I’ve been debating about writing this post for months now – wavering back and forth because I wasn’t sure if this was the right forum to open up in this way. After all, I am an art therapist and I’m going to be discussing my personal thoughts and experiences. But, I’ve been getting so many emails from young women wanting to be art therapists, asking about the financial and job prospects, that I want to be honest about something that’s rarely talked about in a professional context: work life balance.
Can you support yourself as an art therapist?
Earning 40K a year in the Bay Area is very possible as a single or coupled woman with a roommate/cohabitation situation in a rented apartment. If rent for a 2 bedroom apartment is $1500, your paying $750 out of your take home pay, which is approx $2800/month. If you have student loan debt, you maybe paying up to $1000 per month on that, leaving you with only 50% of your take home pay for transportation, eating out, doing fun things and even saving some for a rainy day. It’s doable.
But, what happens if you want to buy a home? You and your partner decide to buy a home in Fremont (because there’s no way you’d be able to buy one in SF!) for $400 000 – an extremely reasonable price for a home in the Bay Area. How much of a loan will you need to take out? Do you have 20% to put down? That’s 80K. No? Then you’re going to be taking out a jumbo loan (anything over 400K) for the full amount and paying Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI)…maybe $200 a month on top of you mortgage payment. So, that means your monthly expenses for your home will be approx $2350/month, plus property tax (maybe $5000 a year) = $2700/month. Ouch! That’s about 100% of your take home pay! And that’s not even counting what you owe in student loans! Your partner’s salary would have to make up the difference.
Let’s say your partner’s salary can make up the difference, so you buy the house. And, at some point you decide you want a baby. When you bought your home, was your salary a part of the equation? If so, and your family needs your salary in order to pay for the monthly expenses, who is going to care for your child? If you’re lucky enough to have family that you trust nearby, then maybe you have a solution. But, daycare for an infant can easily be $1000/month. What if you’re blessed with twins (like I was) and would be paying $2000 a month for childcare? Maybe it makes no sense for you to work because the cost of childcare is equal or more than you can earn. But, if you’re not working, how can you justify the amount of schooling and student loans you took out in order to become an art therapist?
I’m in a similar predicament. I’ve grown as a person and my needs and my family’s needs have grown, but my art therapy salary has not. My reality is that it’s actually not worth it to work as an art therapist because what I would spend in childcare obliterates my salary. This is one of the major motivating factors that propelled me into learning new skills that not only could help supplement my income, but so that I can eventually make a career shift – from art therapy into the technology sector.
Now, I have no problem with those who choose to stay and home and do so without any reservations. I wish I was one of those people. I love my family and am willing to sacrifice. But I have to ask myself – why did I spend all this money on an education in something that will not grow with me? If I had this realization 8 years ago I would’ve almost certainly chose another path.
But this is the path I’m on, and I’m clearing the brush to create a new, undefined, but nonetheless fulfilling road for myself. I have no clue where I’m going, or where I’ll end up, and I’ll probably continue with art therapy on a low simmer. Thanks for sticking with me through the process! I’d love to hear how others are faring.