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Okay, So Itís Not the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

by Carolyn Henderson on 1/3/2012 9:25:00 AM

This article is by Carolyn Henderson, the managing half of Steve Henderson Fine Art. She is a Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews and her  freelance writing appears in regional newspapers, online magazines, and her humor blog, Middle-Aged Plague.


Okay, let me get the pun out of the way, and then we’ll get on with the rest of the article:


This is such a taxing time of year.


I admit it: I’m in denial about Christmas being over, the tree is looking like something from a Tim Burton movie, there’s no more excuse to eat cheesecake for breakfast, and it’s cold and grey and foggy and wet.


The last coping strategy I would seriously consider for getting over the post-holiday blues is bringing the 2011 financial books to final closure, but whether you do your business taxes quarterly or annually, at some point the year ends, and you tie everything together into a tidy, well organized bow.


Because I detest this aspect of the business so much, I am continually finessing, perfecting, and streamlining the financial records so that I never find myself, like a college student the night before finals, sweating over a stack of crumpled, disorganized receipts, all of which have to be brought into some semblance of organization and order before either A) the next quarter or B) April 15.


To this end, here are a few things I’ve learned, as the financial manager of a sole proprietorship business:


Save all of your receipts. While at the end of all things I stuff papers into one large envelope and file it with all of that year’s records, during the year I file the receipts by month in folders in the filing cabinet. A bookkeeper friend recommends keeping a manila envelope in the car into which receipts are stuffed, but I just use my purse. Once a month I dump papers out of the bag and into the filing cabinet.


Set up separate spreadsheets or tables for your income and expenses, and each month enter the figures into categories you have set up: for expenses, I list out Supplies (paint, canvas, frames), Office (paper, toner, utilities, shipping expenses), Books, Membership and Exhibition Fees, Advertising, Travel, Taxes, and Miscellaneous. These are not the specific categories that the IRS uses, but my accountant pulls the numbers from the figures on my spreadsheet, and these particular categories work better for our own records. And to be honest with you, I don’t keep strictly up on entering the data spot on by the end of the month, but it’s where I can get it when I do.


Use a separate charge card for your business, and use it only for business expenses. This way you have a monthly record, in one place, of purchases you have made. File the charge statements in the appropriate month’s folder along with the loose receipts.

According to my accountant, if I have a charge account trail, I don’t necessarily need every receipt – purchases from the office store or the art supply center speak for themselves, but a ream of paper from a box store, or a vase from an antique shop and used in a still life, or fabric from a craft store to be draped on a model for a figurative painting – benefit from the added explanatory paper trail from the individual receipt.


Along the same lines, set up a separate checking account for your business, and keep any attendant debit cards dedicated to business expenses.

Maintain, in a notebook or record book, business mileage driven, if you don’t have a separate vehicle specifically designated for business purposes alone. I buy cheap calendar schedule books at the dollar store and put one in each car. Eventually, I dedicate a day or series of afternoons to transferring the records to an Excel spreadsheet. At the end of the year, bundle the calendar or schedule book with the rest of your year’s records.


Find an accountant you like and trust, ask this person questions, and follow their recommendations. Of course, if you do the final tax paperwork yourself and are comfortable with this, then you are indeed an amazing person, and I want to be your friend, but I prefer setting up my records, printing them off in a tidy pile, and bundling it off to the accountant. I have some business friends who don’t do this much – they dump the pile of receipts in front of the man and say, “Call me when you need me to sign something,” but I prefer to save the added expense of his hourly time.


Nothing makes this job fun, but with a little bit of organization, some time spent learning the basics of spreadsheets, and a few hours each month to transfer information to those spreadsheets, January doesn’t have to be EXTRA cold, miserable, dreary, and grey.


Happy New Year, everyone! May it be a year of joy, excitement, discovery, and grace.


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Related Posts:

Basics for the Newbie: Do I Need a Business License?

Some Legal Perspectives on Gallery Contracts

Benefits of Being Organized

Goat Hooves

Topics: Carolyn Henderson | FineArtViews 

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Kathy Chin

Thanks for all the good tips. Some of the things I do, but not enough. I'm one who procrastinates til April 14th then wades through all the crumbled scraps of paper. Okay, not quite that bad, but close!
Have a different plan and improved attitude this year, so am working to make things much better all around from now on, including the dreaded paperwork!

Kerry Remp
I agree completely - and I do my own taxes. Being organized makes it sooooo much easier when reconciliation time comes in Feb/March.

Marian Fortunati
WOW, Carolyn!! What a perfectly timed "right-on" post!!

I will once again use your suggestions to help better arrange my art business.

Your ideas are always so straightforward and simple... AND useful!! THANKS!!

Sharon Weaver
Organizing the finances is something that I do all year long so at the end of the year it isn't too difficult. But even so facing filing the city taxes is always a sobering experience. Thanks for the tips and happy calculating.

Cathy de Lorimier
You sound so organized, I want to be YOUR friend! Thank you for the details that you so carefully spelled out. I am going to try this method. (I also have to get that business license that you mentioned in another post.) This is a good time to get organized and begin a new system. When I feel organized in my life in general, I am able to concentration more on my artwork, so it's a win-win. Happy New Year to you and everyone!

Cathy de Lorimier
Of course I meant I am able to CONCENTRATE more. Need coffee?!

Carolyn Henderson
Kathy: I keep waiting for this paperless society we keep talking about. Judging from the state of my desktop (the wooden one, not the screen), we're not even close!

Kerry: Impressive. I used to do our taxes, years ago, but it always left me in a state of mental exhaustion, fraught with anxiety and angst. The accountant seems calm enough.

Carolyn Henderson
Marian: I really like simple, which is good because I'm one of those people who starts out in some endeavor, like knitting, looks at the most complicated creation possible, and says to myself, "I can do that!"

Sharon: for me it's the state taxes. Initially I tell myself, "You've been doing this for years. Why don't you get it yet?" and then I reply, "It's counterintuitive and unnecessarily complicated, which is the definition of pretty much any governmental form."

Cathy: I try not to be weirdly obsessive. At the same time, I still have dreams about taking a high school history class, forgetting about it for the whole quarter, and remembering the week of finals. Any idea how LONG it's been since I've been in high school?

Margie Guyot
One thing I did last year and will do again this year was to create a Word document titled "Taxes". I keep it on my desktop so it's in my face all the time. It has the usual categories, including "art materials", "jury fees", etc. Under "sales", I included the date, price, title and size of the painting, gallery that sold it, and the buyer's name and address (if I was given that information). Every buyer got a holiday card with a thank-you and my business card inside.

I also keep a small (but fat!) spiral notebook in my car for keeping track of art-related mileage. I put the date, reason for the trip, start and stop mileage.

Good column!

Donald Fox
Good, solid advice thoughtfully presented. Being organized is so much easier than getting organized. Once one tackles the hurdle of the latter, all those admonitions from those in the know make so much more sense. Anyone who's ever worked with tools knows the time saving, frustration avoiding importance of an organized toolbox.

Susan Holland
Groan. I have all this stuff in a couple of shopping bags (the recycling kind) under my desk. I keep receipts pretty much the purse way, as you do, Carolyn, but I am really wifty about the rest of it.

May your sales exceed your expenses, all you folks doing books for the state and feds! If not, may you enjoy the writeoffs. And my you find yourself in the black next year, and with your taxes organized sensibly by the next time around! Susan

Jo Allebach
What great advice even though I have done the mileage for years and have a file folder for all receipts. I bought a"billfold" no snaps zippers, just a plain leather billfold to put in receipts until I am home to put them in my file. My purse has a tendency to mangle and eat receipts and any other important papers

George De Chiara
Carolyn - Another great practical article about the business side of things. I hope you write a few more (hint, hint...) Now that the holiday season is over and it's time to get back to work, it's good to get off on the right foot and these tips will certainly help with that. Happy New Year!

Donna Robillard
I like your way of explaining things and in an organized way. I like to do things that way, and it makes things so much simpler.

Carolyn Henderson
Margie: I like your organization. My records tend to be Excel and Access files, and I've got lots of 'em -- all sort of subdivided and multi-categorized, and sometimes I can't put my finger on them when I need to, but they're there, and they do keep me organized beyond random chaos!

Donald: An organized sewing room -- and especially one with limited space -- is something to smile about as well. That toolbox thing, now I know why the Norwegian Artist gives a little sigh when I breeze in and announce that I need to use his chisel to cut open a buttonhole.

Susan: My latest purse has a front pocket that is just begging to hold receipts, since it's really not good for doing anything else! I like your toast/blessing, and I heartily concur.

Jo: My sticking point is that part about filing the receipts once you get home. That has a difficult time happening, which is why I'm extra happy about the latest purse.

George: Glad to oblige. Anything in particular that you want to read about?

Donna: Thank you. Sometimes, when I look around my office, I think, "Girl, you're a bit of a cluttery thing here," so that I can be organized verbally is most gratifying.

Margie Guyot
Although this is not tax-related, it is a great way of organizing my artwork (as long as we're in an organizing mood!):

Every year I create a new folder (this year it's "2012 Art". Inside it I have folders called Art Shows, Art Prices, Gallery Inventories, Art Sales, etc.

When I complete a painting, I photograph it with my digital camera. Using Photoshop, I crop it (if necessary) and save it to 300 dpi, with the longest measurement 7".* Every image is saved in this way: date, title, size (example: 1 04 12 Granny Smiths 18x24). This is saved inside a folder I've called 300 dpi still lifes. I also keep a separate folder called 300 dpi plein air.

Then I go back into Photoshop and resize it to 72 dpi, with the longest measurement 7". This version (same title, example: 1 04 12 Granny Smiths 18x24) gets saved in the 2012 Art folder. I've found this way to be a BIG time-saver, believe it or not.

*The reason why I save it to 7" at the longest measurement is because most galleries request this size when they want 300 dpi images.

Susan Holland
BINGO! Perfect, Margi. I have been fussing around with digital images and filing methods and this one sounds perfectly set up. You have made me a happy digitizer! Susan

Carol Schmauder
What great tips, Carolyn. Last year I had to spend three days getting things organized because I didn't take the time to keep them organized along the way. I just threw things in folders. I swore that this year when I do last years taxes I wouldn't have to face that same ordeal. Well, the time is here and an ordeal it is going to be again.

I am going to work on a better system this year so I don't have to go through that process again at the end of the year. You have given some wonderful tips.

Jana Botkin
Sales tax is due at the end of January for me. Since I only do my bookkeeping once a year (and on paper, not on the computer), I tackle it immediately in early January. It can be depressing (that's ALL I earned??) or I can view it from the other side (that's ALL I owe, so haha) Either way, it is No Fun.

Then I have to gather all the information for the accountant. Each year I think I am being so organized, but there is always a hunt for something (car registration filed under Taxes or Auto or H for Honda??) After all these years, I probably could do my own taxes, but if I get a letter from the IRS, I want Mike The Accountant to run interference for me.


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