How to Retire When You Work from Home
Planning for retirement when you work for a company that contributes to your 401(k), while not easy, is certainly easier than doing it all on your own. And in truth, most freelancers I know are not planning for retirement at all. Instead, they figure that they can get to that later, or that their job is easy enough that they can do it indefinitely.
Reality check: you can't.
For example, I am a writer and an editor. These are evergreen skills, right? Well, writing is all about knowing your target audience, and the target audience for most clients will eventually be younger than me. I can try to keep up with the times, but I am pretty sure that when I am 75, I won't really be able to understand where 25-year-olds are coming from. And that doesn't even take into consideration things like health, energy, and cognitive decline.
Eventually, you will need to scale back or get out of the game entirely. And that means you need to save for retirement. How can you do that? Let's take a look at the four best options for freelancers.
Automatic Savings Plan
With an automatic savings plan, every month money will be automatically transferred from one of your accounts into a savings account that you designate for your retirement. The benefit of this is that there is little for you to think about, and when you have extra in a given month, you can save more. However, you need to have plenty of self-control, as it can be tempting to dip into this instead of letting it sit until you quit working.
Using a traditional IRA will give you a tax break now, allowing you to deduct what you contribute up to certain limits. You can start taking money out once you reach 59.5 years of age, and the money you take out will be taxed as income. You can continue contributing to a traditional IRA up to the age of 70.5, after which you can no longer add money to it and must start taking money out.
With a Roth IRA, you do not get a tax break as you put money into your IRA. However, once you reach the age of 59.5, you are not taxed on what you withdraw. You are also allowed to contribute to your Roth IRA for as long as you are still bringing in income, and there is no age where you are required to start taking money out.
SEP stands for Simplified Employee Pension Plan. This is for anyone who is self-employed or earns income on their own from a side gig, even if they have employment with a company that contributes to a 401(k) for them. This type of IRA works like a traditional IRA, except with a higher contribution limit.
How to Choose a Desk Chair
As we plan the design of our office, we tend to focus on the desk and the accessories that create ambiance for the space. These items are certainly important. However, when it comes to your health and happiness, your desk chair is king. It may not be the star of the show visually, but you should invest time and effort into picking the correct one.
What can happen when you select the wrong desk chair? Back pain, neck strain, numb feet, and more. So here is a quick and simple guide to help you select the right chair for your needs.
Pretty Isn't Important
If you can find a desk chair that is both comfortable and attractive, get it. But if you have to choose between cute and comfortable, go for comfortable. There are a lot of fun options on the market right now, especially those in the Mid-Century Modern style, but if you are going to be spending four to eight hours a day in those chair, pretty is going to punish you.
Before you worry about aesthetics, look for the following.
Adjustable is best, and if you are ordering online, it is a must. If you are purchasing a chair in person, you can try it out for size to see if it places support where your body needs it.
Adjustable Arm and Seat Height
In essence, your chair should naturally support your body where it is; you should not need to place strain on your body to fit the chair. Chances are slim you are going to find a chair like is like Cinderella's slipper--perfectly made for you. This means that your ability to adjust the chair is vital. The arms should be adjusted to where they can support you as you type and the seat adjusted so that your feet can rest flat on the floor without your knees angling upward.
Your seat width needs to comfortably accommodate you without giving too much wiggle room. Larger seats may look cozy but they can place strain on your arms when using the armrests. A few inches of space on either side should be fine.
The standard here is to have about three fingers in distance between the back of your knees and the seat. When a seat is too long, it pulls you forward, placing strain on multiple parts of the body; it can also place pressure on the backs of the knees, leading to circulation problems. Seats that are too short leave you unsupported.
For many, this option is not as important, but it might be for you. Do you need to recline a bit as you work to feel comfortable? Do you prefer a stiffer chair back than most? If either of these are true, you will likely want to control the recline of your chair back.
The Right Wheels for Your Flooring
If you have carpeting, bigger wheels are better. If you have hardwood or laminate flooring, the material of the wheels matters more. Metal and hard plastic can leave scratches and gashes in your floors, so look for rubber wheels instead. If you cannot find these wheels, consider special ordering some and adding them to the chair of your choice.
Have you noticed that most desk chairs are leather--or at least imitation leather? That makes them pretty durable and certainly easy to clean. Depending on the climate where you live and your heating and cooling situation, this might be fine. Or it might be sticky and sweaty torture. Consider your needs when selecting fabric, and if you cannot find the fabric that works best for you, consider having someone you know who sews make a cover for your chair.
Finally, check to see how much cushion the chair offers. You want it to be enough that you do not feel the metal support system within the chair, but not so much that the chair is too thick. You also want cushioning that is firm, not pillowy, otherwise it won't offer the support you need?
Is there an office chair you have purchased and love? Link us to it in the comments.
There are many reasons to work from home. It offers you greater flexibility, you get rid of the commute, and if there are any "office" politics to deal with, they are easy to get a break from.
However, the main reason people seek at-home work is their children.
The reasoning is clear. The kids need you at home, and your household also needs your money, so why not make money while at home? That is all well and good, but it brings up the question: who is watching the kids while you are working?
Can You Simultaneously Work and Watch the Kids?
If you Google advice on this subject, the answer you will find most often is no, you cannot watch the kids and work from home. But I do not feel this is an absolute truth. It comes down to a few different factors.
My Experience with My Son
My son is an only child who is more independent than most children his age. He can easily play by himself for an hour without any direction for me, needing me only for sporadic conversation and food throughout the morning when he is home with me. By afternoon, he needs more attention, so I pause work and we play a bit, then I can settle him in with an activity or--gasp--a movie.
As a freelance writer and editor, my work is not as time sensitive as someone who is working a 9-5 from home or who does things like offer customer support. This means that if my son needs a little extra attention on a day he is home, I can offer him that without issue. I can also work from anywhere in the house and I have special laptop tables to allow me to do that; I can even work from the front yard while he plays.
My home is also filled with items to keep him occupied. Does that mean he is spoiled? Sure, I suppose, but it also means he doesn't get bored easily. There is always something for him to do.
With all of that said, even though my situation seems ideal for working from home and watching my son, it was never an option I considered. I do it when he is sick or it is a holiday, but it doesn't seem ideal to me as a full-time solution. My son would feel lonely occupying himself all day and I would feel stressed to finish my work too quickly so I could spend time with him. Would I get more hours with him if he were home? Yes. But they would not be quality hours.
So, what are some childcare solutions that can work for work-at-home parents?
Enroll Your Child in a Nearby Daycare
Yes, this is a highly traditional option, and it may not make you very happy, but it has its benefits. The most obvious is that your child will be cared for while you are free to work. However, your child also gets to socialize, and many daycares have an educational focus as well.
Depending on the daycare, you may be able to only have your child attend half a day and pay a lower rate. Ask around to find the right fit for you.
Hire a Nanny
Do you want your child at home but supervised? Then a nanny could be the right solution for you. This is great for when your child is young enough to depend on you for feeding or is immunocompromized and cannot attend daycare. While it is a pricier option, it may still be the right one.
Find a Mother's Helper
A mother's helper is someone who is generally younger--in high school or college--and may not be experienced enough to care for your child independently, but can play with your child as you work. The pay is much lower than with a nanny, but the end result is similar. If you need daytime help, ask local colleges to post the position for you; students who have night classes will be interested in the work.
Start a Childcare Cooperative
Do you know other work-at-home parents? If you can get together a group of five, you can rotate childcare so everyone watches the kids one day a week. That one day a week may be a bit overwhelming, but you will get four days a week free to work undisturbed and you will likely end up with a social group, combating the loneliness of working from home.
Shuffle Your Hours
Finally, depending on your job, you might be able to work early in the morning, during naps, and after the kids are down for the night. This will leave their waking hours free so you can get in quality time with them.
My neighbors here in Mexico think I am a kept woman. They see my husband going to work every day while I am home all day except for running errands and walking my son to and from school. Even at my son's school, the teachers think I do not work because when I show up to drop off or pick up my son, I am always in comfy clothing rather than business attire.
Ah, but work I do. Every day I wake up and head straight into the office; luckily it is right next door to my bedroom. While the locals tend to not quite get working from home, even when I explain it, it has offered me a wonderful life here in Mexico. And just in case you are considering this route, here are some benefits of working from home while living abroad that I have experienced.
The Dollar vs. The Local Currency
How much of a benefit this is, if it is even a benefit at all, will depend on where you live. Since I live in Mexico, this has been a major benefit for me. Here, the dollar stretches far, and it has only gotten stronger against the peso during my years here. This allows me to be choosy when it comes to the work I accept and keep a light schedule while still providing for my family.
Time to Travel and Explore
Whether or not you choose a light schedule, with the right freelance work, your schedule should still be flexible. And if it isn't, no worries; your job travels with you. If you are worried about connectivity, you can bring your own hotspot on the road. However, many countries have internet that surpasses that of the United States, so do your research before you go to know if you need to be concerned.
You Can Take Classes
Part of living and traveling abroad is learning new things. Taking classes is an obvious way to do this and it allows you to immerse yourself in the culture. If you work from home, your job might give you the wiggle room needed to head out in the middle of the day to attend the classes of your choice.
Less to Balance
Once again, this will depend on where you live. In my case, Mexico has a very relaxed approach to life. This means that there is never much to stress about outside of work, which lightens the burden significantly. Also, since things are more affordable here, I do not need to juggle as many chores. Things like housekeeping, laundry services, and meal services are all shockingly cheap. This further frees up your time each day to just live your life.
Easier Residency Process
If you apply for residency without a source of income, you can expect your application to be declined. If coming as a retiree, you need to prove you have enough money in the bank to sustain yourself. And getting a job abroad, which often is an automatic path to temporary residency, isn't always easy. When working from home, your job comes with you, allowing you to prove a steady stream of income in dollars--or whatever your homeland currency is. For many countries, this income will be enough to get your application approved.
Freelancing Doesn't Feel as Risky
When looking to work from home, many people try to find stable jobs where you work a set amount of hours per day during specific hours and work a set amount of hours per week. These jobs are desired because they are stable. Freelance work, while having the potential to earn significantly more, is seen as risky. You never know when a client is going to ghost you, and what do you do then? But when the cost of living is cheaper, you have more wiggle room in your budget. As long as you diversify your work instead of relying on a single client, all should go well.
Of course, moving abroad is a complicated process. You will need to consider a lot more than just working from home to determine if it is the right choice for you.
It keeps everything organized in one spot
When your professional, personal, and marketing subscriptions are all going into the same email account, it can be hard to keep things straight. Even if you utilize tabs, things can be a struggle. Rather than having everything mixing together in a single account, make a separate professional account at the very least. If possible, open up another specifically for marketing subscriptions and online shopping so you can look at those on an as-needed basis.
You give the right impression
And this isn’t just because you have a better handle or your own domain. When you have an account that is strictly for professional use, you feel more comfortable presenting it in a professional manner. You may not want your professional headshot to accompany emails to friends and family or to include a signature with links to your website, portfolio, or PayPal.me. With your professional account, you will feel comfortable taking the actions needed to present the right image.
Clients will take you more seriously
Having a professional email address makes you seem more official, which results in clients taking you more seriously. There is a hierarchy to this.
At the bottom is any email with a handle that reads like your AIM chat name from when you were thirteen. If your birth date is incorporated in any manner, it is not suited to professional correspondence.
Going up a rung on the ladder, you may have a suitable handle, but you are using your email address from ten to fifteen years ago. It is with a provider like Yahoo, Hotmail, or AOL.
Next on your way up is an email with a solid provider, like Gmail. However, the handle is just your name or a variation thereof. One way this might rank higher is if you have a professional title to accompany your name.
Jumping up another rung, you have a truly professional handle paired with the right provider domain name. This is what I have been doing since starting my freelancing career, with SRB.email@example.com.
Finally, at the very top of this ladder is using an email address with your own domain name. How important is it to reach the top of the ladder? That really depends on your goals. However, you should keep in mind that the bigger your image, the more your clients will be willing to pay you.
You are less likely to be marked as spam
Certain types of email handles are favored by spammers, and that means that email programs will me more likely to filter them into the spam folder. Even with a good handle, any free email can be a target since that is the type of email the vast majority of spammers will go for. To make certain your message gets through, you need to send it from a professional email account.
If your email doesn't present you well, it is time to make a change.
Freelance writer and editor with an education background, working from home and living abroad.