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Bartenders & servers: 4 step process for getting your finances under control

Last updated August 02, 2023 · By Dylan Blake

In our last 2 newsletters we've featured advice from Shaun McGuire, a bartender extraordinaire and service industry expert who coaches bartenders on work/life balance, finances, etc. (Learn more about that part of his life on his website,

That last point—finances—is the focus of Shaun's advice this week, specifically how bartenders, servers (and anyone else, really) can go about wrangling their finances.

In short, if it feels like you just can't get ahead of your spending, this week's interview is for you.

Here's the 4-step process Shaun recommends for getting your finances wrangled:

  • Step 1: Track your spending. Write down every single thing you spend money on, no exceptions. Even if you only do this for a month, it'll be super helpful for identifying where you can/need to make adjustments. How should I track? Shaun recommends a manual approach, like a small notebook. (I prefer using a Google sheet to make totaling easier.) There are apps out there that you can tie your financial accounts into and thus automate tracking, but the good ones aren't free and sometimes don't accommodate everyone's approach to finances. Plus, manually tracking makes each purchase feel a little more visceral, and may even make you think twice about a purchase ("Damn, I don't want to have to write this down.").
  • Step 2: Review your spending at the end of the month. This will take a little time, but if you set aside an hour that should be plenty. You want to come out of that hour knowing the basics: how much did you spend vs. how much did you earn? What categories do all your purchases fall into? Does anything surprise or shock you?
  • Step 3: Given what you find in step 2, where do you need to make adjustments? What things do you need to make room for?
  • Step 4: make a plan for making those adjustments. This will most likely mean setting a budget for yourself in particular categories. This requires a little more discussion, so...

What spending categories should I adjust?

Shaun takes two datapoints into consideration here:

1. You need to make sure your baseline expenses are covered before allotting any money to fun stuff. Those baselines are stuff like housing, food, water, electricity and, very importantly, your retirement account (retirement investment advice is coming in next week's newsletter).

2. Think about the things you love. You shouldn't have to remove that from your life, you just need to make sure you're making requisite adjustments elsewhere. For Shaun those things are eating out and traveling. He doesn't skimp on those—he's just much more disciplined about his spending in other categories in order to make sure he can live it up in those two areas.

After you consider all this, it's up to you to put the plan into action. You know how much you can spend on what stuff—now go out and make it happen!

Check out the interview for more financial advice from Shaun, and please share the video with anyone who you think could benefit from the advice (e.g. if you're an owner or manager, share it with your staff):