A cautionary tale from Sean Dailey, an aspiring comedian in Grand Rapids, Mich., who began performing stand-up comedy in 2012.

About a month ago, I drove to Detroit for a comedy competition. I was cocky coming off my biker bar win, and I had recently advanced to the semi-finals of the “Funniest Person in Grand Rapids” competition, the annual comedy tournament ’round these parts. I ended up getting smoked by a 21-year-old kid and lost out on $500. Not only that, factoring in gas ($49.10) and the two Bulleit bourbons ($19.96 with tip) I had before I went up, I spent $70 to not win $500.

Since then, I’ve instituted a one-hour maximum travel rule for unpaid gigs, but pretty much every comedy club has a two-drink minimum—even for performers. So I’m paying for drinks every time I perform for free. It all adds up pretty quickly when you include the costs of gas, oil changes, headshots, festival entry fees, and all sorts of other stupid expenses. The initial feeling of just wanting stage-time at any cost has worn off, and now I’m thinking more carefully about the costs when I’m choosing gigs.

Read his full essay in The Billfold.