Why everyone needs to love the spreadsheet

19 Jan|Tom Hodgkinson

A post office savings book from the old days

January is the most feared month for the freelancer. Because it is the time when we have to submit our tax returns. We have to summarise our expenses. This means going back in time to find out what we did in the period 6 April 2015 to 5 April 2016. In the old days, I used to spread piles of receipts over the floor and put them into categories recognised by the Inland Revenue, things like “motor”, “computer”, “office”, “research” and “stationery”.

Now I pore over my online bank statements instead. The first problem is that half of them are missing, so I send a note to my bank asking them to furnish the missing info. No reply. When I finally get the statements together, I find I must delve into my addled memory to figure out what was happening in my life two years ago. “Texaco Taunton Deane M5, £62.36.” Family trip or work-related journey? “Amazon Marketplace. £4.99.” A ream of sensible paper or a daft computer game for my 12 year old son?

One improvement to report is that I now put together a spreadsheet to help me. Having been afraid of spreadsheets in the past, and having considered them deeply uncool, I now find that they are a friend to me. Fear of the the spreadsheet is a common malaise among the creative classes. At this week’s Idler Academy marketing class with former Guardian marketing director Tim Hunt, I told the assembled pupils that they really ought come to our “numbers” class the following week, with top accountant Johnny Martin, where all tax issues, accounting systems and spreadsheet worries would be resolved. The look of horror on their faces was something to see. “But it’s important!” I argued. “An understanding of the numbers in your business reduce stress enormously – and helps you to plan as well.”

So if you are in London next Tuesday, come and join me for our numbers class. I promise that you will find it strangely enjoyable and very satisfying. I have taken Johnny’s class myself and he is the best I have seen at what he does. Read more here.