In very much the same way that I’ve been procrastinating doing my taxes this year, I’ve been putting off writing a piece on the subject too. Perhaps that’s because it makes me seethe with a red hot anger more potent than the fires of hell. Navigating the tax season minefield for the first time is a nightmare for newcomers to the freelance world. Just when you think you’re safe, you step on a Bouncing Tax Betty and it takes your limbs clean off. It’s messy stuff. But it does get easier with practice, and you’ll lose fewer appendages over the years, assuming you have any left by the time your seasoned and grizzled.
Since I spent hours last night immersed in the primordial goo of expense receipts, income spreadsheets, regulations, and other tax paperwork only to emerge dripping with the awful stuff, it seems a good time to write about how you can cut back on the amount of your hard-earned money that gets sucked away by The Man’s big stupid tax vacuum each year. Here are some of the common things freelancers in the gaming industry write-off as business expenses.
One of the few great perks of writing about games (or any other form of entertainment) for a living is you can deduct the cost of your favorite hobby as a business expense. Buying your own copy of a game for a review is the most obvious example, although games you play for fun can be included as well.
Since freelancers have to keep up on the latest games across a wide range of genres, franchise, and platforms, any game you purchase and play is inevitably improving your knowledge base in a way that will come in handy down the road when you have to crank out words on franchise X. I don’t know about you, but that smells a lot like “research and professional development” to me, and that’s exactly how I file those bad boys on my expense sheets.
The only caveat is you can’t write off review games you buy if the outlet you’re writing for reimburses you for them, but otherwise they’re fair game.
Gaming systems and hardware:
They may not happen all too often, but new console launches are a huge up-front expense for freelancers that eventually pay for themselves with the amount of work they tend to bring in over the long haul. Since not-having a particular gaming system can cause you to miss out on loads of potential assignments both early on and further along in the console’s life cycle, they’re a necessary investment.
Picking up a system you need to play games for assignments counts as a legit expense. It doesn’t matter that playing games is fun, if it’s work-related then write it off. The same goes for any peripherals, controllers, or other related gadgetry you purchase for your systems. Oh yeah, and that pricey iPad you just dropped way too much money on? If you’re using it to cover games or apps for work, then throw that on the pile too.
Books and magazines:
Whether you pick up a magazine at the supermarket, shell out for a subscription, or download the thing digitally to your electronic doodad of choice, if it has anything to do with games or another subject you write about then make sure to save your receipt and include it as an expense on your Schedule C form. I routinely pick up magazines to research new markets, cut out clips for outlets I’ve written for, and get caught up on what’s hot in the gaming and writing worlds.
If you shell out for books on writing, video games, business, taxes, or anything else that can be linked to research for your freelancing business then those should be counted as well.
The vast majority of the time, freelancers are stuck footing their own bill when it comes to covering conventions and traveling to and from press events. Being able to write off almost all of your expenses from such costly excursions does take some of the sting out of paying for them up-front. It certainly makes attending them a little more feasible for folks on a meager budget. You can deduct the cost of lodging, travel, a portion of your meal expenses, and the cost of admission if you have to pay.
Even when you’re taking a trek or attending an event that’s not generating immediate work but could be pegged as work-related, consider if the connection seems strong enough to justify deducting all or a portion of your expenses. There’s a good chance you can find a way to make it so.
Treating interviewees out to lunch, working with a cup of Joe in-hand at a cafe, meeting clients over food to talk shop, or simply grabbing some grub with comrades in the midst of convention chaos? You can write off a portion of that expense – half, to be exact.
Note that there are tons of other less exciting things you can deduct too – and a few weird deductions – more on that later.
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