Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Tax figures that don't quite compute

We got that tax return filed yesterday — with the exception of me taking back the papers I had to bring home for my husband to sign after he got off work — and that is a big load out of the way. We are getting a nice refund, thanks to those deductions we get to take because I work for myself from home. We arranged to have it direct deposited into my husband's account.

Now here's what's funny about him getting all the loot: I keep up with all the little figures and slips of paper all year long. I spent nearly a whole day computing all those figures, and then I took all my folders with papers all clipped together neatly over to the tax office. His contribution to the whole tax refund effort was giving me his W-2 form. Now how is it that he gets all the money deposited in his account? Somehow that doesn't quite add up.

Oh yeah, he's the one with the good-paying job. He'd be the one that paid the taxes in the first place! Makes more sense now! We always put it toward something that benefits the whole family.

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Monday, February 27, 2006

What to do with the income tax refund?

Since I'm on my way to the tax office this morning, anticipating some type of income tax refund, this article about what to do with the income tax refund struck my fancy.

Your income tax refund: sofa, pecs, or freedom?
By: Dar Arechederra

What will your tax refund 'buy' for you this year? A lovely sofa? Perfect Pecs? Freedom?I hate to admit it, but I almost bought the Pecs. I opened a colorful brochure that caught my eye and, there it was ... the perfect way to "invest" my refund: in myself — with my very own home gym! Who doesn't deserve those Abundant Abs, that perfectly Toned and Sculpted Body ... all for under $1,200, with payments under $35/month!

I was drooling. I had to have that gym! I deserved it! I'd wanted it for over a year now. Good things come to those who wait, right?

I found some even smaller print at the bottom — the APR was just under 22%! I exhaled. Slowly. It felt like someone had stopped Bob Seger's "Beautiful Loser," right at the best part of the song. The drooling stopped. The adrenaline retreated, waiting for the next spending rush.

My sanity returned.

Still dazed, I followed the efficient-looking tax lady back to her desk, all the while calculating how much interest I would have paid for those Perfect Pecs ... those Adorable, Abundant Abs. Just how tired would my bones be by the time I had this home gym paid off?

I didn't even have the refund in my hands yet. But I was holding a brochure that had the power to devour any refund I might have ... before it could chill in my bank account.

4 Tips to Keep the Drooling at Bay
1. Decide ahead of time not to spend it. If you later change your mind, ask yourself, "is my 'want' important enough to use this lump sum of money?"

2. Tuck it into savings immediately (preferably your emergency account). Or, if that sends you into a cold sweat, put up half of it. Avoid the money sponge. Don't be tempted to leave it in the checkbook!

3. Think of your tax return as "freedom money," not as "extra." Add bits of money to it for a 'Freedom-To-Be-My-Own-Boss' account. This is money you've managed to do without over the past year. You didn't miss it then -- no need to miss it once you've tucked it away.

4. Picture yourself debt free. All credit cards are paid off. You have a few thousand dollars in several money accounts. You are contributing to your retirement account on a regular basis. Bill-paying time is stress free. You can go out from time to time, paying cash as you go. Emergencies are covered. Your money is under control. Your control -- not that of the credit card companies or debt collectors.

Will this year's refund bring you a new sofa, Perfect Pecs, or the Feel of Freedom? You have the *power* in the palm of your hand -- to take a huge step forward in your financial life. Will you DO it?

Article by:
© 2004 Darlene Arechederra Darlene Arechederra leads the delightful series, "Coming Home: A Woman's Journey to One-Income Living." Women of two-income households who want to find their way back home from the workplace will enjoy this gentle, energizing jumpstart. Visit with Darlene at www.AffordtoStayHome.com/info.htm

This is our first year to file with me working completely for myself, so we're not sure how much the refund will be. I sure hope it's something!

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Sunday, February 26, 2006

Need to update tax figuring method

By the time I got all those tax numbers computed — mileage, extra income, expenses, major expenses, and utilities — yesterday the tax office next door was closed. That's just about right. Well, at least I got them all ready. I can take them next door in the morning so we can get this ball rolling.

Last year was my first year to be working solely for myself — I've been freelance writing for two years but the first year I also had a night/weekend job and was doing more independent contract work in yet another area — so I'm eager to see how much we get back.

My method of keeping up with actual pieces of paper and figuring it all up with a pencil, a calculator and a piece of paper seems rather archaic and I'm thinking of trying another method. I've been told Quicken and Turbo Tax are the way to go. I understand that I put the figures into Quicken throughout the year and then import them all into Turbo Tax when it's time to file tax returns. I'm leery of my ability to use these programs but my friends over at the Mommy Jobs message board assure me that I can do it!

I mentioned this updated method to my husband — whose contribution to filing tax returns is finding his W-2, walking next door with me, signing his name on the papers, and providing a check to pay for the service — who didn't seem to think it was the most brilliant idea in the world but he did admit he's thought of trying Turbo Tax. We shall see.

Right now there are more important matters to attend to — how to spend the tax return. Now he always has plenty of grand ideas for that!

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Saturday, February 25, 2006

It's tax time at our house

Since I was so inspired by my beautiful handpainted coffee mug featuring none other than Eastern Arkansas' own ivory-billed woodpecker, I got up this morning excited about doing some more research on the majestic bird as I prepare to write my own personal masterpiece on the subject.

My excitement, however, was soon shattered with my husband's announcement that he wants to do our taxes today. Uhoh. It's not that we'll have to pay in; on the contrary, we usually get a fairly good sum back. The thing is, I don't have any figures ready, not one. I have to collect mileage, expenses, and income for which I have no 1099s. Here's my list of what I have to do:

* Calculate 2005 mileage. This entails flipping through my appointment calendar and penciling in mileage in my log for each trip. Of course I'm supposed to do this after each work-related trip, but it was only logged through May of last year.

* Figure extra income. I do a little contract work for a few companies through the Internet, but I didn't make $600 from any of them last year to qualify for a 1099. One company has the figure posted on my website through them. That'll help.

* Total major expenses. I can't remember what all the tax consultant said constitutes a major expense, but I'll separate the fax machine we bought on the last day of the year along with a computer desk purchased at the very beginning of the year.

* Compute other expenses. This is where the big headache comes in. I have stashed in a small cardboard box receipts for everything from printer cartridges totalling $75 all the way down to mailing envelopes for $1. I have to punch every last figure into the calculator to get this expense total.

* Determine what we paid for utilities last year. We can take a percentage of the utilities as a deduction since I work form home. That's another of the many advantages of being a work at home mom! The thing with that is that all my receipts are thrown in that cardboard box and I have to add it all up together. I'm sure I have to add up each one separately — phone, electricity, and water. I just can't remember from last year, which was our first year to file with me working for myself from home.

That's all I can think of for now. That's enough, isn't it? I'm sure it will get worse once I get into it. I'm sure there are computer programs that I can use that total all this up for me during the year, but I wasn't using one and don't even think I have one on the computer. Maybe that will be a good expense to invest in for tax deduction purposes next year!

Looks like I'll be spending the day with receipts and a calculator. At least I have my handpainted ivory-bill mug to keep full of coffee!

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Friday, February 24, 2006

Getting ready for some work

Here I am getting ready to crank out my next masterpiece by drinking coffee from my new mug, handpainted by my neighbor and a spectacular artist, Rita Clements. It features an ivory-billed woodpecker pair making a nest. I got it at the Call of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker Celebration today; the event is going on for three days in my hometown, where the continued existence of this beautiful bird was confirmed exactly two years ago.

That coffee was especially delicious in this handpainted mug, and it's helping me get in the mood to write my own work of art on the rediscovery of the ivory-billed woodpecker. I live right where it was discovered and am just about the only journalist in the country who hasn't written about it.

Take a look at my writing blog to find out more about this grand bird and what's going on where it was first rediscovered two years ago.

My daughter the budding photographer took this photo.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Internet epic concludes

Not happy with the deals or treatment I've been getting from my DSL company, AT&T/SBC, the past week or so, I called again this morning to see if they could get me any closer to the wonderful $12.99 express DSL/$17.99 professional DSL deal they advertised in the newspaper yesterday.

My call in to the company yesterday afternoon only resulted in more frustration as I was informed that the $19.99 express DSL deal I signed up for last week — after I got a letter saying my DSL pro was going up to a staggering $39.99 from an already-too high $29.99 — was a 12-month contract that I couldn't get out of. No further explanation was offered as to why I couldn't get the low rate of $17.99 for the DSL pro I really wanted.

My call this morning was answered by a very friendly Becky, who with great understanding of my aggravation let me know that the deal I saw advertised in the paper was for new customers only. That little tidbit had not been included on the flyer from yesterday's paper or revealed by the brusque-mannered young man I talked to yesterday, but I had an idea that was so anyway.

As it turns out, the best deals with AT&T/SBC DSL are by one-year contract, Becky explained, and it is best to call the company every year to make sure you get the best deal. I pointed out that the sickly-sweet letter I got saying the company was going to hike my already steep monthly price up another $10 should have said that I could call in to the company to check for current deals and specials. She agreed, saying that many of the employees had suggested the same thing.

I asked her why they didn't just automatically give their returning customers the best deal available, but the company can't automatically enroll people in another contract for their best deal, she said. It is up to the customer to obligate themselves to a contract and thereby the best price for service.

The very best deals go to new customers, and although it looks like loyal customers should be the ones to get the good deals, it does make sense since they are trying to lure new customers in. The $19.99 DSL express/$24.99 DSL pro offer made available to me was the ongoing deal for returning customers. I had signed up for the express package the other day but it wasn't too late to go for the pro package, so I had that changed.

I had noticed on the newspaper flyer that the regular price for DSL pro is $34.99, when my letter from the company stated that mine was going up to $39.99. Becky explained to me that when I signed up for the $29.99 pro package discount last year the regular rate was $39.99; if I hadn't called the company for another contract my service would revert to the regular price. The regular price now, a year later, is $34.99, so people who sign up for the $17.99 deal will get an oh-so-thoughful letter next year thanking them for their patronage and informing them that their bill will double and no action is required by them!

I am still not completely satisfied with the deal I'm getting from this company but I am happier that I spoke to someone who seemed to care and emphathize with my plight. I suppose I will leave it at that and busy myself with using the Internet for the purpose I have it — working!

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Sunday, February 19, 2006

The Internet saga continues

It was bad enough that my DSL company, AT&T/SBC, planned on increasing my DSL Pro price up to thank me for being such a loyal customer, but today when I opened the paper I found a flyer advertising DSL for $12.99, and the faster version they call DSL Pro for $17.99!

Smoke started coming out of my ears, since the nice letter I got last week said my price was going up to $39.99! I called as soon as the letter came, pointing out that I did not intend to pay this increased price. I got the cheapest version for $19.99, but today's flyer says the faster version can be had for two dollars less. I got online to see if I could take advantage of this offer, since it doesn't say it's for new customers only, but the computer told me I already have DSL service.

Not to be outdone, I picked up the phone and after a few minutes was connected with a brisk-mannered young man who listened to my tempered spiel and then hurried to inform me that the $19.99 deal I got the other day included a one-year commitment that I could not break. What? I don't recall being told that the $19.99 package was a one-year deal! I still don't know if existing customers can get in on the $12.99 or $17.99 packages or not.

What is more, this flyer says that the regular price for DSL Pro is $34.99, five dollars cheaper than what the thoughtful letter I received last week said my new DSL price would be. When I called the other day, I was told that I could get the Pro version for $24.99, an offer that extends through this month. I turned this down saying I hadn't seen any difference in the speed when I got the Pro version, but later that same day the change was made for the downgrade since there was a noticeable decrease in the speed.

Since these low prices can be offered, it would make sense that they should be made available to all customers, especially those who call to ask for them. I am aggravated that the company intended to raise my price to $39.99 while making an offer to the public for the same service for $17.99, a whopping $22 less! It is unfair and takes advantage of customers such as myself who must have the Internet or at least full intend to keep it.

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Friday, February 17, 2006

Must have the Internet to work, must work to have the Internet

As a work at home mom, I have a bit of a vicious cycle going when it comes to the Internet. Because I am home-based, I must have the Internet to work. But because I am working from home to have time with my children, I don't want to spend all day working and so I have little if any extra money for expenses that are not absolutely necessary. One of those necessary expenses is the Internet, but sometimes it seems that I must work so that I can have it.

It didn't help any that the other day I got this annoying letter from my DSL company, which they also sent as an email today, congratulating me on my first anniversary with their fastest DSL and to thank me they are going to raise my rate by $10 and fortunately, no action is required on my part! I was already paying a steep $29.99 for their fastest version, but I figured it was all good since the regular version was $24.99 when I signed up and I live in such a small area that I ought to be happy to have the Internet at all. Here is the gist of the oh-so-thoughtful letter I received the other day:

It's your SBC Yahoo! DSL Pro anniversary!
Thank you for being our valued customer. This simple note is to let you know that your 12-month introductory pricing is scheduled to expire within the next 60 days.
Your SBC Yahoo DSL Pro will automatically continue for just $39.99 per month, with absolutely NO TERM commitment!
In celebration of your anniversary and to show our gratitude for your continued membership, we want to make it as easy as possible for you to keep enjoying all of the benefits of your SBC Yahoo! DSL Pro service. To keep your SBC Yahoo! DSL Pro service after your current term ends, absolutely NO ACTION is required on your part. Once your present term ends, we will automatically renew your service at the low monthly rate of $39.99 with no term commitment.

Wow, if that's how you thank people for their patronage, don't worry about showing me any gratitude. By the way, I'm not such an idiot that I won't realize you're hiking up my price if you send me a sweetly-worded letter.

I was rather upset with the letter, not only because my bill was going to be going up $10 but that it was all a favor to me and I was supposed to be thrilled. Needless to say, I wasn't. I called the company up, told them I thought the $29.99 was bad enough, that I certainly did not intend to pay $39.99 a month for it, and that I needed to go down to their cheapest DSL. I found out that can be had for $19.99, which is still rather steep but what I was paying for dial-up when I first got on the Internet, and that it would be about a week before I noticed a change in speed.

But get this! I could actually keep the DSL Pro for a mere $24.99, the nice lady on the phone tells me! What? You mean they were going to raise my rate by $10 when they could have actually lowered it by $5? Now that would have been a better way to thank me. Funny that they didn't put that in the lovely congratulatory letter. I went with the $19.99 package but was assured that I could call back before the end of the month to get in on their $24.99 promotion.

Now the worst part of it all is that I never saw much of an increase in speed after I went up to the DSL Pro last year but a couple of hours after I downgraded to the cheapest version, I noticed a marked decrease in speed. This is when I have to remember that it's a tax deduction and that I must have it to work.

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Sunday, February 12, 2006

Daycare not an option

The drive-through teller at the bank, a fellow young working mother, asked me the other day if my girls were in daycare since she noticed they weren't with me. Now, that might tell you that I live in a small town since she knows I have two small children who are sometimes with me, which is true, but it tells me something else. Actually it tells me two things.

Though I found her question quite odd — I thought she was going to ask me if they were both in school — I smiled and told her that they were both in school, the older one in first grade and the younger one in head start. But I just couldn't bite my tongue about the daycare bit. Ever since my husband and I got together and decided that we would become parents someday, we determined that our children would not go to daycare but that they would stay with us. I kept smiling and said un-smugly as possible since I didn't want to seem critical, "They never have been to daycare."

We've worked really hard to keep them with one of us at nearly all times; the ony exceptions being, of course, school and an occasional day with a grandmother. They go everywhere with us, and of course, spend the majority of their time with me when they aren't in school. (Some people might take issue with the fact that we send them to school, but that's another matter entirely that I'll be discussing here soon.) They come along with me when I interview people for my stories, and come right on back to the house with me when we're finished.

One thing her question tells me is that far too many young mothers don't realize that they can work from home with their children around, and maybe they don't want to. That's sad that they must spend their precious time at work away from their children, and even sadder that they either don't realize they can work from home or are too afraid to give it a try.

Another thing that question told me was that I am fortunate that I'm a work-at-home mother! Sometimes that's especially true between the hours of 7:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.!

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Friday, February 10, 2006

Tickled pink

The Pink Panther cartoon compilation that's now a part of our extensive movie collection was a big hit! The girls watched it after school while I finished up some work and you should have heard all the giggles coming from the back of the house.

I had to make them turn it off after about an hour or they probably would have sat there the entire three hours and watched it. At least I know it'll hold their attention. I just have to keep away from it or the whole purpose of a movie collection — keeping kids occupied while Mom gets some work done — will be defeated!

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Thursday, February 09, 2006


There's nothing like a good ole movie for the kids when Momma needs to get some work done. Yeah, I'm supposed to get my work done while they're gone to school, but supposed to and actually doing are two completely different things. Of course we're in the middle of February, but summer is coming along and we work at home moms will have to be pretty creative as we try to have some peace and quiet while we work.

Sometimes, though, you just run out of creativity, you run out of time, and you just plain run out of patience. That's when a movie can save the day, or at least your sanity for an hour or so. One that came through our door yesterday will not only get me some quiet time and will come in handy on a trip up to my sister's house, it took me back to the carefree days of my childhood. It's a three-plus hour collection of old Pink Panther cartoons from the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Now, I don't advocate three hours straight worth of television watching for kids or anybody, but things do get desperate sometimes. Besides, I doubt the Silent Pink One will hold their interest for the entirety of the show. It might mine, though. Because the Pink Panther didn't talk and thus was unable to say ugly things or bad words, we were allowed to watch it as children. It was the only cartoon we were allowed to watch, for that matter. It came on after school and when we turned the television on, G.I. Joe was going off.

You'd think the mother of a house full of children as my mom was would love television and movies, but she figured that TV was evil and cartoons were particularly bad and thus we watched very little of it and no movies to my recollection. In fact, I don't remember having any VHS tapes or a VCR player when we were kids. My mom has since changed her philosophy and my parents have not only a nice VCR/DVD player, they have an impressive collection of kids' movies for the grandchildren.

We now have a pleasant childhood memory to add to our movie collection and another way for me to keep my girls occupied while I get some work done. You can't beat that.

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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Movie time!

Movies make both of the important jobs of a work at home mother much easier. While I don't recommend long stretches of unsupervised movie watching (I didn't say we didn't do it, I just said I don't suggest doing it!) there comes a time when a good ole cartoon saves the day.

Take yesterday for instance. I wasted two hours of precious working time while my children were at school that morning and was still working when they got home. A deadline loomed and I had to keep writing. When she got home, my younger daughter asked me, "Momma, can I watch a movie?" It didn't take but a second for me to give my reply: "Oh, yes!" She lined up four and said she was going to watch all of them, but I had her choose one. When she picked a cute little Beatrix Potter cartoon that doesn't last an hour, I started to object in favor of one that lasts longer, but decided against it.

It's a good thing, since when my other daughter came home the movie marathon got underway. I honestly don't know what all they watched. I know they saw "The Land Before Time" because I heard the end of it after I finally got finished with my work at 6 p.m. and meandered toward the back of the house. I hope that was all they watched.

We don't have movie marathons every day or even every week, but those things come in very handy when I must work with the kids around. Who wants to be in the middle of an important phone call when one child decides to waylay the other? A movie guarantees quiet for the duration of the show. I try to make all of my phone calls in the morning when they are at school, but of course when summer rolls around that formula doesn't always work. During that time we have days when I make phone calls in the morning and the girls watch a movie or two (or three ...) We have other days when all I'm going to do is write and they're free to roam the house and make noise if they like or even go outside and play.

Then we have those days like yesterday when I really must get something finished up and some peace and quiet afforded by a kids' movie sure does make life easier!

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Thursday, February 02, 2006

A pick-me-up for a slow-moving day

When you're working at home you sometimes have those days where you just really don't want to work or do anything at all, for that matter. I have that problem a lot, especially on cold rainy days like today, but I've figured out a way to get revved up.

It's not very healthy, but it works. (I DO try to eat healthy, by the way. I've even been talking about it for the past few days over at my mom life blog.) It takes a couple of days in the making, too, but it's not how you think. Here's what you do:

First you need to stay up late one night before and then get up early the next morning, preferably because you are the world's biggest procrastinator and you are past deadline. Go to the gas station on your way home from a job and get a big coffee cup. Fill it with a combination of extra caffiene cappuccino, regular cappuccino, and coffee. Taste it on your way home and decide that it's really not sweet enough, but there isn't anything you can do about it since you're back on the road. Drink a little of it before you get home, and then put the cup in the fridge since you hate to throw it away after spending more than a dollar on it.

The next morning as you are preparing to write yet another story that is over 12 hours past deadline but not yet 24, get the cup of killer cappuccino out of the fridge while you prepare to make a pot of coffee. While fully intending to microwave the day-old treat to add to today's cup of coffee, go ahead and shake the cup up, take the lid off, and taste.

Surprise! Ooh, yummy! Drink it all up cold while you wait for the pot of coffee to perk, and then have a cup of that. There. You should be good and jumpy. You will be able to crank out a story in no time, do a couple of interviews, wash some clothes, load up the dishwasher, and start supper all before the preschooler gets home.

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Wednesday, February 01, 2006

A heart attack in an envelope

Many work-at-home mothers wax emotional when they disclose their reasons for being work-at-home mothers. They were missing their child's first words, first steps, and all that mushy stuff. They wanted to be there to guide their children's daily lives, they didn't want to have to rush off to work every day, and it goes on and on. My reason came in the mail today — a heart attack in an envelope!

Make that two heart attacks in two envelopes — the electric bill and the phone bill. I got the water bill yesterday but it was about normal. How can the electric bill be so outrageous when the past two months have been more like spring than winter? How could the phone bill be so high when I have a fixed rate for long distance phone calls every month, no matter how many I make?

These bills are my reason for working at home — they've got to be paid! That and my kids aren't going to day care. I had them, I'm going to raise them. Now I'm starting to sound like the mushy mothers who don't want to miss out on any of the precious moments.

Actually, my children's most precious moments are when they are asleep, and I roust them up out of their beautiful slumber at 7 a.m. every morning so they can catch the bus to school at 7:30 a.m.! I've got to have some kind of time to do my work, now don't I? These bills are going to keep coming for sure. I can count on these heart attacks every single month.

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