Wednesday, March 28, 2012

I hate the tax man. How original is that?

Yesterday I saw my accountant to sign off on my company income tax for the previous financial year. I always leave it fairly late as I never have the money to pay the poor man! (Poor? Accountant?  Well, you know what I mean)

I'd given him the books two weeks ago, confident that last FY I'd made a loss. I have a client who owes me around $13000 and most of that was for last FY. As I had to spend my own company's money buying resources for her such as stock photos it was looking good for a loss.

While most of us want our businesses to prosper, I'm in the uncomfortable situation of running a business with a low turnover despite my best intentions. A good year will see a turnover of $50K, out of which I have to pay bills, tax, and wages for myself. There is nothing, repeat nothing, left in the bank at the end of each financial year - or each month come to that. I do have a good regular client who pays me on the first of each month, and that's usually around $2700, which makes up the bulk of what I earn.

Given that cash flow is so tight the last thing I want to do is make a big profit as I'll get taxed to buggery. I always try for a loss or break even.

You can imagine my despair and astonishment when my accountant told me yesterday that I'd actually made $8K the year before.

"How?" I wailed.

I'm crap at anything mathematical and not great with Excel, my chosen software for my accounts. I'd added up my sales for the four quarters but apparently missed out one of the quarters. Curses!!!!

So now the tax man is going to slug me for $2118 straight away, as well as Notional Tax for the current financial year. The tax man assumes I'm going to make the same sort of profit this year - ha! I doubt it, Ill be spending too much on taxes! - and wants $679 a quarter, When I lodge my next BAS I'll be hit with a bill for $2037 for three lots of notional tax dating from 1 July 2011.

That's $4155 I don't have. I already owe $1332 for my BAS which was due on 28 March, but have $400 in the bank so won't be paying that until 1 April.

Then there are the accountant's fees of $1850. Luckily he lets me pay this off over several months.

It's an understatement to say I am extremely depressed today. I am tempted to lock up the knives and throw the key down the drain, just to be on the safe side.

It's bloody impossible for small businesses to get ahead, it really is, with the tax man slugging you for everything he can. Especially businesses with such a small turnover as mine. I did have some money put aside for tax earlier in the year but had such a lean January I had to use it to live on and pay regular bills with.

The only thing that stops me from winding up the company and getting a 'proper' job again is that my depression at the thought of having to leave the house and animals every day, toil away in an office with other people all around me, bound by KPIs, bosses, rules and regulations, hemmed in by traffic morning and night, moves up to suicide pitch.

Come on universe, send me a nice big juicy project from a client who is prepared to pay me what I'm worth rather than screw me down to rock bottom for a first-class job. Give us a $10K project, universe! Please?

Monday, March 19, 2012

The blessings of good neighbours

Friends of mine - The Whingies, whom I've mentioned before, have neighbour issues. All their neighbours, according to them, are bastards. They are surrounded by unthinking people who let their children have loud fun in their own swimming pool, or who are mean enough to have an afternoon BBQ and make noise.

What they don't consider is what their neighbours think of them, and I suspect the neighbours can't stand them and call them as many names behind their back as the Whingies do them. After all if you have five neighbouring properties on your boundary and the people therein are all bastards, that seems a little over the odds. Could it be that the common denominator, the people in the house in the middle, is the problem?

We are blessed, on the other hand, with lovely neighbours. So is my Mum - so much so in her case that her new neighbours invited her (and us) to a party two weeks ago that was really an insight into How The Other Half Lives. Money was no object and the Moet et Chandon flowed like water. It was great fun and I think the new neighbours had invited all the surrounding property owners along not just because they wanted to get to know them, but because they knew they were having a noisy bash, and best to include people rather than have them complain about the noise. It's a good strategy. It worked. We chatted to some other neighbours there and they were having as good a time as we were. Not that we could hear the music after we got back to Mum's anyway; we just crashed into bed.

Mum is a lovely person who has always made friends with her neighbours, even the nutter who used to live next door and drive his car over our lawn on odd occasions, or light bonfires full of rubbish outside our door when he knew I (as a little girl) was having a birthday party the same day.  He was a bit mad, and everyone was at loggerheads with him except Mum, who was and is firm but nice.

Where we live now is a multicultural area, and out of the eight town houses in our complex, six of them are owned or tenanted by Indian families.  We are on chatting terms with most of them - those around the back of the complex like us who we see just about every day going to and from work. We are good friends with one couple in particular and have dined at each other's houses or drop in for cups of tea. We have been sounding boards when my neighbour R wanted to rant about her husband's family who had behaved in a very rude and ungrateful manner. We help them with odd bits of DIY and they help us. R's husband K works for a major brewing company and when he decides he can't drink all his monthly freebie allowance of beer he'll drop some around to us. They have two adorable little boys, the elder of which is fascinated by our cats and likes to visit and talk to them.

Right next door to us new people moved in last year, a young Indian couple expecting their first baby, S & Mrs S (her name starts with S too). The baby was premature and it was touch and go for a while there. We got updates on the little boy's progress and were delighted to see him come home in January. They had planned a special celebration for when he turned three months old. They are Sikhs and there's a special three day ceremony where the main Sikh text is read from start to finish by Sikh priests; it takes all the three days, 24 hours of them. On the final day you have a feast when the reading is finished.

S told us about the ceremony on Friday and apologised in advance for all the cars that would be around over the weekend as people were coming for the ceremony. He then, to our surprise, invited us to the feast on Sunday. I had a suspicion that it may have been a case of "include people rather than have them complain about the noise"!  On Sunday there were drums and lots of chanting.  Anyway we said we'd be delighted to come, and R & K told us more about what to expect, and what to wear. Luckily I had some sari material I'd made into a dress and had a scarf in similar colours I could wear on my head. My husband wore a woolly scarf tied around his head as he doesn't own a bandanna, and looked vaguely piratical... or a pirate overfed and gone to seed!

All our neighbours were at the feast too, and they all have children under five. S & S's extended family were there, as well as many friends. I think there were about 40 people sitting on the floor, on the chairs, wherever, and we were the only two anglo-saxons there. I felt rather honoured that we had been invited. The ceremony of the food, the friendship, the laughter... it was a lovely day with everyone in their finery and everyone getting on with each other. We also had a good opportunity to chat more with some of our other neighbours and are now planning a night at the rugby together, six of us.

We are very blessed to have nice neighbours, but of course the behaviour of neighbours reflects on how you behave to them. If I tell Whingy about the ceremony she'll roll her eyes and ask how we coped with the chanting and drums, which would have driven her mad, or the small children running about (ditto mad). To be honest, we were having such a good time getting to know our neighbours better we didn't even notice.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The day of living angerously

No, I do mean angerously.

You see, I have a problem with anger management, or just anger in general. There are some days I just can't cope with the constant plop of emails in the inbox, clients phoning with urgent stuff (and they are ALWAYS the slow payers who have urgent stuff), computers running slowly, computers in general sometimes.

Yesterday was one of those days. Every time the phone rang I screamed "F*ck off!" at it before I picked it up. By lunchtime I'm sure my aura was black. I had a headache, my stomach was churning, I was feeling almost physically ill. At one point I found I was strangling myself with one hand while holding the phone in the other talking to a slow payer with urgent stuff. I tend to self-harm when I'm angry and impatient; usually I bite my arm but the strangling was a new and interesting diversion.

I'm trying to finish a large project for a client who DOES pay on time and can't cope with the interruptions. I've thought of turning on 'quiet time' and not answering the phones or emails but the thought of coming back to earth to more than 100 emails and half a dozen bloody phone messages makes me feel even sicker.

To make matters worse I'm running out of hard drive space and had to compress and chuck out some files yesterday in order to download some software plugins.

Even the dog was annoying me. Every time I got up for any reason, she was underfoot, ready to trip me. I did apologise to her for shouting at her.

I know anger is bad for the body and the soul, but when I'm stressed and up against a deadline I can't help it. Meditate, friends say, but for f*ck's sake WHEN!? I didn't have time yesterday, and I can't quite get into meditation. My brain looks at it as quiet time in which it can compose a to do list.

To cut a long story short I worked from 8am to 10pm yesterday. I had minimal meal breaks and just wanted to get shit finished. I had too many phone calls including one from a colleague who likes to talk for at least an hour. I can usually work at the same time by putting the phone on hands free so that wasn't too bad. She talked for nearly two. I can't really remember exactly what about but a lot of it was going around in circles on one issue. She's a sweet person and I did try and say I was busy but finally resorted to messaging my husband asking him to ring on the home phone to get me away.

By 5pm my fury had subsided; I played a game of chasing with the cats and the dog around the house, and that made me feel brighter and better.

There are times I truly hate computers, even though I'm lucky than many and own a Mac - much less stressful than a Windows machine. There are times I truly hate the human race, because I push myself as far and fast as I can to respond to the bastard bloody clients, I go above and beyond the call of duty, and still get paid crap money or none at all (still chasing the Scarlet Pimpernel). I am soooo NOT a people person.

You'd think by the tone of this post I'm still cranky but I'm not. Just thinking about the way I was yesterday - taut as a new wire fence - is channelling what I'm typing now.

It's Friday, 4.30pm local time. I still have tons to do for clients and two big websites to complete, one of which I got a lot furiously done on yesterday, but I have had it for today. I am worried about when I'm going to get the time to work on them though as weekdays are full of interruptions, which is why I work weekends too. This weekend I have to get my quarterly tax in order, another headache. God, I hate anything to do with numbers or accounts! And data entry.

It's probably lucky in a way that we are heading to my Mum's for Saturday night and staying over, as that will get me away from computers and work for a day or so. I don't need another day like yesterday, I'm sure it took a year or two off my life. I was fortunate in retrospect I didn't have a stroke or a heart attack.

I suspect my anger-day was also weather-related. It was pelting down outside and we have had the least sunshine in the last month we have had in years. I get testy and grumpy if I don't get a bit of sunshine on me at regular intervals.  I wouldn't survive a Scandinavian winter, that's for sure (wonder if the murder/suicide rate goes up in Scandinavia during winter?)

Anyway, today is better. The weather is sunny and so am I. Wonder if I could make a living out of making marmalade?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The button theory

Have you noticed that when you buy clothing these days it often comes with a spare button (assuming it has buttons in the first place)?

In days past this was an indicator of a posh item; something you'd keep and wear for years, a classic, and maybe at some stage you'd lose a button and lo! you had a spare stashed away in a drawer somewhere.

These days even cheaper clothing comes with a spare button; my Mum is impressed by this and thinks it means the clothing is well-made and posh. I disagree.

These days a spare button means that the clothing is invariably made in China, to a budget, and the cheapskates who make it don't sew the buttons on thoroughly. Thread costs money. Sewing buttons on takes time and THAT costs money too.

Take two cardigans I bought last year from Woolovers, a UK company which ships to Australia. I'd had trouble finding the style and blend of wool/merino/cashmere I wanted for a price I could afford. I got two items from Woolovers for $50 plus postage, and there wasn't a place in Australia that could match that. The website had a proud "British" feel to it and I figured the items were made in the UK. Nowhere on the website did it say the items were made in China, and it doesn't say on the jumpers themselves, but the little production tab inside boasts fonts that scream 'Made in China'. I've learned the signs over the years.

At first I was impressed that each item came with spare buttons. Maybe Woolovers set high standards for production, wherever in the world it was. However... the first time I wore one of the cardigans buttoned up, 50% of the buttons popped off over a five hour period. Luckily I was at home and every time I saw one missing I scanned the carpet until I found it. I resewed them all on and resewed the remainder too. They had originally had a scant couple of loops holding them in place.

The buttons on the other cardigan looked fine and as I had yet to wear it buttoned (it is a lightweight summer one) I didn't bother about restitching them all. I wore it today though and because the temperature dropped steadily from midday you can guess what happened. I buttoned up the top two buttons and found I was missing one of them by the time I got home from my meeting. It was nowhere to be found, probably squashed underfoot now at Top Ryde City Shopping Centre.

I have a little box full of spare buttons that belong to items of clothing I've bought over the last twenty years. Most of them I haven't needed but I've kept them in case they come in useful for a future sewing project. Luckily I had the corresponding button to the one I'd lost today nestled in the plethora of tiny plastic bags.

Tomorrow, when I'm awake and it's light outside I'll be sturdily sewing on every blasted button on that cardigan. When I sew buttons on the stitching outlasts the garment itself.

The thing that is really making me scratch my head now is my button box. It's almost like my Mum's. I delighted when I was little in playing with the buttons in her box - all shapes, sizes and colours, literally hundreds of them kept in an old tin that had once held posh chocolates. As a small girl I used to sort them according to shape or colour and it would keep me amused for hours, making patterns out of them on the floor and picking my favourites. She reused some of them for clothing and I'm sure they are a collector's dream, as she still has that box full of goodies dating back to heaven knows when - at least the 1940s. Sadly my collection isn't quite as eclectic as hers, my buttons not as fancy. But I bet hers never fell off her clothes!