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Working from Home
I have been offered a position to work from home. Does anyone have any tips on how to set up my home office? Suggestions for lower price, but good quality desks? Tax deduction tips?
Find Inexpensive Office Furniture
I highly recommend you check out Craigslist.org for your area. It is basically an online yard sale with no fees involved for selling items or buying them. I have purchased office items, bikes, toys and more through our local Craigslist at deep discount. Our local Craigslist site is very busy and there are new office items such as desks and chairs posted many times a day.
In my area of the country, it is almost yard sale season. You may be able to find good buys on furniture, chairs and other items through weekend yard sales. I will often email folks who have advertised their yard sale to see if they have what I am seeking. Often, especially if it is a larger item like a desk, they will let me come the day before and look at the item and purchase it early so I don't have to get up at the crack of dawn to go to their yard sale.
Other options to consider include estate sales and auctions listed in the newspaper, state surplus warehouses and Goodwill.
Faye in NC
Planning, Paperwork, Organization
After only a few years (4 to be exact), the three things that I can recommend are planning, paperwork, and organization.
- Planning - Decide on an area where you can seclude yourself from the rest of the house. During tax preparation, you will need to know how much time that space was used for personal versus work. If you use it for work only, it will make figuring taxes out a little bit easier. It is also a good idea to make sure you measure your work area, as that will be asked also.
- Paperwork - Make sure that you keep a record of everything. Almost everything can be taken as a tax deduction if it's used in, for or with your office. For example, save your electric bill. If you buy pens, paper, blank CDs for backup, ink for a printer, etc., save your receipt! These can all be written off at the end of the year, so long as they are being used for the business. Do you use your car to travel to the post office to mail documents for work? Mark it in your planner with time and mileage, and when you fill your gas tank, get a tax receipt.
- Organization - This may sound simple, but it is one of the hardest things to do and also one of the largest causes of money lost. My advice is to keep everything. Larger shoeboxes work great for storing old paperwork. Smaller rolling cabinets work good for "the now."
A day planner works great for helping you plan your day out, and by planning, you are better able to see where you are versus where you want to be. This can be strong motivation. Avoid the computer-based planners. Batteries die and data gets erased. Worst of all, they are often expensive. A simple day planner can run anywhere from $5 to $7 and has the potential to last a whole year!
If you use part of your home exclusively for work, you may qualify for a home office deduction. Keep track of your phone, Internet and utility bills, as well as home repairs and house cleaning service. Your tax preparer will need to know how many square feet you have in your home and how many square feet are in your home office to determine the percentage of applicable expenses you can deduct.
Also, if you are considered self-employed, be sure to place 25% of each paycheck into a separate account as a reserve for tax payments. When we got serious about saving 25%, we found we were always able to pay taxes and save money for retirement tax-free. We learned the hard way that if we try to "borrow" money out of our tax reserve account or skip a month of reserving 25%, we later had to borrow money from the credit card company to pay Uncle Sam.
I, too, just recently started working from home and am completely enjoy all the benefits that come with it. There are several ways to set up the office. For a solid desk, I suggest going to gently used office furniture stores or larger second hand stores. Another option is to buy two inexpensive filing cabinets and have a piece of solid wood cut to put on top from you local hardware store. Dollar stores are great for general supplies as well. Peruse the clearance table of Staples/Best Buy for electronics/computer items. Sometimes you find some good buys as items are updated constantly.
Working from home does require discipline. I found that actually having a designated area as just my "work" space meant that I go to that place and I am in work mode. The family knows not to bother me, as I am at work just as if I was out of the home.
Know the Key to Success
The key to successfully working from home is convincing yourself and your family that you really do have a job. Therefore, you should act as if you are actually "going to work." You need to get up in the morning and get ready as if you were working outside the house. (It's nearly impossible to be serious about working when you are still in your jammies.) You need to set aside a place dedicated to your work that is kept solely for that purpose. You should set regular hours that you routinely work and resist any temptation to interrupt them. You need to become very firm about saying, "I'm sorry. I can't talk right now; I'm working. I'll call you after work."
Join Local Chapter of Freecycle
One of the cheapest ways you can shop for office furniture is to go to Freecycle.org and sign up for your local chapter. It is a world-wide organization dedicated to keeping items out of landfills. Rather than throwing something away, it is put on the website as an offer. If something is needed, you put your request on as a want. If anyone has or needs anything, they can usually get it on freecycle free of charge while helping to improve the environment.
Make Your Own Desk
An efficient way to keep track of deductible expenses in to make notes in your daily planner. You can keep track of hours you worked, miles driven for business, office supplies purchased (don't forget the business mileage here too). It only takes a minute, but saves many hours at tax time.
Also, a great desk can be made by putting a flush door across two two-drawer file cabinets. There will be room for the computer and a lot more! Be sure in invest in a good, supportive chair.
Ann S. in Chicago, IL
Check Your Company's Storeroom
Perhaps you could check with your company's storeroom or Materials Management department. Sometimes there is old, unused office equipment that is just waiting for a new home for free or minimal cost. I work at a hospital and sometimes they even have silent auctions to get rid of such things. I have gotten a bookshelf and several office chairs this way.
Lisa in Upstate New York
Answer These Two Questions First
I've been working from home for about four years now and am still enjoying the perks and the pitfalls. I have found two questions to be the keys in how to set up my working environment.
Why are you working from home?
I choose to work from home because I want to raise my children without regular childcare. Since being available to care for my children is important to me, I have found it impractical to set up an isolated "home office." I generally work at my dining room table in my formal dining room, which is only used for guests and my work. This way I am available but not in the middle of the family room. I also have an office upstairs with our computer in it, so when I need some quiet to think, I can close the door. My friend has no kids and works from home because he moved to be closer to his wife's job and didn't want to commute.
What do you really need to do your work?
I direct a music program. I need a large space on which to sort music when I am preparing folders for the people in my groups, my instruments, a place to practice, and a computer and Internet connection. We got our computer desk from our friends that were moving and didn't want their old desk. My friend, who has worked from home for about the past 10 years as a website designer and computer systems manager, has his equipment provided for him by his company. I own my own stuff, but I don't skimp on the things that really matter. For me a poor quality instrument can cost me work, but an old desk is just a place to set my computer. For my friend, a poorly functioning desk configuration can cost his company money in missed customers. So spend your money where you really need it and skimp where you can.
A third consideration when working from home is that I've never met anybody that only works at home. I go into work for rehearsals, meetings and performances and just do all the prep work at home. My friend goes into work to set up new systems or deal with problems and occasionally attends meetings. I have found it invaluable to my job to "show my face" at the office at least once a week just to keep connected, and help people feel that I am a part of the team. Sometimes this means hiring childcare or juggling schedules with my husband.
Heather in Washington
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