As I visit with other equestrians at my Tucson horse boarding facility, one topic that frequently comes up is working from home. I’ve worked from home as a W-2 employee and a 1099 contractor since February 2016, so this is a topic that I’m very familiar with. For many people – equestrians or not – telecommuting appears to have the perfect work-life balance. They picture the flexibility to work when you want, ride when you want, and magically balance parenting with everything else (See How to Balance Parenting and Riding Without the Guilt to see how I hold it all together.) Is this too good to be true? Here’s what you need to know before you decide to leave your job and start working remotely.
What is W-2 and 1099?
Before you take the first telecommute job that you are offered, you need to know the important difference between working W-2 and 1099. The IRS has very specific guidelines for how you must be paid depending on the job description.
If you are paid W-2, that means you are an employee, and the company you work for will withhold taxes from your paycheck and pay their share of Social Security and Medicare taxes. They may also offer other benefits such as a 401(k), health insurance, and paid time off. Because you are an employee, the employer controls your day. They can dictate when you work, how you work, and how you are paid. In this situation, you have very little control over how your day is structured.
If you are paid 1099, you are an independent contractor. This means that you are self-employed, and you create a contract with another company or individual to complete a specific task or project. Although you may be given deadlines, the other company cannot control how or where you complete the work. They will not withhold any taxes, so you are responsible for paying your own taxes quarterly (a good CPA can help you set this up). You will also have to provide you own tools, such as a laptop or a smartphone.
Some companies will pay you 1099 to avoid paying their share of Social Security and Medicare taxes, but they treat you like an employee, dictating how and when you work. This happened to me with my first work-from-home job. The company I worked for dictated what I did with every second of my work day (even tracking every click of my mouse) but paid me 1099 and kept telling me I was an independent contractor.
The IRS has strict rules about this. If you are paid 1099, you must have all the freedom that comes with working for yourself. I worked for that company for eight months, and it was the most stressful, miserable eight months of my professional life. When I quit, I filed form SS-8 with the IRS, where I claimed that I was paid 1099 but should have been paid W-2 due to the nature of my job. The IRS investigated, and within ten months I had a determination in my favor. I got a tax refund, and my employer had to pay in more.
Now, I will only work 1099. I am a freelance writer and I have a few contracts that I work in addition to running High Plains Arena. I need the flexibility to walk away from my writing to take care of my business and my kid as needed. I’ve never had a problem meeting deadlines, so this has been the perfect arrangement for me.
The Downsides to Working from Home
After three years of working from home, I will honestly tell you that it is not without its struggles.
The biggest downside for me is the isolation. This was much worse when I lived in a small town in Montana. Being home all day with no one but my kid and my dogs gets very lonely, even though I was in constant contact with my co-workers online. Sure, I could take breaks and go visit my horses, but I kept them at a private residence, and again, I was alone. After six months of working for a terrible company, I was stressed, anxious, and lonely. I was losing my mind. At that point I quit, picked up some 1099 freelance writing contacts, and started waitressing a few nights a week for adult contact.
Another downside is that when you work from home, people do not respect your work time. Just because I am home does not mean that I am not working or that my work is any less valuable. My brain works better at certain times of day than others, so when I need to work, I really need others to respect that. I’ve had to learn to say “no” and say it firmly. If you are a pushover and let others dictate what you do with your day, you will struggle to successfully work from home.
Balancing parenting with…well, anything, is a challenge. Balancing parenting with working is just as hard as balancing parenting with riding. Because I have to be in front of my screen for a good portion of the day, my kid also wants to be in front of hers. This isn’t a habit I want her to get into. Because of the blue light effect, working after she goes to sleep is not an option. Right now, she gets more screen time than I like simply because I have to work, and I haven’t found another solution. I had to weigh the benefits of earning a paycheck against the screen time, and at this point, the paycheck wins.
More Time to Ride
Working from home has its negatives, but the biggest positive is that I have more time to ride. Because I work 1099 and my horses live at home, I can step away from work almost any time I want and saddle my horse. I step away from my computer every couple hours and do something physical – either ride my horse or walk my dogs. I wouldn’t have this flexibility if I worked in an office.
Another positive is that working from home has given me opportunities that I wouldn’t have otherwise had. When I lived in a small Montana town, wages were low and cost of living was high. Working from home allowed me to earn a living wage. Wages aren’t much higher in Tucson, and I earn as much as I would at another business without the expenses associated with an office job (things like gas and a professional wardrobe).
I love being home to run High Plains Arena even when I am working my other job. If an emergency happens or one of my boarders needs something, I am here to take care of it. That is priceless.
Is Working From Home Right For You?
Working from home is not for everyone. At times I miss going to an office and talking to adults every day. Some days my kid and my dogs drive me batty and I would love to send them all to daycare. However, for me, the positives outweigh the negatives. Most days I love my remote lifestyle, and it would take a substantial paycheck to get me back in an office.
Do you work from home, or is that something you would like to do? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments below!
Welcome! I've been a freelance writer since 2002 and have numerous horse-related articles published in print and online publications. I have a Bachelor of Science degree from Rocky Mountain College with a major in Equestrian Studies and a minor in Business Management. My current business ventures include High Plains Arena and real estate investing.