Death and taxes

You all know that I work from home. You also know that I gripe about how often I get paid (or don't get paid ... like how I'm missing a check for this month (despite me doing my part of the invoicing just like I always do) but the payroll people don't care and will rectify their mistake next month).

What you don't know is that the IRS pwned my tail. Like, lock stock and barrel. Like, if I could just toil my debt off with a pick ax and a yard full of rocks, I'd totally choose to do that (because imagine how much weight I'd lose) rather than figure out how to pay my astronomical tax bill.

Things I know: I should've paid taxes throughout the year. I should've squirreled away more in savings to offset what was inevitably waiting for me at the end of the year. I should've spent my hard-earned money on something (anything) that would make it worth it, but we don't have anything to show for it (except a camper) -- no flat screen tv or home renovations or dental work for the kid (or lap band surgeries).

Things I couldn't know: How much money I'd make freelancing last year.

It's an up and down kind of career. The jobs come and they go. I blogged for the Lord for a good six months, making a pretty good amount, but every month we were unsure whether the Lord would want me the next month. One day we were working on a devotional and teen outreach and the next day the job disappeared. I've edited web content and designed entire identities and developed communication strategies. I've stepped in to cover for other writers when they go on furlough or maternity leave. I've gone from writing full articles at one pay rate to milking other articles at a much lower pay rate. I've been told more than once that my work is moving to India.

My point: I spent the entirety of 2009 believing that I was one paycheck away from homeless. That we were living hand-to-mouth. That the mountain man was the breadwinner in our family. And how could I know ahead of time that all of my beliefs were wrong? How could I know until the 1099s came rolling in and I owe the IRS more than I know how to pay back?

When the tax lady broke the news, I lost my breath. I had to get down in the floor and just lay there, trying to keep the oxygen flowing to my heart and the tears from pouring from my eyes. My life flashed before my eyes. My arms started hurting and I did a mental check of heart attack symptoms just in case I needed to dial 9-1-1. When I realized my heart would hold, I made a different mental check of all the projects we'd planned to do with our refund -- the main one being orthodontic work for Javi. I tried to figure out how I'd break the news to the mountain man without destroying our marriage.

And then I started laughing. It was all so absurd. How in the hell did I screw it up so royally? What the hell were we going to do? But floating above those heart-wracking questions was this: I made it. I am a professional freelancer. I work from home as a professional writer and designer. I am a writer who gets paid to write and a designer who gets paid to design. I may wish for the chain-gang to work off my new-found debt, but the truth is that I have it because I've been successful at something I never imagined I could actually do. I owe because I have earned.

I am still embarrassed by my mistake but I'm also proud of my accomplishment. And you'd better believe I'm paying in my estimated taxes each quarter this year.


  • Sarah

    Oh honey, we are in the same boat. We were supposed to pay estimated taxes and uh, well, DIDN'T because why would you dare do something SO responsible as that. So now I'm just avoiding the taxes like the plague. Although I should do them NOW so we actually have time to plan for the money that we'll need by, you know, selling a kid or something.

  • Katie Jones

    I saw your greetings on Suzannah's blog, and I had to head over here (to say hi!) and let you know that my name is actually Katherine Annette Jones. Not planning on naming any future daughter I may have Katie, though, but we'll see. Not really looking forward to having to deal with taxes either... though this post kinda makes me want to go curl up and watch "Stranger Than Fiction." :)

  • 性感的我

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  • Kelly Miller

    @Katie - Stay away from the taxes and stick with the movies. Life is much easier that way!

    @Sarah - Thank you for letting me know I'm not the only idiot. And I mean that in the best possible way. ;)

  • suzannah | the smitten word

    congrats on succeeding as a writer/designer! (the upside of all this:)

    self-employment taxes are AWFUL. my husband was a bike messenger who literally made like 20 bucks a day. we were completely broke, and i think he actually spent more on bike repairs and his cell phone for work than he got paid. when we owed taxes that year instead of getting any kind of refund, it was so depressing.

    live and learn, i guess...

  • CaneWife

    MacGyver owns his own business and man... those quarterly taxes are nasty. Congratulations on your successes, though!

    Also, left you an award on my blog at www.canewife.blogspot.com. Please swing by to pick it up :)

  • Amber

    Wow! Yes, you did make it! Still...I think I'm right with you in the heart attack part.

    "I tried to figure out how I'd break the news to the mountain man without destroying our marriage." I think that is my favorite line.

    I am happy beyond belief for you!

  • cindy glawson

    You desperately need a new tax guy!!! My husband works from home and we paid so much it was totally depressing. Then we switched to a tax person that specializes in stay at home business (there are lots of deductions that you can now take-from part of the household bills, even property tax bills) and now we are doing tons better. In fact I look forward to having our taxes done!!

  • Kelly Miller

    Hi Cindy (who I totally want to call Mrs. Glawson or Katie's mom) - the problem is I don't have an official home office. You're supposed to have four walls used only for your business to claim the home office deductions. But, I am working on something that I hope will help!

  • cindy glawson

    Good for you! I hope it works. We had an extra bedroom (when both our kids moved out) that we turned into a home office. Keep digging and maybe you can find a loop hole. Good luck!

  • Cheryl

    Oh I hate the tax situation for you, but I am so incredibly happy that you've "made it." Cue the theme to Mary Tyler Moore. :)

    I'm putting off the inevitable. Even though I have a lot of deductibles from my home office, this is the first year we can't claim education expenses, so I'm freaking out a little about how much we're going to owe. Ah, fun times.

  • ck

    That is so awesome! Not that you have to pay a truckload of taxes but that you made it. So inspiring. Congratulations!

  • Anonymous

    Kelly, this is such a bittersweet post, and an incredibly timely one for me as I consider leaping into the freelancing seas. I love the perspective you bring to your situation - "I owe because I have earned" - and I wish you continued professional success!

  • Draft Queen

    Congrats on your accomplishment and kudos for seeing the brighter side of it, not everyone else would have. Best of luck for another successful year and better tax planning!

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