picture courtesy of Jane M Sawyer on morguefile.com
Every year I plan to do better at keeping track of my expenses than the year before. The area I struggle is recording all those trips to the post office or writing events. Often, I remember to record the event or trip, but forget to enter the actual mileage. So then I have to dig for the mileage I wrote down on a piece of paper or the map showing my route.
In 2012, I did pretty well at keeping it up-to-date.
Until I discovered I'd left off something else . . . a conference fee. And the taxes were already filed. Hmm, unclaimed expense from previous year? I think there's a spot for that--must check it out when preparing 2013 taxes.
Several of my writer friends are just starting out with keeping track of writing business expenses. When I shared my personal info, one was shocked to see how many miles I deducted for 2012. I did a lot of travel by car, but the majority of it wasn't big trips, just a lot of small trips adding up. For example, last year I joined a critique group that usually meets weekly. Let's do the math. If roundtrip mileage averages 20 miles per week and the group meets only 42 weeks out of the year, then that is 840 miles in 2013. The IRS mileage deduction tax rate for 2013 is 56.5 cents per mile. That would allow a deduction of $474.60. for a legitimate business expense. (Read IRS publications for full details. Start with Publications 334 and 583.)
Conference fees, travel, hotel and meals add up really fast, too. Not all are fully deductible, but if you don't know what you paid, how can you know how much to deduct? Accurate record keeping is necessary.
So how do I keep track of my expenses? With a spreadsheet. I have columns that I created long ago using a Schedule C as my model. My column headings are:
- expense item (e.g. roundtrip mileage to event, address; postage to submit manuscript)
- publisher/magazine (or those extra details, if needed, such as to whom and what I'm submitting)
- miles (you also must keep track of the car mileage at the beginning and end of the year)
- other car expenses (tolls or parking fees)
- advertising (e.g. website)
- office supplies (those things you need to run a home office: paper, postage, etc.)
- taxes (e.g. sales tax on any books you sell yourself)
- travel (airfare, taxis, hotel)
- meals (while traveling--only a portion is deductible)
- misc (where I put conference fees)
Someone else might need different columns. I am by no means a tax consultant!
I find if I don't immediately enter trips to the post office in my spreadsheet, I forget when I did them. That means I lose out on those miles that I actually took. So what's a writer to do? One writer says she puts her trips on a calendar--at tax time she can go back and garner the information from that. I thought I might try something new and that's a mileage tracker app. There are a number of free ones. Looks pretty easy to enter appropriate information. But again, it'll only work if I actually do it.
Right now I have some receipts I haven't entered. I'd better go do that. And photocopy the receipts for my records as receipts fade. Besides it's easier to have standard size sheets with several receipts than those small strips of paper.
Hope this has been helpful.