The Other F Word

June 29, 2016

Finance Tips for Creatives

I’d like to discuss a very important topic.


I hid that until after the jump because I wouldn’t click on a post about finance, and odds are you might not, either. But lately, I’ve changed my relationship with money, thanks to the help of one awesome human.

Meet Paco Nicole de Leon, financial coach, business consultant, musician, entrepreneur. I met her during one of her recent workshops on finance for freelancers. It was not what I expected (translation: it was fun). In the days since, I’ve become less like this and more like this, which was totally inspired by her.

So I asked Paco if she’d be up for sharing her thoughts on money, entrepreneurship, following your heart, and just being a sane human. Here’s what she had to say.

Paco de Leon

Let’s talk about your career for a second. How did you get into finance?
I studied finance and econ for some reason that is unclear to me. Mostly I just needed to pick a major, and I come from an immigrant family where there wasn’t a snowflake’s chance in hell that I wouldn’t study something “practical.” I think I also had a chip on my shoulder from growing up in Orange County and being a triple minority. Studying finance seemed like a combination of practicality and a chance to show people I was smart, and to make them like me.

What was your early career path like?
After I graduated, I tricked a small business consulting firm into hiring me. I learned all the tedium of running a small, creative business. Next, I worked for a wealth management firm, where my job consisted of helping rich people stay rich, and working with young Hollywood. At first, my ego felt amazing. But after a while, I started to feel gross. For my next job, I worked at a marijuana consulting firm. But my boss there was also a children’s book author, and children’s books and marijuana don’t really go hand-in-hand. So he closed the company, and I lost my job.

Wow. You can’t make this stuff up. So how did you decide to go out on your own?
I knew deep down that I didn’t want to work for other people, but I wasn’t sure about wanting my own business. So I started to sit quietly with myself. I was waiting for an ah-ha moment, but what I found was less of an epiphany and more of a slow unfolding of the past. I realized that I could change my story. I had an opportunity to use my knowledge to make an impact on the creative community I care so deeply about.

In your talk, you called yourself a “Robin Hood” of finance. I loved that.
I try not to be too political, but I do want to make a social impact. I want to change how people perceive finance. I feel a duty to take this information I learned behind closed doors — how people stay rich, how they exploit the tax system, how business is done — and make that accessible and palatable for creatives, because no one is telling you guys this stuff.

What’s the question you get asked most often?
A lot of people are confused and concerned about taxes. It’s like they say, the only two certain things in life are death and taxes. People get really worked up. My advice to anyone worrying is: Don’t freak out. You’ve got this under lock. The most important thing is to find an accountant you like. They will tell you all the things you need to do.

Paco de Leon

What are your top three finance tips?
The first one is boring, and I apologize, but set up an automatic savings plan, to deposit either weekly or monthly, and create an emergency fund. If you don’t have an emergency fund and something goes wrong, you’ll go into debt.

Second, don’t live beyond your means, and don’t apologize for that. Don’t feel shitty because you don’t want to spend money you don’t have. The United States economy is a goddamn powerhouse, and the reason is because we are a society of people who consistently buy shit we do not need. A lot of people spend money they shouldn’t (on brunch, on a Louis Vuitton purse) because it signals to other human beings that you have value. But you don’t need to do this. If you can’t afford to go out to brunch, please pre-eat before you go. It’s okay. I do it.

Lastly, if you feel weird about money, try to figure out why. Know what you value. Know how your parents educated you. Add up all of your experiences, and know who you are. That way, if you have a business partner or a life partner, you won’t be a shithead when you talk about money. Money is something that will tear people apart, and it shouldn’t. If you’re comfortable with your own stuff, you can be a good person about it.

What would you say to anyone who wants to become more mindful of their spending?
We have a lot working against us. Our generation has a lot of student debt, we don’t have a lot of discretionary income. There’s so much marketing we’re subjected to, like you’re not enough unless you buy this product. Knowledge is important. So is flipping your perspective. I hate to sound so Tony Robbins about it, but attitude is everything. When I see a company that wants me to buy something, I think, “What is this company like? Do they care about their target audience? What is their carbon footprint like?” If I like what they’re about, I’ll support them. If they just want to make money, I don’t want to give them more leverage.

Did anything surprise you about running your own business?
My wife has been running a business for almost five years now, and I helped her start it. So I knew what I was getting into. I saw the ups and downs, knew how much work goes into it. It’s mostly work and very little glamour. But I love to be challenged, I love uncertainty. I love to be like, “I have no idea what’s about to happen. I could totally ruin my life!”

What advice would you offer anyone who wants to start their own business?
Don’t do it because everyone else is doing it, don’t do it because you want to look cool, don’t do it because you want to have something interesting to say at cocktail parties. Do it because it is in you. If you were the kid who sold snacks from home in the fourth grade, if you feel super called to solve a problem or relieve pain through a product or service, then do it. But entrepreneurship is so glamorized, especially right now, so really think about if it’s for you. Starting a business is like getting abs. You don’t get abs by lying around, drinking mimosas. Anybody who has abs knows. It’s a lot of work.

How do you balance work and passion?
I sometimes feel shitty when I’m working on my music and not my business. But you have to be tender with yourself. It’s important to do the things that make your heart feel amazing. But if your balance is off, don’t beat yourself up. No matter your chosen line of work, you’re going to go through a time where someone can’t afford to pay you. Or a competitor is going to come in and complicate things. Figure out what it is that makes you feel good. And then go do it. Because we aren’t here for that long. Just love and stuff.


For more from Paco and The Hell Yeah Group, sign up for her weekly newsletter at the bottom of their site. It has blog posts, tips, and impactful and inspiring reads. And it’s totally free. 🙂 Paco is also working on a book about making finance “not shitty, and maybe even fun,” so stay tuned!

Thank you, Paco!

(Photos by Jenn Pablo)

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  • Leilani,

    I just sent them an inquiry – love this so much!!! I wish I could find someone doing this locally, because god knows I/everyone I work with needs it, but hopefully they do Skype sessions. Thanks for writing about it!

  • Alexandra,

    Great piece! The SNL sketch…hilarious. This was a simple and fresh article on finances, that again, serves as a reminder (for myself) to watch it. I especially liked Paco’s commentary about researching a company/organization prior to making a purchase. Not only does the spending leave one with less money, but as she states, the constant purchases further contributes to the carbon footprint. Thanks for sharing. Caroline, have been an avid reader of yours on Cup of Jo, and looking forward to your next works in the creative world.

  • Thanks for the cool interview, Paco & Caroline — and I love how the blog looks! I’m looking forward to following you outside of Cup of Jo. : )

  • Stephanie H.,

    What a great post! Paco – I LOVE your realist, no-bullish outlook. Definitely just signed up for the newsletter and I’m looking forward to seeing you in my inbox 🙂

  • Paco’s voice really came through in this interview — I actually laughed out loud at this: ‘But I love to be challenged, I love uncertainty. I love to be like, “I have no idea what’s about to happen. I could totally ruin my life!”’

    I recently quit my job and started my own small creative business, so my husband and I have really tightened up our finances. We each have a pretty modest personal spending budget, and because of that I keep making excuses to myself each month for why I didn’t transfer any of that to my personal savings (ie. gifts for myself or others, vacation, etc.).

    But I just took a 3-minute break from reading this post to schedule a (small) repeating transfer from my personal checking to my personal savings. Because it DOES feel really shitty at the end of the month to pretend to myself “Oh, well it’s okay that I’m not saving up for a trip home, because I *had* to spend $40 on dinner a couple times.” It’s hard not to feel embarrassed that $40 really matters to me — there’s a lot of ego getting in the way.

    So thanks, Paco, for the real talk, and thanks, Caroline, for introducing us.

  • Monica B.,

    This is an excellent post! I’ve thought for a very long time, women are in need of finance coaching on many levels. Self-worth swirls around women making the topic of finance a very challenging aspect of a woman’s life! The straight talk cuts like a knife allowing for the truth and right action. What about a periodic “financial guidance/tip” from Paco on your blog?

  • Thank you!

  • fantastic post! thank you 🙂

  • Omg! her career path story is so interesting.
    Thank you so much for sharing this! I do feel that today, everybody is struggling financially in one way or another (I always feel that my bank account is like a hotel for the money I earn. They check-in and check-out after a few days). One thing that my parents taught me is that never ever loan money unless you really really really really have to, never spend more than what you have and even more, do not spend the money you don’t have. So when Paco mentioned that, I can totally relate. Thanks again for sharing this, Caroline.