Drag queen Shea Couleé’s cash recommendation: ‘Know your value — and cost double’

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In NerdWallet’s Cash/Makers Q&A sequence, we speak with innovators and artists about their cash strikes. The teachings they realized alongside the way in which may help different career-builders succeed.

Chicago-based drag artist Shea Couleé, who made it to the finals of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” has navigated cash struggles together with chipping away at scholar loans. (Picture courtesy of Drag Information)


Drag artists can turn out to be the epitome of excessive glamour — sequins all the way down to the ground, faux lashes flaring round a contoured face, adoring followers raining greenback payments down upon them on stage — however they don’t typically begin that means.

Like anybody hustling to appreciate profession ambitions, performers’ scrappy beginnings include monetary challenges and life classes.

Many drag queens begin by crafting collectively robes with sizzling glue, or simply throwing on one of the best Social gathering Metropolis has to supply. The hours acting at golf equipment are sometimes lengthy and late, with little money to point out for it. Ardour for the artwork of phantasm and gender efficiency is sufficient to maintain many going.

However the rewards might be fabulous for individuals who make it large. Win some drag pageants or land on “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” and you may earn hundreds of dollars for a single gig.

Chicago-based drag artist Shea Couleé has lived that journey. Beginning out, she’d typically make $60 an evening, however making it to the finals of “Drag Race” helped carry her into the large leagues. She now travels the world performing and boasts over 800,000 followers on Instagram. Alongside the way in which, she navigated cash struggles: bargaining for extra money from nightclubs, chopping offers with costume designers, firing a longtime supervisor and chipping away at scholar loans.

Couleé not too long ago talked with NerdWallet about managing cash whereas constructing a profession. This interview has been edited for size and readability.

Q: What kind of cash training did you get rising up? 

A: The vast majority of my cash training got here from my dad and mom. My dad and mom had been the product of their dad and mom, who had lived via the Nice Melancholy. Despite the fact that my dad and mom had good jobs, they had been nonetheless extraordinarily frugal individuals and so they believed a greenback saved isn’t a greenback spent.

Rising up, there was at all times plenty of emphasis on making an attempt to save lots of a buck, be good, save power, flip the lights off while you go away the room, don’t go away the water operating. They needed me to learn to be good with cash, but in addition simply to be aware about easy methods to not be wasteful.

Q: How did that translate to your early profession?

A: I needed to be actually resourceful. And I’ve to attribute a few of this to what I realized whereas in class at Columbia Faculty in Chicago for theater costume design.

For the primary few years in this system once we could be doing scholar reveals, the scholar reveals got a funds of $100, which is totally nothing. I actually needed to be as intelligent as doable.

After I obtained into drag, I actually did have to use that very same sensibility of simply easy methods to save a greenback. Within the early components of my profession, I’d at all times set a funds for myself for about $30 for a glance. As a result of oftentimes I used to be possibly solely making $60 per gig, and so I’d suppose again to one thing my mother stated which was, “Attempt to by no means spend greater than half of what you’re making.”

Couleé retains her funds in verify by aiming to spend lower than half of what she earns. (Picture by Adam Ouahmane)

Q: How do you handle your cash? Month-to-month budgeting? A monetary planner? A mattress full of money? 

A: I clearly take a look at what I must cowl my vital month-to-month bills — lease, utilities, telephone, journey — and I guarantee that what I’m bringing in is not less than two to 3 occasions that, so I at all times have some left over.

However I’ve stayed frugal. Even now, even with the success I’ve had financially, I’d say that my price of dwelling has solely gone up about $600 a month over the previous few years.

I’m in an even bigger house, however nonetheless in Chicago. I needed to ensure it was nonetheless low cost. Tons of women, after the season [of “RuPaul’s”] ends and so they begin getting extra gigs, they run out and begin paying $three,000 a month for lease.

My pondering was, why spend extra? I’m snug, my area is okay, I appreciated the place I lived. So there was no motive for me to abruptly spend extra, as a result of I’ve scholar loans that I’ve to repay. I used the cash I used to be making after being on the present as a possibility to take an enormous chunk out of my scholar loans.

NerdWallet tip: The 50/30/20 funds is a straightforward solution to type your cash by breaking out what you’ll spend on wants, needs, and financial savings and debt funds.

Q: What’s your scholar mortgage state of affairs like?

A: Effectively, once I took them out, I used to be so younger, I used to be 18 years previous, and I didn’t fairly perceive what I used to be doing. My mother at all times informed me to ensure I used to be getting a set rate of interest.

Effectively, that didn’t occur. I’ve one mortgage with a variable rate of interest, and the curiosity on that has frequently gone up again and again, regardless that I’ve by no means defaulted.

Q: What do you want you knew about managing cash while you first began? 

A: One factor that I’ve realized is that it’s vital to ask different individuals how a lot they’re getting paid. As a result of typically you’ll discover that there are discrepancies there.

I feel it’s actually vital to have transparency on this, at all times, at all times. As a result of I need to guarantee that I’m not getting the quick finish of the deal and that I’m being paid pretty compared to the opposite individuals.

Q: How do you receives a commission for gigs?

Couleé believes pay transparency results in larger pay fairness within the drag neighborhood. (Picture by Adam Ouahmane)

A: In the case of the breakdown of how payouts are performed for gigs and appearances, my boyfriend, Dan, who manages me, will undergo the contract, and we maintain them fairly tight in scope. We now have a time-frame when we’ve got to have a 50% deposit. So we’ve got that within the calendar. After which on the day of the gig, that’s when the rest of the stability is due.

With cost, I are likely to get the 50% deposit electronically then the opposite 50% paid in money from the nightclub. I maintain the 50% deposit, put that into my enterprise checking, after which the second half of the stability goes into my very own private account. As drag queens, we make ideas throughout our performances … so I maintain these all tallied up and save them for a wet day.

Q: How do you or membership promoters take into consideration what you as a performer are value? Right here I’m occupied with issues like your expertise, popularity, the standard of your costumes, all of that.

A: One factor that’s actually vital to promoters is your social media following. These numbers communicate to quantity, these numbers equate cash. After we promote the occasion on social media, that’s extra people who hear about it and for them, that’s a bigger likelihood that they’ll get extra butts within the membership.

One other factor that I contemplate is expertise stage. What sort of a performer am I in comparison with different individuals who I could also be within the present with? There are some queens who’re extra visible queens — however possibly they don’t have a historical past of efficiency like I do. … So it does have an effect on what we resolve to ask for.

NerdWallet tip: When negotiating what you earn, know the way a lot you’re value, have a plan going into the dialog, and know when it is sensible to stroll away.

Q: What’s a singular cash problem that you’ve confronted in your profession as knowledgeable drag queen? 

A: Most likely how a lot I put money into costumes.

I’m in a singular place the place I’ve a following and a platform that enables me to work so much and get much more cash than I used to. And that enables me to take a position extra into my drag wardrobe, which is basically vital as a result of drag is a really visible artwork kind.

However what I’ve found is that plenty of designers assume that we drag queens don’t know a lot concerning the fundamental price of creating a garment, so plenty of occasions they need to overcharge. Nonetheless, my background being in costume design, I understand how a lot in the marketplace silk is by the yard. I understand how a lot taffeta is by the yard. I be certain to ask for itemized receipts.

And if I’m spending cash on a dressing up, I consider that costume as a means that I can herald revenue, as a result of I put on that in a quantity and that’s how I receives a commission. I do the maths and suppose, “If I put on this costume this many occasions, then it’s already paid for due to how a lot cash I’ve made on this costume.”

Then when it will get to some extent — as a result of we’re all on social media and folks at all times see what we’re carrying — the place I can’t put on a dressing up anymore I’ll resell it to a different drag queen. That brings in cash I can then make investments into the subsequent costume.

NerdWallet tip: Promoting undesirable garments and home goods on-line could be a quick and straightforward solution to make some additional money.

Q: What’s the costliest garment you personal?

This Donna Summer time-inspired duster is the most costly garment Couleé owns. (Picture courtesy of Shea Couleé)

A: I’d say the most costly garment I’ve is that this bigger than life duster impressed by one Bob Mackey had made for Donna Summer time. There are possibly about 100 yards of ostrich feathers in an ombre from white to mild blue to cerulean on the backside. I’d say that, together with labor and supplies, that duster might be value about $2,800.

Q: What’s one thing about managing cash that’s gotten simpler over time?

A: One factor that has gotten simpler has been simply asking for monetary favors. Costumes are an excellent instance of this.

Generally I’ll speak with designers and so they’ll quote me one thing costly and I’ll say, “OK, right here’s what we’ll do. I’ll pay this full quantity, if you need — but when I do pay the total quantity, there shall be no credit score given on social media. However in case you reduce me a deal and you are taking a few of this cash off, then I’ll credit score you on social media and that’s promoting so that you can my 800,000 followers.”

Q: What’s one thing that’s gotten tougher?

A: I feel one factor that has gotten tougher over time has been to handle all the totally different retailers, invoices — and guarantee that my cash goes precisely the place it must go.

[Having to fire a manager] taught me to be extra hands-on with managing my accounts and what’s going the place. However really taking again management of all that from him and managing in home with my boyfriend has made it so much simpler.

NerdWallet tip: Managing taxes as a contractor or freelancer could be a ache. However you’ve gotten choices to make it much less of a problem.

Q: For those who may impart one cash lesson to your followers, what would your recommendation be?

A: Know your value — and cost double.

We as queer individuals must look out for our wallets, as a result of it’s quite common that folks will make the most of us. It’s actually vital for us to say, “That is how a lot I deserved to be paid.” 

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