Posts tagged with: tax credit

Giving Along The Way

by

On my way to work this morning I was listening to an old episode of the Dave Ramsey Show (side note with some of my favorite podcasts to check out:  This American Life, The Bobby Bones Show, The Dave Ramsey Show, Science Friday, and Serial).

I was listening to a Millionaire Theme Hour. Those, along with the standard Debt-Free calls, are my favorite segments of The Dave Ramsey Show! Anywho, I was listening as Dave talked to all these normal people about how they’d managed to acquire a net worth of $1million+. One of the questions Dave asks everyone is, “What part did giving play in your journey?”  His theory is that most millionaires are incredibly generous people. Contrary to what many people think, the average millionaire is NOT a stingy money-grubbing old scrooge.

As I listened, I started to think about the role that giving has played in our family along our journey to become debt-free. The topic of giving while in debt has come up before on the blog and has proven to be a pretty controversial subject. For the first two years of our journey, we scaled WAY back on our giving! We probably gave less than $100 to charitable organizations in all of 2014. However, we soon realized that in our area we could make tax credit donations. As a quickie for anyone without the program (I’m originally from Texas where there are no state income taxes so I’d never heard of it!), donations to specific approved organizations can be made instead of paying state income taxes directly to the state (this is obviously a very simplified statement – see here for more details). It’s not the same thing as a deduction, in which any charitable donation is deducted from your income for tax purposes. Instead, let’s say that I owed $600 in Arizona state taxes. Instead of writing a $600 check to the state of Arizona, I can literally split up that $600 and send $200 here or there (to approved organizations only) and deduct an equal amount (dollar-for-dollar) from what I owe the state. So if I donate all $600 to qualified organizations of my choice, I don’t owe the state a penny. So this is not additional money being donated. This is money I would already have to spend one way or another (for taxes), that, instead, I’m sending to an organization (or organizations) that I support.

In 2015 we took advantage of our state’s tax credit program for the first time to donate to two organizations that were important to us:  1. the preschool our kids attend, and 2. the local Wings on Words program for children with speech/language delays or disabilities. The former for obvious reasons and the latter because we have a long history of working with and supporting our local WoW program.

In 2016 we still took advantage of our state’s tax credit program (we owed more that year, so we were able to expand our donations). We donated to: 1. kid’s current preschool, 2. kid’s future elementary school, 3. local Wings on Words program, and 4. local foster care organization. In addition to maxing out all of our tax credit donations, we also expanded our giving to include a few additional places that don’t qualify for our state’s tax credit program. We donated to March of Dimes, the Autism Society of America, and our local church. The total of the non-tax credit donations for the year was $200. Still not a ton, but up from the giving of the previous two years (again, keeping in mind that all of the tax-credit donations were money that we had to spend anyway in taxes).

This year (2017), we haven’t done a ton of giving yet. Most of our big giving is still in the form of tax credit donations and we typically do that giving toward the end of the year. However, I’ve already made small donations (under $100, combined) to March of Dimes, the Autism Society of America, and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Thinking about our family’s giving, I feel a little bit torn. On one hand, money is extra-tight this summer and in general given that hubs has stopped working/gone back to school and that we have such huge financial goals for our family this year! At the same time, all of our “extra” (non tax-credit) giving has been in small quantities and has gone toward organizations that we have personal connections with. For instance, March of Dimes is huge because it funds so much research for premature birth! Our twins were born 8 weeks early, spent a month in the NICU, and would not have survived if they were born 20 years ago because the life-saving technology had literally not been invented yet at that time. So that’s an organization very near and dear to our family. The same is true of all the other organizations we support as well. There’s always some personal connection or reason why we support a cause. So even though I know we really can’t afford to be giving in large quantities at this time, I would hate to eliminate our giving entirely. And I cannot wait until we’re completely debt-free and giving can be a larger part of our financial picture. Probably still a couple years out on that though.

What do you think about giving while in debt? Did/Do you donate to any charitable organizations while working on getting out of debt? Why or why not? What role has giving played in your financial picture, in general?

 

 


Ashley’s February 2016 Budget Update

by

There’ve been some changes to the ol’ budget this past month. Check out what we spent and saved in February:

 

 

Place Amount Spent
Rent 1200
Down Payment Savings 2155
Electricity 283
Water 61
Natural gas 163
Cell Phones (2 lines) 89
Cable/Internet 97
Car Insurance (now comes out of rainy day funds)
Trash 35
Preschool 1163
Gift-Giving 381
Personal Maintenance 8
Restaurants 175
Entertainment 147
Groceries 695
Gasoline 74
Household Goods 68
Clothing 36
Postage 15
Rainy Day Savings 3175 (minus deductions, see below)
Savings Goals 775 (minus deductions, see below)
Debt Payments 1261
Total Budgeted $12,056

 

Comments:

Down Payment Savings ($2155): Notice that I created a new account called “Down Payment Savings.” The goal is to get to $10,000 by summer time. We’re planning to start house-hunting around May, with hopes of closing by August (our current lease is up in August, though we can go month-to-month if needed). This savings goal will heavily impact the first half of our year’s budgets since we need to save heavily at the beginning of the year.

Electricity ($283): I posted previously about our outrageous electric bill (our gas bill was high, too). Fortunately, this has gone down. I’ve already gotten the bill for March and its over a hundred dollars than February’s bill. I discussed in my post possible reasons for the sky-high bill. I took active measures to correct those issues and it looks like it paid off big-time!

Car Insurance ($0):  After this month, I’ll be removing this line item from our budget. I wrote earlier about how I changed our insurance to be paid in full for 6-month chunks of time so we could save some big money. For this budget update I wanted to just remind readers of this budget change. Moving forward, I’ll be setting money aside monthly for car insurance as part of our “annual fees” rainy day savings (part of our Capital One 360 savings account).

Gift-Giving ($381): This number is really deceiving. It does include 3 birthdays and 1 house-warming gift (for a total of $181 spent on gifts), but the other $200 is actually a charitable donation I made so I could get Arizona’s tax credit. Every year since I’ve started blogging we’ve been making similar donations (this donation was for a school, but we also donate to a children’s nonprofit organization we support). The donations cover our state income tax liability and it’s great because we get to support these organizations we love. It’s a win-win. As a side-note, I’m very curious to see what our tax liability might be for 2015. Last year we ended up owing big time! This year I was better about making realistic sized estimated tax payments, plus my new full-time job takes taxes out of my check. So I’m hoping we’ll end up breaking even, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Personal Maintenance ($8): This is just for a box of hair dye. Operation cut/color-my-own-hair is still going strong. In full disclosure, though, I’m planning to get a professional cut/color prior to cruise 2016 (which will come from my cruise savings).

Entertainment ($147): Part of this ($65) was from renewing our family’s membership to the zoo. I struggled with that decision for a bit because we don’t go nearly as often as we used to now that I’m working full-time (we used to go nearly every week!). But I did the math and realized that we’d literally only have to go three times to make the cost worthwhile (without membership it would cost us $28 per visit). We still go about once per month, so I opted to go ahead and renew. The rest of the spending was from a date that hubs and I went on. As promised, hubs and I are planning to do about one date per month this year (in the past 2 years we rarely ever had date nights). So expect this category to be a bit higher this year in compared to previous years.

Groceries ($695):  I’ve consistently over-spent in this category every single month since I started working full-time. Our old grocery budget (before full-time job) was $500/month. When I started working I initially increased the budget to $600/month. I’ve struggled hard to try to make that cut-off, but to no avail. I attribute it to buying more prepared foods and not cooking fully from scratch as often. But, honestly, after 7 months now of battling this budget category I think it might be time to admit that I just can’t hit the $600-mark. I still don’t want to be spending as much as I did this month on groceries, but I may increase my budget to $650. It’s a simple time management issue. I’m working on it, but I’m not perfect. Sometimes I’ve gotta buy a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store for dinner, you know? That’s just how it goes.

Household Goods ($68): This includes laundry soap, toilet paper, and some new flower pots and soil. I should post a picture of my chive plant soon. It’s seriously out-of-control! The biggest I’ve ever seen!!!

Rainy Day Savings ($3175): I’d deposited $3175 into my various rainy day funds (though some money was also withdrawn from these accounts.) See below:

  • 3-6 Month EF: $1,000. My goal is to get to $5,000 for now (about 1 month of expenses). Eventually I’ll want to raise it up further, but that’s it for now.
  • Car Repairs fund: $400 (though I withdrew $195 for a new tire and will withdraw the other $200 soon to repair the weird car flap thing that broke on my car the week after I paid it off).
  • Birthdays: $50
  • Health: $425 (though I withdrew $74 for a doctor’s visit and prescription after my kids got pink eye. I was able to save money because I only paid for one doctor’s trip and one prescription, but it was enough for both kids. Our pediatrician is awesome this way because she’ll often look at both kids, even if I’m only there for one of the kids).
  • Annual Fees: $1000 (though I withdrew $918 to account for 6-months of car insurance)
  • Pet Expenses: $250
  • Girls’ College Savings: $50

Savings Goals ($775): $775 was deposited but there were also withdrawals. See below:

  • Savings for 2015 Roth IRA: $275
  • Cruise 2016: $500. I also withdrew $1276 from my cruise fund to make our final cruise payment and buy a couple cruise-related items (e.g., a snorkel set and beach stuff). I’ve got a post that talks more about how much money is still leftover and what I plan to do with it, planned to post later this week.

Debt:  I gave a full debt update here.

Final Thoughts:

This was a really high-income month for us! We were able to save a TON of money! Between the house downpayment, the rainy day savings, and the savings goals we put basically $6,000 toward various savings (though, to be fair, a lot of the “rainy day savings” were immediately spent. Example: nearly a thousand for car insurance, another couple hundred for car repairs, etc.) Even with some of these larger expenses, I was very pleased with how well we did! As I’d mentioned in my debt update post, we’re right on track (ahead of schedule, really) with our debt payments in order to reach out $30,000 goal for the year of 2016. And in regard to the house downpayment fund, we’re right on track with that as well. We’ll need to keep putting about $2,000/month toward the down payment fund to reach $10,000 by June. It will be tight, but I believe it’s doable. Finally, I mentioned in this post how we had a bit of extra money. A lot of that ended up being routed toward rainy day savings funds. But we also put just over $300 into our “last month’s income” account inside of YNAB’s budget software. It’s just a tiny amount, but it’s the beginning. I can’t wait to build back up that buffer so that we’re always living on last month’s income. It was a fantastic feeling of peace to have that extra money (in addition to an EF). Can’t wait to get that feeling back! Little by little. It will happen. : )

How did you do with budgeting last month? Do you have any problem areas in your budget? How do you deal with them?


Guess What the IRS Sent Me

by

Imagine my delight (sarcasm dripping) when I opened some recent mail from the IRS and discovered a bill for …wait for it…$18,000.  Yikes!!!

I didn’t panic as I knew I have the adoption tax credit that can be used over 5 years and this past year was just year two since the adoption was finalized, but YIKES!  That’s a scary feeling.

So I finally took the time to wait an hour on the phone yesterday morning to get to the bottom of the new bill.  Evidently, because the twins’ name change did not happen until this year with the social security administration, the IRS does not believe they are real children.

I understand the confusion as I did put their new legal names with their existing socials on my return.   So I’m not panicked and have a plan to resolve the matter.

They were kind enough to put a hold on my now “late bill” to give me time to resolve this.  I’m sure many people have stories with the IRS.  I’m glad mine was this straightforward.

Public Service Announcement: I shared this information on my Facebook page a while ago when we went to change the twins’ names.  I had hoped to change their social security numbers at the same time due to some unauthorized activity on them right when they were placed with me. (I’ve since put a hold on their credit with all the major agencies.)  So much to my chagrin, that was not an option.  You cannot change an adopted child’s name unless ALL of the following are true: 1) they do not know they are adopted, 2) they do not know their social security numbers and 3) they have never worked with their social security numbers.  Needless to say, changing their numbers was not an option for us so they will have to be super vigilant about maintaining their credit (as all should be these days I suppose.)  But for anyone considering adoption, please be aware of this as I was not nor was the foster care agency here evidently since it was discussed at length with them upon placement when I started getting all sorts of bills, etc.

 


Tax Write-Off Craziness…

by

I’m in a tax write-off frenzy right now. My strong procrastination skills have resulted in a 6 month old neatly folded pile of clothing ready for donation to Goodwill. Leave it to me to give myself a measly 48 hour window to take care of everything.

Also included in the 48 hour countdown is our energy efficient spending. According to the Wall Street Journal, and the ever so helpful staff at Lowes, this is the last year of the 30% tax rebate for energy efficient insulation, water heaters, windows and doors. Bad news: Our house has zero insulation and we’ve been working on fixing that problem for two years. Despite all this work, we still need an additional $600 worth of insulation. Thanks to the removal of the tax credit, we’re forced to bite the bullet and buy the remaining insulation now. At least it’s on sale. Good news: I guess our water heater picked a good year to go kaput.

My husband is ripping apart our walls as we speak. Our thermometer is reading a crisp 56 degrees…in the living room. I’ve always fantasized about having a living room temperature above 65 during cold spells. I guess my wildest dreams are finally coming true.

It’s amazing what a 48 hour deadline will do.

Obviously, I’m not a tax person. Consult with a professional before investing or donating.