Anyone who has ever worked from home knows how challenging it is to establish an office that allows you to actually get things done efficiently in limited space. Trying to research an article when your desk is in a closet three doors down from your reference books and nowhere near a phone is enough to leave you stranded in the kitchen, grazing in the fridge instead of getting it done. Establishing a room in your house as "the office" can be a solution, but every magazine article I've ever seen describing how to go about it resulted in a room that cost more than I earn from my writing most years. Here are a few suggestions to help anyone working from home save a substantial chunk of change, whether you've got a whole room at your disposal or just a lap-desk.
Assuming you use a computer for some of your tasks, explore the world of freeware. OpenOffice is the software suite so similar to Microsoft Office it nudged Bill Gates into putting free versions of Office online for so-called "cloud computing." Using OpenOffice allows me to write and edit articles; they can be saved in a variety of formats, including Word. Mozilla Thunderbird is an e-mail manager similar to Outlook, where I can write queries and attach documents while offline, then connect to the Internet and send them. I primarily review books, but am occasionally offered a DVD for review. VLC Media Player allows me to watch them in virtually any format. The few times something major went haywire with my laptop, I was able to download a free fix from FileHippo.com, which has oodles of reputable freebies.
If you're a freelancer in any field, you can't say no to jobs and expect your lights to stay on reliably. However, you can make a point of prioritizing work for clients who accept electronic queries and submissions. Any home-based business has to watch that bottom line, and the savings in postage, paper, and printing add up quickly. An added bonus is that most places that work with e-queries (and invoices!) also respond faster than the self-addressed stamped envelope crowd, meaning you save time as well as money.
Search online for any new office equipment you need, and use the words "coupon code" in your search. And when we're talking about "new" office equipment, there are fabulous pre-owned items available for a song. Your neighbor whose start-up went belly-up might like to unload the laptop he overspent on and make your day. Look online, but also in your own backyard, for great deals on used furniture, appliances, and accessories.
Consider dial-up Internet. Yes, it's old-school, slow and clunky. It's also dramatically cheaper than any of the available alternatives, and may lead to increased productivity. When I need a high-speed connection, I'll go to the nearest Wi-Fi hotspot, which is usually the public library, with the intention of cranking out several queries and/or researching some short pieces. How that suddenly turns into forty-five minutes ogling YouTube videos is a mystery to me, but it happens, as does buying music downloads I can't afford. Conversely, if I'm at home and my computer is plugged in and turned on, I am working. $9.95 buys me twenty hours of pay-as-you-go Internet service, which lasts for as much as two months, since most of my work happens offline. Take the temptations of YouTube and Facebook out of the equation, and it's better to just stay home, where any time spent is potentially money earned. Since my printer died over a year ago, I use the public library's printer when I absolutely must. At ten cents per page, it's a better deal than the aggravation of fighting with mine ever was, and I note each dime in my ledger.
You don't have to live like a Luddite to have a productive and affordable home office. Hopefully these ideas can help you shave a few dollars off your bottom line.
Heather L. Seggel is a freelance writer. Her work has appeared in San Francisco, UTNE, Family Circle, and at Elle.com. She lives and works in Mendocino County, CA.
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