I just looked in Sunday’s paper and the movie I hinted about in my previous blog received “Four Stars” from Premiere Magazine. Oh boy. Am I really going to have to completely reassess my taste in films? My (already somewhat dubious) judgment? (Don’t you think the word ‘judgment’ should keep it’s “e” ? It just seems plain wrong to take that away from the judge.) It’s nice to hear from a reader out there who was at the same screening that he or she hated the film too. So I’m not completely insane.
Yesterday morning was spent beginning the painful task of calculating my expenses for the year as a warm up to figuring out my taxes for the year. In the fall I realized that none of my paychecks this year had any taxes taken out of them, meaning that I could owe a considerable amount of money come April 15th. Enough money to clear out my bank account and send me home, with my tail between my legs, to my old room in my parents’ house.
I keep a small white box beside my desk that I use to keep all of my receipts. I’ll come home, empty my pockets, and stuff several small bits of paper in there. Amazingly, each year I have more receipts, but the box does not get any bigger. I just pack them in tighter. Then, around this time of year (or more like March), I’ll dump the box on my desk and spend an entire day sorting through them, wondering to myself if I can get away with deducting my dry cleaning or that Black Eyed Peas CD (“research”) or three pitchers of beer my friends and I drank while watching Monday Night Football. Will the IRS know it wasn’t business related? Or if I told my friends what I was working on and expressed my interest in one day collaborating with them, did that make it a ‘meeting’? I think so.
The trick when you are a freelancer is to keep enough expense-related receipts that their total is so high that you can show that you made virtually no money this year or any other year. (My god I hope the IRS isn’t reading this- not that this is news to anybody anyway). I’m not advocating any of us should cheat the government, but as one of the “little guys” who really does manage to barely make ends meet in a country that provides virtually NO GOVERNMENT FUNDING for the arts, especially filmmakers, it’s hard to feel like I should risk putting myself in the poor house (therefore requiring MORE government funds) when we constantly hear of huge corporations in America making billions of dollars and paying no taxes. So, like any good American, I will attempt once again to pay as little tax as possible.
We’re a funny country that way. I know I sound like a hypocrite after what I just wrote, but the anti-taxation attitude we Americans have is actually pretty foolish and misguided. It’s become so extreme that every politician has to vow not to raise taxes in order to get elected, regardless of how dire the need for tax dollars may actually be. (We’re also one of the few countries that consistently votes to help the wealthy pay less taxes while shifting the bulk of the burden onto the middle and working classes). But the most interesting part, which we Americans seem to be in denial of, is that the countries that consistently rank highest in quality of life surveys (Canada, Sweden and other European countries) pay HIGHER TAXES. We Americans pay a lot less in taxes, but what does it get us? We’re the world’s wealthiest nation but we are not even in the top ten in those same surveys for quality of life. So we pay less and we get less: schools, hospitals, healthcare, parks, protection against crime and pollution, etc. I just hope one day we’ll realize we’ve been thinking about this all wrong. I doubt it’ll happen anytime soon though. (And I know many of us have cynical attitudes about “Big Government” because of the massive amounts of wasted money we are always hearing about, but there has to be a balance in there somewhere, right?)
In the meantime, I will be sitting at my desk, adding up receipts and filling in boxes on the four different tax “schedules” I have to use to figure out what I owe: self-employment tax form, business use of your home form, 1040, sole proprietor, etc. And hopefully at the end of all those calculations I will owe a reasonable sum that won’t leave me destitute but will also make me a good, contributing citizen. Something like twenty bucks.