Money talks: can I afford this?

2014-01-12 Home in Tampa

Home in Tampa: cozy, convenient, clean and affordable.

Trip update: Saturday night I pulled into a cheap motel in Land o Lakes, exhausted from pushing against a stiff headwind all day. The first place to stay was so far down US 41, that I only had 30 km to my hotel in Tampa the next day. I am staying at the Suburban Extended Stay Hotel Airport in Tampa all week, enjoying a cozy little efficiency that has everything I need and nothing that I don’t.

The bounce box arrived in good condition (to my surprise), so I can reuse it. I will replace it with two smaller boxes at the next mail stop.

This week marks the end of the planned part of the Southern Swing 2013. I have spent the week assessing the first four months of the trip, and laying out the next three months in broad strokes.

I have not finished closing out the financial year for my company, but I analyzed the cash flow in the last quarter. That includes the three months that I spent bicycling from Keller, Texas, to Gainesville, Florida. The data should be adequate to determine if I am making enough to keep this up indefinitely.

The short answer is yes.

However, many of you have asked for particulars, and I need to provide a little background, because each of us is unique. You need to make plans based on your situation, not mine.

First, the numbers, in USD, covering the last quarter of 2013 (1 Sept – 31 Dec):

Revenue: USD 9000

Expenses: USD 8000

Net profit for the quarter: USD 1000

Here are the details:

The numbers are fairly typical for my business, maybe higher for expenses. I deliberately tried not to economize, because I am testing the limits. Do not compare this to your normal life at home, with school bills, church tithes, utilities, mortgage, car payments, etc. To make this experiment possible, I carefully separated my travelling from the ongoing personal expenses back in Charlottesville. Income from pensions, savings and Social Security pay those expenses by automatic deduction. If I did not have those income streams, I would have had to set aside enough cash in savings to take care of the home expenses while I am gone. Not impossible; just a different way of setting up the cash flows.

If this were not an experiment, i.e., if I were “burning my bridges” and truly leaving my home, car, family, etc. behind forever, I would have had to arrange to do that. If I keep travelling like this, I may find myself in that position, as the home equity loan gets paid off, and my son takes over all the operating expenses for the house (we are splitting the cost right now: he pays utilities, and I pay insurance and taxes).

Thus, I am “on business” the entire time I am on the road. All my charges, even for runs to the grocery store while living in an extended stay hotel, are on my company card, not my personal card.

One thing that is a wrinkle in this picture is health and medical expenses. Over the counter (OTC) supplements that I buy on the road I charge to the company, but there are a few mail-order prescriptions and supplements, and my dental insurance premium, which are automatically charged to my personal card. During the last quarter they totaled less than $1000, so I am not worried about their impact.

Extrapolating to a year, I would have about $4000 in cushion, enough for the non-recurring items like prescription glasses.

Another wrinkle is that $4000 of the “revenue” is in Accounts Receivable, i.e., payments from clients that are still outstanding. On a strict cash basis, I am running behind. However, much of that money is on its way (forwarded with the snail mail), so I feel safe in counting it here. The way my business works, the last quarter of the year is typically a red-ink quarter, with the ATA Conference and year-end expenses eating up the fat from previous quarters. I still have the usual operating cash in the bank, so I have not depleted the company’s reserves.

It is true that I am able to make more money staying at home, but the low overhead of living on the road allows me to spend more time riding from one place to the next. When I have a large project come along with a tight deadline, I stop where I am (as in Georgetown, Texas and here in Tampa), and deliver before moving on. That is part of “living and working on the road indefinitely.”

Along the way, I have discovered “extended stay hotels,” which have rates comparable to renting a studio apartment in a large city. This makes stopping for a while affordable. I could always send for my tent and sleeping bag, but this is not an outdoor vacation. I want to stay near the communications backbone that supports my work. You may prefer to camp more often, shaving that much more off the expenses side.

I have been staying with friends and family as much as I can. To “keep it real”, I take them to dinner, buy groceries, and find other ways to leave no financial footprint on my stay. It also keeps me from booking “free” nights into this trip.

2014-01-15 Carpet tack in tire

The weekend before I arrived in Tampa, someone strew the bike paths in the Northwest and the Courtney Campbell Causeway with carpet tacks. I picked up three of them.

Michele asked me about repairs, because my ride reports on Facebook seemed filled with mechanical items, like repacked bearings, worn wheel cones and especially flat tires. My bicycle has rolled almost exactly 3,000 km since I left home. That’s about 1,000 km per month. Maintenance items come around quickly with that kind of wear. I have to clean my chain every week instead of every month. I replaced my derailleur cables before they reached the 7,000-km point. The front wheel will need replacing in the spring; it has 26,700 km on it. All told, maintenance and repairs to the bicycle have cost $78.41, or as much as three oil changes on my car (or two tanks of gas).

There are many ways to control revenues and expenses depending on your situation. I will share my list of suggestions based on this trip and the GNI last year in next week’s article. Meanwhile, please share any questions or comments you may have.

Smooth roads and tailwinds,

Jonathan.

6 thoughts on “Money talks: can I afford this?

    • Dear Peter —
      Thanks. I thought of that, as soon as I realized in Pensacola that the bearings were not sealed. I will think about it some more, because I am very happy with the performance of these hubs. I used to be my own wrench; cleaning and packing wheel bearings is an easy task, compared to some of the other things a modern bicycle requires. I will have to balance the performance and low weight against the convenience. The difference in cost is not that great.
      SR&T, Jonathan

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  1. As I consider my options for a career from the road by bike, I’ve got to ask if the “”on business” the entire time” flies with the IRS? If so, its a huge benefit, and my dreams may become plans sooner than anticipated.

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    • Short Answer: it depends. Mind you, I am not a tax attorney, so this is not tax advice. Just one freelancer’s experience.
      Basically, whether a given outlay is a business expense (not a tax deduction — that’s something else) depends on its purpose. I use my personal card (and don’t book to my business accounts on Schedule C) when I am staying with family and buying groceries. However, if I am traveling, 50% of my meals are allowable as a business expense. I am blogging and writing a book as well as translating, and more of my time is spent working than riding; I think I am being honest with the taxpayer.
      For the purposes of this experiment, just for the last quarter, I used my business card for everything on the road, as much as possible, because I wanted to see if I could support my personal and working life from my earnings. There are some things that I will have to move from business to personal before I file my personal income taxes, so the trial balance of $1000 shown above will actually be higher later.
      Finally, I would strongly suggest that you review your expected costs (personal and business) for a full year before taking the plunge, unless you are ready to conduct a backed-up experiment like mine. Freelancers live a peak-and-valley existence vis-a-vis revenues and the IRS, because estimated taxes are due quarterly, usually just when all the cash is “out there” in Accounts Receivable (owed by customers), and not in the checking account. In the end, though, it is the net flow for a whole year that counts. To fill in the valleys, I keep three months of operating cash in my checking account at all times. I would try to have more than that when setting out on my first quarter as a freewheeling freelancer.
      IHTH.
      Great pictures on your blog. Congratulations!
      SR&T, Jonathan

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