Adapted from Wealthsimple’s Money Diaries series, a regular feature that aims to demystify people’s money anxieties and address questions about how to do that, with celebrities like Rita Ora, Elijah Wood, Kylie Jenner, Anthony Bourdain and Kevin Bacon. Below, Sara Quin of Tegan and Sara discusses the roots of her frugality.
Tegan and I are uniquely and deeply involved in the running of our businesses. Our ethos in the band has always been to be fully transparent and to understand the business that we are doing. That started at 18, when we signed our first legal contract. We had a lawyer who was extremely determined to make sure that Tegan and I understood everything we were doing and signing, and he really emphasized the importance of that. In some ways I’ve always felt like I’m an artist second and a businesswoman first.
It’s also a value that my parents instilled in us. My mom went back to school when I was an adolescent and she got student loans and got a bachelor’s degree, but she also worked. She would go to school all day and then she would work at night and in the summers to pay back her student loans. That had an extremely positive impact on me: to see the rigorous discipline it took to raise us six days a week, go to school, have a job, keep food on the table and gas in the car. And then my dad—he wasn’t raising us, but we would see him on the weekends—and even though we would see him only one day a week he was often working on that day. I think that work ethic was really bludgeoned into us. And my parents really emphasized: Never carry debt. I remember my parents talking about that since we were kids. I remember they were like, “Even if you have to live in a tent, if you can avoid debt, avoid it! It just gets this vice on you.”
I don’t own a car. I don’t have a driver’s license. I have a shitty smattering of instruments that I keep around. [When the band took off,] I didn’t put money into the things that people who suddenly have money put money into. The first thing I bought when I was 26 was a mortgage—I put a mortgage down on a studio apartment. I know, it’s so boring! Up until a few years ago, I lived like I was a college student. When I started dating my girlfriend she said, “You know, you are pathologically cheap and afraid that you’re not going to have money. You can afford nicer things.” And I started to branch out.
It was around then that we took my mom to India with us, and we paid for the trip. And I remember thinking, “Oh my God, I can pay for people’s trips now!” around the time I was 30. And right now, my goal is to be able to live in a way that is comfortable for me. We didn’t start flying business class until our last album. The first time I ever sat in business class was in 2010—I flew to do a press trip. Tegan got sick and she couldn’t do the press trip and so I flew to do the press trip alone and the label said, “Since we’re only having to fly one of you over, we’ll get you a business class ticket.” I was so uncomfortable, and I thought it was such a tremendous waste of money! And then at some point another artist said to us, “You are going to spend your life touring and traveling. That’s your job! People drive a Honda Accord and then they get excited because they get to buy a Prius and one day they’ll buy an SUV or something. Don’t feel ashamed about wanting to move up! Don’t feel ashamed about the fact you’ve become more successful and you can afford these things.”