An open letter to the Australian Tax Office from small businesses everywhere

Can I call you ATO? How are you? It’s been a big year, you’ve been in a few spotlights you’d prefer to avoid. Awkward.

I want to start by clearing the air. You might remember me from approximately 17 years ago. I was a temp in the ATO call centre when the GST was being introduced. It was a heady time, dominated by fraught questions on BBQ chooks. I didn’t know what I was doing and cared even less. I’m sorry. But considering the amount of GST I have since collected on your behalf, can we call it even?

Since we’re talking, we’re coming up to tax time. I’m a little nervous. It’s my first tax return as a freelancer running my own business. Throw in some time on maternity leave and I’ve woven one heck of a tangled financial web.

I’ve done everything right. I’ve kept the books balanced, got all my receipts, and I’m all over my BAS. I thought about mixing a magic potion to sprinkle on my return, but the eye of newt was hell to get hold off, and I wasn’t sure the miles could go in my log book.

“In this copywriter’s office, no coffee means no copy. “

But we need to talk. As a soloist, I humbly suggest there’s a few things missing from your allowable small business deductions.

We know, there’s no nice, neat list of deductions – everything needs to be justified on a case by case basis. But I like nice, neat lists, and here’s some things that should be on it.

Item 1: Imposter syndrome retail therapy

Most soloists and small business owners have spent long days (and nights) convinced they’re actually crap at what they’re doing. Sometimes regretting every decision they’ve  ever made in life leads to some late-night retail therapy.

Under my proposal, everything bought under the influence of imposter syndrome is a deduction. New earrings after your quote got rejected? Deductible. A new guitar after a crappy week, because shouldn’t you be living your real dreams? Sure, why not. We’ll play the game and create a tenuous link to work, but take it easy on us. Consider it economic stimulus.

Item 2: Wine. All of the wine.

Obviously, I don’t encourage self-medication or dependency on anything other than good karma, sunshine and rainbows.

But you know, life happens.

I’m not unreasonable, let’s make it a deduction for Australian wines only. Forget the mining boom, we’ve got the next great wave of economic growth sorted. And given New Zealand is practically an Eastern state, can we sneak in a few cheeky Marlborough whites? Now I’m even sorting out international trade. You’re welcome.

Item 3: Coffee

Now, ATO, obviously this becomes particularly important if you allow item 2. Let’s put it in a language you understand: productivity. In this copywriter’s office, no coffee means no copy.

It would also be smashing if you could create a spreadsheet to calculate the optimal level of wine to drink before coffee will provide only diminishing returns the next day. Please.

In this copywriter’s office, no coffee means no copy.

Item 4: Hair dye, anti-ageing treatments and pipe dreams

It isn’t all about vanity. It’s simply a scientific fact (I can’t back that up), that running your own business gives you grey hair, wrinkles and a prematurely furrowed brow. Put the spring back in our step. Help us shut the people down who tell us how tired we look, while simultaneously implying working for yourself is all coffee dates and naps. Make Australia beautiful again.

Item 5: Caring for humans and non-humans

Let’s get real on this one. Over 70% of the Australian small business sector is made up of solo and micro businesses. You want us to keep this country moving? Help us help you.

Caring for our mini humans, older parents, and furry friends (pets, not the chocolates) is part of life. Needing that flexibility is why a lot of us started our businesses.

I need you to put your thinking cap on here, because the math is complicated. Maybe there’s a way to cut us a break for caring for others. A real safety net for small business people who work their butts off? Priceless.

Item 6: Netflix, STAN or your binge bucket of choice

You try telling a WAHM freelancer this is not an essential part of the work week.

The entrepreneurial spirit of Orange is the New Black. The practical tech tutorials of Silicon Valley. Legal advice aplenty in Suits.

If that doesn’t convince you, I make the plea on purely humanitarian grounds. I run my own business, I have kids. I don’t have time for commercials. Have some humanity.

Yeah, it might feed the stereotypes of Netflixing freeloading freelancers, watching Game of Thrones the day it’s out and gloating about their ‘lifestyle’. But we pay a price for that flexibility. We’re always at work. The buck stops with us. Throw us a bone.

I run my own business, I have kids. I don’t have time for commercials. Have some humanity.

Item 7: Taking care of yourself

Take a knee, ATO. Bring it right in. Hard to believe, but working at home and spending lots of time with yourself, you can get sick of the boss pretty quickly. It’s never weak to speak, and getting help is brave. If we don’t have access to free mental health services, can you make them a deduction? Can you back us up with gym memberships and encourage us to get away from our desks? Are you with me ATO?

Talk to your friends in the Department of Health, heck even hit up the Department of Finance. Its good money sense to help people keep their noggins from getting wonky, and get them moving.

Can you back us up with gym memberships and encourage us to get away from our desks? Are you with me ATO?

Item 8: Uniforms

It disturbs me to read other professions can deduct costs for their uniform and dry cleaning. Uh, hello… lots of small business types wear uniforms too. Yoga pants, ugg boots and hoodies are this writer’s winter uniform of choice. Before you dismiss those as being ordinary clothes, consider this – I will not write if I am uncomfortable. You want that sweet, sweet GST, right? You know what to do.

Item 9: Motivational snacks

Motivational snacks are not to be confused with boredom snacks, celebratory snacks, procrastinatory snacks, or genuine hunger snacks.

They are the very cornerstone of the work-at-home economy. A motivational snack can either be eaten to motivate while working, or provide encouragement to finish work and tuck in. Whether we’re motivated by chocolate bullets (guilty) or something with slightly more nutritional value, help us out. Because, productivity.

Motivational snacks are not to be confused with boredom snacks, celebratory snacks, procrastinatory snacks, or genuine hunger snacks.

Let’s talk

ATO, you get a bad rap. But I know we can work together. Some of these demands requests may seem a little self-indulgent. But they’re for the good of the country.

I look forward to your reply.

Yours in taxation compliance

Amanda Vanelderen

Ps: Please don’t audit me

This article originally appeared on Flying Solo, a website brimming with small business advice. Read my articles here.