4 Best Practices for Reining In Your Remote Work Expenses7 min read
Many freelancers choose to work somewhere other than home. Getting out and about allows you to avoid domestic interruptions, escape isolation, and find a more inspiring environment than those same old four walls. And while a change of scenery can be a great productivity booster, the costs associated with remote work can quickly escalate. The $4 you spend on a flat white may seem like a small price to pay for a bit of creativity-enhancing caffeine. But those “mere” $4 can suddenly balloon to $20 or more once you get a refill, purchase a pastry, and put a few more quarters in the parking meter. That’s a lot for a half-days’ work.
The good news: With a bit of common sense and planning, you can tame the tiger of remote work expenses. Consider this your crash course in Remote Work Economics.
First things first: Track your expenses
Before we proceed to share some best practices for managing expenses, it’s important to reiterate the value of meticulously tracking your business-related expenses. If you’re a self-employed contractor (e.g. you work remotely for yourself versus for a larger company), you stand to benefit from certain tax breaks that alleviate some of the financial strains of running one’s own business. The best way to ensure you’re making use of the appropriate write-offs: being responsible about your expense tracking.
To save on #remotework expenses, be responsible about your #expensetracking. Click To Tweet
In the past, freelancers needed to store all of their receipts in a file folder, or bookmark receipts via email. Fortunately, technology and banking APIs are making it easier than ever to keep tabs on where your business spending is going, so you can account for it later on. AND CO’s expense tracking tool, for example, can sync with your bank account, allowing you to essentially automate your expense reporting and eliminate some of the pain of tracking every spend.
Meals: Get cooking
This can be an absolute wallet killer, and as such, I’ll spend a disproportionate amount of this post discussing it. If you’re heading out for a day of productive remote work, you must give your mind and body the right fuel. At some point, you’ll need something more substantial than a cup of drip to stoke those creative fires. That usually means eating a major meal away from the cost-controlled confines of your home.
Fortunately, there are several ways to keep your refreshment budget from spiraling out of control. And the basis of many of these strategies is good time management and a willingness to get your hands dirty in the kitchen.
Instead of rushing off in the morning to hit up your favorite coffee shop or co-working space, why not try to leave yourself enough time to make a healthy breakfast? This needn’t be a culinary masterclass—you can get a lot of mileage out of a simple meal of scrambled egg whites and a nutrient-dense green such as kale, chard, or spinach on whole-grain bread.
You can also consider prepping a few days’ worth of morning meals in advance. One of my favorite strategies is to cook a big frittata on Sundays, which can form the basis of 4 to 5 high-protein starts to your day. Slap a slice of that frittata—hot or cold—on toast of your choice and you’ve got an excellent breakfast that can be easily eaten on the go.
Don’t cook? There are an increasing number of healthy instant breakfast options that can be heated up in minutes and will still cost you far less than dining out. If breakfast isn’t your thing, you can take a similar approach with other meals that accommodates your preferred work schedule. The basic idea: set up your day so that you can eat before you hit the road.
#Remotework pro tip: set up your day so that you can eat before you hit the road. Click To Tweet
If you simply don’t have time to eat at your pad, consider packing a meal and/or snacks to take with you. But please, practice good etiquette and make sure that outside food and drink are welcome at the establishment before you whip out the brown bag. When you work remotely at a public space such as a coffee shop or bar, you are part of a virtuous circle: by patronizing the business, you enable it to stay open, which then ensures that your favorite haunt remains a great place to get work done.
Leave Your Car at Home
Parking can be difficult and expensive in dense urban areas. In a city like San Francisco, you may well end up spending more than the full-day rate ($25 or more) for just a couple of hours in a pay lot. Don’t willingly give up one of the single best benefits of remote work: the ability to avoid the stress and expense of a long daily car commute to an office.
If your area has reliable public transit options, take advantage of them. Even a full week of bus fares will likely pale in comparison to the cost of parking, gas, and car maintenance over the same time span. You also gain another precious commodity: time. Use your commute time to check email, catch up on industry news, or even to meet that pressing client deadline. When you’re behind the wheel, that’s simply time you’ll never get back.
Or, consider getting a bike. Obviously, some cities are more cyclist-friendly than others, but the movement is growing. You’ll save money and gain some valuable exercise in the process—which can often be challenging to fit into the hectic (and frequently rather sedentary) life of a freelancer. If your favorite places to work remotely are, well, a little too remote, you can piggyback with public transit. Most major transit systems allow you to take your trusty two-wheeled steed with you.
If you simply must drive to your favorite remote work locations, you can look for other ways to save money. If you frequent the same part of town, look for a parking garage that offers a long-term rate. Uber and Lyft are other alternatives. No gas, no maintenance, no parking, no problem—and you may well be able to get some work done on the ride, unless your driver is intent upon sharing the sordid details of his or her personal life.
On the surface, a coworking space may seem like an additional expense rather than a cost-cutting measure. However, the perks that many coworking spaces offer can more than justify your drop-in fee. Free coffee and tea are often provided to members and guests of these venues. Over the course of a day, the value of a bottomless mug can easily amount to $10 or more. And some spots may even offer complimentary snacks and beer when you’re ready for a happy hour respite from your labors.
The perks that many #coworking spaces offer can more than justify your drop-in fee. Click To Tweet
There are also less immediately apparent benefits that should go into your coworking calculations. For example, these spaces may provide excellent, focused opportunities for networking or professional development. The cost of your day pass—or even a monthly membership—may seem rather small if a new contact results in qualified leads.
If you’re looking for a good coworking space, including information on amenities and protips from folks who’ve actually worked there—try Workfrom.
Conclusion: Do the Math
What’s your time worth? That’s the basic question you need to ask yourself when trying to get a handle on your remote work expenses. Your productivity at your local coffee shop or brewpub may skyrocket to a level where your billable hours make the cost of a latte, an IPA, or a bite to eat pale by comparison. But if the price of working on the go is cutting into your freelance freedom, try a few of the above tips to keep your costs in check.
In other words: use common sense. You may find those high school home economics lessons really did pay off.
Freelancers and other remote workers can find plenty of workspace options on Workfrom–a community-sourced search engine and virtual tribe that spans the globe. Sign up for free to scout spaces, check out the Untethered blog for more remote-friendly posts, and consider joining your virtual tribe with a Workfrom membership.