The Case for Keeping IRS and State Tax Returns Forever

You may recall from a past post on record-keeping, that you should keep copies of your IRS and state Tax Returns forever.

Did you wonder about that? Many of my Dear Readers, like CMC, wrote to inquire. Well, wonder no more …

Shocked young woman seeking copies of past Tax Returns

Dear Mary: Why do you recommend people keep tax returns forever? The IRS has electronic copies of every return, and can only go back 7 years for audits. Thanks for this great blog! Call Me Curious

My 22-Year Auto Lease Nightmare

It wasn’t our fault that a drunk driver plowed into our parked car in the middle of the night while we were on vacation more than 500 miles from home. The car was a total loss but no one was hurt; it could have been worse.

Our loss was insured and we got just enough money from the insurance company to pay off the loan. We wanted to replace that car anyway.

To buy a new car would have required borrowing the down payment and taking on bigger monthly payments. We could have financed a used car with lower payments, but that was beneath what we thought we deserved. A better option—or so we thought— was to lease a new car with nothing down and lower payments than we’d been used to making.

A Money Lesson for Kids

Don’t assume your kids are going to learn about how to manage money well in school. There is a growing recognition of the need, but few children are fortunate enough to learn money matters in school—solid foundational principles they’ll hold onto throughout their lives.

If you have kids, teaching them about money rests squarely on your shoulders.

So how are you doing with that? Don’t know where to start? Today, I’ve prepared an important but simple lesson for you to teach to the kids:

Principle: The secret to reaching your goals in life is to make good choices with your money.

If you spend your money without thinking about your choices, you will probably make bad decisions. A wise person considers three important things before making a spending decision:

1. VALUES

What causes someone to go on a hunger strike or to climb a tree and not come down until “they” promise not to cut down any more trees? What causes someone to host his own 13th birthday party at a homeless shelter where he gives gifts to 300 children he’s never met? What causes a 16-year old girl to skip lunch every day in order to pay for a tattoo? What causes you to do the things you do? The answer is values. Values are things like kindness, love, self-worth, spirituality, respect, fairness, compassion, creativity, thrift and faith. Make a list of your top seven values.

Sometimes You Gotta’ Bite the Bullet

Some years ago, I asked members of my Debt-Proof Living website this question: What would you do with an unexpected windfall of $10,000?

Responses ranged from saving every penny to giving all of it away to using all of it to get caught up on bills. This got me thinking: What fascinating response would I get if I changed the word “windfall” to “expense” as in, “How will you respond if tomorrow you get clobbered with an unexpected expense of $10,000?”

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Suddenly, my mind races back to any number of old western movies where the wounded cowboy bites down on a bullet while doc performs some off-camera surgical procedure with the aid of a red-hot Buck knife and a bottle of whiskey.

Now, I’m not suggesting that getting socked with a big unexpected expense causes pain anywhere close to surgery without the benefit of anesthetic. What I am saying is how we respond to financial challenges says a lot about our character. We can take cover and hide behind fear and denial or we can bite the bullet, face the problem head-on and do what we have to do.

Take the couple profiled on an early episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show. They bit the bullet when they sold their house and possessions and lived in their car for two years to get their finances straightened around. I don’t recall exactly how they worked this out—small details having to do with showers and running water escape me. However, their delight with having done such a difficult yet noble thing to get their lives back on track was compelling.

The Difference Between Safe Debt and Stupid Debt is Huge

Today, Dear Readers, I have a question for you: Is there a difference between borrowing and financing? Don’t stress. I’ll tell you. There is. Both create debt and understanding the difference is important to your financial health.

You have to think of debt as a rope. You can use rope to lift, rescue, and tie things together. Or you can use it to hang yourself. Debt can improve your life or it can ruin it.

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I used to think borrowing and financing were the same. I considered myself involved in high finance with my bevy of credit cards. I charged all kinds of clothes, meals, trips and entertainment. We financed the house, the car and countless household appliances. It was all the same to me. I could have stuff now and pay later. I considered my juggling acts some kind of advanced high finance. I had to learn the difference between borrowing and financing the hard way.

Borrowing is the temporary use of a thing or money, while financing implies the management of assets or money. Borrowing creates unsecured or dangerous debt, while financing creates secured or safe debt.

Borrowing is hazardous to your financial health because it offers no alternatives. No escape routes. You borrowed the money, and you must pay it back from future income. With the unsecured debt, you’ve eliminated options. Mountains of unsecured debt can tie a person to an undesirable career, squelch opportunities or create heavy burdens that are often unbearable.

Depending on money you have not earned yet to pay for stuff you don’t have now or perhaps cannot even remember, is choosing financial bondage. It’s stupid and a crazy way to live.

Financing, on the other hand, involves collateral or “security.” The borrower pledges property, either real (such as a home or land) or personal, and agrees to liquidate that thing of value in the event he or she runs into repayment difficulty. In a financing situation, provision always exists so the debt can be canceled by virtue of the very item that is financed. You finance a car, for example. You come on hard times or change you mind. You sell the car and use the proceeds to satisfy the debt.

Financing allows a person to use assets to achieve a more useful or productive result. Financing is a safe, realistic and reasonable way to purchase a home, for instance. The value of the home secures the repayment.

Financing does not presume unreasonably on the future. Let’s take a real estate purchase, for example. You decide to buy a home, and that cute three-bedroom on a pretty is a great option. For now.

But 10 years from now, you might develop an unrelenting urge to move to Tibet. Even though you still owe $190,000 on the house, it’s no problem. You sell the property, pay off the loan, and head for the hills.

If that $190,000 represented borrowed funds—an unsecured debt—you’d probably be stuck, left to only dream of what mountaintop life might have been had you not so foolishly borrowed away your future.

Learn to recognize the difference between financing and borrowing, then avoid borrowing like the plague. Keep any debt confined to secured, safe debt.

Your future will be filled with options as you learn to say no to the kind of debt that can so easily turn into a noose.

Simplify: It’s the Easiest Way to Save Time and Money

When our lives get chaotic, we pay dearly in terms of time, money, and stress! There are hundreds of things you can do to simplify your life. Here are seven to help you get started … one a day for the next week.

1. Carry only the keys you use every day. Clean everything else off your key ring. If you don`t recognize what a key is for, toss it. If you have keys you use occasionally, keep them on separate rings in a safe place. I carry only three keys: house, car, and office. They’re not bulky, simple to select AND fit into a pocket in my purse. Not only has this small trick simplified my life, my car’s ignition is happier too. Heavy keys pull the ignition out of alignment causing it eventually to fail.

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2. Get rid of all but one credit card. One statement, one bill. Having so many credit cards can really stress your life and it is not necessary. In fact many cards are hazardous to your wealth. Start today with the goal to strategically get rid of all but one on which you carry $0 balance.

3. Downsize your purse or briefcase. Carry only the minimum essentials. If you’re anything like me, no matter what size of bag you carry, it fills to the brim. Ditch the bag that’s the size of Nebraska in favor of something small and compact. Now carry only the items you really need.

Out of the Red: How to Keep Your Finances and Attitude in the Black

When I am not writing about personal finance and consumer debt, I knit. Something about the gentle rhythm of yarn and needle calms my spirit and unwinds my brain.

I have managed to finish a few projects, not because I’m a great knitter but because I can tink almost as well as I knit (knit spelled backwards is tearing out). 

Because all knitters make mistakes, tinking is a required skill for those who take the craft seriously. It doesn’t take too many oversized sweaters or undersized hats to figure out that the smallest error at the beginning of a project can produce disastrous results if not found and promptly corrected.

Clean out Clutter to Improve the Quality of Your Life

What would you do if you actually had to use everything you own, including all that stuff in the drawers, cupboards, closets, shelves, and boxes in your kitchen, bedrooms, living room, basement, attic, garage, rafters, driveway, patio, side yard, and cars?

Most of us will never accomplish such an overwhelming task. Instead, we pack it, stack it and pile it away—even pay rent to store it—and keep accumulating even more.

Here’s the problem: More stuff only dilutes the quality of our lives.

Every possession carries two price tags: 1) the original purchase price and 2) the continuing toll. That second amount is paid in upkeep, time, maintenance, and storage. It can charge its toll in anxiety, depression, relationship conflict, financial distress, and even impaired function.

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