Transcript: Modern Freelancing with Musician and Arts Administrator Eric Umble


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Show Notes for the Episode

Eowyn Levene 0:00
Welcome to Creatives Do Money. Each week we explore the topics of everyday money management, solo business ownership, and how we’re fueling our creative futures. I’m your host Eowyn Levene, money coach, longtime self employed massage therapist and watermelon enthusiast, and I’m on a mission to help you build the lasting financial stability that frees you up to do your creative work without hustling anxiously for the next dollar.

Eowyn Levene 0:30
My guest today is Eric Umble. He’s a musician, DJ and arts administrator as well as a kindred spreadsheet enthusiast. Based in Brooklyn, Eric has an active career as a clarinetist in the new music scene in New York City. He’s also the development and Engagement Manager for the Knights orchestral collective, you might remember a reference to the group from episode nine, my spouse, Michael also works with them. They’re really amazing. If you haven’t already checked them out, I highly encourage you to do so there’s a link in the show notes. Eric, can I get into his transition from full time freelancing as musician to full time employment and what led him to make the change the challenges of student loan debt, his epic quest to win at apartment lease through the New York City affordable housing lottery and so much more.

Eowyn Levene 1:22
Thank you so much for being here. Eric.

Eric Umble 1:24
I’m so excited to talk with you. Thanks for having me.

Eowyn Levene 1:26
Yeah. So let’s start with a pivotal moment that changed your relationship to money and finances.

Eric Umble 1:34
There are so many aren’t there? Well, I think a big one was my student loan debt, for sure. That kind of changed my calculus on a lot of my career decisions and life goals. And I didn’t really understand the depth of the impact. until after I finished school. And then you know, as as the years went on, after I finished my graduate degree avenham School music, I became more and more aware of how this would impact me for the future. And that certainly affected by decision making later.

Eowyn Levene 2:10
So did you go pretty quickly from undergrad to grad school kind of masking, masking the burden of the debt? Like Did you just get it was your were your payments deferred? through that process?

Eric Umble 2:22
It’s a great question. I was very fortunate and didn’t have any debt from my undergraduate degree. And then when the time came for my Masters, because I had no debt for my undergrad, I was thinking very hard about my masters. And I was like, do I really want to? Do I really want to take on this job? I do. And so I thought about taking a year off and just I thought about freelancing. Right away. I was already getting some work as a clarinetist in New York. And but then I think there was part of me that really felt like I had more I needed, I needed more time. I had a wonderful teacher, my undergrad David Krakauer, who’s incredible, and I love him so much. And then Anthony McGill accepted me into a studio for my master’s degree. And it was just the two different perspectives were important, I thought, to gain as a clarinetist. And so and I still, at that point, hadn’t ruled out taking auditions and getting an orchestra job. So I thought it would be valuable to get the opportunity to just study with orchestral clarinetist as well. And I also had the privilege of performing full time in the contemporary program, even though I was in the Classical Studies program. So I was I got to play in Tactus at Manhattan School music, which is their 20th and 21st century based ensemble. And that was a huge experience, really, really incredible. So some of these factors made me decide to end up going back to school. But the result of that is I graduated with about $68,000 in debt, and now I have 84.

Eowyn Levene 3:58
And that’s just how it is for so many who go ahead and do an advanced degree, which often seems like the right thing to do, you know, especially if you are thinking still about the possibility of an orchestra job, which means consistent employment. It’s very different than being a freelancer and having those different perspectives. I mean, for so many people, I mean, if you’re a teacher, for example, you have to have an advanced degree to make any more money, you know, so this huge balancing between the two. And I can see I had a similar experience in that I graduated without debts from my undergrad. That was due to the generosity of my parents, I’d actually be interested in how that worked for you, but they chose to I had, I would have graduated with 18 grand in debt from my undergrad. And my dad just decided they would take that on and pay that off. I ended up paying off the last $2000 because of that’s just how it all went. But basically, I wasn’t under that burden. And so I went when I went back to school. I feel like the impact Debt didn’t register with me in a way that it would have had. I’ve been paying off debt from my undergrad. Does that make sense?

Eric Umble 5:07
Yeah, absolutely.

Eowyn Levene 5:08
Yeah. Because I think it’s not until you have the burden of those payments that you really start to reckon with them on, like a visceral, everyday level.

Eric Umble 5:16
Yeah. Yeah.

Eowyn Levene 5:19
So how was it that undergrad didn’t involve debt for you? Was that due to your school choice? Or scholarships? Or did your parents help? How did it look?

Eric Umble 5:27
They started a 529. For me when I was a kid. Yes. And, and so they contributed to that invested into it. And they always have the goal of paying for undergrad, they did that for both my sister and I, which was incredible. They’re both professors at the State University of Pennsylvania for over 30 years. And so public higher education was very important to them. And they really wanted us to, to not have to worry about undergrad, which is just such a huge gift. But yeah, what my sister and I have advanced degrees, and we both took on significant debt after that to continue. And a huge part of that is honestly just rent and living tuition aside that I don’t think people really talk about the cost of just like paying for your life to it’s a yeah, you know.

Eowyn Levene 6:10
Especially if you’re going to school somewhere like New York City, where so many amazing schools Oh, but the cost of living is so high even with a student’s life. Yeah,

Eric Umble 6:18
yeah, yeah.

Eowyn Levene 6:21
Can you describe a bit what it was like when those student loan payments began? What was your work life? Like? What kind of payment were you dealing with in comparison with your income at the time,

Eric Umble 6:32
I always had a part time job while I was in school. And so I started paying off my loan immediately, with any of the money leftover from the refunds that I got from the school that I didn’t use. And I also trust tried to contribute to it as much as I could, because I before the term of the loan actually begins that the principles just start automatically and it’s of interest. So I think I was so poor. Yeah. And I was on income based repayment program that I didn’t actually have payments for a while. But very early on, I needed to do a calculus, which was, is it cheaper for me to pay this loan off over a 20 year term? Or is it cheaper for me to refinance with a private bank and pay this loan off at a lower interest rate? Or is it cheaper for me to try to pay as little as possible, with the hope that after the forgiveness term ends, the amount that I would pay an income tax on the forgiven amount, plus the amount that I paid would be less than if I actually paid off the loan with compounding interest? Yeah, and my determination was to pay as little as possible on the loan, just because of the size of the loan. And the amount of money it would require for me per month, to contribute to the loan to actually make a difference on the principal was, you know, seven $800 a month. And when I was making 20 to $30,000, a year, right out right out of school. That wasn’t that wasn’t feasible. Yeah. And so because I wasn’t Income Based Repayment Program, my adjusted payments, per my income were zero for many years. Of course, the negative side of that is my consolidated loan has a 6.8% interest rate. And so it gets out of hand very quickly. And I’m still banking on that. I also keep kept my loans with the government. And I don’t regret that one bit. Because I, I’ve benefited from especially this year, the Department of Education day on payments and interest accruals this year. So that’s that’s been huge. And also I do believe that in the future, there will be leniency to people who hold debt at a certain level.

Eric Umble 8:42
Additionally, I now work for a nonprofit full time, and I’m enrolled in the public service loan forgiveness program, which is forgiveness after 10 years, while working full time at a nonprofit or similar organization qualifying organization. And I believe as it stands right now, I believe as it stands right now, the forgiven amount through the public service loan forgiveness program is not taxable, and that that provision could change. So I have it modeled multiple different ways. I haven’t modeled just the income base plan a 20 year repayment program, with the forgiven amount being taxable income and an estimated 30% income tax on that forgiven amount. And they have it modeled as a 10 year public service loan forgiveness program, forgiveness that would be forgiven after Yeah, I’m sorry, forgiven after 120 payments after 10 years. And that would not be taxable. But I also have the taxable calculation in there just in case because that’s, that’s a, you know, that’s a department of education policy that can change pretty much with the new administration or anything. So that’s what’s happening. Yeah, I

Eowyn Levene 9:45
mean, what I hear and everything you’re describing is that you’re being very intentional and thoughtful about the whole process, and I get that, I get that that doesn’t make it any easier to be faced with such a huge amount of debt. But so Often things are scary because we ignore them. And we push them under the bed, and we try to pretend they don’t exist. And so you’ve taken a deep breath, and you’re like, Okay, what would these different scenarios look like? I have employment now, how can I manage this? And I guess I’m just appreciating the fact that you’ve been really smart about this. Oh, yeah, I mean, within the context of a system that forces us to go into debt in order to get good education,

Eric Umble 10:29
it is it is a challenging aspect of our system. And there are ways to, there are ways to get educated without taking on this kind of debt. But the reality is, is that a lot of people take it on. And the other reality is, is I don’t know if I would have had the opportunities that I had, if not for that degree. And I don’t know if I would have gotten this job. Which is kind of funny, because I, I didn’t go to school for arts administration, but just the people I met the experiences that I had, the kind of playing that I was doing when I was working full time as a freelancer really set me up well, for this job. And yeah, I probably wouldn’t. I don’t know. Maybe it would have gotten there eventually. But yeah, you know, it isn’t that is a tool. Right. So I think we can feel really bad about ourselves for taking on the debt. But the other side of it is, it really does. The education, you know, for a lot of people really desk open opportunities,

Eowyn Levene 11:20
for sure. Yeah. So you’ve mentioned your relatively new position with the Knights, I’m wondering if you could give us an impression of what money was like for you before the notes and how it’s changed now that you have full time employment.

Eric Umble 11:36
Absolutely. I was playing full time as a clarinetist. I graduated in 2014. I graduated my undergrad in 2014. I graduated a master’s in 2016. In fact, wow. All together, there are graduate masters in 2016. And, you know, had been freelancing while I was in school. And then was was playing pretty much full time, I had a couple part time office jobs that helps provide some consistent, more or less consistent income during the dry periods. And also just to, you know, keep me on a little bit of a structure, which was great. I worked at Manhattan School of Music and the Center for music entrepreneurship as a career counselor, about 20 to 25 hours a week, for about a year and a half. And I also worked at the American society, doing events at the front desk, I still work there, actually, I mean, not during the pandemic, but I love that organization. So it’s been great to continue to see those people and help out with their work there. And I also worked for a small Hedge Fund, which was just the fund manager and an analyst and myself, and I worked there one day a week for a little while. And so this just supplemented playing. And I was playing a lot of contemporary music, a lot of chamber music, doing, just kind of always running around, like a crazy person trying to trying to make ends meet, you know, it was very, very busy and lots of teaching.

Eric Umble 12:59
I feel like I made most of my money between September and mid December, and then early February through May, every year, the summers were so slow. And I think that’s, that’s fairly typical for musicians. And I would end up getting to have these beautiful opportunities to go to festivals or residences that I was fortunate enough to not have to pay for but they didn’t necessarily cover my own living expenses. I still had to pay rent, etc. Yeah, I would, I would do things like that in the summers and try and like manage cash flow, cash flow stuff was my apartment, that kind of thing while I was gone. And yeah, I don’t know. It was just it was really, it was really beautiful. I had some incredible experiences. I spent a couple summers in Switzerland, we started festival, I did this amazing tour of Korea and Hong Kong. I got to play with the New York Philharmonic once and was really involved in a lot of grassroots music organizations in New York City. It was it was really awesome. I don’t I don’t regret any of it.

Eric Umble 14:03
But the the the lifestyle is definitely challenging. The lack of consistency, the lack of control over your time, at least for me, it was challenging. Some people love it. And that’s beautiful. It’s just it’s definitely that it’s a choice that we all make about how we want to structure our time. And yeah, there’s something beautiful about getting to see different parts of the city and always have a different commute. Obviously different people always like always have like a lot of different people in your life that you’re connecting with. But But yeah, I think the bottom line is, financially it ended up being very challenging. And I felt like I was working a lot. And of course, there are always ways that I personally could have lived more frugally because the reality was that, you know, I didn’t I didn’t make very much money.

Eric Umble 14:48
But on the grand scheme of things, I don’t think I was also spending that much money either. It’s just like very hard to live in New York City on $35,000 a year or less, you know, so yeah, I ended up slowly, but surely getting myself into about $10,000 of consumer debt. I’m very fortunate to bank with a credit union out of Pennsylvania. And the rates on their lines of credit are really advantageous. Additionally, they’re very tied to their account holders, they don’t, there’s no fees or like minimum balances or anything like that. So that that was also really helpful for me. But I consolidated my credit card debt on the line of credit with them on about 8% interest for that $10,000. And that was a really important, it was really important to have access to that cheap credit. Because if I was trying to pay that off on like a typical credit card at 25, or 26, or 27% interest, that would have just been really hard to get out of, we’ve taken a really long time.

Eric Umble 15:51
But around the time that the opportunity with the Knights came up, that’s that’s where I was that I had, I had about $10,000 of credit card debt, I was constantly every time I got a paycheck, I was paying off some of the bills that I need to cash for, and then putting everything else in credit card debt, and just kind of like always putting money at debt. And I found it, I found it really stressful. So when the opportunity with the Knights came up in I had my first interview in October of 2018. And was offered the position in early December of 2018. And actually started working for them in December of 2018. And then full full time in January of 2019. It was an opportunity for me to to get out of that. And I was able to pay that off in about a year, a little over a year. That 10,000 Yeah, yeah. And so I actually finished paying that off this past April and have just been focused on building a cash reserve for emergencies and my retirement since then.

Eowyn Levene 16:52
And do you feel like your spending behavior changed as well, in the process of getting out of consumer debt? Or was it largely about the stability of income,

Eric Umble 17:04
I think the stability of income is huge. When you go a couple months without really any income, and you’re putting everything on credit cards to get by that’s that can that can be a challenge for anyone to get out of. And additionally, I would work for some organizations that would take a really long time to pay, whether that be just because of the nature of their payroll, whether it be a very large bureaucratic institution where you have to get set up as a vendor and cetera, et cetera, or, you know, just disorganization or what have you. Yeah, there was a month in 2018, I believe it was October where I had about $2,000 of work that month, which is plenty for me at that time. But I didn’t get paid for any of it until December. Yeah. And I was coming off of a summer where I hadn’t made any money. So it’s just like, like how, and similarly, I got back from Switzerland, like a week before the month of September was the week before the month of October was to start that year, and they had paid for my existence. And I think I had 300 Swiss francs, after it was all said and done. And I was very frugal all summer to try and make sure I had some money left over. But then I need to turn around and pay my rent. And I did it somehow. But I don’t know how

Eowyn Levene 18:14
it was some magic wand waving involved?

Eric Umble 18:16
Yeah, yeah, you know, I always had to trust that something would work out. And often it did in terms of like the gigs that came in. I just want to add that I had it, I had a really deep heart to heart with myself, and realize that, wow, things were really starting to get going for me as a planet. And I was getting really great work. I felt like this was going to be a chronic problem. For a long time. I didn’t feel like people really took the time to talk about it. Especially before the pandemic, there was like a lot of projection of like what success means as a professional musician. But I didn’t really fully understand what the financial reality was and my colleagues, not that that’s something that needs to be public. But I just and I still don’t really know the answer to this. But I wonder how many people struggle with chronic debt on a regular basis? And if, and if that can be something that we can talk about in a more open forum, and not feel ashamed about it. Because for me, I felt like such a failure when I had that, you know, but if I knew that I was in a community of people that were also working to manage this. Yeah, I think the the conversation would have felt different internally.

Eowyn Levene 19:23
Yeah, definitely. I think, you know, feeling oneself in community is definitely helpful when you’re like beating yourself up for feeling like you’re just not managing things. Well. I mean, I do genuinely think that it’s the case that manage like how you manage your money can make all the difference, but you have to be making enough at a baseline. And one of the things that I teach my clients is using what I call a rollercoaster fund, where when you have extra you put it into like not emergency savings like this is just savings that you expect to dip into within the next few months. So you slowly build up this buffer of I don’t know what three or $5,000, which you then dip into when you have a month where you just have no income. But you have to be making enough there have to be months where you have a decent buffer over and above what you need for your expenses. And so some of what you’re describing isn’t just about the variability of the income or not knowing when the payments coming. But it’s simply that given the expense of living in the city, there wasn’t enough as a new freelancer. So you are recently from school. And it can take time to build up the momentum to garner the income that would be necessary in a city like New York. And so having that full time employment with the nonprofit organization, it’s not just about stability of income, it’s also the fact that your income went up. Or at least I’m guessing… Tell me

Eric Umble 20:50
My starting salary was a marginal increase from what I was making.

Eowyn Levene 20:53
Okay, so it was a marginal increase. Yeah. Yeah. And are you still doing work on the side as well?

Eric Umble 20:58
Yeah, I, I still freelance. And it’s been, it’s been really wonderful I. But of course, I love the nights. I love this organization. And I love development. They’re wonderful. I really enjoyed getting to know the administrator side of myself more over the last two years. And so that’s my priority, you know, and I’m really dedicated to it. But that said, I also really appreciate that they respect that I’m a cleaning as well. And I’m able to kind of hold both of those worlds at the same time, in a way that feels really good to me, because I want to be working 100% for the nights all the time. But when there’s an opportunity that comes up, that doesn’t conflict, and I feel like I’m able to have bandwidth with my energy to take it on, then I do it. And it’s been, it’s been wonderful. It’s been a great, great to have both of those things.

Eowyn Levene 21:50
Well, yeah, I mean, there’s a reason that you chose to study clarinet to begin with.

Eric Umble 21:54
Yeah, I love it. I love the clarinet.

Eowyn Levene 21:56
Yeah. Would you say a bit more about what you’ve been enjoying, in the role of development.

Eric Umble 22:03
Most fundamentally, it’s about building relationships, which I think is, is a beautiful thing. And we have a beautiful community of supporters around the work that we do. I also appreciate that it’s bigger than me. It’s not about, you know, asking money for myself necessarily at all. It’s about something that has been happening for a decade and more before I came along, and will continue on after. And so being a steward of these relationships, and being an advocate for the organization, and being representative of the work and our artists and advocating on their behalf is a beautiful thing. I I love getting up every day and working really hard to help make this grassroots organization is sustainable, an integral part of the fabric that is New York City’s cultural theme. And if we didn’t have grassroots arts organizations all across New York City, how sad would that be, you know, it’s a huge part of what makes New York so special is all of the different niches and small organizations that have room to share their voice and, and bring all sorts of different kinds of talents to the fore. So it’s, it’s a great company, I love it. I love I love the community.

Eric Umble 23:12
But also on the practical side, I really enjoyed the structure. I like the the feedback of working in an administrative position, I appreciate having a real performance review, and the clarity of that and knowing exactly what my job is on a given day. And what I’m expected to do. And like that kind of clarity is really helpful for my mental health because I kind of felt like when I was freelancing, I was always trying to appeal to the the graces of every single person I worked for every parent I taught for every contractor I worked for every person I sat beside in the rehearsal, and I never really had any feedback, you never really know if you’re doing well or not. And when you don’t get called back, you don’t know if that’s because of, you know, your hair was funny that day or messed up in rehearsal. And you’re like, there’s just like that, that’s, that’s stressful for me personally. So there’s, there’s the work. I like the work. There’s also the environment, it’s a positive environment. It’s a great organization, but also just baseline, the structure clarity, and feedback is really helpful for the way that my brain works and the way that I think I respond best to sustained professional, professional, you know, a professional career.

Eowyn Levene 24:23
Yeah, for sure. I have that experience just in having worked for myself now full time for seven, eight years, whatever it is just missing. I have something similar to what you were talking about with freelancing where if a client returns great if they don’t, that could be because they were moving out of the city or because they found someone else who does a kind of work that fits them better or they found a massage therapist that happened to live a blog for a block from them or I don’t know what you know, there’s all of this guesswork and I’ve had experiences where I’ll see a client and then won’t hear from them again for two years. And they’ll be like, Oh, no, but that’s because you fix me or whatever. Right? exception. I’m not a miracle worker, but it’s just the lack of feedback and the structure, I totally understand that. And you end up needing to build that in for yourself when you run your own business. But it makes so much sense that doing something together with someone else, as a team, or multiple people, as a team, in the case of the Knights, I can see the foundation that that provides for doing this work that you find so interesting and engaging and important.

Eric Umble 25:31
Absolutely. Yeah, yeah. And you’re right. I do think that if you are a freelancer, there’s opportunities to build that in for yourself, and ways to make that happen. So it’s certainly not necessarily about whether you’re a 1099 contractor or a W two employee, if you can have a structure like that. But yeah, I think for all of us in our professional situations, being thoughtful about the ways in which our psychology interacts with those around us, and being proactive about building a professional life where we are maximized to our best by the environment that we place ourselves in.

Eowyn Levene 26:03
Yeah, absolutely. Do you feel like your work with the Knights has just changed how you understand money and finances as a whole?

Eric Umble 26:12
Yeah, it’s been super interesting. I, one of my favorite things about working for for the Knights is that it’s such a small team, there are two full time staff members, myself and our executive director, Bridget Monday, who’s incredible. And we have our artistic directors and our board, they’re very involved as well. But because of that, I kind of get to be adjacent to all of the operations. And I’ve learned, I’ve learned a ton, it’s been really interesting to get more familiar with nonprofit finance, kind of understand how our money works and where it lives and the details around restriction and unrestricted and and how you know, how we present numbers to the board and how we pass a budget and how we take that budget and move it forward throughout the four quarters of the year. All of that it’s just it’s just very interesting. I running a business is really fun, especially with such an amazing colleague like Bridget and such a dedicated and inspiring for like the one that we have. So it’s been it’s been great.

Eowyn Levene 27:10
Yeah. And you feel like it, your workflow has influenced what you do in your personal life with your money?

Eric Umble 27:17
Yeah, I think so. I mean, I do work to compile budgets for foundations, and, and the government when we apply for funding, and even just like to present a proposal to a donor or something we create, we create a budget for that. So it’s been very helpful to think about long term planning. And we have a very thorough financial review process of recorded with the board, which is wonderful. And we have the cash flow projected out and everything. And it’s just, it’s really helpful for me to see that and see how that works. And to Yeah, absolutely apply it to my to my own. For sure.

Eowyn Levene 27:52
Would you talk a bit about how you would advise your former self finishing up your master’s degree, given what you know now about managing money and facing your debts, and navigating all of that? Are there some pieces of advice you’d give your former self or someone else just leaving school, when it comes to managing their money,

Eric Umble 28:13
I would really try to find a banking institution, a financial institution to work with, that did not riddle you with fees everywhere that you looked and then really returned. it’s unconscionable to me that some of these banks require you to have a minimum balance in your checking account.

Eowyn Levene 28:29
Yeah,

Eric Umble 28:30
I just don’t understand that. I think that’s insane. And there are some really ethical institutions out there, a lot of credit unions or a wonderful amalgamated bank in New York City is a great bank. So there are great options out there neighborhood trust, Federal Credit Union in Washington Heights, great reputation, some of these organizations really care about making sure that people have access to inexpensive credit are able to get out of consumer debt, are able to hold checking accounts without having to be penalized for not having the right amount of money in there. So there are there are people out there that care about you, and about your financial well being and aren’t going to try and take your money every every step of the way. That that was a huge deal for me to have access to that.

Eowyn Levene 29:13
Also, what you’re speaking, though, to, is small amounts that seem like nothing, one month to another, but over the years, they really add up. And if you’re on a tight budget, and you’re really stretching to make things work, if you’re getting started in your career, or if you have variable income, those small things really add up and they make a big difference. And I think thinking more long term about those things, whether it be interest rates on credit card debt, or fees, or even if you’re feeling a bit more fancy talking about fees when it comes to investing and that kind of thing. Those things are important and paying attention to those, you know, 510 $30 bumps on our accounts is really important and it requires the presence of Have checking balances and looking at transactions and just being present with your money.

Eric Umble 30:05
I just I don’t know what I would have done, I would have been much harder, I probably would still be paying off that $10,000 if I didn’t if I had that on like a more expensive line of credit somewhere. So that impact plays out in various ways over a long period of time.

Eowyn Levene 30:20
Yeah. I remember it was a credit union out in California that allowed me to buy my first car. Like, right, yeah, I wouldn’t have been able to get it. I think it was maybe a 4% interest rate something. Yeah, totally doable. And they worked with me when I couldn’t make a payment one month, I forget what the situation was. But they were super friendly, super personable. And yeah, cared about the people that banked there were as opposed to big banks, forget it, like helping any individual.

Eric Umble 30:50
I know, I actually I think there was one time where I accidentally overdraft my account, and they charged me $40. And I called them and apologized, and then they refunded it, yeah. You know what I mean? And then they actually helped me set up a personal service loan, which is the loan that I’ve just referring to, with the help of my my credit card debt on, and they set it up so that in the future, if I ever accidentally overdrafted my account, it would take for my personal service line of credit, they wouldn’t overdraft the checking account. So I mean, you know, things that kind of service is really special. So, yeah, yeah, I also probably would have told myself to make more coffee at home and not buy it all.

Eowyn Levene 31:29
Speaking of small dollar amounts,

Eric Umble 31:32
that Yeah,

Eowyn Levene 31:34
you know, I feel like the only people that tell you to it, there are some personal finance experts out there who are like, forget the $5 latte, you can have your $5 latte, you just have to make more money, but they’re talking about people making money in the online business space. And they’re selling some kind of product that teaches you how to make money in the online business space. They can so flippantly say, don’t worry about your five bucks a day,

Eric Umble 31:57
Right? Yeah, exactly.

Eowyn Levene 31:59
Yeah, I know, for me that it was only when I started to just get present with my numbers. And to actively use a budget, that things really started to shift, I was just stuck in a constant cycle of using credit cards and just kind of, I feel like I had a bunch of balls in the air and I was more or less making it work. Once in a while I would get a late fee or something like that, or a bounced check fee. But I was more or less making it work. But it wasn’t until I really started to get down to that nitty gritty level and say, Hey, does it make sense to spend $4 on coffee and look at the fact that over the course of many months, that adds up to $400, which can be a significant bump to an emergency account or whatever it be. But it wasn’t until I got down to that level that you’re talking about that things really started to change. And I really, I mean, I haven’t spoken about this too much on the podcast yet. But in the course of eight months, I shifted my net worth by 32%, which wasn’t a huge dollar amount. But that percentage amount makes a huge difference in your day to day life, in your reality. And it was simply from starting to use a budget and changing how I spent in those like everyday expenses, especially eating out in New York, which is an extension of coffee in terms of how you meant it. I think it’s so easy to eat out.

Eric Umble 33:17
Oh my god eating out, I know.

Eowyn Levene 33:22
Would you talk a bit about big obstacles that you feel like you faced financially? What are the what are the real blocks been around finances for you? So we’ve touched on the student loan debt, which is a biggie.

Eric Umble 33:35
Absolutely, I think cost of living in New York is really hard. And anywhere I you know, rent is a huge part of most people’s paychecks and monthly income every, every every month. So that’s what I was still in school, I realized that a lot of people about a generation older than me, that had survived in New York City as artists and were doing pretty well had to deal. Somehow, they had found a deal on their housing. And I just realized them and more and more people that were in their late 30s or early 40s that had been around for a while and had stuck it out. And eventually we’re able to get something.

Eowyn Levene 34:16
Yeah. So what are some examples of those deals?

Eric Umble 34:19
Well, a lot of friends of mine either have a relationship with the landlord, and it’s a small landlord, and they want artists to live there. And so they they cut them a deal. Some people were able to negotiate a rent stabilized lease that has a good rent and they stayed there for a really long time. It didn’t move around a lot. And so they’ve been locked into a certain rate for a while. Some people weren’t able to, I know someone who sued their landlord and one day Yeah, and successfully, you know, and was able to, you know, get a more advantageous rent and get that locked in as well. And there’s all sorts of stories out there people one way The most public way to get a rent stabilized apartment in New York City is to apply through the affordable housing lottery. And I had some friends that did that as well. But I didn’t know that many people.

Eric Umble 35:13
And I suppose I started applying, I just realized one day that I was like, Alright, well, I got to figure this out for myself, if I want to be a clarinetist in this town, I have to find a place to live, that’s going to be sustainable. So I started applying earnest when I was a first year graduate student, just every single apartment that I applied for I sent in an application. And I was reading a lot about it on some of the real estate, blogs, online, curbs, etc. Or like gothamist, or, you know, some of the even the borough based media outlets like Brooklyn or, or what have you who cover new development and in certain areas, and they would always post information on the affordable housing lotteries for each development. And so that in conjunction with housing Connect ICT, which is a program through New York City Government to identify housing lotteries, I was able to submit a whole bunch of applications. And then through a little more reading, I heard that if you sent in paper applications, you actually had a higher chance of getting called for some of these. So for the ones I really wanted, I sent in paper applications. And what that requires is you send a self addressed envelope to the management of the building, and they send back an application and you fill it out by hand and send it back in, and there is on the listing for each building, there will be an address, where you can request an application at the bottom for every single listing. So I if people are interested in this, I would encourage they look for that. And then for the ones that I that were maybe like really far away from an area that was, you know, feasible for me to live or whatever, I would just apply online, but I applied consistently for five years. And then in September of 2017, I got pools for two, at the same time in the same month. One was a building among on city and the other is an apartment that I live in now. And at that point, I had to kind of just kind of drop everything and, and go through the process. And it’s a it’s a really extensive process.

Eowyn Levene 37:13
Oh, my goodness. So you’d already been through an extensive process. And you were just starting the extensive process at this point.

Eric Umble 37:20
Little did I know, wow, if I was just beginning but um, yeah, basically, they they are just very, very thorough in their assessment of your eligibility. And your income needs to fit within a very specific range for their apartment. And it has to just be like it has to Yeah, and if it doesn’t, if it’s like $1 over, it doesn’t matter, you know, dollar under doesn’t matter. So the first discovery was a huge amount of documents, just like all of my bank statements, copies of my lease, social security card, you know, identification. Huge, huge binder. Yeah, absolutely huge. I sent that back. And they were like, Okay, well, it looks like you qualify. So we’re gonna go to the next round. And then it was like another discovery that was like, I felt like it was a lawsuit or something, it was like, the same amount of documents, you know. And this went on back and forth for about four months. And I actually got rejected a couple times, they were at, at first concerns because I was employed at Manhattan School of Music at the time, they thought that I attended there for some reason, like I was a student at the time. And so they rejected my application on the basis that I was a full time student. So I had to get a letter from the registrar saying that I wasn’t a full time student that I was an employee of the school and I had to send certification and my graduation and like all these other things, but I wrote an appeal, you always have 10 days to appeal and was able to move it forward. And yeah, finally, in December, they showed me the apartment. And they asked me if I wanted to take it. And of course I did the day

Eowyn Levene 38:54
And you’d be like, nah, I don’t like the kitchen.

Eric Umble 38:58
Yeah it’s so it’s so wild. It’s so wild. But But yeah, I mean, like, they didn’t tell me until I was actually standing in it, you know, I still didn’t know. And you can go through all of that and and get put on a waitlist, even if you qualify, they run out of units, because it’s basically kind of like they’re processing lots of applications at once. And as soon as the units are gone, then they’re gone. And then they just move away less. So it’s relevant to our conversation, because it’s the first time I had to build a cash flow like the one that I use now, because when they had to verify my freelance income, I needed to kind of show them very clearly to prove that I made the amount of money that I needed to make to qualify for this apartment. And the way I did that was creating a monthly cash flow. And I actually had a line item for every single person I worked for every as a 1099 contractor. And for everything that was cash income, I created invoices on word and had people sign them physically just to certify that the teachers, the parents that I taught for, you know, I like they certified how much you know that they paid me actually amount of money, then I backed up each each cell with a physical scan of each check. And that worked. It did it did actually work. And they were able to, it’s very challenging to prove your freelance income. But that’s that’s how I had to do it.

Eric Umble 40:14
But because of that circumstance, and because I had to build that very meticulous tracking system for my finances, I’ve actually, I’m actually really grateful for it. Because I’ve now been adapting that for the last four years and continue to use that in my own life and have expanded on it. And it’s become this whole thing, but that that was the beginning of it. That’s the first time I had to do it. Yeah, it was for just this process.

Eowyn Levene 40:38
Yeah. The administrative burden in order to participate in this program is shocking. I applaud you and it’s a miracle anyone gets an appointment through it.

Eric Umble 40:50
You make a really good point. And I think that that’s actually prohibitive. Yeah. Part of the reason I was able to get this is because I had a flexible schedule. as a freelancer. I had access to a printer at Manhattan School music and my my supervisor was very kind and and letting me use that when I had to do affidavits, which there were hundreds of there was the CFO upstairs that I was friendly with. Yeah, like my friends in the accounting department at Manhattan School music, they were like, Sure, I’ll notarize your stuff, certainly fine. You know, it’s, but like, I had a lot of help. And a lot of people who really showed up for me and helped me get get this place. And I I recognized that the burden is a really high and not everyone can get through it effectively. Yeah, just it’s just too much. Yeah. So I’m grateful for all of that, for sure. For sure.

Eowyn Levene 41:39
Well, hooray for having gotten through. That’s fantastic. You must be so grateful. I if I were in your position, every time I like write my rent check, or the withdrawal came out of my account, I’d feel a little sense of triumph.

Eric Umble 41:52
Absolutely. Absolutely. I i love i love it here and I I’m I am eternally grateful for the opportunity. And it has been a huge, the apartment has been a huge deal. And part of the reason why I ended up taking the job was because I felt like I actually had something to put roots down in the city. It allows me to kind of be able to build a life here that’s sustainable and long term. And it does give me and allow me bandwidth to invest back in the community, which is really having the luxury and the time and the space to invest in our communities is is a huge deal. Because not everyone has that a lot of people are concerned about just getting by, yeah, have space for that. And so, you know, having this place and having a job and you know, I’m trying to use that as as a as a means to just be involved and know my neighbors and try and make Brooklyn more just in transparent and accountable place.

Eowyn Levene 42:51
Yeah. What does some of that look like?

Eric Umble 42:54
Well, yeah, so I, I ran for county Committee for the Democratic Party in the June primary. And I’m serving a two year term until 2022, in the 57th Assembly District right now. And our Assembly District just formed an assembly district committee in October, which is the the fifth or sixth assembly district committee in the county. And that’s cool, because we have our own autonomy, we can hold meetings whenever we want, and vote on things that we care about and, and raise money for ourselves and causes and community service projects that that we believe in, more or less autonomously from the larger county party. So yeah, it’s just I’ve been getting to know my neighbors. And it’s, it’s crazy to me that that’s such a radical act right now. Yeah, just the simple fact, of knowing the people that we live around, and organizing together just feel so radical, but at the same time, lest we forget that that is the foundation of our democracy. So, you know, it’s, it’s also humbling in that regard to because it’s, again, another another area where the bar for entry seems to be unnecessarily high. For sure.

Eowyn Levene 43:55
Yeah,

Eric Umble 43:56
I think going back to housing just for a moment, I want to, I want to impress upon everyone that’s listening, that there are opportunities out there, and that they do exist. And this program does work. And people do get through the program and have an opportunity to, to stay in in the city and live sustainably. So I would be happy to help anyone who wants to explore this more, and we’d be happy to speak further with anyone who who wants a hand to hold while they go through it. Because I had someone helped me who had gone to the lottery and it was extremely helpful.

Eowyn Levene 44:32
Yeah, that’s super generous. And we’ll we’ll have the various linkage in the show notes that people can reach out to you if that that applies to them. Whenever we’re facing, you know, a steep mountain, it helps to have a guide and also just to have some sense of how far you have to go and how steep that mountain is. So I really don’t like this expression Gird your loins that has to be defined. That’s great. Myself, I know this is going to be a slog, but I’m not going to do it on my own. And I’ll just do it one step at a time and persist. And that’s how we do hard things.

Eric Umble 45:10
Absolutely. Yeah. It takes a village.

Eowyn Levene 45:13
Yeah, for sure. Would you tell us if there are any financial goals that are pulling you forward at the moment? time horizon of, I don’t know, one to five years. What are you working on right now?

Eric Umble 45:25
Oh, that’s so interesting. Well, more short term goal is to actually raise a little bit of money for kind of a working capital savings. I did it backwards. I was able to raise the money that I wanted for my emergency fund, which I elect to use Marcus from Goldman Sachs for that, because if there’s slightly higher yield, but I realized that because I was working so hard to save, and I was saving every penny that I could, there were some months where it was really getting down to the wire. Yeah, I was I was really stressed out about it. And I realized that like maybe instead of focusing on the emergency fund, first I should have put away like, maybe like 20 $500, where I could use that as the kind of like a flexible,

Eowyn Levene 46:11
Your roller coaster fund!

Eric Umble 46:12
Yes, exactly. Like you said, your roller coaster fund. So I would love to be able to build that so that I can continue working on my savings goals for retirement and whatever. But the just like having that a little bit of liquid flexibility to mitigate that just in case just in case your phone explodes. Or you have a medical expense or something like that makes your monthly expense go higher than you anticipate.

Eowyn Levene 46:35
Yeah, no doubt in the three month program that I take people through those a few stages, and one is to build a small buffer in your checking accounts, however many that you have. So you have a few $100, that’s just always there, in addition to whatever you’re budgeting. And then you also work with sinking funds, where you look at what your financial goals are over the next, you know, three months to three years sort of spectrum. And you’re like, Okay, I know, I’m going to need a new laptop probably in one to two years, and you start to prepare for that. And so you, you literally can have different funds for so many different things. I mean, of course you can, each fund can be housed within one particular account, you would just track them differently. But you sort of slowly build yourself up that platform of cash stability, essentially, like you say, working capital, so that then you can keep yourself to a tighter budget and invest the money that you want to invest in everything. But you always have that wiggle room and you know that you’re preparing in advance, building up that cash buffer is essential.

Eric Umble 47:34
Yeah, yeah. And I do employ I do use a credit card. My Credit Union offers a 2% cash back card without any fee. But I again, I pay it off it treated like cash.

Eowyn Levene 47:46
Hmmm. We have reached our last question. You ready?

Eric Umble 47:48
Yes, of course.

Eowyn Levene 47:49
What is your favorite fruit?

Eric Umble 47:51
Oh, my goodness. I have an apple every morning.

Eowyn Levene 47:54
You do? Oh my god.

Eric Umble 47:57
Every day every morning. Yeah. I love apples. I don’t know. It’s been a long time, I think. I think it just feels like a good fibrous, nutrient rich thing to have, at the beginning of the day.

Eowyn Levene 48:11
I have a real love of apples. Actually. I’ve spent a fair amount of time growing them. Is there a particular variety of Apple that you really like,

Eric Umble 48:18
Oh, man, a variety between $1.50 and $2.50 a pound.

Eowyn Levene 48:26
Okay, so you eat multiple kinds of apples and you just take a look. You’re like, Alright, this is what I’m gonna get. It’s on sale.

Eric Umble 48:34
Yeah.

Eowyn Levene 48:36
You’re a flexible apple eater

Eric Umble 48:39
A flexible Apple eater… yes.

Eowyn Levene 48:40
I love that.

Eric Umble 48:41
Yeah. It’s a pleasure to speak with you.

Eowyn Levene 48:46
Likewise, thank you so much. I think this conversation is going to be super helpful for those listening. And I’m, I’m with you on wanting, obviously to speak more about topics to do with money and finance and just bring this all out into the light.

Eric Umble 49:01
Absolutely. Thanks for thanks for doing it. And thanks for having me.

Eowyn Levene 49:11
Special thanks to Michael P. Atkinson, for help with producing this episode and for composing its beautiful music. If you enjoyed listening today, I hope you’ll return and tell your creative friends and colleagues about it and also to take a moment to leave a review wherever it is that you listen. positive reviews make a huge difference in getting the word out about creative stream money. And in the meantime, wishing you all money, business and life success, whatever that means to you.