Taking Care of Business | Ban the “Can’t Afford It” Blues

by Teri Mangiaratti

“I can’t afford it.” We often default to this refrain when deciding whether to buy new equipment, take a vacation, hire staff, sign a new lease, or make any other expensive change. And yes—at times we can’t afford what we want. But other times we can with the help of research and a little elbow grease. So next time you find yourself saying, “I can’t afford it,” get a stack of index cards and try this exercise.


On the front, write the item you want. On the back, write the cost, where to get it, when you need it, and how much revenue you’ll gain in a season once you have it. A new teacher could teach an extra class; office help could sign up more students; new class materials could be used to add classes, camps, or parties; a business seminar could result in better systems and therefore more students or improved retention; and a teacher’s workshop could result in a new class. Some gains will be tough to quantify, but do your best.


On the front, write, “1 new student.” On the back, list one season’s tuition (use your entry-level, once-a-week class); average summer camp tuition; registration fee; and average profits on costumes, recital tickets, and dancewear. Total those figures, and write the number on the front. This is your estimated profit from adding one student. Knowing this number will allow you to calculate how many students you need to bring in to cover additional expenses.


Consider birthday parties, movie nights, summer camps, six-week adult-class sessions, eight-week youth sessions, vacation-week programs, family nights, and in-studio workshops. On the front, write the event name and potential income. On the back, list expenses to run the event. Get creative, and you should end up with a pile of potential income boosters.


Where are you willing to spend less? Do you have classes too small to make a profit? Are you using more materials than necessary in your office or classroom? Does your marketing budget need an overhaul? Could you go green to decrease copying costs? Can you request a rate review from your credit card processing company? Should you review staff hours for efficiency? Do you have extra costumes or props you could sell?


Pick a wish-list card, then search your other cards for ways to cover that expense. For example, hiring front desk help on Saturdays might take two more students and one birthday party per month. If you’d like to set aside the money before making a big decision, act on those student, revenue-booster, and spending-cut cards now. As you accumulate funds, place them in a separate account. When the account hits the number on the wish-list card, make your move.

Photo by Gary Antle

Don’t let the “I can’t afford it” excuse make your decisions for you. Try changing “I can’t afford it” into “Let me figure out how I can make this happen.” Happy planning!


Teri Mangiaratti owns In Sync Center of the Arts in Quincy, Massachusetts, which opened in 1996 and today welcomes more than 1,000 children into its dance, music, and art programs.