sports Illustrated and Victoria’s Secret, Jessica Perez has enjoyed an incredibly successful professional modeling career — but it hasn’t been free of challenges. Spending time in the modeling industry gave Jess insight into the widespread financial issues that models and other freelancers often face, like money management, job tracking and delayed payment from clients. As a money-savvy freelancer, Jess was inspired to build a platform that would help to financially empower other models and independent contractors. Jess decided to create Tycoon, a financial tracking tool that provides freelancers with a user-friendly way to keep tabs on their payments, all in one place. While Jessica Perez still works as a model part-time, her main focus these days has shifted to getting shit done as a freelancer rights activist and Founder/CEO of Tycoon…oh, and taking time out of her busy schedule to share her financial wisdom with LBG, of course. 🙂

– Meredith Reed, Editor-in-Chief

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I often think about my relationship to money. Ever since I was a young child, my parents always talked openly about their finances in front of me and my siblings. I always knew how much money they made, how much our rent cost, how much they paid to send us to school. We were always conscious of cost and taught to be appreciative of what we could afford. As a ‘worst-case scenario’ type of thinker, my mom always stressed the importance of saving ‘in case something happens’.

After college I ended up choosing to pursue a career in fashion modeling; a career with an absurd amount of financial instability. The uncertainty of booking jobs and payment terms of three to six months (or longer) made money management an everyday challenge. When I was starting out, saving money wasn’t an option; I was struggling just to make ends meet. In that time period of my life, I had to be disciplined, pragmatic, and realistic about what I could and couldn’t have.

I didn’t give up modeling despite the financial challenges and almost seven years in, I shockingly found myself earning a living that had exceeded all my expectations. Having excess money opened new doors and questions for me financially. I had been through so much to get to where I was financially that I did my best to make mindful decisions with my paychecks rather than carelessly spending what I was earning.

As a result of having gone from the bottom to making more money than I’m certain I’ll ever make again in my lifetime, I’ve learned a few key principles to money management that have helped me cope with the realities and emotions of being broke as well as having more than you need.

Do the best with what you have and don’t beat yourself up about it.    

As I mentioned, I grew up with a mom who stressed the importance of saving all the time — but making $35,000 a year while living in New York City and paying off school loans during my first years of modeling didn’t allow for that. While I wished that I had savings, I simply couldn’t afford to put money aside. However, once I started making a little more money, I started saving small amounts. I didn’t focus on the fact that the amount was trivial, but on the pride I felt for having the discipline to do it. The truth is that saving money is a good habit to learn early on. Even small amounts will add up over time, and eventually, your savings can save you.

The amount of money you really need from year to year is not necessarily incremental.

Many people subscribe to the idea that every year you need to make more money than the last. This most likely rings true in careers that follow traditional trajectories with fixed incomes and promotions over time. However, it is rarely true in freelance or startup careers where the risk to reward ratio is much larger and luck can have a bigger effect on success than experience. In most cases, to get a non-traditional career off the ground, you will go through periods of making less money than you were used to or want to make. If you find yourself in this situation, it makes much more sense to focus on the amount of money you actually need to get by than on what you should be making.

If you do make excess money, you need to have financial goals.

Have you ever met someone who makes a ton of money but always seems to be broke? We all have. It’s a predictable human response to ‘adjust up’ your lifestyle when you have more and spend money without being conscious of where it’s going. We all have an internal way to measure if something feels too expensive for us or if we are going over our budget. The problem with making more money than you necessarily need is that often it allows for us to relax our internal money meter and spend more, more often. The chance that your lifestyle will get slightly better in many small ways but not in any significant way to make a lasting impact on your future is pretty high. That’s why it’s so important to make clear goals on how to allocate your excess money, so that you can make the most of it.

Money is transitory.

I had very clear, defined financial goals for myself. At the height of my career, I bought a one bedroom apartment in Brooklyn; my goal was to sell my one bedroom and upgrade to a two bedroom in two years time. I accepted every job that came my way, saved the majority of my paychecks, and started building savings for when the time came to move into a bigger place.

The year that I had planned to look into moving, I discovered that the building where I had purchased my one bedroom apartment was defective and would require millions of dollars of necessary repairs. A lawsuit ensued against the developer and I suddenly felt trapped (and I still do). Even though the building management board won the lawsuit against the developer, we are still years away from all the repairs getting done. Until then, we don’t have the ability to sell off our apartments.

In the meantime, the money I had saved for my two bedroom apartment went to legal and engineering fees instead. I went from feeling like I was on top of the world to worrying that this bad investment was going to lead me into bankruptcy. I spent days in bed crying over my crushed dream and worries, until months later I realized that yes, I might go bankrupt and that yes, I had no choice but to accept it. It was the first time in my life that I was hit hard by the fact that you can make all the ‘right’ financial decisions but life can still happen. There’s a myriad of reasons as to why you can feel rich one day and broke the next. I learned to thank my lucky stars that my particular issue wasn’t something health-related or truly serious, and I realized that I had the power to potentially rebuild my finances if I had to.

Overall, my experiences have taught me that the role money plays in your life isn’t designed like a staircase, where you go up step-by-step, ascending in equal increments and the next step is predictable. The ascent likely involves taking a few steps down and then back up time and again. Yes, there is a fair amount of conscious decision-making that you can do along the way to smooth out the ups and downs — but life events are bound to change your perspective over what you need and what you want throughout time, forever. Successful money management is a delicate balance between being in control and letting go of it. The truth is, not even every ‘good decision’ will lead you down a good path. And guess what? That is life.

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Connect with Jessica Perez on Instagram / LinkedIn

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