How to Save Money as a CG Artist

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It can be hard to save money as a CG artist. Hardware and software are constantly becoming out of date and obsolete, and many software packages have new versions every year which require more processing power and newer operating systems. Computer hardware is constantly evolving as well. This puts regular pressure on you, the CG artist, to upgrade and buy new stuff.

But I’d say we CG artists are also in a lucky position where there is typically very little overhead. Once you’re actually at the computer, in your software, there’s no new cost to create a project. The actual creation of it costs nothing apart from your electric bill…and perhaps some take-out food if you’re not setting aside time to cook 🙂

There is the potential for great savings in this field. The key is to be smart about those big hardware and software expenses.

Below are some habits that I personally try and follow in order to save money as a CG artist, and hopefully they will help you, too!

NEVER use debt

Debt is not good! Get in the habit of budgeting and saving up money for inevitable computer upgrades and software purchases, so that you have it ready when you need it, and can avoid any of those awful monthly payment plans. If you end up paying interest on debt (been there, done that), you’re paying money to a bank or lender that could be going toward your next purchase or be used for other far more worthwhile things. And debt bring risk with it. Wouldn’t it be more satisfying to save up and actually own the things you “own” from the moment you “buy” them?

Now, on the student loan front, I will acknowledge that many people cannot afford most programs without them, even though I think debt is bad. I myself borrowed a lot to get through school and am still paying those loans off today. So I totally get that student loans are just a fact of life for a lot of people. That being said, I’d encourage everyone to challenge the notion of student loans being the only way to pay for an education. If you and your family can’t afford a particular school, strongly consider a more affordable program, or even waiting a couple years on school while you save up and figure out what your true passion is, hopefully avoiding a major that you won’t end up using after graduation.

Don’t let tax deductions influence purchases

If you’re a freelancer, it can be tempting to justify lots of eating out because you’re keeping track of the receipts and it’s tax deductible (depending on the circumstances). Or perhaps you want to buy a beefy new computer with perhaps a little more beef than you really, actually, honestly need at that time, and end up convincing yourself to do it because it can also be a tax deductible business expense. And beef is tasty.

If you want to buy stuff and have the money budgeted, that’s totally fine, but don’t let the tax deductions influence your purchase or make you buy something that you wouldn’t have otherwise felt was worth it. It’s still money that comes from your pocket, not the government’s, and it’s money that could be going toward a vacation, a new home someday, paying down debt, etc. It would be like spending $5 to save $1. Don’t let tax deductions influence your purchases.

Shop Smart

If you need (or want?) to make a purchase, always look for sales (without be lured in by them). And, if it’s a big purchase like a computer, be wary of adding in extras that you don’t need. Once you’re starting to concoct plans for a purchase that’s $1k+, it’s much easier to add in an extra $50 here and an extra $100 there when you’re already up in that range, just like when buying a new car and considering any extras. But you would probably not buy most of those things if you already had a computer and were looking for something worthwhile to do with your $50 or $100. Really think through your purchases, and always allow extra time to think through the bigger ones, making sure they’re totally worth your hard-earned dough.

Let’s talk video games for a moment. I’m a fan of video games, and while they actually have relevance to my career, it’s easy to not only sink a lot of time into them but also to rack up costs, as new games can cost as much as $60 or more. Discipline yourself with these things, and always look for discounts. I’m now in the habit of only buying games on Steam that are greatly discounted during one of their many sales. Even if you’re into the latest graphics and tech, good games from a year ago will hold up perfectly well against today’s games, at a much much lower cost.

You can also take advantage of the many free resources and programs out there, a lot of which are quite good. Check out some of my recommendations for these on the resources page.

Take advantage of education discounts (while you’re a student)

You can save a tremendous amount on software when you’re a student or teacher and sometimes even use it for free. While I was in school, and for a period of time after, I had a student version of Maya that I was able to use absolutely free. Then when I purchased it afterward I got a great discount. I also got an educational discount on Adobe software during my undergrad and saved a ton of money there. Just keep in mind that it’s generally against the terms of use to use educationally licensed software for commercial work.

Take care of your computer

Your computer is central to your digital work, and I try and take care of mine as best as I can. If your work uses a lot of system resources, such as big Photoshop files or complex animation projects, you may be looking at a fairly beefy processor, graphics card, and a good deal of RAM and hard drive space. Definitely adds up.

In addition to being smart about your initial purchase, you need to take care of your computer once you’ve gotten it. Here are some basics that should be no-brainers:

  • Use virus protection, especially if you’re on a PC
  • Don’t leave your computer on if you don’t need to
  • If you’re running a massive multi-day render job, consider pausing periodically
  • If your computer seems to be overheating a lot, turn it off and try finding a way to improve its airflow
  • If you’re using a laptop, always stow it in a padded case when transporting it
  • If you have a computer that you can open up, periodically remove dust that might be clogging up the parts
  • Back up your files! The price of an extra drive or online backup service (I’ve been using CrashPlan for several years) is well worth it and has helped me weather several drive failures with minimal data lost. Though getting some sort of backup solution generally costs money (apart from the small amount of free storage you can get through services like Dropbox and Google Drive), I think it’s totally essential if you’re ever creating anything on a computer.

Budget!

I’m very big on budgeting, and for the past several years have been using YNAB (“You Need a Budget”) to do so. Being proactive with your spending (making a plan for where you want your money to go) rather than reactive (only tracking where it went) is absolutely key, and YNAB makes it easy to do this. As a CG-related example, I know I’m going to be needing a new computer someday. Each month I’ve been putting aside $50-$100 into a “Computer Upgrades” category in my budget, so that when my current machine finally bites the dust I’ll already have the money set aside. Budgeting is huge.

Final thoughts

Creating computer graphics does not have to run you into debt or put financial strain on other areas of your life. If you’re smart about your essential purchases and recognize which things aren’t truly necessary, there can be very little overhead since everything is created within your computer. Just budget, shop smart, AVOID DEBT(!), and don’t let all the awesome tech out there lure you into buying stuff you don’t need.

One of my favorite things about CG is that, given enough time and practice, there’s essentially no limit to what sort of imagery and animation you can create on a computer. Get set up with the hardware/software you need to do your job, but, beyond the essentials, save that moolah! Your life will thank you.

What are some of your own tips for saving money?

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