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Some backstory:

December 2019 I started as a full-time employee at a software development company. They outsourced me for a German project.

There were many red flags and I had to leave.

I continued working as a contractor for the German client. This was kind of complicated to pull off since there were legal issues and whatnot, but eventually it worked. The problem was that there was quite a bit of drama which "exhausted" both me and the client.

Recently, I had some ideas for the project we're working on and I went to the office to try them out, sadly, I found out that my laptop went bust.

I found a replacement, but it's really bad. I obviously need a new one to continue working efficiently. We're using a very heavy to compile language and you need an above average machine to be efficient.

Thing is, I'm not earning too much and I'm paying rent for my office out of my own pocket. I really like the project and especially the client, but conditions-wise, this isn't really the best workplace setup.

Now I would like to ask for a budget for a new laptop, but I don't know how. Given that we were in a very tense situation until very recently, it's kind of hard to ask for money.

How do I ask for a budget without appearing greedy? I'm also concerned that this "my laptop went bust" thing may seem staged.

Update: Thank you all for your answers! As much as I don't want to, I'll pay from my own pocket and not raise this issue with the client. It's entirely my fault that I've gotten into the position I'm now, where I have all the downsides of full-time employment and zero upsides. I'll try and learn from my mistake.

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    @RuiFRibeiro It wouldn't have happened if the situation weren't as tense. I wasn't looking for a contracting job, things just happened. I realize I put myself into kind of a mess, but I guess that's life sometimes. – user259590 Feb 10 at 12:26
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    @gnat No, I'm not an employee anymore but a contractor. – user259590 Feb 10 at 12:26
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    Were you ever really an employee of the first place if they never paid you? – Carduus Feb 10 at 14:29
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    Ask them if they have any laptops they can give you while you work on the project. – Koray Tugay Feb 11 at 1:11
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    "As a contractor, how do I ask my employer" - when you are a contractor, you are your own employer. – Martin Schröder Feb 11 at 6:26
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@Tymoteusz Paul's answer is good and I agree with him. I'll try to offer a different perspective, though.

As a general rule of thumb, if you're a contractor, you need to supply your own tools (i.e. both hardware and software) to work. You're not your client's employee. You're providing them with a service for an agreed amount of money. If you hire someone to fix your plumbing at home, they need to bring their own tools.

There are companies that will provide equipment to contractors. Mainly for simplicity and security reasons. This is not always the case, though.

Contracting is a different mindset and it has pros and cons, of course. One of the benefits is that you can choose your rate (needless to say, your client may refuse to pay what you ask for and find someone else) and who you want to work with. Rates for contractors are normally significantly higher than for full-time employees, to compensate for situations like this. Similarly, you can have multiple clients. Maybe you can get another client to make some more money? Maybe you can get a better client instead of the current one? These are questions only you can answer.

As a contractor, how do I ask my employer for a new laptop?

It definitely depends on legislations and the agreement you have with your client, but if this hasn't been discussed, you can ask if they're willing to provide you with a working laptop to do the work for their company. You'll need to explain why that would be beneficial for both your client and you. In my humble opinion, saying "because mine went bust" is unprofessional and won't be taken positively, especially since you mentioned the relationship is tense at the moment. Hence, I don't recommend raising this with your client at this stage.

Your best bet is probably to try to get a second-hand laptop that can do the job. Keep in mind that as a contractor, and again, depending on your location and its legislations, your laptop could be tax-deductible.

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    It should be added that as a contractor your bills should be substantially higher than the salary of an employee to compensate you for this. And the computer would be tax deductible. – gnasher729 Feb 10 at 9:50
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    @Charmander um... the analogy breaks when you consider the facts that 1)A pipe wrench will never contain information that could be damaging to the home-owner. 2)A pipe wrench won't introduce vulnerabilities to the house's plumbing that could be exploited by a third party and 3)A plumber who is a contractor is usually employed by a third party, who indeed WILL supply the proper tools. – Old_Lamplighter Feb 10 at 13:50
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    @RuiFRibeiro, 5x higher seems a little extreme. That is very situation dependent, but saying an employee makes $70/hr and a contractor will make $350/hr is way more than I've seen (software field). – JPhi1618 Feb 10 at 17:04
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    @JPhi1618, I agree. Even when working as a contractor for a temp agency, the typical rate is 2-2.5x the "standard" employee rate. This extra goes towards any insurance, taxes, and any benefits the employee gets, with some going to the company. As an individual contractor, that same rate would apply to remain competitive, but they should still have the same insurance and business tax costs, but more goes to the individual to supply their own equipment and work area, unless the contractor is working onsite. Then equipment is usually supplied by the employer. – computercarguy Feb 10 at 17:13
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    As a general rule of thumb, if you're a contractor, you need to supply your own tools (i.e. both hardware and software) to work Been in software development for 20 yrs, and I've never seen a contractor using their own computer at work. Ever. – Grimm The Opiner Feb 11 at 8:21
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How do I ask for a budget without appearing greedy?

Be honest and explain your current situation. While you are a contractor, which means that you generally are responsible for your own tools, they are getting you on the cheap (from what your post says) and clearly like you, there may be some things to do. They could lend you one of their laptops, or extend you a loan against your pay to get one, or maybe decide to do you a solid and buy you a laptop. If you won't ask, you won't know.

I wouldn't worry much about looking greedy from it, especially if you will explain that you are looking for a work laptop, not a handout. This frames the discussion around solving that problem, not about money directly, and as long as you stay reasonable and open to compromise (which includes handling the No/Not now well) it should be fine. Definitely not the most unreasonable request in the world, especially given the history and that they know your cash-strapped situation due to no-pay from old job.

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    @SolarMike Those sound more like employees hidden as contractors, a common thing lately, and usually how people get caught for hiding employees to reduce taxes. But I digress, and Op situation is work from home (hence why the coworking space) so indeed it's adjusted for him. – Tymoteusz Paul Feb 10 at 10:11
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    Not lately - don't make assumptions... This was a long time ago and I was employed as one of them... – Solar Mike Feb 10 at 10:14
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    @TymoteuszPaul, I've been an in-house "contractor" and the way it worked was the company paid a staffing company that I worked for as the "middle man". So, to the company and everyone I worked with, I was a "contractor", but I was actually getting paid on W2 from that staffing company. No hiding, no tax dodging, just a flexible way for the company to bring in extra workers on short notice. – JPhi1618 Feb 10 at 17:09
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    Some companies take security so seriously they wouldn't even allow contractors to use their own computers, and would instead provide one. – jpa Feb 10 at 17:59
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    I think the loan-against pay option is an excellent fallback if the company isn't willing to provide one of their own. The hardware will be yours upon repayment of the loan (a benefit to you) and they will see increased productivity from you being properly equipped (a benefit to them). – Doktor J Feb 10 at 18:00
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If you genuinely are a contractor, then you have to buy your own equipment. In the USA at least, if they provide equipment for you, you might be seen as a "statutory employee" which can get both you and them in a lot of trouble, with deliberately-punitive tax penalties.

In the USA, however, that computer can be "fully depreciated in one year" under Section 179, which can significantly reduce your tax bill.

Have you considered inviting the Swedish company to hire you? As for me, I don't work as a contractor anymore: you have to hire me, even just for the duration, which means that my situation is no longer nearly so interesting to the tax-man, and you have to take care of the paperwork. I don't have to monkey around with self-employment taxes or with trying to persuade the tax-man that I'm following the rules. The rules have become so arduous that they're not worth having to deal with anymore: that's why companies have accountants and human-resource staff. "Better them than me."

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    This is a very valid point. It would've been great if they could hire me, but the real situation is a bit more complicated than what I posted. I still have an intermediary between me and the client which prevents them from hiring me directly. – user259590 Feb 11 at 10:51
  • Would the intermediary be content to let the client hire you, if the client pay the intermediary a finder's fee - something roughly in line with what they'd typically pay to a recruiter? – James_pic Feb 11 at 12:16
  • @James_pic Sadly, no. He requested an absurd compensation which won't be worth the hassle. – user259590 Feb 11 at 14:14
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If you're writing Haskell and you're not making enough to cover living expenses and a new laptop, you are being severely ripped off. I would approach whoever is paying you and explain that your laptop broke, that you are not being paid well enough to replace it on your own, and that it will affect your deliverables. They should happily supply you with a new laptop. If they do not, then you have a hard decision to make: keep getting screwed over financially (albeit with other positives that outweigh the lack of pay, right?), or find another job. Good luck to you. It's hard to know your market value, but I guarantee you are not receiving it.

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  • Thank you for your answer. You're right, perhaps I should've negotiated a higher rate. I've decided to not raise the laptop issue and renegotiate in a few months. – user259590 Feb 11 at 10:49
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I would like to challenge a bit the question and propose an alternative solution:

You can rent a cloud hosted environment that fits your needs.

Depending on your needs it costs a few cents/euros an hour. You can shut it down everytime you're not using it and thus you only pay for the storage when the environment is shut down (which is ridiculously low).

On the long run it will cost more than a new laptop but in the mean time it's easier to tell your customer you need 100€/month to pay your cloud hosted environment rather than asking upfront for 2000€.

You can also ask your customer if he wants to put this environment on his own paid subscription so he owns your development environment and he'll be able to reuse it if you happen to leave or be in vacation etc.

Also another interesting feature of the cloud hosted environments is the backups are really easy to setup (at the cost of a few euros a month) so you do not run into your current situation again.

Edit:

I see in the comments some people saying he still needs a laptop to use the cloud hosted environment. I want to remind you that in the question it is said that :

I found a replacement, but it's really bad. I obviously need a new one to continue working efficiently. We're using Haskell, which is very heavy to compile and you need an above average machine to be efficient.

So there is a laptop available, it is just not good enough to develop.

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    irrelevant as without a laptop he can't access that cloud hosted environment... – jwenting Feb 11 at 10:20
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    Actually this is a great idea, he can buy a cheap, even old and used, laptop that will enable him access to a high performance environment – Rsf Feb 11 at 15:30
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    @jwenting Actually he has a functionnal laptop as per this sentence : "I found a replacement, but it's really bad. I obviously need a new one to continue working efficiently. We're using Haskell, which is very heavy to compile and you need an above average machine to be efficient." So his problem is not browsing internet of checking his mail, or even rdp to another environment but compiling Haskell, which would be solved by renting his development machine. – Maxime Feb 11 at 15:43

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