Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Monday 1 February 2016

January and the Them/Us Divide

After a busy, stressful week, the husband mooted popping out for an early supper on Saturday evening. It seemed like a damned good idea to me.

Life and work, and stuff and things got rather drawn out, and when the dort arrived home early in the evening, we still weren’t ready to go out. On her way home, the dort had gone into town to pick up a few supplies and drop in on the restaurant where she used to work. She couldn’t believe how busy it all was.

We’re not terribly sociable people. We like to eat out, and we like company, but we don’t want to stand six deep at a bar or wait forty minutes for a table. We want to be able to hear ourselves think and each other talk in any and all situations. We do go out at the weekends, but we pick our time slots. We eat very late lunches or very early suppers, and we choose from the restaurants we’ve been patronising for years, where we can be confident that a table will be found for us at busy times.

Monday is our regular night out. We go to an almost empty bar, where we know the servers and they know us, and where the other patrons are invariably our friends and acquaintances, people who know we’ll be around and drop in for a chat and a drink. I sometimes wonder whether our go-to place on a Monday night isn’t entirely empty on the Mondays when we don’t venture out. I wonder whether virtually all bars and restaurants are all-but empty on Monday nights; I suspect they probably are.

The dort wondered how it could be that the town was so damned busy, late on a cold, wet Saturday afternoon in January.

It only took me a moment to realise why, and it’s about the divide; it’s about Them and Us.

When we think about Them and Us, we generally think about the pay divide. We think about the differences between the haves and the have-nots, and let’s not pretend there aren’t a great many more people in the have-not bracket than there are people who have. Them, I suppose are the 1%, and Us the 99%.

That’s not quite what I’m referring to, here, though. This is a little different.

I realised that the reason the town was busy on such a miserable Saturday, when, generally I would have expected it to be quiet, to be able to get that table at the restaurant very easily, was because it was the last Saturday of the month; It was the 30th of January, and that’s very important.

Most people still draw a monthly wage or salary. The last payday fell at or around Christmas, and was probably used up by the festivities and the credit card bills that paid for gifts and socialising when the festivities were over. Most people don’t have a lot of disposable cash in January. The next influx of money for most people, the next time wages dropped into bank accounts was probably the last Thursday in January. So, the first opportunity to go out for supper, or to shop for a treat was the last Saturday of the month. January is long and tough and penniless for a lot of us. The town was busy on Saturday, and the dort’s restaurant was busy, because people had just got their wages and were taking themselves out for a treat after a long month of frugality.

For Us, that’s Them.

We work for ourselves, and because we work for ourselves, we pay our taxes twice a year. The first instalment falls on the 31st of January. We don’t have a chunk of money land in our bank accounts at the end of January to alleviate the impoverishment of Christmas and give Us an opportunity to treat ourselves. We have a big chunk of money going out of our bank accounts to pay to the government for the privilege of having a working welfare system, among other things. I don’t begrudge it. There are times when I wish my vote counted for something, since I haven’t elected a government in a long time, but that’s the nature of democracy. If I had managed to elect a government, I’d probably be paying more tax than I do now… But that’s by the by.

Of course, we know we’re going to deplete our coffers on January 31st, because we’ve been working this way for a long time. So, on Saturday, if we’d decided to go out for supper, we could have done it… Thank goodness. Frankly, there have been years, in the past, when January really has been the cruellest month.

This, I suppose, is by way of a cautionary tale, because more and more people are working freelance or going into business for themselves. I applaud everyone who has the confidence to do it, because it takes confidence, and lots of it… And it takes hard work, too. The world is a competitive place, and with unpaid internships and creatives working for free for bylines and credit and to add to their portfolios, things have never looked bleaker.

There are people who begin to see returns on the investment of their talent and hard work, though, and there are people who begin to add to their incomes or start to make a living from working freelance or starting their own small businesses.

One of those people began a thread on one of the social networks the other day, and I happened to see it, which is why I decided to write this blog.

Said individual was in fear that her accountant would not have her accounts prepared in time for the tax man’s deadline, and that she would incur a fine for being late handing in her assessment. She added that she’d sent everything to the accountant the previous week.

The person’s friends were very sympathetic in the thread comments, and they were hugely disparaging of the accountant in question, recommending that she look around for a new one. 

I hope it works out for her, and that she avoids the penalty and can pay any tax she's liable for, but I take a rather different view from her friendly commenters.

A picture of us being writerly,
because if I put up a picture of our lovely accountant
he'd be horrified.
It is important to have the funds on hand to pay ones taxes, and to do that it’s important to know your tax liability. Generally, a financial year ends in April. This being the case, most freelancers and small businesses have eight months between their year end and their assessment deadline. Handing the accountant your receipts and invoices and any spreadsheets you might have cobbled together a week before that deadline seems like madness to me. If all of an accountant’s clients did the same thing, his workload would be unmanageable, he’d be in utter chaos, and what would he do for the rest of the year? You, the freelancer or small business owner would also have no warning of your tax liability and no time to prepare to make your tax payment.

Of course, in the beginning, when earnings are small, tax liability will be small, too, so this might seem unimportant. You want to become successful, though, don’t you? If a freelancer becomes successful, if a small business grows, that tax liability will grow with it.

I’m a creative person. Words are my thing. It’s tough enough being a writer, and I’m not an accountant. We can’t all be good at everything, so we have to put our trust in others and pay them to do the things that they’re good at and qualified to do.

I bloody love my accountant. I still regularly ask him stupid questions, and he still patiently answers them. He’s seen me through some tough times over the years. When I’ve run late with my accounts, he’s been patient and diligent, and my assessments have always been on time, because he’s gone above and beyond the call of duty to make sure of it.

If you’re new to freelancing or running a small business, take it seriously. Make sure you know what you earn and what you spend, and keep good records. Employ an accountant, and make her your best friend. But, for the love of the gods, don’t give her a box of bits a week before your assessment’s due and just expect everything to go swimmingly. She’s an accountant, not a miracle worker.

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