Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Tax Man Cometh

I must admit that this year, tax day is a first for me. Before this, my dad filed for me, kept my data, filled everything out, and all I had to do was sign on the dotted line. This year, though, I'm off of their files, officially independent, a salary earner instead of a wage-slave. I kind of liked it the old way, to be honest. With the day of reckoning fast approaching, I'm looking at a rather pathetic state of finances. The wool has been stripped from my eyes, and I don't like the colors I'm seeing. So thank goodness I work at a bookstore! If I can't find a book to help me out, I'm not looking hard enough. Sure enough, I found several, each one addressing a different aspect of my financial straits.
To get me on the straight and narrow with no illusions about my net worth, I read Steven Smith's Money for Life ($14.95, ISBN 9780793187935, available at It poses as a novella, introducing the story of "Ryan and Christine", an average American couple with good jobs, nice incomes, and lots of consumer debt. The book uses their story as a vehicle to introduce the concept of envelope budgeting (I think my grandparents did that) and the elimination of a credit dependent life style. It offers great advice on establishing a budget, but wasn't quite what I needed. I don't have any debt, fortunately, but neither do I have the kind of disposable income they talk about. I turned my sights elsewhere.
Enter America's Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money ($12.95 ISBN 9780307339454) by Steve and Annette Economides (yes, that really is their last name). Here were tips on how to live on less, avoid debt, and plan for all those expenses I'd never had to think about before (medical bills, insurance, utilities...). Their proud acceptance of the label "America's Cheapest Family" says it all: they aren't gonna spend money if they don't have to! It's a good guide to some of the shortcuts and common pitfalls of the costs of everyday living. Some of their advice seemed a little extreme to me (buying food by the month, using loads of coupons, and shopping at five or six different stores to get the lowest price on each individual item). I definitely don't have that kind of time to devote to just my grocery shopping, but it's a notion to file away for later use. However, I realized as I read that my main problem isn't my expensive tastes, but not knowing where my 'disposable' income goes! Alright, my insurance deductible is absurdly high, and the legal fees for bringing my foreign fiance into the country mean no dinner out for several years, but after those big required expenses, I should have had some income to play with.
I grabbed two more books to find out where it all goes: Affluenza ($18.95 ISBN 9781576751992) by De Graaf, Wann and Naylor, and Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping ($14.00 ISBN 9780743269360) by Judith Levine. The books really only told me what I already knew deep down: Americans buy a lot of useless, meaningless, stupid stuff. We waste our money, and our lives, chasing the next must-have item, and the marketers know just how to make their item a must-have. I could see that I don't hemorrhage money, I just slowly bleed it away with the little things. Affluenza, based around the TV show of the same name from the late 1990s, discusses the 'disease' of hyper-consumerism, and the potential cures for it. Not Buying It actually lives out the reality of trying to cure that materialism. The author and her partner agree not to buy any non-essential items for one year (they defined books as essential items - my kind of people). After reading both of these books, I was inspired and excited to practice my own non-shopping year, my own pursuit of the simpler life. Until I came to work the next day and found another book I just had to read...oh well, at least I'm a little more aware now.
So did I solve my financial difficulties? Nope. Am I closer to solving them in time for next year's tax day? I really think I am. Just in case, though, I picked up a copy of T. Harv Eker's Secrets of the Millionaire Mind ($19.95 ISBN 9780060763282) to learn how to become rich by thinking rich. Now that's quite a promise!

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