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Mind on My Money and My Money on My Mind: Tattoo Retirement and Health Insurance

It’s time. Time for me to do that thing. You know, that annoying thing where I reminisce back to some random point during one of my times in Japan and somehow make it fit in with the point of what I’m writing. As I’ve been keeping up with Jake and the contemplation’s that weigh him down about the direction of tattooing at large, I keep thinking back to a time when I was hanging out at Three Tides in Osaka nearly every weekend. I would watch all the guest artists as they came through. I would ask questions and even show some of them around. In regards to this particular memory, I have two words for you, Lucky Bastard.

Don’t worry, I’m talking about the artist. I watched him a lot one weekend. He gave me some unique insight into tattoo lettering. He gave me some good stories about big name old schoolers. If memory serves, I even took him shopping for his girlfriend. Nice guy. I only bring him up because he said something to me that stuck with me, something that effected my decisions regarding my own experiences as a tattooer. He said, “ain’t no retirement plan or health insurance for tattoo artists.”

This was almost 16 years ago. As Jake has spent the past several months sparing with some of the very real issues that shape the way people enter and operate within the tattoo industry, I realized that they are all technical issues that have become dated and need to be discussed. However, I think back to what Lucky said to me and I realize that there are a lot of other issues that would benefit from a good healthy discussion.

Whether you regard tattooing as an art form, an industry or a trade, you have to acknowledge that it has been thrown some curve balls over the course of the last century as things have changed and evolved. As tattooers have pulled up their bootstraps and evolved to keep up with modern sterilization techniques and continually develop new and better products for both artists and clients, one thing has changed very little, finances. As the world has changed, health insurance has become an issue. Dealing with retirement ideals has become an issue. In the old days, only the weak needed doctors. Insurance was unheard of. Retirement was something only the wealthy white collar folks could see as a reality. Tattooers were expected to work till they got old and crusty, then dropped dead.

Work ethics aside, we live in a world where if you are a big name rock star tattooer, then you will never have to worry about a lack of clients or work. However, for the average mom and pop tattoo shop, the world is much different. There is a rhythm to the flow of customers and money in a street shop. You are almost guaranteed that certain parts of the year are going to be lean, so you save accordingly. Most mentors will give you enough information to plan for this. Most artists that I’ve known over the years have played the odds a bit and not really pursued health insurance until absolutely necessary. Like most noncorporate jobs, retirement is like saying a random word in Swahili. Most people will ignore it or look at you funny.

Health insurance is suddenly a big deal, now that it is mandatory. The Affordable Health Care Act reeks havoc on a lot of different income levels, particularly the with the freelance and creative category. Some people just find it cheaper to pay the fine. Make no mistake though, this is a new paradigm for everyone. It requires knowledge that a lot of artists may not be equipped with. Few of us get a paycheck once a week. If you are a shop owner, you have a dilemma as well. Most shops have less than the required number of employees where the owners would have to provide insurance, but it is becoming more and more common for shop owners to step up and help their artists deal with this issue.

I must admit that I was in a very different place when I first started tattooing. I had student loan debt. I had no idea what a mutual fund was, let alone what compound interest meant. I am just lucky that I have both friends and family members who are in the investment and financial advisory professions. I had a large learning curve and I must admit, I’m still playing catchup on it. However, this does bring me to my point on the subject of financial logistics. If you really want to be able to do more than just live beyond the financial yields of each individual tattoo, you must have a strategy that is more than just the passive earning of money and paying bills. I will close with just a few things I have found that I wish I had known when I first started tattooing. This basically boils down to discipline, diversifying, and finding good advisers.

Firstly, discipline is a unique aspect of tattooing. The truly successful in the tattooing profession are the people who are both motivated and disciplined. The difference between motivation and discipline is that you either come wired with motivation or you don’t. Discipline can come preinstalled in our psyche, but it is most commonly acquired during the course of a sound apprenticeship. Discipline is what steps in and keeps you focused and functioning when motivation falters. For those who have neither of these qualities, I think we would all agree that tattooing chews them up and spits them out.

I only say this because there is another aspect to discipline, which is the aspect that goes beyond the mere daily habits in the life of a successful tattooer. If you are going to be a tattooer who can get to that point where you can focus on doing it because you love it and not because you are dependent upon it, then you will require discipline to plan and follow your plans for maintaining a solid financial track.

This brings me to my second point of diversifying. I don’t actually mean this in the financial sense that we normally think of when we hear that word. I actually mean it strictly as multiple financial elements. This means following the idea of developing multiple income streams. I learned about this first from the Tim Ferris blog and then later from other financially sound sources. It is an interesting concept and one I highly recommend looking into. I also mean exactly what it sounds like. You should use your discipline to save a modest amount of money that you can then put in more than one type of investment a little at a time, so it can grow.

This leaves me to my last point of the need for good advisers. It is a bit of a trapping that we fall into where we surround ourselves with those most like us. Many artists have the habit of rarely associating with those outside a small circle of other artists. If you are truly going to make it, you need a diverse group of people in your life who can stretch you and advise you beyond your regular sphere of knowledge. It is no secret that Warren Buffet doesn’t invest in technology because he doesn’t understand it. He sticks with what he knows and focuses on that. There is a wisdom in this approach, but you should really seek out sound financial advisers who can stretch you, teach you and help you grow beyond your own sphere of knowledge.

So that is where I will leave things for discussion. How do you plan and save for the future? How do you approach health insurance? Has the Affordable Health Care Act helped you or hurt you? Do you have or work in a shop that provides insurance and investment assistance? What are some of your favorite sources for guidance in these areas?

Lastly, I want to thank Jake for the past few weeks off, which will hopefully pay off in allowing me the opportunity to a new situation that will yield some pretty amazing blog subjects within the next year. However, since this is now just past my year anniversary writing for the Tattoo Improvement Network, I want to say thanks to Jake for letting me ramble and write for the last year. Here’s to much more in my time to come. And as always, thank you for supporting the Tattoo Improvement Network.

 

Sincerely,

-Art

 

 

Comments

  1. Definitely an interesting read and although I live half a world away from the States I have to say this subject and all it inclines is all too relevant in my life. Creative people in general aren’t adhered to too well as a society and I truly feel there should be a wider array of oppertunity in regards to keep insurance, pension plans, social security and so forth. I recently saw an interesting lecture with Jordan Peterson that touched on a similar note, I’ll leave a link below. To something as erratic and unsure as art (and dare I say it artists) it’s all too difficult to find stability in the work you create, the money that you could save and the world that we reside in general. To everyone who thinks this is an easy path I strongly urge you to reconsider, and to first find a profession that tailors to all those aforementioned needs, and really study art and tattooing on the side with dedication and passion.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KxGPe1jD-qY&t=2132s

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