Refunds & UN-Automating Your Life

Success is not measured by what you accomplish but by the opposition you have encountered, and the courage with which you have maintained the struggle against overwhelming odds.
– Orison Swett Marden

Last week, I posted my Note about automating your investment savings. After posting it, I did some more thinking about the whole notion of automating our lives, and I realized that there are some times when "automation", as such, can actually HINDER our financial growth.

Call it the hidden costs of convenience.
And, in my opinion, it’s quite real.

But before I get to that, a few tax-related items:

1) Your Refund Status: Make sure you have a copy of your tax return on hand or know your "filing status", SSN and the exact dollar amount of the anticipated refund.
* Online: Go to IRS.gov and click on "Where’s My Refund". (http://www.irs.gov/individuals/article/0,,id=96596,00.html?portlet=4)
* Automated Phone: Call 1-800-829-4477 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for automated refund information.
* In-Person Phone: Call 1-800-829-1954 during the hours shown in your IRS form instructions.

2) "Do I need to keep a copy of my return?"
Yes, for a *minimum* of three years. There’s all kinds of contexts where it’s useful. We do keep one on file, on your behalf, but it’s just smart and safe for you to keep one in a secure place at home. (I’ll soon have a Note about Amended Returns, and you will need a copy for that process, as well.)

As for the supporting documents from your return, anything that relates to a home purchase or sale, stock transactions, retirement, business or rental property, should be kept much longer than the three years.

Now … I have a humble suggestion for you this week, and as always, I’d love your thoughts!

Salvatore P. Candela’s
"Real World" Personal Strategy

The Benefits of De-Automating Your Personal Finances

Small business owners know what it is to write checks for quarterly taxes, and, I believe, they have deeper sense for what they are paying, as a result.

In fact, I think our country would be a different place if everyone had to write a personal check and send in their taxes like this. When people really see what they pay (or don’t pay) I think they would feel differently about their tax burden!

This is a common refrain among certain political observers — but it has me thinking about what it might mean for YOUR family …

In fact, this is part of the genius of financial guru Dave Ramsey’s "envelope system" for family budgeting (whereby you place cash into specified envelopes, and pay only as much cash as remains in the envelope for different budget categories). "Automating away" our obligations can lull us into financial slumber.

Which is why I now propose that you REMOVE automation from certain checks that you write each month. (Again, this is aside from automated savings, as discussed last week.)

[But a word of caution: The only danger to this approach is that you run the risk of focusing too much on scrimping pennies. I certainly advocate wise budgeting, but it’s important to remember that thinking over much about saving money can constrict your mind away from important "risks", which can often be worth taking — like starting that business, making a new investment, etc. Don’t let this technique keep you from expanding your financial mindset!]

So, a few suggestions for what you might DE-automate:
1) Just once, receive your paycheck in cash (instead of ACH’d), or cash the full amount when you receive it. Because, have you ever HELD one paycheck’s worth of money before?  It’s really hard to fully comprehend how much you’re bringing in until you physically feel those stacks of $20s in your hand.  I can guarantee you it’s a lot harder to spend it when you’re seeing it in person rather than online.  And it hurts frittering it away more, too.

2) Paying your mortgage manually. Feel the burn of this large check, every time you write it. It will trickle into how you think about the other bills which you pay such that even if this is the only bill you take off of "auto-pay", you’ll be wiser with your remaining funds each month.

3) Only purchase vehicles for cash.
If you had to pay outright, wouldn’t you end up with a cheaper car?  Probably. Just because many are used to setting up loans and payments for vehicles, does NOT mean it’s wise — in fact, this is one of the primary markers for the "quiet millionaires" (those who are getting ahead financially, even on relatively smaller salaries). Yes, your pride might suffer when you’re not rolling around in a 2011 Lexus … but considering the real cost of that pride-booster does wonders for ameliorating your egotistic tendencies.

In short, paying in cash (or with a manual check) helps you to consider the following questions:

* Is this ____ still WORTH it?
* Is there a way I can cut it down a bit?
* What’s the best way to pay for it right now? (c/c, check, cash?)

Again, some of this could literally take seconds, but the point of it all is that you STOP to do it. With automation, you don’t get the "ping" every month because it’s already doing the thinking for you.  You’ll learn a LOT more about the financial "you" this way than you would otherwise, I’m certain. It’s really about paying closer attention.

Enjoying the slowdown around our offices, but still thinking of YOU!