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Working for Yourself: Law & Taxes for Independent Contractors, Freelancers, & Consultants by Stephen Fishman

Unlike the first Nolo guide I read, which was about how to buy your first house, Working for Yourself is not directly related to my everyday life.  I don’t have my own business, and though the thought of working for myself is appealing, I don’t really know what I’d do.  I read this guide more out of my own personal interest as to what laws and regulations business owners have to take into consideration.  For my goal, Working for Yourself is more than adequate, because I think anyone could use it to get their business started with a stable legal and tax foundation.

The most valuable chapter of Working for Yourself is, in my opinion, the first one.  “Working for Yourself: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” discusses the pros and cons of setting up shop on one’s own.  The most important thing I took away from this chapter was that my workplace actually provides me with many benefits I hadn’t really thought of before, like automatically taking my taxes out of my paycheck and providing me with a modicum of job security.  This really is the chapter that taught me two important things — one is that people who employ themselves do a lot of work besides their work, and the other is that I’m probably not cut out for running my own business.

The rest of the book provides plenty of legal advice, most of which centers on tax law.  I had no idea that self-employed people have to pay estimated taxes four times a year, which is a little scary in its frequency.  I knew that there are different kinds of companies, but Fishman goes into detail about the pluses and minuses of being considered a sole proprietor as opposed to a partnership or a corporation — did you know that a sole proprietor is a lot more likely to be audited than a corporation?  I found a lot of the information interesting in the abstract, at least.

A couple of lines in Working for Yourself were a little questionable to me.  At one point, when Fishman discusses renting business property, he says something to the effect of that, as opposed to when you rent an apartment, you aren’t covered by as many laws because you’re considered to be “an adult”.  While this sentiment might resonate with many self-employed people, the last time I checked, very few minors are allowed to rent apartments.  We’re all adults; the two spaces are used for different things.  Businesses aren’t as covered by regulations protecting the renter because people don’t live in their businesses.  Housing is essential, business offices aren’t.

The other line that bothered me was when Fishman, referring to a fee for starting a business, calls it “basically a tax”.  No, it’s not a tax.  It’s a fee.  That’s why you don’t put it on your tax form and you pay it up-front.  If it were a tax, they would call it a tax and assess it as such.

Other than those couple of bumps, I thought Working for Yourself to be a comprehensive resource on business law and business taxes.  I’d recommend it without reservation to those interested in setting themselves up.

Rating: 4/5.

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Filed under 4.5/5, Book review, Favorable, Nonfiction

The Power of Positive Dog Training by Pat Miller

This is a book I read out of semi-necessity.  We are soon bringing a puppy home, and, while I have trained a dog before, my fiancé has not.  We thus made a trip to Barnes & Noble, where he used his gift card from Christmas to buy The Power of Positive Dog Training.  True to how our relationship works, I ended up reading it first, and he’ll start it a little later.  I found Pat Miller’s book to be full of perspective-changing ideas, and I think there will be a lot of information she included that I will incorporate into our training process, but we won’t be using her entire repertoire of techniques.

The most valuable aspect of The Power of Positive Dog Training is its emphasis on using rewards (and the occasional removal of pleasant rewards) in order to shape a dog’s behavior.  I have been through training sessions in which I’ve been instructed to, for example, suddenly turn about-face on a walk if a dog pulls forward, so that he gets a sharp jerk on his leash.  I’ve never felt comfortable with that, even though I tried it for a while.  I found it much more comforting to me, and just as effective in regards to changing the dog’s behavior, to simply stop and wait until the dog started watching me again for cues as to when to walk.

Miller suggests many techniques similar to this — ignoring and turning away when a dog jumps up, for example.  This is also something I have done, and it works better than pushing down on the dog or a knee to the chest.  The dog really wants attention, and, for a lot of them, they don’t care whether it’s a little rough or not.  Deny the attention, and the behavior is extinguished.

Probably the best surprise I got in reading Miller’s book was something very small and simple — avoiding the word “no”.  “No” is a big problem, if for no other reason that it’s frequently said with a negative tone.  She recommends saying something like “oops” instead, which I love.  It’s virtually impossible to be angry when saying “oops”.  Go ahead, try it.  It’s so much softer, and I’m going to make a game try to keep that word in the forefront of my training, instead of “no”.

The one big drawback for me with this book is that the actual training is based on clickers.  I don’t have experience with clicker training myself, but my parents trained their second dog partially with a clicker.  I don’t think they were overly thrilled with the results; unlike Cody, their older dog I helped train, Ollie, the younger, clicker-trained one, is less likely to listen.  That might still be rambunctious puppy behavior to a certain extent, but I still think that the clicker was less effective.

I also don’t like the fact that she has the person doing the training purposely not teach the dog the verbal cue for the behavior until they’ve somehow shaped or lured the dog into performing the behavior several times.  It hurts my brain to think of me not having some sort of verbal interaction with my dog while training him, and I really want him to learn to listen to my voice, pay attention to my face, and learn the term along with the behavior.

So we’ll have to see.  Miller has definitely changed my mindset on how to train a dog, to a certain extent.  The effectiveness of some of her techniques, though, will need to be proven to me before I feel comfortable with them.

Rating: 3.5/5.

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Filed under 3.5/5, Book review, Favorable, Nonfiction

Nolo’s Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home by Ilona Bray, Alayna Schroeder, and Marcia Stewart

This book came along at an opportune time.  I’m getting married in September, and we will be looking to buy a house in the next couple of years.  In fact, whenever he saw me reading Nolo’s Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home, my fiancé asked me, “So, now you know all about buying a house?”  I think it’s reasonable to say that, while I might not know everything there is to buying a house, I’m much more aware of all the procedures and paperwork that go along with making that ultimate of purchases.

Bray, Schroeder, and Stewart start off the book with a chapter titled “What’s So Great About Buying a House?”, which was one of only a few chapters I had issues with.  I appreciate that a house is a good investment, and that you’re really paying yourself in equity when you pay off your mortgage.  Having just moved into an apartment, it didn’t exactly feel great to have apartments talked about in less-than-glowing terms, either.  The ideal thing is to buy a house; that’s why I’m reading the book.  I don’t need to be sold on the idea.

Most of the rest of the book is really quite good.  The second chapter encourages the potential buyer to think about what they really need and make priorities.  It also mentions some more unorthodox forms of houses, such as condominiums, modular and manufactured homes, townhouses, duplexes, and co-ops.   New homes are also discussed.  To be honest, this chapter was very helpful, since I would never have considered a condo as a house; they always just seem like a rental property in my mind.

I also like the fact the authors encourage the house-hunter to know exactly what his finances are and to do his homework on the housing market in the area.  Having your numbers straight has to make it a lot easier when it comes down to looking for a home, but I suspect it’s not something everyone does.  It’s good to have the reminder.

The other section of this book that I have some issues with is the part about nontraditional loan sources, such as borrowing from a parent or a friend.  I think it’s a horrible idea, even if there are tax breaks for the giver and the receiver.  Personal relationships and business agreements rarely end well, and I don’t think it’s a great idea to ask even one’s parents for a loan for a house.  If you can’t afford it without the help of family and friends, you need to save up some more money.

The rest of the book goes through the steps one takes before looking for a house, during the house-hunting process, and while drawing up contracts and closing on a house.  I thought all this information was very useful.  I knew that an inspection is a great idea; I didn’t know that a general inspector can’t tell you about any pest-related problems (and that it might be illegal for him to do so in some states).  It also overwhelmed me with its completeness; I’m a little glad that we aren’t in the market quite yet.

Included with the book is a CD-ROM with examples of different forms, which is also helpful.  It cut down on the number of forms reproduced in the book itself.  In fact, the entire layout of the book is really nice; I didn’t have to cut back and forth between the main text and asides.  They are all included in the flow of the book.  I love it, since that’s my least-favorite part of books that have small sections that force me to then figure out when I should cut over to read.

Nolo’s Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home is a useful resource for those looking to buy their first home.  It made me feel like I’m much more prepared for the process in front of us in a couple of years.

Rating: 4/5.

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Filed under 4/5, Advance Reader's Copy, Book review, Favorable, Nonfiction