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How to fund your big dreams without going broke

“La La Land” tells the story of Mia who dreams of becoming an actress. If you have big dreams, you’ll need a plan to make them happen financially. (Indiewire)

In the Oscar-nominated flick “La La Land,” wannabe actress Mia breaks down crying, expressing doubt about pursuing her life-long dream: “Maybe I’m not good enough. … It’s like a pipe dream.”

She quit college only to end up getting endlessly rejected at audition after audition in Hollywood. She’s ready to give up and questions what she gave up to try to become a professional actress.

Many cubicle dwellers with fantasies of pursuing their true passion can relate to Mia’s plight. How much time, energy, and possible lost wages should someone forgo to try to make their pipe dream a reality?

Do not quit your day job

People who want to quit their jobs and pursue their dreams come to Jason Pereira, CFA, all the time.

The partner and senior consultant at Woodgate Financial Inc. in Toronto frequently mentors young entrepreneurs. His first piece of advice? Do not just up and quit your day job.

Whether you want to be the next Gordon Ramsay and open a restaurant or the next Chip Wilson and start your own athleisure brand you should dip a toe in before making the plunge, he advises.

“There’s a huge difference between a hobby and a business,” said Pereira in a phone interview with Yahoo Canada.

Just because you’re passionate about yoga pants doesn’t mean you can build the next Lululemon Athletica Inc. Keep your day job, and at night and on weekends, start out by testing the market while spending as little money as possible. Get a website together and find a manufacturer to make some clothes and see if they sell, he suggests. If your yoga pants sell, the try to sell some more, and get very clear on the details, from the cost of fabric to the price of acquiring new customers, before going any further, said Pereira.

Once you’ve answered some fundamental questions about how your business would turn a profit seek out credible advice from seasoned professionals early on to see if you actually have a viable business idea and plan.

“It’s much better for your dream to die at the infancy stage” before you’ve spent a lot of time and money on it, the financial expert notes.

In the 2014 film “Wild,” Reese Witherspoon portrays Cheryl Strayed, a woman who was massively in debt when trying to get the book “Wild” published. (Yahoo Movies)

A Wild amount of debt

Rarely, going into deep debt pays off.

The talented writer Cheryl Strayed recently revealed in the new book Scratch: Writers, Money and the Art of Making a Living, that she had about US$85,000 (approximately CDN$110,000) in credit card debt and was close to losing her home when her best-selling memoir Wild was sold. That memoir became a Hollywood movie starring Reese Witherspoon and she says she can now “afford to not be desperate anymore. I can buy boots not in thrift stores!” But, alas many writers will stay desperate. Manjula Martin, the writer and editor of Scratch, says she wrote her book to get writers talking about the tough economic reality of trying to make living selling their words.

Her words of wisdom to aspiring writers: “Keep your day job and work really hard at writing and finding your peers, your community,” said Martin in a phone interview from California.

Find a way to fully fund your dream

Lindsay Anderson and Dana Vanveller wanted to travel Canada and write about the adventures without taking on any debt. At the time, Anderson had a one-year contract that was coming to an end. While Vanveller did quit her day job, she “felt she had done all she could do” there.

The pair estimated how much money it would take to travel to all 10 provinces and three territories before they set out on their five-month adventure. Then they went about fully funding the trip, which they correctly estimated would cost about $25,000 to $30,000. They created an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign and were able to fundraise about $10,000 that way. For the rest of the funding the pair set out to get sponsorships from brands and tourism boards.

“We did not have experience doing this,” said Vanveller in a phone interview. “We sent, like, a million-and-a half e-mails.”

The industrious duo ultimately got many, many “no”s and enough “yes”es to fund the rest of their trip. From the start, Anderson and Vanveller set out to blog about their adventure with their sights set on trying to get a book deal. Their strategy was a recipe for success. The mix of Anderson, who had previous blogging, food, and travel experience, and Vanveller, who had experience travelling and an interest in food, came together to make FEAST: Recipes and Stories from a Canadian Road Trip. The book is out March 7 and the friends, both now 31, are back living and working in British Columbia.


“I rent. I don’t own a house or a car,” notes Anderson.

Ultimately, the authors encourage others to go after their dreams, but point out people should go in knowing there likely will be sacrifices – such as stability and savings.

Saving up for one day

Whether your dream is to write about driving across Canada or becoming a professional actress, financial planning is key, says Dilys D’Cruz, vice-president of community banking at Meridian Credit Union, in Toronto.

Consider seeking the advice of a financial advisor to plot out how to fund your short-, medium-, and long-term goals. There are relatively painless ways to save up money to fund a goal, such as having a set amount of money automatically come off each paycheque into your ‘dream’ savings account, said D’Cruz.

While “La La Land” is a fictional movie, Mia’s financial situation was always rooted in reality. Her head was in the clouds when it came to acting, but her feet were always firmly on the ground when it came to paying her bills. She slaved away as a barista and lived with roommates. As her love interest, Sebastian notes when she says she’s not good enough: “This is the dream! It’s conflict and it’s compromise, and it’s very, very exciting!”

Before going after your exciting dream “plan, plan, plan” advise Anderson and Vanveller, then close your eyes and jump.