I got into 6K of credit card debt first working at an art college as darkroom staff. I was able to pay that off when I transitioned into art administration. Later, I went to graduate school and took out loans. I do not make payments on those loans right now, and may not ever be able to, as I am on an income-based repayment plan, and my income is so low I am not required to make payments. Post-2008 recession, I decided to live on unemployment and let that fund me as an artist or a while; however, unemployment is never enough, and credit card debt began to accrue. Now, the more 'status' of an artworld gig I have, the more debt I seem to accrue; this was definitely true when I was working for a museum as a guest curator.
Recently, I was a guest curator at a NYC museum; I made 5K a year. Now, I teach continuing education in Houston for $200 for a four session class (at $25 an hour). Sometimes I pick up other freelance gigs; I stood for seven or eight hours a day at the Texas Contemporary Art Fair for four days admitting visitors and made a little under $400 total. I also always ask for fees when I exhibit work or talk on panels, but usually those fees are not more than $150 or so, and I would say I get a fee maybe for one in five exhibitions or talks. I recently got a project grant for $1000, but I had to spend the money short-term on rent. The most I ever made was 34K a year, but usually I make about 13K annually. I am on food stamps, which helps.
I was never able to afford to rent a separate studio in NYC during my 21 years there, and now that I have relocated to Houston, I am currently unable to compile enough money at once to purchase my own desk for the bedroom I share with my boyfriend in the housing coop, or even to obtain a bicycle to get around town without using the bus, because I spend $200 a month on minimum credit card payments. So I borrow my boyfriend's desk, and he puts his computer on a folding chair.Long ago, I abandoned the idea of the studio and being able to afford good studio materials like brushes, paint and canvas. I now work directly with people instead as art; it means a minimum of purchasing stuff, but money is instead spent on travel and shipping, performance supplies, media equipment like computers and cameras, printing, frames, and video display equipment.