This post is a little behind the times, written a couple of months ago when I was in midst of filling out my tax return (or rather trying to find reasons to avoid filling it out) but hopefully the sentiment will be appreciated more now that the pain of tax returns is behind the self-employed for another year.
January is the time of year when conversations with other freelancers tend to drift unerringly towards the inevitable moans about tax returns. Like talking about football or the weather it’s something you can do to pass the time with people you don’t actually like and have almost nothing in common with but who chance and circumstance (or mutual friends) have drawn together.
But in the same way that I am regarded as a social pariah for openly admitting that football bores me, the confession that I actually don’t mind doing my tax return always seems to perfectly offend everyone in the room. I find tax returns oddly palliative, perhaps because they pander to the anally retentive bean counter inside me, a boring little man who has been pushed down deep inside and is only allowed to see the light of day once or twice a year, when a task requiring behemothic pedantry appears on the horizon.
When this occurs this jumped up little accountant re-emerges with glee to battle the slovenly mess of bookkeeping that his better, more creative, half has generated over the year. My filing system is a numerical haystack of combined invoices and business expenses, which get chucked into a corner as soon as they’ve been paid and sometimes even before, to decompose into a financial soup.
The process of coming to terms with this mess is one I find oddly satisfying, like matching up socks or arranging all your books by colour, with a secondary ordering by subject. I even enjoy the task of trying to decide which of the truly byzantine questions actually refer to my financial status. Does finding a two euro coin in the toilet of an Italian ferry count as offshore profiteering?
No, what I really object to about tax returns isn’t the process of doing them, My objection is to having my face rubbed in quite how little I make. As a freelancer just starting down the road to riches and acclaim (hah), you have to rapidly reconcile yourself to a life of rather limited means. Part of this process involves adjusting your lifestyle to one you can sustain on whatever chicken feed you make, and then repressing the traumatic memory of what a pathetic amount that actually is.
So then when you have to go back and tote up all those invoices and discover the total only just peeks over the expenses you incurred to make that money in the first place it’s a little distressing. As is spending an hour searching for an interest statement just so I can inform HMRC that I made the princely sum of thirty six pence of interest in the fiscal year in question.
To cap it off, as I drift off to sleep, return submitted, I’m haunted by half-dreams that my declared income will seem so suspiciously low that it will not be taken at face value, and I will have to revisit these indignities. To defend, of all things, my self-imposed penury.