The typical trope used in describing remote workers, especially those categorized as digital nomads or location independent, is that they have their laptops on the beach, clacking away while wiggling their toes in the sand and sipping iced tea in Chiang Mai or Bali.
That’s not really how it works — probably because it sounds about zero percent productive.
You can choose to do low-stress work
When you work for yourself, you work for yourself. You don’t HAVE to do the work that a boss or supervisor is forcing on you.
Obviously there are some limits to the amount of true freedom you have when you need to make money, but it’s important to remember that you’re the one making the choices. You can drop stressful clients, eschew labor-intensive work, and shun business opportunities that require you to be on-call 24 hours a day.
We’ve been working to develop multiple income streams so that we have more freedom to choose what work we do and what work we don’t. Right now, I greatly enjoy the people I work with and the work I do. But if that were to change — if one job or client suddenly became unbearably demanding or stressful — I’d want to be able to drop them and move on. That’s probably not as easy as it sounds, but it is an option.
There are opportunities to collaborate with your spouse
For many years, my wife and I have been looking for ways to work together. One benefit of this very website, in fact, is that it’s a joint project. To get anything done on the site, we need to collaborate, and it’s those morning brainstorming sessions that we’ve probably come to enjoy the most. Plus, I enjoy reading her writing and learning more about how her brain works. We don’t spend all day working together, certainly, but we do get to put our heads together for an hour or two each day on this project, and that has become a source of pleasure for us.
Whatever your remote projects — crafting things to sell on Etsy, designing brochures for clients across the world, writing for a niche lifestyle blog — consider whether there are opportunities to work with your spouse (or with your children, if they’re old enough). Maybe it’s just chatting for a few minutes to gather feedback, or maybe it’s working together to create a business from the ground up.
Anecdotally, it’s easy enough to find stories from people who swear that working with a spouse has led to strife in the relationship. But don’t let the negativity get to you. A recent Danish study of couples turned business partners shows that they’re neither less happy than other couples nor more likely to separate or get divorced, as noted in Harvard Business Review. And this Fast Company conversation with married business partners argues that working with a spouse can lead to learning to disagree productively, to better understanding and appreciating your spouse, and to cheering each other on as you pursue common goals. One quote from that article: “If we had jobs where we were working in separate offices and living these other lives on a day-to-day basis, I think it would be easier to lose touch with the relationship.” I couldn’t agree more. I married my wife to get to know her better and to spend time with her, and working with her is proving to be a wonderful means of accomplishing that.
You’re more flexible to be involved with your kids
On a typical workday, I’m up at 4 a.m. to accomplish a few work tasks before the family arises. It’s the most productive two-and-a-half hours of my day. It also allows for some wiggle room in the rest of my day, meaning I can spend some of it with my wife and kids. Some days, for example, we’ll take three hours in the late morning to go to the beach. Or I’ll be free to participate in homeschool cooking classes or Bible lessons. I work a 40-hour week, but because I have no commute and can set my own hours, I’m generally able to choose when I work and when I can hang out with the family.
Considering that the average family spends twice as much time watching Netflix as they do spending quality time with their kids, any improvement in this area is for the better.
It can drastically reduce the cost of doing business
The book “Your Money or Your Life,” which is one of our favorites, lists a few hidden costs of work, such as a wardrobe, transportation, drinks with coworkers, lunches out, etc. Remote work requires less of that than office work, so more of the money you make can be saved or spent on other things. Consider the amount of money you spend each month on items or services related to work. Maybe it looks something like this:
- $200 for clothes that you only wear to work;
- $200 for gas driving to and from work;
- $300 for a car payment (you need a nice one to impress clients);
- $100 for drinks with colleagues after work; and
- $200 for business lunches in the restaurant across the street from the office.
That’s $1,000 a month that you might not need to be spending if you’re working remotely. Sure, some of those costs you’d have anyway, even if you only work remotely. You’ll still need clothes, and you might need a car. Plus, there are costs associated with working remotely that might be unexpected. You’ll need to pay self-employment tax, for example. (When you’re working as an employee, these taxes — L&I, social security, etc. — are paid via withholding.) You’ll also most likely need to pay for your own health insurance. But could you counteract that (and then some) by, say, no longer having to make house payments?
You may be able to take advantage of the U.S. foreign earned income exclusion
If you are a U.S. citizen or resident alien, the foreign earned income exclusion generally lets you exclude income that you earned while working overseas on your federal tax return. In other words, if you meet certain qualifications you don’t have to pay any income taxes to the U.S. government on the money you earned while abroad. (For 2018, the maximum exclusion amount was $103,900.) This includes any money you earn from self-employment, but you would still need to pay self-employment tax.
The Internal Revenue Service has an Interactive Tax Assistant that will walk you through the process of whether you’re able to use this exclusion.
You should note that if you do exclude your foreign-earned income, you won’t be able to take advantage of the child tax credit. We have three children, and it has always been better for us to use the child tax credit that the foreign earned income exclusion.