Last Updated Jun 29, 2010 3:53 PM EDT
I spend far too much of time at Starbucks, more than I'd like to admit. (That's me in the photo to the right. I took it with my laptop camera just now as nerdy proof of my visit).
Please don't hate me. As freelancers (especially writers), we appreciate having an alternative space to work, staying caffeinated and having access to the Web. Of course, a local mom-and-pop coffee shop would be my preference, but unfortunately there are none near my home. I figure each visit to the 'bux costs me north of $7 or $8, including the iced coffee and AT&T wifi connection. A couple days of this per week and the expense can certainly add up. Hey, it's a cost of business.
But soon that cost will be far less for us Starbucks squatters. That's because the java giant has decided to provide free-WiFi to customers beginning July 1. Nice!
(By the way, other big retail chains offering free wifi to customers include Panera, Cosi and McDonald's. You can also visit OpenWiFiSpots.com for other free WiFi locations in your town.)
The Starbucks news reminds me of how many corporate freebies I took for granted while working full-time for a resource-rich, publicly traded media company. I have more out-of-pocket office expenses now - printing, faxing, copying, work-related phone calls, etc. But over the past two years, I've realized how to minimize a few of my work-related costs. Here are some strategies.
1. Revisit Your Cell Plan
The first month I was self-employed, I dizzily ran up almost $100 in overage minutes on my cell phone. That's because instead of making calls to sources on my desk phone, I was now dialing on my BlackBerry - and during "peak" hours. I called my cell provider to learn about getting a plan with more minutes, and discovered that for an extra $20 a month, I could double my minute allowance. (BillShrink is a great site for comparing cell plans, by the way.)
In the end, though, I decided to stick with my plan but get a land line for $20 a month. It required some discipline on my part to make sure I conduced lengthy daytime calls on the land line, but so far I've been good. The landline also provides emergency help - in case I misplace or lose my cell phone (which I do - often).
2. Invest in Multifunction Equipment
My old printer finally broke down. I went to Best Buy this weekend and found this three-in-one printer, scanner and fax machine for $79. Figuring I spent $40 last week printing, copying and faxing paperwork to my bank, I have a feeling this machine will come in handy and save me some bucks down the road. A membership with eFax also works well for hyper-faxers. It lets you receive/send faxes via email, so you don't need a fax machine - and if you don't need to print out your documents, you'll save tons of paper.
3. Find Free Office Equipment
Whether you need a new desk, chair, filing drawers, or shelves, check freecycle.org to see if anyone is giving away free stuff in your neighborhood. It's a great way to save and recycle. You can also find free stuff on Craigslist by looking under the "For Sale" category, in the "free" subcategory.
4. Record Tax-Deductible Expenses Regularly
Your little daily expenses can add up to big tax savings come April 15. Write-offs could range from printer paper and your cell phone to your teeth-cleaning (maybe) and your Wall Street Journal subscription. Rather than dealing with all this on April 14, commit to recording your receipts monthly and keeping all receipts in safe storage. This way you won't risk overlooking or losing track of any key expenses.
More on Moneywatch: