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What to Do If Working From Home Is Costing You Money

By Maurie Backman – Apr 13, 2020 at 10:54AM

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Many at-home workers don't have the right setup to do their jobs efficiently -- but fixing that problem could mean spending cash of your own.

The COVID-19 crisis has not only upended the U.S. economy, but changed the way the entire workforce is functioning. If you're fortunate enough to have kept your job throughout the ordeal, you're likely doing it from home, which may or may not be a pleasant experience (on one hand, you don't have to commute; on the other hand, you may be stuck taking conference calls with kids in your lap).

But whether you're enjoying remote work or not, you may be running into a sticky issue as a result of it: added costs. Though it's true that working remotely can save you money on travel, it can also mean having to bear certain expenses to make at-home work feasible.

Man sitting on floor holding phone with laptop and clipboard in lap

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

For example, you may need to pay for upgraded internet service, a headset you can comfortably take calls on, a better computer monitor so you don't strain your eyes, or a chair to sit in all day that won't hurt your back. These are just a handful of examples, but the point is that if you weren't already working from home before the COVID-19 ordeal, you probably weren't property set up for it. And at a time when money is tight for so many people, having to spend some of yours to make working from home possible could constitute a true financial hardship.

Here's another rub: Back in the day, it was possible to claim work-related expenses on your taxes, even if you were a salaried employee. Specifically, you could claim miscellaneous itemized deductions that exceeded 2% of your adjusted gross income so that if, for example, you had to cover the cost of a new monitor and office chair out of pocket, you'd get a tax write-off to soften the blow. But ever since the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was implemented in late 2017, that deduction has been off the table, which means right now, any expenses you incur that aren't reimbursed by your employer won't land you a tax break (assuming you're a salaried employee; the rules are different if you're self-employed).

So what should you do if you're looking at spending more than you're comfortable with to enable yourself to work from home? Here are a few options.

1. Prioritize your needs

You may want a better laptop to do your job, but if yours is functional, don't be so quick to upgrade. On the other hand, if the chair you've been sitting in all day is causing you actual pain, you're better off spending money on a new one and using a slightly slower computer.

2. Crowdsource

Before you rush to spend money on office equipment, it pays to see if you know anyone who's giving things away for free. Maybe your neighbor has a desk he's getting rid of, or a colleague has an old, unused laptop that's still faster than than yours, so put the word out and ask.

3. Ask your employer for help

Your employer may not realize the expenses you're looking at to work well from home, so don't hesitate to politely bring that topic up. Your employer may agree to reimburse you for certain expenses, or to give you (and your fellow employees, for that matter) a limited allowance to buy the things you need.

The right tools and setup can make working from home more productive and physically comfortable. While spending your own money may be a solid investment, it may not hurt to cut some corners given the economic uncertainty so many people are facing today. And it certainly doesn't hurt to ask for hand-me-downs or see what reimbursement your employer is willing to give you.

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