I’ve been a freelance writer/editor for six years full-time. It’s a great career path, especially for parents with little ones. Most of what I’ve learned has been through trial and error and thankfully, I haven’t experienced too many road bumps along the way. The Freelance Friday series is designed to inform new freelancers or people who are considering it about the nuances of this job journey.
Today I want to talk about some non-obvious things you may have to pay out of pocket as a freelancer. Remember that most of these things are tax deductible with the proper documentation.
The truth is that there are actually a lot of cost savings when it comes to being your own boss — especially if you work mainly from home. No expenses for gas or parking, and your work wardrobe is significantly cheaper too. If you are working at home because you have little ones there, the cost of childcare is slashed, or even non-existent. You can save a lot of money by finding a way to work at home but there are some other expenses that do come into play that aren’t as obvious.
Take a look:
If you have clients that you bill, you will have to take the unpaid time to actually prepare those bills (and time is money). If you use electronic payment systems, like PayPal or Venmo, be prepared for those services to take a cut (2 to 3 percent, normally). You can build that into your invoice or write it off as an expense when you do your taxes. Just keep track of it, either way. If you send paper bills in the mail (I do not), you’ll have to eat the cost of paper, ink, envelopes and stamps. Again, you can account for this when creating invoices or as an expense but just know you’ll have to pay upfront for it.
Our house is VERY well-loved – someone is here nearly ALL the time. Unlike friends who lock up the house when everyone leaves for work and school, we stay here. We use the bathroom all day, and have lights on all day, and use electricity for other things like our computers and phone chargers. It’s still a cheaper route than paying a lot out of pocket on gas and tolls to drive somewhere else to work – but our utility bills run higher than those of our work-outside-the-home neighbors.
When you work for yourself, you don’t get paid to take time off for sickness or vacation. You likely aren’t paid in a traditional way though. When I know in advance that I’ll need some time off, I work ahead or decide what can wait until I’m available again. I still get paid for the same amount of work but have to get creative on when to complete it.
There have been three times that my system of working ahead/catching up didn’t work, though. Twice were after the births of my two youngest daughters and once was when my family took a month-long road trip. In all three cases, I was still working minimally but I lost income because I simply didn’t have the time to fit it all in. It was just too long of a time period to “take off” completely and expect the same income to hit my bank account. I knew in advance though and made sure my clients knew. This helped with my planning (workwise and family budget wise), and their planning too.
My husband, on the other hand, received some paid time off after the births of our girls and took three weeks of vacation time when we traveled. That was a perk of his traditional job. It didn’t make me want to go back into the traditional workforce, but it’s certainly something to keep in mind if you want to freelance.
You may not need to ever leave your house for work – but MOST people who are self-employed do sometimes. In my case, I write for a few local publications and occasionally that means driving to a location to interview someone for a story. Even if I only do that once per month, that’s 12 times per year. Even if it’s only 10 miles roundtrip, that 120 miles I drive (and this is a conservative example). The good thing is that if you track your mileage, you can claim it on your taxes. The bad thing is that you can’t turn your mileage and gas expenses into your corporate office for reimbursement. For people who work from home and travel regularly, the gas cost and wear/tear on your vehicle really adds up.
Depending on your type of work and the type of business you own, you may need to pay fees to stay licensed and legal. Usually these are annual fees and yes, they are allowable expenses to claim on your tax return. You may have industry fees you need to pay, or even union dues if you are a member of one. If you opt to join a local Chamber of Commerce, you’ll have some fees to pay there too. Sole proprietors, or people who just operate as self-employed individuals, don’t usually need a business license. Companies that file as LLCs or decide to incorporate have different rules for what business fees they pay (even nonprofits). Since the licensing is not required by an employer, you will have to pay for it.
If you have a spouse with health insurance through his or her job, this isn’t really a concern for freelancers. If you are planning to work from home, though, you’ll need to access health insurance a different route. Under current Affordable Care Act tenets, health insurance availability is based partially on income levels, so you can generally find something your family can afford. It’s still going to cost you more out of pocket than employer-supplemented options though (in almost all cases).
You may also need other types of insurance. Some professions require it and for others, it’s just nice to have. If you’ve purchased equipment for work, may sure the items are inventoried and part of your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policies.
Hiring an accountant, either year-round or just at tax time, is something you really need to do as a freelancer. What you spend upfront can save you a lot long-term on things like tax errors. You may want to hire a lawyer or paralegal to help you draw up contracts with your clients, or to look over the ones given to you. In my experience, some businesses try to skate by on paying freelancers as little as possible, and sometimes late. It’s best to get prices set in a contract, along with a late-fee policy. You may want a lawyer to help you with that – or one you can call on if payment terms aren’t met.
Freelancing or contracting in your industry is a GREAT way to use your expertise and still maintain control of your life. I share these costs here so you’re prepared if you go this route.
What did I miss? Share any other hidden costs in the comment section.
Want to read more insight on working from home? Check out these other posts in our Freelance Friday series:
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