End of the month:  Consider buying something to make your life easier.  

If you have stuck with me every day, you are already a month into decluttering and organizing your life.  If your budget allows, I would suggest rewarding yourself with an item that will make your life easier.  You might have to think a bit about what that item would be.

As an example, my husband and I recently replaced our five-year-old measuring spoons.  The ones we had previously couldn’t be put in the dishwasher–and one’s handle had broken off.  Our new ones were a bit costly, but they are one piece and dishwasher-safe.  No more will I glue handles back on, and no longer will I hand wash measuring cups with thick peanut butter or other substances on them.  What a time-saver!  Last year, my husband and I bought enough chargers for our iPhones and iPad to be able to charge all of them in the house and both vehicles at the same time.  We never have to worry about finding cords now.  Or maybe you might even buy something expensive. For example, earlier last year, we bought enough car seats for both of our vehicles and one for my parents’ vehicle for our (plane) trips there. Expensive?  Yes!  But not having to check a car seat makes flights to visit my parents so much easier!  

If your budget just won’t allow you to buy anything–and I totally get that; I’ve been there!–figure out something you can do without spending money to make life easier. Maybe you could tweak your schedule so that you get more sleep or change a procedure in your house so laundry is a smoother process.  (Sleep always make life easier and less stressful, in my opinion.)  Maybe you can attach your surge protector to your entertainment center to contain the TV and other cords.  The change could be very simple.  Here’s a slightly ridiculous example:  I recently decided to quit wasting time and energy trying to grow my nails.  For my creations in my Etsy store, I use a lot of wood stain, and even though I wear disposable gloves, my fingernails get so dirty.  Keeping them short will make them easier to clean and will keep me from scratching my little girl on accident from time to time.

What could you buy or do that would save you time or reduce stress in your home?  Post below!

Create a tax checklist.

First, I don’t want to have to amend my return; I had to do that about a decade ago, and the process nearly gave me a medical issue.  Second, I need and want all the deductions I can get.  Third, our accountant charges by the hour, so it’s important to ensure that she has all of the documents she needs at one time.  (I don’t want her or her staff having to follow-up with me and ultimately costing me more money.)

So I find a tax checklist can help me figure out what forms I’m supposed to have from whom.  I have a list with the following sources:

  • Employers.  I use this term loosely.  You will need W-2’s from each of your household’s employers.  But if you are an independent contractor, you will need 1099’s from the entities that contracted for your talents.  If you’re a weekend warrior, don’t forget the Navy or Army Reserves or the Air or Army National Guard.
  • Banks and credit unions.  If you have received any interest from any banks or credit unions, check to see if those entities issued you 1099’s.
  • Colleges and universities.  If you took any classes, you should receive a 1098-T.
  • Student loan lenders.  If you paid any interest, you should get a 1098-E.
  • States that paid you tax refunds last year.  If you received a refund, you should get a 1099-G.
  • Mortgage company.  You should get a statement of how much interest you paid in the previous tax year.
  • Charities.  If you donate to charities, make sure you get a statement of your contributions.  Our church provides ours yearly, and so do the charities we support.  I don’t know if they are actually deductible, but I also keep receipts for monies expended on Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes, Angel Tree gifts, etc.

In past years, I’ve kept receipts for my husband’s unreimbursed work travel expenses and our moving expenses.  Think about what taxable events you may have had this year.  Write them all down.  Figure it out.

I’ve said it before:  I’m not your tax attorney or your accountant.  Your mileage may vary, and your list will definitely be different from mine. The previous tax year, we purchased a house and had to furnish our accountant with a copy of our HUD settlement statement.  I also provide our accountant with documents relating to my husband’s thrift savings plan, my mutual funds, my husband’s retirement, etc., just in case.  Because I’d rather be safe than sorry.  I’ll gladly pay her to sift through extra information to make sure I haven’t left anything out.

If you have a business, you’ll have a lot more documents than I’ve listed here, and I’d recommend getting this stuff handled ASAP, given that certain entities are required to file by March rather than by April.  (If you issue W-2’s and haven’t already, you need to get working on this today.  It’s not just a requirement; getting these delivered to your employees is a nice thing to do so they can file taxes sooner if possible).

Whether you own a business (or not), if you don’t know what you’re doing (and maybe even if you do), I always suggest paying a CPA.  You’d rather not get crossways with the IRS.  I can tell you this.  My husband can tell you this.  My parents can tell you this.  My in-laws can tell you this.  Seriously.  Pay the money and get an accountant if you’re in over your head.  I feel certain that I could do our taxes myself, but I do not.  That few hundred dollars is worth a reduced stress level for me.  It may (likely) be for you, too.

Time required:  An hour to create the checklist and ensure I had everything gathered in my envelope.

One more time:  I’m not an accountant or a tax attorney, and I’m certainly not yours.  Please seek professional advice if you need it.  I’m just here to help you organize your life, not to give professional advice.  Because I promise you I’m not qualified to do that.

 

Gather your prior year tax documents. 

I am posting an easy and quick task today to help out those of you who are still working on shredding. 

You have been receiving your tax documents for last year over the last month, right?  It’s time to gather those.  Scan them, and put them in a folder or envelope until you file your taxes.  (I am sure you know that you should then scan those taxes and put them in your safe, potentially in the same envelope.  If you don’t have an accountant who will give you a fancy folder, save yourself some time here and label that envelope with “Taxes – 2016” now.)
I save myself a step here and request that as many of my tax documents as possible be sent to me online; then I need only print and gather them. Some of you won’t feel comfortable getting documents online, and I understand that. As I have said frequently, you do you.  I do recommend scanning the paper ones because if you have a fire or other carastrophe, you may wish you had copies.  The transcript copies the IRS frequently sends in response to copies for requests are (in my opinion, anyway) just not as good.  

Time required:  About 15 minutes for me, but I scan my paper documents as they come in the mail, so I just had to access and print the electronic copies and put them in a large envelope in my safe. 

Bonus task: Create a health expenses spreadsheet.

Unplanned health expenses can sink you into bankruptcy faster than anything, so it’s important to have health insurance if it’s available and affordable.  And for tax savings, if you don’t already have one, an HSA may be something you should consider, depending on a number of case-specific factors.  If you don’t already have an HSA set up and have determined that you should contribute to one next year, I would recommend creating a spreadsheet now of all of your out-of-pocket medical expenses for the year to determine how much to contribute to your HSA next year.  You may determine that you need to contribute the limit, which was $3,400 for individuals and $6,750 for families for tax year 2017.

You don’t lose your HSA contributions, but I personally prefer not to overbudget when I can use that money to pay off debt.  If you have zero debt, apparently you can use it as an investment tool.  I’m not a financial adviser, and I’m not your attorney, so consult a professional for advice, particularly advice specific to your situation.  🙂

All that said, a health expenses spreadsheet is easy enough; you can just grab a sheet of notebook paper and note the dates bills were paid, to whom or what entity, and how much.  Then at the end of the year, you will be able to add the numbers.  You can also use a spreadsheet if you choose.

Time required:  15 minutes for me, but it’s early enough in the year that I haven’t paid any medical bills . . . yet.

Keep working on it.

Maybe you haven’t finished shredding the receipts from yesterday.  Or maybe you had to order a safe and it just came in and you need to file various things (insurance documents, passports, social security cards and birth certificates, vehicle titlesreal estate recordsmilitary records, credit cards) in it.  Maybe you’ve decided you want to design or create yourself a nice menu plan page or board.  Whatever your story, you may be behind on the tasks we’ve been doing every day.  So today, I tell you to keep working on it.  I’m going to give you a few days to catch up.

If you’re caught up and impatient, feel free to do something you find productive.  Maybe sort through your sock drawer and get rid of the socks that have lost mates.  Or throw away your hole-y underwear (if you have any).  Or clean out your silverware drawer.  We’ll do these things later in the year, but if you’re antsy, get a head start over the next day or two.

I’ll be back in a few days.  I pinky swear.

See you in a day or two!  Happy organizing!

Learning Resources: Cleo’s Color Book by Caroline Mockford

This is the first of a new feature on resources I (well, we) have used to teach our little one.  I’ll try to add a new book, recording, or other resource weekly.

When my daughter was a newborn, we bought her several books from Barefoot Books.  Those included Cleo’s Color Book by Caroline Mockford.  We used the book primarily to teach our daughter her colors, but it has several uses.

Colors:  Of course we used this book to help teach our daughter her colors.  Now we are working on teaching her exactly what the primary colors are.  We read the book, and we watch Sesame Street’s “Three Primary Colors” video on YouTube immediately before or after.  We then use the final pages to show her how mixing primary colors results in different secondary colors.  We keep the pages open while we use Crayola washable paints and a thrift store muffin tin to mix paints and paint on cardstock.

Rhyming:  Not long after I started teaching my little one about rhyming words, she started pointing out the rhyming words in this book.

Adjectives:  I think you could use this book to help teach a child adjectives because it has a lot of descriptive words in it–other than colors, of course.

At age three, my daughter was able to read this book, so it’s not one to keep around forever.  But it serves multiple purposes, isn’t annoying like some children’s books, and the illustrations are bright, uncluttered, and (for obvious reasons) colorful.  We don’t have any other books about Cleo, so I can’t make any statement about the cat, whom I understand some children love.  (Sorry.)  If you can find a copy in your library or a thrift store, I recommend it.

Shred “unimportant” receipts before the cut-off date you decided on.

At this point, you’ve gathered your receiptsfiled your receipts for items under warrantydeveloped a system for organizing your receipts, decided on a cut-off date for shredding receipts, sorted through your receipts by date, found and filed away the receipts you need to keep, and even bought a shredder if you did not already have one.  The time has come to started shredding.  And yes, I have a disclaimer on all of these posts, one you’ve seen a lot this week and that looks like this:

DISCLAIMER:  We are shredding today.  I will link you again to A pack rat’s guide to shredding on the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Consumer Information pages.  I would also like to point out that I do not classify as receipts any of the following:  pay stubs, receipts for home improvements, bank statements, credit card statements, utilities bills, and particularly anything to do with any kind of taxes including canceled checks or receipts from federal, state, or local taxing authorities, even if these are receipts.  We will organize all of these later!   If you’re wondering whether you should shred something, call your attorney or accountant.  I am neither.

If you’ve researched and talked to your accountant and/or attorney and feel comfortable doing so, today is the day to start shredding “unimportant” receipts dated before the cut-off date you decided on.  As I’ve said before, don’t shred pay stubs, receipts for home improvements, etc.  (See the list above).  Not yet.

As I’ve said before, my husband and I had over three years of accumulated receipts that we ultimately decided to shred:  gas receipts, grocery receipts, hobby receipts, etc.  I shredded all of those approximately six months ago, and I feel good about the space I freed.  (I freed three Sterlite containers, for inquiring minds.)  There have thus far been no negative repercussions from shredding those.  🙂

Time required:  An hour for three years of receipts, but as I said previously, I have an industrial shredder.  If you are like my parents and have decades of receipts to shred, start the task today and spend a little time each day knocking this task off your list.

One more thing:  Someone asked why I don’t recommend outsourcing shredding if you have boxes and boxes of receipts.  Because identity theft has been on the rise in recent years, I think you should keep anyone else from seeing your information if possible.  But your story is different from mine.  You decide for you.