There's something about the end of the year that motivates us to step up our game. Maybe there's a project you're itching to finish before 2018 comes to a close. Or maybe your goal is to snag a raise and start the new year richer. Here are a few key moves my colleagues and I are aiming to make in the next number of weeks. With any luck, we'll get our act together just in time.
1. Hire a professional
Selena Maranjian: We often want to do various things on our own -- many times because we can save money that way. A landscaping service can be a wonderful treat, but you can avoid spending hundreds or thousands of dollars over the years if you mow your own lawn and trim your own hedges. Some things, though, such as surgery or dental work or air-conditioning installation, we do leave to the professionals.
If you're a freelancer, you may be tempted to prepare your own tax return and save money for your retirement on your own, but that's not always the right thing to do. Salaried workers tend to have much simpler tax lives, and it can make sense for them to prepare their own tax returns, perhaps using tax-prep software. But if you're self-employed, there are a host of issues to consider and strategies to employ, and you're probably not fully versed in all you need to know, as a good tax pro would be. He or she might save you more than your associated fees by advising you on how to set up a qualifying home office, what work-related expenses you can deduct, and how you might best set up retirement savings accounts as a self-employed person. For example, while you may be out of luck without a 401(k) plan available to you, you could still save with a SEP-IRA or a SIMPLE IRA.
To find a good tax pro, ask around for recommendations, and consider hiring an "enrolled agent" -- someone licensed by the IRS and authorized to represent you before the IRS if necessary. You might find one through the National Association of Enrolled Agents website at naea.org. It's best to find your tax pro before you're in the thick of tax season, too.
2. Make time to say thank you
Daniel B. Kline: Whether you work for one client or have lots of them, the end of the year is a time to say thank you. It's fine to send candy or some small token of your appreciation -- especially to anyone you have a close relationship with -- but it's more important to actually say thank you in a meaningful way.
Make a list of anyone who makes your life easier. This isn't just employers -- it could be suppliers, helpers, and anyone else who touches your work life.
Send a personal note -- it can be in the form of a holiday card or via email. Let the person know you appreciate whatever it is he or she did for you. Make it clear how the person has made your life better or helped you succeed at your freelance career.
Be liberal with praise. Share credit. Let people know things they may not have been able to figure out on their own.
It's easy to become lazy in a successful work relationship (or in any sort of relationship). That can cause both sides to take the other for granted. Sending a holiday season/end-of-year thank-you keeps that from happening and lets you truly show your appreciation. At the same time, it's a smart move for freelancers, because when your clients and associates feel acknowledged, they're more likely to keep you on their radar.
3. Accelerate some business expenses
Maurie Backman: One benefit of being a freelancer is getting to deduct the cost of business expenses on your taxes. For me to do my job, for example, I need a reliable internet connection, phone service, and mobile data. I also need equipment such as a laptop, cellphone, and printer. The more expenses I rack up this year, the greater a deduction I'll have. And that's why I'm intent on accelerating a few business expenses that I might've otherwise put off until the new year.
The reason? This year, I managed to work more than I did last year, and as such, I expect my tax burden to be higher. If I can accelerate a few expenses, I'll be able to bring my taxable income down a notch, thereby shielding more of it from the IRS.
Originally, I was planning to replace my laptop next year since it's somewhat slow and the keys are already worn. But since I can really use the deduction for this year's taxes, I'm hoping to shop around in the coming weeks and find a new model. There are a few smaller items I need to buy for my business, too, like a new home phone (yes, I still have one of those) and a few chargers for some portable devices. Those won't have nearly the same impact as what will probably be a $1,000-or-more laptop, but when you're trying to save money on taxes, every little bit counts.