Free Money: Step 2 (26 Minutes)

I promised Sebastianattract-butterflies-to-garden I would open tax return posts with prettiness and promises. So, butterflies for you, Sebastian, and, “Hey, this only took sixty seconds, twenty six times in a row!”

And now to the nitty-gritty. In my money-tracking software, I record personal expenses as well as business expenses. This way, I’m opening only one window and can enter everything in one go. This approach also allows me to easily assign one portion of my rent and phone costs to business and the rest to personal, while still entering each expense only once.

My big move for 2017? Finally rename my business categories to match those used for my tax return! So simple. (Why didn’t I think of this before??) Up til now, I’d always made my own categories—domains, legal, etc. For a tax return submission, though, the government didn’t care about that level of detail. So at the end of each year, I spent too much time totalling multiple categories to fit inside the government’s minimalist list. Craziness.

The simpler and faster we make these money jobs, the more likely we are to complete them. And when we complete them, we get more money…free!

In YNAB, I can select all expenses under a given category and reassign them to the newly-named one. Domains, webhosting, file backups, and printer ink are now under “Office Expenses”, the way my government likes them. Budget lines formerly called “accounting” and “legal” are now smooshed together under “Professional Fees.”

Now when I print out my expenses, they’re already totalled according to what I need to enter on my return. Simple.

To apply this tweak:

  • look at your professional tax return’s expense lines for 2015
  • write its expense categories into your financial tracking software
  • merge your previously-entered expenses under one of the new, tax-friendly category names

All done? Plant a butterfly-friendly plant. They need us.

What Does Your Support Team Cost You?

My kid’s school made a huge boo-boo. Not the end of the world. All people and organizations will make some of these now and then. I was hoping the school would apologize, offer a handful of words about where it flopped and how. That’s the fastest way to rebuild trust with me. I’m suspecting the same might be true for my son.

I was disappointed to receive, instead, a long missive with everything but. Its philosophies, focus, intentions, excellence, and resources.

Oh.

Thus it was time to present—to my 12 year old—sex columnist Dan Savage’s awesome concept of “the price of admission.” (Savage and I disagree on when additional relationships should be disclosed to each current lover, but agree on a bunch of other stuff.) Savage applies the phrase to romantic relationship: What is that potentially difficult Thing we must be able to accept if we are to be with a given person?

For example, if I want to be with Sally, and she demands monogamy, then monogamy is a price of admission to a romantic relationship with her. If I’m naturally polyamourous, I need to consider this. Is monogamy a price I’m willing to pay for admission to this wonderful opportunity? There’s no right or wrong answer. We simply need to know and accept the price of admission and make a decision accordingly.

If I want to be with Jerry, and Jerry requires six days per week of solitude, that’s the price of admission. Jerry’s not bad or wrong for needing that, and I’m not bad or wrong if I need more contact with a partner. The only question I need to ask myself is: If I experience this as a loss or compromise, is it worth it to me?

As a single demisexual, I’m not generally concerned with price of admission when it comes to sex stuff. But I LOVE this concept applied throughout all of life!

For me, it goes all the way down to things like: This potential friend requires that I would talk with her on a telephony at least four times per week. As a person whose brain glitches with phone use, is this a price of admission I’m willing to pay?

At this stage in his life, my son needs to decide whether group care is worth the price of admission set out. As he is finding, group stuff can be hard! Jane lies about this, Musan misreported that, Abkar blamed Tanya for this even though Nancy did it… Barak says I was annoying, even though I was trying my best to be considerate and chill. Oscar worked for 540 on that project, and then Beth scooped up all the credit!

Tough stuff, for sure.

Are some people able to let this stuff roll of their backs? Yep.
Do others feel frustrated but decide it’s “worth it?” Yep.
Does everyone have to do likewise? Not necessarily.

There are so many ways to be on the planet. A person can be a hermit, an independent contractor, a writer, financially independent, a stay at home parent, a stay at home not-parent. She can work solo, collaborate, engage with multiple mini-communities, communicate online, have 1-3 close contacts, start an organization and populate it with her favourite people…

Every time school-centered people insist we must all develop a capacity to be in large groups 30-60 hours per week, my stomach turns. Now, I’m a pretty gregarious person—intentionally meeting multiple new people every single week and nurturing ongoing relationships. Clearly, “hermit” is not my chosen path.

At the same time, I’ve found it critically important to my well-being to arrange my life such that I’m not dependent on any one group, whether family-of-origin, a partner’s extended family, or an organization. I’ve learned the hard way how precious and sweet relative independence is.

Two key things I want to get across to my kid is:

  1. Engage deeply with good people.
  2. Keep your joy and sense of worth independent of an arrogant group.

Only he will know which prices of admission are worth it to him. That’s 100% individual. If he decides that the trickery of group dynamics is worth it, he will need to go into it with acceptance of the “what is” and strategies for navigating it and keeping cool. All good, just so long as he knows that a big, daily, involved group is not the sole path to happiness.

 

Free Money: Step 1

Every year I swallow hard at the thought of completing my tax return. Why?? My returns are up-to-date, and the deadline for the biggie is months away. Alas, I’m whatever the Opposite of a Procrastinator is and—while I’ve truly learned to chill some—I still crave to get stuff wrapped up earlier vs later.

At the same time, there’s only so much one can do on January 14th! Official tax slips for some accounts aren’t even issued until well into March.

All I know is: The earlier I get those forms in, the sooner I start cashing in big time!

So many benefits are linked to one’s tax return:

  • reduced or eliminated debt interest
  • free or cheap recreation passes
  • government cash benefits
  • contribution room in an investment account
  • post-secondary grants or interest-free loans
  • subsidized housing
  • reduced medical insurance premiums
  • etc

For a single person with one source of income and no kids, completing a tax return can be as simple as writing your name on the form, tossing in a single slip, and popping it in the mail. (Ah, those were the days! But, I also had way less money then, so maybe they weren’t…)

For those of us with kids, self-employment, a disability or three in the family, multiple sources of income, transportation logs, or a foot-high pile of medical receipts, it can be involved enough to drive us to drink. Fair enough.

So, as with all things complex, I break it down.

82c2d5d9af9344c8e1ab4739b709c4e3Tonight? I hyggede the lighting, tucked my kid into bed, made a pot of tea, and set my player to my favourite music: utter silence.

From the file that I’d thrown papers into all year long, I spent 37 minutes sorting the documents into six categories, and then each item within those by date. That’s cool for now. I have a super tidy file to put away until I feel keen on Step 2. I’ll let you know when its time comes.

Image Source: Simply Your Creations

Book Review: GenderBendy under Taliban Rule

Four year old Maria set her dresses on fire and chopped off her hair. Her father watched, nodded, and provided her with her older brother’s clothing and a traditionally male name. She was free.

A Different Kind of Daughter: The Girl Who Hid from the Taliban in Plain Sight is writte51xvcv1atql-_sx322_bo1204203200_n by Maria Toorpakai and Katharine Holstein.

I learned more from this book than almost any other I have ever read. As a nonathletic, book-loving, “feminine female”, homebody anchored most closely to a liberal take on Christianity and living in the Western world, this book widened my eyes by degree upon degree.

What if you happen to be the opposite of all of these, and live in a place ruled increasingly by the Taliban? There was so much to this account:

  • The experience of a person identifying as neither or both male/female in a region that determines everything according to gender.
  • For some, the drive to—and deep soul peace derived from—sport.
  • The determination to live authentically-gendered in a space that relies on one not doing so.
  • The experience and result of unschooling by choice, in a region where one knows they are already lucky if school is an option at all.
  • The free-range childhood of one, the risks inherent, the jubilation inherent, and the finding of one’s way from very young.
  • The incredible capacity of a small child—given enough room—to work, to contribute, to consider, to care, to develop strong life skills.
  • The strange, random hatred inside too many individuals in any given region.
  • The series of events that allows such hatred in some to boil into full-fledged war on a region’s own people.
  • The powerful effect of compassionate, determined co-leadership of a family in impossible circumstances.
  • The theory that sport or writing can divert many people from choosing violence.

I admit, much of the content was stressful for me to even read. As a woman who has lived the risks of living with no money on the streets, and having been threatened and battered untold times, the read was tough psychologically. I’m so glad I didn’t let my stress-response stop me.

Lyrically co-written, the book is also profoundly important in content.

I found myself wanting to learn even more, from the mundane and logistical to the far less so:

  • Given the poverty, shortage of nutrition, and punches to the face, how did her teeth, for example, heal from beating after beating?
  • In this region or circumstance, what is a person’s usual carbohydrate content in a day? Is it high or low, and how does the level affect one’s overall well-being?
  • How much of the book was drafted by Maria herself? In this book’s case, what does “written with” mean?
  • Given that the extreme abuse of one’s fellow human seems to begin in the minds and hearts of some, how do we halt that trajectory? How do we reach the minds and hearts of infant, toddler, and young boys, such that they reject such gender-based cruelty and refuse to participate in it upon reaching agency? What are the factors that led Maria’s dad to do this?
  • How do we help the situation right now? Is there a way to support people to stay in their home region, as so many prefer, and experience freedom and safety? Is there a way to transition those who need to leave, but into a warm, supported environment with full opportunities?

This book filled my heart, soul, and mind. The emotional difficulty I felt in encountering some of the content meant I needed to move slowly through it, pacing my heart. Obviously, though, my struggle in witnessing it from the reader’s distance does not begin to touch on that of people going through the living experience.

I’m so grateful Maria’s story to this point has been told.

Have you read this book? What was your experience in reading it?

Have you researched how we can all help? What have you found?

Money Hack: College Textbooks

I’m taking one course, and will receive funding to cover all of its costs, with lots of bonus money. Yay!

Given how much I’m receiving, I could be tempted to spend willynilly. But, I’ve been practicing the art of radical prioritizing for some time, and donating some of the difference back to the wealthy college system is not what’s most important to me.

So…

The college laid out the cost of essential course materials this way:

Item 1: $79
Item 2: $320
Item 3: $99
Item 4: $68
TOTAL: $566

Tuition for the first-year, 3-credit course is $474 over and above this.

Tuition is nonnegotiable, and the grant for materials is a fraction of the stated costs. I started to look for ways to save on the texts:

  • Are all of the items required?
  • Do retailers offer a student version of any?
  • Is there a free software trial for the four months it’s needed?
  • Is there a used copy of the physical item?

I poked and asked and Googled and prodded.

The ultimate cost to me? $186, for all brand new materials. (I might have saved another $50 buying used.)

How?

  • The $320 item is available for $186.
  • While we were told, in writing, that we would need to purchase Item 4 in addition to Item 2, Item 2 includes it. If the bookstore hadn’t told me that outright, I would have purchased both sealed packages, with each nonrefundable! A sheer waste of $68.
  • Item 1 is free for all students! The course admin folks, the instructor, and the campus bookstore were all unaware of this. Although the information is presented as a giant, bold icon within our online access, the first five staff people and students I mentioned this to said a freebie was “impossible.” The “impossible” tends to be my best source of income or savings, so I pursued it.

Now I get to invest the difference—$380.

  • The original $380 becomes $1218*, with zero additional effort.
  • Multiply that times however many courses you’re taking per semester.
  • Multiple that by how many semesters you’re taking this year.
  • Multiply that by how many semesters you’re taking for your certificate, diploma, or degree(s).

Score, right? Won’t your 20-year future self be tickled when it gets to play with all that extra cash it didn’t have to work for?

The only real hassle is that few sources were willing or able to tell me the cost of any given item upfront. This meant each needed to be contacted in turn, each quote took 1-5 steps to obtain, etc. Worth it? You decide. Personally, if any given savings were a one-off, I probably wouldn’t bother. But, because these habits save me similar amounts multiple times every month of my life, it really adds up!

*I used this calculator, and assumed the following: I will add no other amounts at any point. I will leave it in for 20 years. The long term rate of return will be 6%. (This rate is considered reasonable in long term investing. Feel free to use your preferred projections.)

2017 Financial Goals

I have no biggies left, at least for now. I spent 2014 and 2015 completely revamping my financial picture: learning about investing, taking control of and moving my investments, learning more money math, etc. Stuff is pretty much in order.

So, this year’s goals are little maintenance ones, with a few tweaks:

  1. Optimize contributions to investment accounts. When I put $1500 into one, the government gifts the same with $3500. When I put $5000 into another, the government gifts me with $1000. Cool. (Does your employer or government match contributions on an account available to you? Access that!)
  2. Make those contributions early in the year. For my accounts, the government tosses in its contribution once per quarter, and takes up to 12 weeks to do so. If I throw my money in early January, the government is sure to top up by end of March. If I wait til April, I miss out on six months in the market! That can have a big cumulative effect.
  3. Separate our trust account. Long story, but I set up a trust for my son and me. The trust account is required to have an advisor’s input, and she can only sell me specific funds. For three years, I’ve been trying in vain to rebalance all my investments in relation to each other. Between my preferred approach and my advisor’s options, the math involved is simply beyond me. So, I am finally taking the step of addressing them separately.
  4. Rebalance. Once I year, I check in on my investment accounts and make three small adjustments to ensure I’m at my intended balance.
  5. Change dentists. I love my kid’s dentist. Her administrative assistant, though, is more difficult for me to work with. He gate-keeps questions between me and the dentist, which affects my son’s care as well as any planning around our coverage. He also will not disclose to me the details of our coverage or billing. That doesn’t work. These practices cost me time, energy, peace, and up to several hundred dollars per year (and potentially much more). Time to move on to a place that offers excellent dental care AND full access and administrative communication.
  6. Determine dental coverage. See above. I’m not sure what’s up between the insurer and the dental offices, but three dentists in 12 years have refused to disclose insurance and billing details. I’m going to pursue this matter down to the legislative powers that be, if that’s what it takes. I’m nearly 100% sure we’re entitled to know our coverage. Once we know it, and receive detailed copies of subsequent bills, we have full power over our dental finances.
  7. Open myself to $10/k year in new income. As of 2016, I’ve completed the employment-style contributions I felt able and compelled to make in the world. And, after six years, my child finally has support in addition to me! Woohoo! I’m freed up! I don’t “need” to bring in another $10k in employment income, but I feel newly resourced to commit to the energetic and administrative demands of a new job and am eager for the social contact, structure, learning curve, and cash bonus that one could bring.
  8. Keep studying. Post-secondary life is strangely lucrative for me. In terms of financial gain, grade, learning, and enjoyment, I completed my first course with strong results, so I’ll carry on.
  9. Continue buying (only) what I want and need. Nothing more and nothing less.
  10. Continue giving mindfully. After a tough few decades, I sure appreciate having more cash to give! I enjoy considering and researching where to give: what will create the biggest bang for my buck; what actually changes circumstances; what constitutes teaching a man to fish?

While doing the above, I’ll also be caring for myself, caring for my child, exploring housing ideas, volunteering at my son’s unschool, taking some free and cheap cooking classes, swimming, learning more and more music, visiting friends and family, building community, organizing and hosting community events, and so on.

Sounds good to me!

What are your financial goals for 2017? I would love to read them in the comments section for this post, or to see a link there to the same on your blog or forum thread!

UnShopping: Phone, Tablet, Laptop

Gotta love when a 700-word post makes a process sound quick and simple! It hasn’t been. But, hopefully a summary helps share the steps I take to NOT buy more than I need.

Because I tend to shop in spurts, my laptop and smartphone both became old around the same time. In the meantime, I’d begun envying those light, fast tablets the hordes demonstrate while I’m out and about. And so, aware that my devices were near death, I began the hunt.

Step 1. Check out the freebies. Are there any resources for free stuff? Family members or friends giving things away? Programs for kids that homeschool or have disabilities? Options for single parents, or adults with disabilities? Yep, nope, yep, yep, yep, and yep. Wow! Alas, when I tried the disability tech office, they offered the loan of a machine so old, clunky, heavy, and interfering that it retails at $200 USD…except at that nice price comes with, oh, a power cord, warranty, and tech support.

Step 2. Decline the freebie currently on offer. We’ve been gifted with some phenomenal resources that have proven very helpful and effective, so deals are always worth an exploration. Sometimes, though, it’s better to actually spend $200 USD—or even more—if we end up with a system that meets our actual need, honours a disability (if any is present), comes with the degree of support we need, and is warrantied.

Step 3. Reach out. Okay, retail was a nightmare. My fault, I think, as I decided to take up shopping five days after Christmas! Though deliciously quiet, local shops were completely out of stock on the lower cost items, and inventory lists hadn’t yet been updated. However, conversations with an excellent store rep—as well as with personal acquaintances I happened to run into while there—were deeply helpful. Each provided ideas and information, as well as the opportunity to brainstorm, ask questions, and think aloud. All of this is worth a lot for the way I process. It was clarifying. New ideas came.

Step 4. Consider. All decked out with new info, I retreated back into myself…and into Google.

  • Given how our lives have changed since I purchased these two items, are both still necessary?
  • Given our current strategy of living semi-rurally to save oodles of cash every month, how lightweight do I need my mobile tech to go?
  • Is it necessary that my phone fits in one hand?
  • Setting aside dreams of others, and the urgings of advertisers, what is my own, actual tech dream?
  • When I find myself being seduced by “the latest and greatest”, can I remember that today’s “mediocre” tech is already leaps and bounds beyond those purchased in 2010?
  • Is it true that a tablet cannot function as a laptop and a phone? Why not?
  • Can I rig any one device to serve the purposes of two or three?
  • How much am I willing to pay in insurance, or in insurance deductible if an item is stolen?
  • How much cheaper is the in-store care policy on a cheap model over that for a costly one?

The dream started shaping up to an Android or Windows OS, LTE-enabled, 2-in-1 detachable laptop/tablet, 11″-13″ screen, up to 2 lbs. I was feeling pretty attached to the Asus line, because in my experience they make good, hardy stuff that lasts. However, their $500 CAD item was unavailable, and the next one up took a massive leap in price.

Venturer’s version offers an amazing price-point with excellent consumer reviews. For my needs, Microsoft’s Surface 3 may also do the trick. From my preferred retailers at their sweet prices, neither are available to my region at the moment.

Step 5: Wait. Rather than take the leap to a product not quite wanted, I’ll wait for the next batch to become available. (When I take a few extra days or weeks to get my preferred product, I’m highly likely to feel truly satisfied with it long term.) In the meantime, can I make my current stuff meet the basic need? What if I steal my kid’s tablet, with detachable keyboard and wireless mouse, and pair the noise-cancelling earbuds while he’s at school?

Wait, did I just score myself a free system?

And so it is that I ended up spending $0, at least for now. Playing with the above system will help me explore what works for my situation and what doesn’t. This will further help me nail down which product will be the one to take me through another six years, at what’s looking to be $100 per.

Given how much such devices enhance my life—including saving me money and bringing in more—that sounds just about perfect to me.