Giving Lessons

By Sharon Naylor

June 3, 2011 5 min read

There is a growing trend among seniors to supplement their fixed incomes by starting their own businesses in which they give lessons. Some of the most popular types of lessons they're teaching are piano, guitar, voice, language, art (watercolor, acrylics, etc.) and craft (knitting, weaving, quilt-making, etc.).

"I have this piano, and I've been playing for many years for enjoyment," says Elizabeth Goulding-Jones. "So I decided to teach beginner-level piano to children and adults. It brings me such joy when they 'get it' and when they improve because of my help." Goulding-Jones says she makes several hundred dollars a month, which "pays for groceries."

*Essentials and Legalities

If you have a hobby or skill that you could teach, you need to take a few important steps before advertising yourself and taking on students. "Tax issues are a big one," says Carl Heintz, a certified public accountant and the author of five books on taxation. "Any income is subject to income tax and self-employment tax. This can easily be 30 to 40 percent of the net earnings from self-employment. If seniors are thinking about starting a business, they'd better be aware of the record keeping requirements and the tax burdens they are subject to."

Heintz says there are many opportunities for minimizing taxes. "The home-office deduction may be available. Business meals and promotion can be a tax deduction, and good records go a long way toward minimizing the tax bite." Visit the Internal Revenue Service's website ( to learn the details on home-office and home-business deductions, which often include money spent on advertising. The square footage of your classroom area may qualify you, if it only is used for your classes, to take a percentage from your utility bills as part of the allowable tax write-offs. Consult with a knowledgeable CPA or tax specialist to assess what you may and may not claim as deductions at tax time.

Also consider your town's zoning laws and rules about running a business from your home. You may need to file for a permit, and your classroom may need to be inspected before you can start giving lessons from your home. Call your municipal clerk to find out the requirements. Opening a business without first getting permission could get you fined.

*Your At-Home Business

If you'll teach lessons in your home, first talk with your cohabitants or renters. They might not want to hear screeching violins or pounding piano during the day or evenings. If your housemates agree, assess your home for the perfect location for your lessons. A finished basement area can be reorganized to provide an area for giving language lessons, or you might offer simple lessons at your dining room table or den-located piano. For art classes, bear in mind that the room -- especially the floor -- will get messy. Choose a location where you don't mind bearing the risk. An all-weather area rug placed beneath a large art table can be taken outside and hosed down when needed. And the art table itself can be covered with a plastic tablecloth.

*Traveling Lessons

If you prefer, you can take your lesson plans and supplies to your students' homes as a traveling instructor. Your business deductions would include your mileage and fuel expenses. Some businesses welcome experienced artisans and experts. A yarn shop, for instance, might want you as a knitting instructor at the store. A music shop might welcome you as its new guitar instructor. Make a few calls or stop in to present yourself as a professional instructor; you might land a lucrative position, with the shop helping to advertise your lessons.

*Adult Education Courses

Some cities and townships offer adult education courses, often held in a local school during weeknights. These programs are always in need of fresh courses and instructors so they can attract paying students. Review the course lists in their catalogs to see what they already offer, and think of new types of classes that you could provide. "I saw that they offered classes in baking and Italian cooking, so I called them and offered to teach a class on making recipes from your home garden," says Nancy Shane. "They agreed, and I earned $200 for teaching that one class. I asked them whether I could do the same course the next semester, along with a few other one-night classes, and they said yes."

*Spreading the Word

If you're not working with a store or an adult classes program, get the word out about your company by printing fliers on your home computer and distributing them to friends, relatives and neighbors. Libraries, pharmacies and coffee shops often post fliers with permission. Soon you'll be teaching what you're great at and earning money doing what you love.

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