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Viewing the 'Life among the Self-Employed' Category

Paying for Health Insurance

November 18th, 2014 at 09:43 pm

A lot of you probably get your health insurance from your employer... my husband does. But his plan charges a bajillion dollars for spouses and dependents, and the insurance is just so-so.

F and I get our insurance through an individual plan (I am self-employed, and even though I have an S-Corp I would have to have an employee to qualify for business insurance).

Here's how it works: we personally pay for insurance (I put it on the credit card so that I get the 2% cash back). My business reimburses me, and the reimbursement shows up as income, but it isn't subject to withholding, social security or medicare taxes. On our personal 1040 form, this income is part of Line 7 (Wages, Salaries, Tips) but is deducted on Line 29 (self employed health insurance deduction) so that it's not included in our adjusted gross income.

During this enrollment period, I noticed that our premiums were going up 86%!!! So we've switched to a different insurance company. Our rates are still going up 42% (to $602 for the two of us), but now we're on a gold plan instead of silver and dental is included.

Our choices for payment were to set up an automatic draft from our checking account (no cash back!!!) or to receive a paper bill each month which I can pay with our credit card (cash back!!!). It's a little less convenient, but I want the cash back! We're talking $12 each month!

I'm wondering if maybe they'll set up an automatic credit card payment for me in January. But even if they don't, I have a system for paying my bills, so I'm not concerned.

How are you handling your health insurance? Would you give up some convenience for the cash-back option, too?

Self Employed Stuff

October 23rd, 2014 at 05:05 pm

I have lots of little projects right now, which I guess is ok - it all adds up.

My big project - a building for a local non-profit - will be on hold after this Friday while they work up a contract for me for the rest of the phases. They also want to stop for a month or so to secure some additional financing.

My other big project - a fire station - is also on hold because it's in the permitting process.

This leaves room for the next-largest project which I'll start on Monday. It's some renovations at a hotel.

And then review for two different subdivisions which entails lots of little meetings.

Here is the good news: I've met my earnings goal for the year!!! This means I don't actually want to bill until next year. It also means I can afford the slightly higher health insurance premiums next year so that we can have a PPO rather than an HMO. I am going to lower our deductible, too. The business covers health insurance for both me and F, and D gets his through his job.

I heard about one company that has high deductible policies for its workers, but it covers the deductible. I'm not sure how that would work or if it would be legit for my small S-corp. But that would be a great alternative.

Other work things I'm thinking about: I need to buy the new version of Autocad. I'll do that before the end of the year.

I am also taking a distribution to pay for our solar panels, but that money has already been taxed in previous years (as an S-corp, the tax on any profit is passed through to me). This doesn't affect the profit or my bottom line.

Also before the end of the year I need to work out next year's salary. With the health insurance cost increase, I don't think I'll give myself a raise.

If you have a business, are you dealing with some of this end-of-the-year stuff right now?

Little Invoices Add Up

September 15th, 2014 at 09:50 pm

It's a long story (and not that interesting), but I have a client which requires me to invoice the people I work with separately. I was dreading doing six little invoices; ugh. I figured it wouldn't add up to much either; it's just an hour or hour and a half for each.

After I dropped F off at school and before I went back up to drive on the class field trip, I decided to challenge myself to get all six of the invoices done and emailed out to people. It only took half an hour, and the invoices add up to $880. That's more than I thought, so I'm happy I just buckled down and got it done.

I don't know about the rest of you who are self-employed, but I don't love doing invoicing. I do it though, monthly, because that's the key to cash flow.

And, I've officially invoiced for almost $13k more than my annual goal. Very excited about this! The past few years have been difficult for architects, and this is definitely an improvement! I worked hard for every penny.

Friend in Town - I'm Worried!

August 23rd, 2014 at 01:33 am

My good friend is in town (she comes back to visit once a year). She's not staying with us, but she always has parties (I'm happy to bring a potluck dish) and wants to go out to eat (I usually skip that, and she's fine with that).

She loves to shop, and I don't shop at all, so I skip that, too. She has other friends to shop with.

The hard part is, she comes in late tonight, and will be staying through the week, but I have a HUGE deadline and no time to hang out with her (we could go on a hike or whatever). But I want to! But I have the deadline! And I don't want to be a whiner and say that I can only see her on the weekend (actually, I'll be working several hours this weekend, too).

It's a firm deadline (a County review meeting) and I had a setback today where I spent the day making a change (ugh; this is why I need to work this weekend).

Oh - did I mention that she wants to have one of the parties at my house? On Sunday night (school night!). I called her and just got voicemail, but I told her that we could maybe do something early, but that people have to clear out by 8:30 pm so F can get ready for bed. I wish I had said I couldn't do it at all because the thought of cleaning the house after a party, with a deadline looming, makes me hyperventilate.

I'm going to go do the dishes and then relax for an hour before I go to sleep; I think I need to rest before I can confront her (and myself) with the reality of self-employment!

Possible Project I may NOT Pursue

July 17th, 2014 at 02:22 am

Right now I have enough work; in 8 months or so I may not, but here's the thing: the long term future is not a reason to take a project I don't have any time for right now, and it's definitely not a reason to take a project that looks like it could be awful.

I got a call from a woman (who knows a friend of mine) about a possible project. She's talked to some other architects but didn't feel like it was a "fit." She's bought an old house (1940s) that is in a borderline commercial area (zoned for commercial), and already done some demo (like taken out the heaters - something I wouldn't have done right away - winter isn't THAT far away). She wants to turn it into a restaurant.

I told her I'd come look at it, but let her know that I am going on vacation soon and my priority is the projects I'm currently working on. I told her I couldn't really devote more than a site visit until I return.

The house is a maze of rooms, and she wants to "open it all up." (This means replacing structural walls with beams, etc.) I talked to my engineer, and he said she needs to know that the roof load requirement for a commercial space is more than double a residence. And then there's the fire suppression system for a commercial kitchen...

And its an old house, and I'm sure there are lots of surprises in there that she won't even find out about until they start work. Oh - and did I mention that they have fixed up a few houses and want to do some of the work themselves? I honestly have no idea how much she should budget, no idea how much I would charge (given all of the unknowns).

I'm either going to tell her the timing isn't good for me, or give her a price that (if she were to accept it) would make the project definitely worth my time.

Weird Letter - Is Money Coming?

June 24th, 2014 at 11:31 pm

I got a weird letter today from my general liability insurance company. They said they made an error calculating my premium, and if I still owed money to pay on the premium, they'd adjust it, and if I'd already paid in full, they would send a check. Really? I hope so. Wonder how much? Are we talking 50 cent or $50?

In other financial news:
- F is not loving this week's camp as much as last week's, but it's from 8:30-3:30 and I'm able to get some significant work done which will allow me to take off some time next week when she doesn't have camp.

- I drove over a screw on a jobsite (this is one of those job hazards!) and had to go to the tire store. But - yay! - the screw was just stuck in between the treads and was super short so it didn't puncture anything. They removed the screw and didn't charge me.

- Because we hosted a coach last week, we have very little grocery budget left for this month (but we do have some dining out budget which I can move into the grocery bucket). Luckily only one more shop for the month. I'll need to be strategic.

- I am making my packing list (one of my favorite parts about traveling!). I will post about this at some point, but you probably guessed that I'm an extremely efficient packer. I do carry-on only. This saves bag fees. And I have a very inexpensive carry-on ($30) and very light; it's the best on out there.

Filling out my Professional Liability Renewal

June 15th, 2014 at 03:40 am

Last year I paid $3236 for professional liability insurance. I wonder what it'll be this year...

It's not optional for me (my clients require an insurance certificate), so I just have to pay it, but it's pretty frustrating given the state of the economy for architects. Our fees go down, but it doesn't seem like the insurance premium ever goes down.

Anyway, you know how I am about tracking things... I track my incoming money (for the business which is an S-corp) and also the percentage of gross billing for different types of projects (fire station, work for homeowner's associations, offices, schools, etc.) and for different types of clients. Turns out in 2013, 88% of my fees were from local governments. Ninety-two percent of my fees were from repeat clients. I need all of this info in order to fill out the renewal application.

And more information... it's a long form. I am going to fill it out tomorrow and scan/send back to my insurance agent on Monday. Hopefully given how much (how little!) I made in 2012 and 2013, the premium won't go up. Fingers crossed.

Women in Architecture

May 30th, 2014 at 09:13 pm

I discontinued my AIA (that's American Institute of Architecture) membership as of this year. I used to be super involved, but I got tired of the repetitive lectures and unwillingness to do anything meaningful. So I donate my time instead to another organization.

The AIA is nothing more than a professional "club."

You don't need to be AIA to a licensed Architect. You can have AIA membership even if you aren't a licensed Architect. You can only call yourself an architect if you're licensed.

Anyway, one of my friends has put together a meeting (she'd like to meet monthly or every other month) of women who are architects. That is pretty interesting, mostly because it'll be a room full of people who have a lot of the same concerns. I hope there'll be some interesting discussions. I, for one, am interested in work-life balance (or imbalance!). I am also interested in how we can volunteer in the public schools (where a lot of art programs have been cut).

Leaving now to go to the event. She's asking everyone to contribute $20, but I can handle that. Will take it out of the business account.

I'll let you know how it goes!

(BTW, F is at her friend's house today, and the friend is coming to our house next Tue).

Need More Time (rather than more money) at the moment

May 29th, 2014 at 09:03 am

Summer, for us, starts officially tomorrow at noon when F is out of school for the summer.

I have two big projects going on for the duration of the summer, and about three smaller ones. Also regular summer volunteer job (not that big of a thing, but something else to schedule in).

I need more time! I am insistent that F should have a real summer, and that we should spend time together because THAT is why I'm self-employed. It's mostly just bad timing, but I can't really control the timing of my projects, and I'll be making about half the money I'll make this year in the next two months. Most architects in our city don't have any work, so I am very thankful for the work (and they are really good projects!).

To calm myself, here are some of the things I am doing so that we can do all those summer things like go to the pool, play tennis at the park, get slushies, sit outside and eat popsicles, go on hikes...

1. F is in camp for five of the summer weeks (this is day or half-day camp so we have time after pick up to hang out, but I'll also have time to get work done.

2. I will continue getting up at 6:30 am and get about an hour of work done before F wakes up - her summer schedule is about an hour later (then we'll start the daily routine of breakfast, etc).

3. I have set up a few playdates in the next few weeks (F has no camp until mid-June). If a friend is over here, I can work while they play. If she is at a friend's house, I can go into the office.

4. I have made a detailed, day-by-day summer schedule on excel with three columns: Big Project 1, Big Project 2 and F. There should be a fourth column for other work, but that just needs to fit around the big projects.

5. I am not stressing about the volunteer thing, at least not now. I've contacted the organization to know I need more people in my area, and they don't seem stressed. I will put on my list to contact them again tomorrow to let them know what's up, but I have decided it's not up to me to find people to fill my schedule. I am in charge of one area, not all volunteers. The event is mid-July.

6. I will not work a shift at the volunteer event. My job is to coordinate other volunteers.

7. I will not stress about F's birthday party. I've chosen an easy, fun party. I just need to get a few supplies. Can do that this weekend.

8. There are things like buying cat food that need to be done. D has not volunteered. It will have to wait until the weekend, since I am committed to not taking valuable work time to do errands. F may go with me after the pool tomorrow, but Friday, when she is at a friend's house is work time.

9. I will make errands as easy on myself as possible. For example, stressed about the teacher gifts (class pools resources and gets a cashier check) earlier in the evening. I was going to take work time to go to the bank to get the cashiers check (they don't open until 9) and pop by school before pick up (because D is picking F up while I teach spinning). Instead, I'm stopping at the drive-through on the way to school because they are open earlier, and instead getting new crisp bills. The teachers, I've decided, won't care if it's a cashiers check or cash! Probably easier not to go to a bank to cash it!

10. I can't think of a tenth thing.

OK, I feel better. Going back to sleep now!

Got a New Project! So I'm Decluttering the Office Storage Room....

April 8th, 2014 at 01:32 am

I really didn't think I'd get this project - but I am so pleased I did! It's for a new pavilion (for classes and weddings) and interpretive trails at our Audubon Preserve. I teamed up for the project with a landscape architect who I really admire (and she's very passionate about educational landscapes!).

Anyway, we'll need to sign the contract this week, so I have a few days to clean up the office, particularly the storage room which was really out of control.

I bought 6 boxes at U-Haul (total $22) which were the right size (12x12x24) to store plans. I've been going through every set of plans in the office, putting them in the boxes (which I stacked up in the corner) and inserting a label in them, as well as cataloging which plans are in which box. I should end up with a lot of space on the shelves (I hope so).

Plus I've tossed a ton of old fedex boxes and duplicate plans as well as some design-stage plans which I don't need to keep once projects are complete.

The next step is to toss a bunch of old samples. Samples go out of date quickly; they introduce new colors/patterns/etc. I can give them to a school (they love stuff like that for art projects).

I hope to be done with all of this by tomorrow afternoon so that I can finish up another project (should be fast) and then start the Audubon next week.

I just like a nice clean, organized office so that I can think clearly.

Office Improvements and Some Changes, Too

February 21st, 2014 at 12:05 am

I don't own my office (I wish I did). I rent from the BEST landlord ever. We've been in the space over 8 years and have only had one minor rent increase. It's way below market value for where it is (right downtown). No one can believe it. Actually, it's below market value for anywhere else in our city, too.

Anyway, it's in an old 50s building (with a butterfly roof - architects love butterfly roofs - and I am not the only architect in the building, actually). A lot of the fittings are from the 50s or 60s. The 50s light fixtures are cool. The kitchen, however, is a disaster. There's a countertop with a sink cutout but the sink was removed and put a foot over, so there's now a wood board over the old hole. I will take a photo for you... it will be a Before photo because the landlord just gave me the okay to put in a new sink and countertop. My office-mate and I will install it, and the landlord will pay for everything. I'm so excited!

That's an improvement. Here's the change... The office has an itsy bitsy kitchen, teeny tiny bathroom, two small offices, a storage room and a large area where the conference table is. In the large area, there is an extra desk that I've wanted to rent out, but no one has been interested mainly because it would be more of a drop-in situation and wouldn't come with a parking space. But I'm only asking $75 a month. That's a great price! Includes internet!

My office-mate just told me that due to finances he can't keep renting one of the small offices, but that he would take that desk! That is great news! Now I just have to rent the small office.

I started by calling friends, and the first friend I called (my first choice!) said she might be interested. I would love to have her. And the three of us would be a great combo. She's an architect, too. Cross your fingers for me!

And I promise I will post photos of the kitchen before and after. It can't be any worse than it is now. Seriously.

Printer Finally Stopped Working and other Work Stuff

February 4th, 2014 at 02:43 am

I have an office downtown, but after F gets home from school, I work at home (we do our homework together!) so I have a printer here. It's been making this horrible noise for the past few months, but it kept working. I tried to fix it, and located the noise, but the printer is old, and we got it for free with something else.

It finally stopped working yesterday, and so I bought a new printer. Or I should say, my business bought a printer for me to use at home.

It was recommended by Consumer Reports. Apparently it's not an ink-hog. And I can buy third party ink for it inexpensively. The printer was $80. Luckily that's in the work budget.

I set the work budget for this year based on last year's budget and expected income. I have $133 a month for office supplies. I had $0 in supplies for this month. Other supplies in the near future: just bought ink for the printer in the office and cd's. Also will need envelopes in the next few months.

I'm trying to be as frugal at work as I am at home; afterall, the business is a pass-through entity, so it's my money even though it's a corporation.

My business budget is just shy of $6,000 per month. That includes my salary and health insurance reimbursement. I pay quite a bit for business insurance, professional liability insurance and my licenses (I have licenses in two states and an NCARB certificate to maintain).


January 23rd, 2014 at 06:37 pm

Freebie 1 - Was taken to breakfast today by a client. This never happens, since my clients are almost always local governments. This client is a hotel. He also mentioned there will be more work coming up later in the year, so that's good.

Freebie 2 - I got paid by the gym; it was $40 (mortgage principal!). I really would (and have had) taught just for the gym membership. I think I'd get paid more if more people came to my classes, so I might have to figure out how to drum up business!

Freebie 3 - No horse riding for F today - it was canceled due to cold. She'll be sad, but I am glad since it is really cold! My parents pay for the lessons, but this saves the gas down there.

Miscellaneous Money Stuff

January 21st, 2014 at 08:09 pm

Lots of thoughts in my head right now (it's good to get this down so I can stop thinking about everything):

- I got my bonus from Capital One today - $125! Yes! I am going to apply this to mortgage principal next month.

- A friend is coming over this afternoon to share her music and choreography for the exercise class I teach. She is so nice! She used to own our gym, and she was the one who got us all certified to teach this class. She was at the hospital the day after my daughter was born (and it was a trek! We were at a hospital an hour away due to complications). Anyway, the result is that I don't need to buy choreography. And F and I get to see her!

- I was attending the same class yesterday (my friend L teaches on Mondays, and we share the Wednesday class). L and I have already shared our music, and I'll be copying everything for her, too. Anyway, the gym owner paid L, so I am hoping that means I'll get paid either tomorrow or Thursday. Fingers crossed; he is pretty erratic about paying us.

- My insurance company is making me a little crazy right now. They were great in that they decided that D's last day on the insurance was 12.31.13, but somehow decided I wasn't eligible for coverage and didn't pay my doctor for my well-visit (so I had to call and straighten it all out). Then despite the fact that D is not covered, we've paid for him for both January and February. I was told we'd get a credit for January to appear on the February statement, but they told me their billing department is separate. Another call. I'm hoping this is fixed for March and we see the credits for both January and February. The woman I spoke with understood that we shouldn't be paying for my husband, and promised that would be straightened out for March, but didn't mention the credit in the phone message she left me. We'll see.

- I finished the business taxes (both federal and state). Just need to mail - phew!! I've download Turbo Tax for our personal taxes (my parents let me use their software since you can download onto multiple computers). So I'll start that this week.

- I am doing the business checkbook reconciliation.

- I am vowing to curb our spending in February. January was "spendy" due to stocking up in the sales.

A Surprise Refund

January 16th, 2014 at 09:26 pm

My husband's employer now gives him health insurance through the business, but we weren't certain it would all be set up for 2014 until December 31st! So frustrating! I called our current insurance that day, but they said that you need to cancel someone by the 25th of the previous month, otherwise they can't do the cancellation.

I filled out the form using 1/1/14 as the date his new insurance was set to begin anyway, just in case (I'm very fond of "just in case").

Well, I called today to make sure the cancellation had gone through, and also to make sure F and I were not cancelled (we are staying on that insurance). It was a nice surprise to find out that not only was everything ok, but the effective date of cancellation was 12/31/13, so we'll be getting a refund for this month for my husband on next month's bill!

My business pays for our health insurance (it's reported as income, but not taxable income, on my W2), but since my business is an S-Corp, it's a pass-through, so saving money in the business really is money in our pocket.

Turbo Tax Refund

January 14th, 2014 at 08:03 pm

It turned out I couldn't use the Turbo Tax I'd pre-bought for my business taxes this year (long story short: they don't make it for a Mac, I'm not going to spend the money to upgrade Parallels just to run this one program). This is not the Turbo Tax for personal taxes (that they DO make for a Mac).

So I called Turbo Tax to stop the auto-renewal.

And guess what? They also offered to refund me the amount I paid since I couldn't use it! I was surprised, partly because I already have the disk so it's not like they can check that I'm really not using it.

I will continue to do my personal taxes on Turbo Tax, and I told the customer service person that I really hope the business software does come out for a Mac in the future; I'll use that, too, when it does.

So, a pleasant surprise, a big refund to my business account. And I found a company that will let me do my business taxes online, so I'm working on those this week (I was afraid that I was going to have to do it by hand!).

Business Tax Prep on a Mac

December 21st, 2013 at 03:27 am

It's about that time again... before I can do our personal taxes, I need to do my business taxes. (My business is an S-corp - any profit or loss is reported on our personal taxes).

We need to do this sooner rather than later in order to apply for tuition assistance from F's school.

This year, like last year and the year before, I have to do my business taxes on a PC (I use Parallels on my Mac) because none of the business tax programs are native to Macs. (Someone is going to say that Turbo Tax makes Home and Business - this is not for S-corps, but rather for people who report their income on schedule C, so it won't work for my corporate tax return).

Anyway, I'm even more frustrated this year, because my old version of Parallels doesn't work with my upgraded operating system. And I can't upgrade Parallels because it's too old - I have to buy a new version! Grrrr!

I wish there was an alternative program. I've been googling business taxes on the Mac for an hour, and all that comes up is Turbo Tax Home and Business.

OK - next thought was to do the taxes myself by hand. I think this is probably the way I am going to go. Corporation taxes aren't that complicated, I do them myself anyway, Turbo Tax always had this bug which meant every year I had to do a lot of it by hand, and I'm too cheap to spend $80 to get the new Parallels which I don't use for anything else.

Interesting Article about Generation X in the Workplace

November 30th, 2013 at 12:01 am

Just read this on the bbc website:

As a member of Generation X (although not sure I'd identify myself this way, I know that I'm not a baby boomer - I was born in 1966), I found it relevant. I am one of those people who worked in smaller firms, and then opted out to form my own firm (it's a corporation, but I'm the only employee).

I lost a ton of wealth during the last recession (watched the value of our houses plummet and our IRAs lost about 30% of their value). And my salary has just never gone very high (I've topped out at about $45k and so has my husband). It makes it hard to save, but we've done the best we could and been frugal.

The label that most consistently gets applied to me is not "slacker" (no one mistakes me for a slacker!) but "you're still young; you have a lot of time to make money." I am making far less than most of my clients (firefighters, city or county employees) and they kid me on the sly about making a ton of money. And 47 isn't that young when you have to think about retirement. (There may be some gender bias here, or maybe a misunderstanding of how my fee is divided up between salary, overhead and paying my engineering consultants who normally get a third or more).

Anyway the article was interesting to me; what do think about it? Are you in one of those groups: boomer or gen x or a millenial?

Cringeworthy Business Expense

November 6th, 2013 at 11:19 pm

I entered one of my buildings today in the local AIA chapter's award competition. It irritated me to do it (costs $100 to enter), but I haven't submitted for an award in years, so all of my awards are sort of old... This is no guarantee, of course, that I'll win. But it would be good for marketing. The $100 is not mine personally, but a business expense. (I'm still a little irritated about it, but D convinced me to do it, and he's probably right).

I'm entering one of my fire stations in the renovation/adaptive re-use category. I'm proud of that project because it was really difficult (the original building was made of a very brittle clay tile called pen-tile so I had to work with existing openings - otherwise the tile just shatters). I also had a ridiculously low budget. And I think it looks pretty cool! (The first thing I need to do is to get D to take photos of it - the only ones I have, I took, and they're not great photos!)

So... wish me luck!!

Another Proposal

October 30th, 2013 at 03:08 pm

I am doing a proposal for on-call services for the County (I think they'll select several architects for this, so I have a decent chance).

Mostly these request for proposals are the same, so I was happy to see a new requirement: "All submitted bid/proposal documents shall be double sided." This is to reduce waste, and I think it's a great idea!

Now I'm really pleased that the new office printer does double sided - you just click a box! It wasn't an expensive printer, either. It's a Brother HL-3170 (about $200).

That's the good work news.

The bad news, and anyone who has their own company will understand this: I have several outstanding invoices, so I need to transfer some money from the business savings account to checking. Ugh. I hate doing that. At least I have the business savings account, though, right? And eventually the money from the invoices will come in.

And now I am going to go home and finish sewing slipcovers, because the proposal is not due for two weeks, and this is one of the big advantages of being self-employed.

Husband has a New Job!

September 27th, 2013 at 08:28 pm

Since my husband D moved to this country, he's been self-employed (he was a web designer although in Europe he was a journalist and did internet content creation)... as of Monday he is now an employee with a full-time doing website content for a non-profit (writing again! plus making videos and tweeting etc).

Here are the cons:
- I am now doing a lot more in terms of keeping the household going (tasks we shared before) because I am still self employed and have more flexible hours (but I still work a full day - some of it after F goes to bed)
- F is trying to adjust; she had both parents home by about 4:30 pm, now it's just me (although yesterday we made cupcakes, and I play games with her and hang out with her while she does homework which is the same as before) - she missed her dad yesterday afternoon after school and I held her and she cried (but he comes home at 5:30 - so it's not THAT bad!)
- They want him to go to a conference in November and he doesn't want to go (and F doesn't want him to go)
- Less vacation time - so when we visit my parents in March, D will go home on Monday and F and I will stay the rest of the week - we're taking the train back - fun!

Here are the pros:
- The adjustment to only having one parent around would probably be worse if it was me with the new job and D was home
- D gets to do the kind of work he wants to do, trained to do, is happy doing and he no longer has all of the headaches of being self-employed
- He is working with people now - it was hard for him working alone
- They pay for his health insurance (woo hoo!) - about $200 saved
- He's earning about $10,000 more a year (woo hoo again!) - part to retirement accounts, part to paying down the mortgage!!

Thoughts for Monday

September 10th, 2013 at 02:33 am

I am subbing for spinning tomorrow and my friend Liz just asked me to sub for her weightlifting class at the end of the month. Happy to do it, but once again I haven't gotten any money from the gym in a while (got paid in August but it was for July). I need to ask Liz if she's been paid...

In good news: F found a new book series she loves. I already ordered the second and third in the series from our library.

Other good news: D took the job he was offered. It's a pay increase, but he's also working more hours. Overall, it's a really good thing because I think it's just too stressful if we're both self-employed.

Even more good news: Since I paid the rent for the office, there won't be any difference when he's not there with me anymore. I already rent one office space. My plan for D's old space is to rent it out, too (but on a more limited basis since it's sort of part of the conference room - I was thinking I'd charge a nominal monthly fee - like $50 - and a few people could share it using a google calendar). Need to ask around on facebook (already have one person interested - it's a great downtown location, perfect if you live a little way out of town and just want to be downtown once in while or need a conference table occasionally).

More good news: My business reimburses us for our health insurance, but now D's job will reimburse for his portion of the insurance, so that's more money I get to keep in the business.

And, finally: We made a modest purchase today of buttons for the new cardigan I knitted for F... will share photos of the cardi soon! (Once I sew the buttons on!)

Continuing Education

September 6th, 2013 at 09:59 pm

I have to do a ton of continuing education for my profession. I have to maintain my state architecture license (12 credits a year), my AIA membership (18 credits a year, most of those related to Health Safety and Welfare and some Sustainable Design units), my California state license (a disabled accessibility course) and my LEED certification (30 units related to sustainable architecture every two years).

My goal is to make the same credits count for every accreditation I have to maintain. So far all I have left to do is the disabled accessibilty course and two more sustainable architecture hours.

I'll have to pay $60 for the accessibility course, but ALL of the other units have been FREE! I've managed to find free courses for everything! (Mostly through McGraw Hill which publishes Architectural Record magazine). The easy way out is to go to lunches ($20 a pop) and seminars ($$$) but it's less costly and takes less time to do the free online courses.

Another Building (Mostly) Finished

August 29th, 2013 at 05:29 am

Another fire station mostly complete... I went down there today for the next-to-last meeting. This is very exciting because I can almost send my final bill! That's a good thing, especially since I'm working on a new project.

Here's a picture from today's visit (if you look closely you can see a bucket - site cleanup is one of the things the contractor still has to do).

Work, More Work and Some Changes at Work

August 28th, 2013 at 01:40 am

Today was the first day in a very long time that I didn't have a meeting! It was a such a relief - I got a ton of work done on my current fire station remodel.

Yesterday I had a meeting with a previous client (a hotel), and they want me to do more work for them. I told them I have a project that I'm working on right now, and couldn't start for about a month. I figured they'd hire someone else, but they said ok!

My husband, who, like me, is currently self-employed, decided to apply for a job (a real job, a 9 to 5 type of job, a job where they help pay for his health insurance) doing what he really wants to be doing for a non-profit. He had the interview today, and they offered it to him, so now he just needs to decide. This would mean a lot more money each month! (Which we could squirrel away in retirement accounts since we don't need it to live on).

It would mean less flexibility (although I know this non-profit, and they are ok with employees taking time in the middle of the day for things like attending school functions). But when we thought about it, although it's a change for him, it isn't that big of a change for me. I already do school dropoff and pickup, and I take F to her after school lessons on Monday and Friday. I take the dog to the office with us. So basically, I'm already the one who takes advantage of our flexibility to do the childcare/household things.

He is very involved with her soccer, but practices are after work, and games are on Saturday.

Anyway, it's his choice.

I guess the things to think about if he has a full-time job (since mine is 8 to 3) will I take on all of the domestic/household/childcare duties? (I currently do about 75% - mostly because I'm faster and I don't mind doing things like laundry and vacuuming - but I really appreciate the 25% that he does!!)

Cheap Labor

August 5th, 2013 at 02:41 am

On Friday I hired F to help me with field measurement. She's only eight years old, but is really good at knowing where to put the tape, measured several small walls on her own and took documentation photos.

I am wondering if she's really spatially aware because she's an architect's child, or do we just communicate really well because we're mother/daughter?

Anyway, I paid her $10 and had a really great assistant.

She declared field measurement "really fun" and was excited about getting to see the inside of a men's restroom. (Which is not that exciting, but when you're a girl, it's a mystery; and it's usually not allowed, so that adds something I guess).

F now has a small pile of money from her summer work, so we need to take a trip to the bank and open an account for her.

Finished Fire Station

July 20th, 2013 at 02:56 am

I promised to post a few photos of the fire station I just finished... So here they are:

I still have one more meeting with the City and a tiny bit of work left to do (wrapping things up, giving the City some final documents) and then I can send the final bill!

Hard Day at Work, Stupid Tile, Confused Clients

July 19th, 2013 at 06:39 am

It's after midnight and I can't sleep - argh!

I am very nearly finished with the history display for a local hotel, and as I was working on it another client called.

The building I designed for him is a fire station, and the firefighters want the tile in the bathroom extended. He was asking me if I would pay for it out of my errors and omissions insurance! Huh? I asked what the error or omission was, and he said they don't have any more money in the project to pay for the tile. So I asked again what I did wrong... apparently I "left out" the additional tile that they now want. (He did understand that it was not something they asked for during design). And, "we don't have any more money for the project; who is going to pay for the tile?"

I've never had an errors and omissions claim, and even though this is additional and not an error or omission, I will end up paying for the tile rather than have it go to a claim.

I think that's why I can't sleep.

But the history window will be finished tomorrow, which is what I promised. Maybe the money I made on that project will pay for the tile?

It sort of makes me sick to think of it.

Also - just venting here - I think sometimes my clients, because I am female, think that I can't possibly be the primary earner in my family, and that what I make is extra and therefore expendable (which I gather from comments they make, that are meant to be funny, but seem like kidding on the sly: "why don't you have your husband buy you a new [car/clothes/whatever].

This same client was very complimentary about the extra work I put into the project during construction (with a difficult contractor) - with no extra compensation, though. I asked for some of the contractor's liquidated damage money, so maybe we can just trade that out for their tile.

(You know, they even asked me why there were no paintings or posters as part of my plans, and were suspicious when I explained that architects don't provide things like that...)

OK, I'm done ranting; I'm going to go to bed now!!


July 16th, 2013 at 03:48 pm

The economy is still pretty slow for construction and building here so I don't have that "one big project" which will keep me going for a year or two. I'd come to sort of expect that type of project... about $3 million construction cost with a two year timeline from design through construction.

Still - I'm happy that I do have work, even if it's smaller projects (but more of them).

Right now:
- just got a fire station renovation/addition - our kickoff meeting is Thursday! - about $350,000 construction cost
- finishing up construction on two other fire stations
- did a little bit of work for the Community Art Gallery - about $500 fee - need to bill this at the end of the month
- picked up some work for a local hotel - today I am doing a history display for them (it's a historic hotel)

And of course I'm always looking for more work!

I pay myself a steady wage from my business rather than just taking out money randomly, which helps me budget on a personal level and means that the business has money to pay me even when I'm not billing a lot (since the money stays in the business account). It's a small wage, and I also take a distribution. (Business income is reported on a Schedule K).

My husband reports on a schedule C (he's also self-employed) and he also moves a set amount each month from his business account to our personal account.

I wonder, though, if I'll ever feel comfortable giving myself a raise given the unsteady economy... I guess since we can live comfortably on what we pay ourselves, we don't need to worry about raises. It's just a morale thing.

Trade Discount

June 17th, 2013 at 05:42 pm

Being an architect is not always great. The poor economy has hit our profession hard. I am a non-confrontational person in a confrontational profession. The pay isn't that great.

Here are the two big advantages: cultural credibility (as in: "Oooh! An architect! I wanted to be an architect!") and trade discounts.

Today I finally got around to ordering D's father's day present (a little bit late). We have two non-working bedside reading lights (D even wound his headlamp around one in order to be able to read in bed) that I've been meaning to replace. I signed up for the trade discount and got $45 off each one! They are LEDs which don't run hot (the others burned your hand if you tried to move the lamp) and save energy.

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