Sunday, March 29, 2015

Putting My Taxes in the Red Box

It’s a glorious day and I should be out spreading bat poo in my gardens in preparation for spring planting. But I’m not. I can’t afford even a thimbleful of bat poo right now. If I was truly resourceful then I could rustle up some bats and collect their poo, which is actually called guano. I wondered where the organic manure companies find guano (I have never seen a bat in a diaper) so I googled it and learned that guano is found on the walls of caves. I want to take a moment to express my appreciation for the men and women who crawl around in caves scraping guano off the walls and bagging it up so I can put it in my garden. (I hope you guys wear gloves.) Or not, actually, since I can’t afford to buy guano this year because I have to pay so much in taxes. I can’t afford food, let alone guano. This year is the first time in 30 years that my husband and I have no children to declare as dependents on our taxes. Ouch. I need to borrow a baby.

My accountant tells me that earning more money is a good thing. I’m not convinced. I think I saw a place on the tax return where you put how much you earned the previous year on line 142 and how much you earned this year on line 141 and then you subtract, and the result comes out on a line labeled “pay this much more to the government this year, sucka.” I’m going to ask the IRS to apply my taxes this year toward a down payment on the purchase of Airforce One. I could own Airforce One free and clear in just a few years, I think. Then I could lease it to the president.

I have no clue how to do my own taxes. My jaw drops every time I hear someone say, “I’m going to do my taxes this weekend.” Really? And I’m going to build a space shuttle this weekend. I sometimes wonder if people who say they do their own taxes are lying to impress me. However, I know for a fact that my brother really does his own taxes; but he also knows how to build a space shuttle. I could sooner assemble a Sears swingset with instructions in Chinese than do my taxes. (I have actually done that, even with the wrong bolts provided in the package; so maybe I could build a space shuttle if I was supplied with instructions in Chinese.) I believe that my taxes are unusually complicated. My taxes have more schedules than the NJ Transit System. Do other people’s taxes have so many schedules? I couldn’t possibly figure out all the schedules if I didn’t have a really really really good accountant to guide me through the maze of numbered lines, itemizations, credits, depreciations, exemptions, deductibles, inflatables, dirigibles, alternatives, initiatives, value of seaweed purchased for my nutrition biz, porcupines, life rafts, and Ping-Pong balls. (In hindsight, I imagine it is not advisable to put porcupines and life rafts in the same sentence as it could blow up in my face.)  

I confess that I have a complicated and emotional relationship to my finances. My mother had a talent for managing money and she was my financial adviser until she passed over in 2005. When I lost her, I lost my fiscal anchor. Since that time, I have engaged in many extraordinarily creative financial contortions to afford the cost of putting three children through college. I have bought food on my credit cards (not recommended). I have transferred credit card balances from one card to another offering a special 0% rate for one year on balance transfers, and then transferred the money back when the other card made a 0% offer a year later (very much not recommended). I have called credit card companies and convinced them to lower my interest rates. I have called utilities and health care providers and haggled to lower my bills. This actually works more often than you would imagine. I convinced my propane gas supplier to give me the same per-gallon promotional rate that the company offers to brand new customers to entice them to sign up. It’s the lowest rate available. I have been a customer for 23 years, so shouldn’t they give me a rate as good as they give a new customer? (I’m pretty convincing, huh?) You would be amazed how arbitrary medical costs are. I once called the hospital to haggle over payment for an outpatient procedure and when the account clerk heard my story she erased the whole fee. She said that fee was for health insurance providers and since we were required to pay out-of-pocket by our insurer, she would waive the fee. Go figure.

My accountant assures me that I make good financial decisions. I call him my financial therapist. He knows that taxes are an emotional rollercoaster for me, and that I miss my mother terribly whenever I have to deal with my money situation. Once, when I had a meltdown during a conversation about my financial situation at tax-time, my accountant said to me, “remain calm.” I wrote those words on a post-it and put it up above my desk. “Remain calm” has helped me bumble along for many years. Money is a constant worry for me and I have to work hard at letting go of that worry so that it doesn’t cause stress. As a nutritionist, I know that stress has a huge detrimental impact on our health. I refuse to let stress make me sick. I invented a mental exercise to help me refrain from obsessing about money. I close my eyes and visualize a red box. I take the lid off the box and I put all my worries about money into the box. I put the lid back on. I slide the box onto the top shelf of my closet and tell myself that I will open it another time and sort everything out. In truth, there are much more important things in life than money, and I have been graced with all of them. Leave the taxes on the shelf and pass the gratitude, right?

Every year I have to remind my children that when they get tax refund money, it’s because they overpaid, not because the government is sending them a bonus. Tax refund money is your money, you earned it, and the government had no business with it in the first place. The best case scenario is to come out owing or receiving less than 20 bucks. Breaking even. Perfect calculation. Or, really, the best case scenario would be if the government would spend the money I pay in taxes on things of which I approve instead of largely spending it on things for which I don’t wish to foot the bill. I wish that just once I could designate 100% of my taxes to go to Head Start. I pretend that’s what I’m paying for when I write the check; otherwise I couldn’t do it.

I’m attaching a picture of purple delphiniums instead of a photo of my taxes because I fear the identity thieves lurking on the internet who would love to get their hands on my taxes. I have a spectacular purple delphinium blooming on my deck and it takes me out of my head so I don’t think about the boatload of my hard-earned money going straight to the federal government. The delphinium demonstrates that I can grow excellent things in my yard without buying that coveted bat guano. This year I just might put a purple box on the shelf in my closet instead of a red one. It’s tax season and I’m remaining calm.


Marianne said...

Love your post, Amy!

Yael said...

My go to words are 'Don't Panic'.

Your Daughter