Why running out of salt can teach you about budgeting.

I’m a salt-a-holic.

I’m not as bad as my little bro, who salts his bacon hamburgers, but I’m still pretty bad.  I’ll add extra salt to things like, oh McDonald’s fries (which come pretty doused as is), pizza crust, and if you find yourself between me and a bag of those salted-in-the-shell peanuts, well look out.  I’ll not only eat the peanuts and the salty shell, I’ll take down the bag with me too.

So imagine the horror I experienced at about 12:30 AM last week when I got home after a long day, sat down for a little fast food, and found out I was out of salt.

There haven’t been expletives invented to express what I was feeling.

I needed that farkultic salt!  (Farkultic is a new expletive I just invented to describe such a saltless situation as this, by the way.)

But son-of-a-salt-shaker, there was none.

What was worse was that I remembered how just a few days before I had partaken of a local fast food restaurant and grabbed a whole ton of those little paper salt packets (McDonald’s has the best).  And at the end of the meal, there were shockingly a few paper packets left, still filled to the brim with their sodium chloride goodness.  “There are a lot more where those came from,” I thought.  “I’ll be fine without ’em.”  And I swept ’em up, and tossed them away.

Three days later, and I was saltless.

If only I hadn’t wasted those little packets away.  What was seemingly meaningless at the time, now, in my hour of need, when I was desperate, seemed like the holy grail of NaCl.  But it was too late.

What I should have done is apply the same strategy that I do when producing shows, and I would have been fine.

During the early stages of a show, from pre-production up until the last few weeks of tech, I can be pretty thrifty.  Some might call it cheap.  But those folks would be failing to look at the big picture (and we all know it’s a Producer’s job to look at the big picture).  Why am I mindful of trying to save every dollar on the journey towards opening night?  Because I want to make sure I have enough salt left when we really need it.

You see, during those last few weeks of rehearsal, or those final few days of tech, that’s when things happen fast and furious on a show, and that’s where massive amounts of money can be spent.  And that’s when massive amounts of money sometimes need to be spent.  You may need an extra set piece.  You may need more orchestra rehearsal.  You may need a new lead actor.  All of these things may be essential to your show’s success.  Is that when you want to be out of money?

No, which is why you need to mind every dollar before you get there so when your team asks you for something, you can say, “Absolutely, because we’ve saved enough along the way, that I can give you what you need without the show going over budget.”

I’ll even let creatives and staffers know of my strategy early on in the process when I get a request that may seem a little luxurious.  “I’m saying no to this now.  Because I don’t want to have to say no to you later, when you really need it.”

Try it.  I find that it works . . . because it makes sense and saves cents for a saltless day.

Because you never know when it’s going to be 12:30 at night, and you’ve got a plate of bland french fries in front of you.


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  • Michael Camelo says:

    Mr. Davenport, this was such a creative and fun way to explain a philosophy of budget spending and money saving. I agree completely and as I am studying at SUNY Purchase in arts management this has been sort of my go to philosophy to explain my stance in how I budget a show. Love reading your posts and getting your opinions!!!

  • Janis says:

    Spending money at the last moment, sometimes on things not previously affordable, is also a great last minute stress relief.

  • Marshall says:

    Didn’t I recently hear that you now have to request salt in NYC restaurants? Perfect match to the goofy ban on big drinks. 🙂

    Point well made. Next show I’m heading to McDonald’s and stuffing my pockets, metaphorically speaking.

  • Rick Reynolds says:

    There was a time when the answer – even at 12:30 AM – would have been obvious: borrow the salt from a neighbor. Someone else must be up! Not sure if there’s a show budget lesson in that, but knowing that we’re all in this (life) together, and that helping each other is the best way to get through it, cannot be said enough. And that applies to everyone, especially – I would think – in the Performing Arts.

    End of sermon!

  • Ed says:

    Couldn’t agree more. This was the philosophy I used when I was managing arts grants panels. I always advised the panelists to be conservative in the amounts they recommended early on in their deliberations. It prevents the panel from running out of ( a finite amount of) money and being unfairly cheap toward the end of the deliberations. Also, because this method often results in having some money left over, it’s much easier to add funds to deserving groups at the end when you’ve discussed the whole universe of applicants.

  • You’re in the city that doesn’t sleep. You can find salt any time you like. You can also find “salt”.

    I have a salty tooth, too, as opposed to a sweet tooth—never cared much for sugar. But you know, even though some salt (or “salt”) is necessary, you can have too much of a good thing. Sometimes it’s a good idea to replace some of salt (or “salt”) with spices or herbs or maybe a squeeze of lemon. We’ll call those creativity, theatricality, and ingenuity. You should keep a bunch of those on hand for the next time you’re stuck. What’s more, spices, etc, have extra beneficial healing qualities not to be found in mere hmdrum, one-dimensional salt, and besides, you might also discover that, hey, this new flavour is really tasty! You will find out that a pinch of creativity is worth a pound of money.

    The thing about herbs and spices is that, unlike salt, which keeps forever, you have to refresh them on a regular basis or they lose their potency, so use them liberally before they get stale, and then get some more.

    It’s always wise to learn how to do more with less, as well as a good life lesson. Over time, it becomes second nature, and it’s very character building.

    By the way, my favourite thing to put on fries is soy sauce. I discovered by accident back in the ’70s that this is delicious. It’s salty as hell, but there’s an extra quality to it called umami, which makes everything taste good and which could be likened to enthusiasm. So if you have some extra packets of enthusiasm lying around from when you get Chinese take-out, pour those on your next fries, er, show. You won’t even have to add salt.

  • Think of the health benefits of conserving salt by consuming less. Lower sodium intake. But iodine intake can be a plus, given one’s salt is iodized.

  • Arch says:

    Great article as usual. Hopefully your taste for salt is merely a personal preference!

    You may already be aware that craving salt can be the sign of a mineral deficiency, often calcium.

    I used to share that taste, until the doctor ordered me to go gluten free. As an unexpected side effect, almost immediately the salt craving vanished. (Turns out that depleted calcium levels often go hand-in-hand with gluten intolerance.)

    You may wish to investigate, especially if you have any of the symptoms of calcium deficiency like weight loss, height loss, lethargy, irregular heartbeats, numb fingertips or acid reflux.

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