Tonight might be the night of the undead when ghosts and ghoulies stalk the land. Bring ’em on, I say. But make sure they bring their paperwork.
Bless me WordPress, for I have sinned. It’s been ages since my last post. It’s not that I’ve lost interest or anything like that; it’s just that I simply didn’t have time.
Before you jump to conclusions and think that I’ve been whooping it up and livin’ la vida loca, let me set you straight. I have been having anything but a nice time. I have been drowning in a sea of paper. I have been pulling cupboards and drawers apart and frantically looking for paperwork that has been ever-so ‘carefully’ filed away. I have been muttering and mumbling to myself and cursing my fate. The last month has been unpretty and unfunny.
As a self-employed person, I have been getting ready for the real nightmare of Hallowe’en. When other mortals fear the ghosts, goblins and ghouls of the dark side, the self-employed worker faces the most terrifying spectre of all… the tax in-spectre. October 31 is the self-assessment tax deadline and it strikes terror in the heart. The blood runs cold. Give me a zombie invasion any day of the week.
And give me lovely, easy, let-somebody-else-worry-about-it PAYE, please. By that I don’t mean that I actually like paying tax but at least with PAYE, somebody else sorts it all out. I was a PAYE worker for years and bitched and moaned as good as the rest about the huge chunk of my hard-earned that disappeared every month. But at least I didn’t have to bend my head around anything other than the yucky figure on the paycheck. Some little machine, human or otherwise, worked it all out and presented it to me at the end of every pay period. All I ever had to do was give out yards and wonder if I was personally repaying the national debt.
Now, I actually long for that relatively painless process. For the last dozen years or so, I’ve been a self-employed person. Pen for hire. Freelance. There are pros and cons. On the upside side, I largely work from home and I’m my own boss. I can operate flexitime into the small hours and have coffee breaks whenever I want. Some people swoon at the notion and tell me how lucky I am. Mostly, I agree.
But then there’s the downside – no paid-for, heated, equipped office; no company perks; no paid holidays; and no fixity of tenure. And no little worker bee calculating my tax.
Self-assessment tax a pure nuisance and I hate it. The theory of the thing sounds fine but the reality of it is different. The theory is that, because I’m self-employed without enjoying the benefit of someone else paying my working expenses, a certain amount of my annual, working expenditure is tax allowable. That means that I should keep my receipts for work-related parking; work out what portion of my phone bill is work related; keep a record of what portion of my mileage is work related; what did I spend on equipment for the ‘business’ etc. over the course of the tax year in question. Doesn’t that sound easy?
Well it isn’t for me. For a start, I just don’t do figures. When people talk to me in figures, I totally blank. I feel like Santa’s Little Helper in the Simpsons – all he hears is ‘blah blah blah’. That’s me and figures. It’s all a big blah. My accountant – I do have one – has, on my advice, given up on me and talks the figures to my other half. I don’t understand and really don’t want to understand the whole tax credit thing and was only just getting a handle on the tax-free allowance system when they changed it. I’m totally hopeless.
And I’m hopeless too at the whole business of record keeping. I’ll buy a cartridge for my printer or something like that and I’ll very carefully fold up the receipt and put it in my wallet. ‘Must keep that,’ I’ll say to myself. ‘Very important.’ It’s work-related and I can claim it on my tax.
A month or so later, I’ll be fumbling at the checkout in the supermarket holding up the whole queue and a million receipts will drop like confetti from my wallet. I’ll hurriedly gather them up, apologise with a red face to the people behind me and cheerfully throw out all the scrunched up bits of paper when I get home. Either that, or I’ll put them away so carefully and safely that I can’t find them when it comes time to do the tax.
Every year, I vow next year will be different. Every year, I set up a new system and make new files with big, bold labels on them. ‘Car’. ‘Phone’. ‘Stationery’ etc. I vow to keep them right and file everything properly. And I do – for about a month. Then I’ll come in some night totally wiped out from a late job and I’ll just dump everything in a heap and there it will stay. After that, the heap just grows. I’ll be full of good intentions of actually sorting it out sometime but, more than likely, I’ll just ‘tidy’ it away… somewhere.
So the last month or so has been miserable. I’ve been sorting and sifting and searching and sighing. Unfortunately, the accountant doesn’t do that bit. I could be doing with him following me around all year and coming to my house every day to do the filing. I’ve been digging out bank statements and trying to find cheque book stubs; finding receipts that, just when I congratulate myself, I realise they don’t pertain to the tax year in question; frantically looking for missing invoices and, above all, wishing that I were more organised or, God forbid, even back in the realm of PAYE. My head is totally melted. And, after all that, comes the worst of it. Actually paying the tax. No more than with the filing, I start every year with good intentions. I tell myself that I’ll put a bit away every month towards the tax bill and then it won’t be such a sore slap in the gob when it comes. And, as with the filing, that notion just doesn’t last. The washing machine will go wallop or the car insurance will fall due or something of that nature will occur and I’ll ‘dip’. I’ll have every intention of replacing it – but I never do. The end of October always seems ages away…until the end of October.
Benjamin Franklin said that: “In this world, nothing is certain but death and taxes.” I have another reasonable certainty to add to that – it’s a reasonably sure thing that, despite my best intentions, I’ll find myself sifting and sighing and taxing my poor brain again this time next year. Viva PAYE.
And bring on the zombies. Compared to the Revenue dudes, they’re pussies.