Weekend Assignment #365: Tax Time

What is your strategy for doing your taxes? Do you get them done as soon as you can get hold of the paperwork, put them off to the last minute, or something in between? Do you hire someone, do the work yourself, get your spouse to do it, or share the load? Do you mail forms or e-file?

Extra Credit: Have you ever had to revisit a tax return after filing, due to an audit or other circumstances?

Once upon a time (read as: up until this year), I pulled my paperwork together as soon as humanly possible and loaded up the Turbo Tax.  The faster one files, the faster one receives the refund.  Assuming that one is entitled to a refund.
I always found it fun – Turbo Tax is good stuff.  While I am not the most organized person in the world, I can generally keep my tax information in one place.
This year, for the first time, I used an accountant.  My finances became a bit more complicated and I figured it was time.  Here is how it worked:
First, the accountant reviewed my last two returns.  He asked a couple of follow up questions, to be sure that I had claimed all of the deductions possible.  I might have missed something for an energy efficient improvement to my home.   But otherwise, I seem to have nailed ’em.  Ha.
The next thing was to pull together my 2010 information and complete the questionnaire.  At the time, it felt like..If I am going to complete this thing, I might as well do my taxes myself!  Then I mailed it to the guy and waited.  I required no in-person appointment, or even follow up phone calls.  Just a couple of e-mails.
A few weeks later, I received the return and the instructions for filing.  Well before the 15th, thank you. And once I read the thing, I realized that I made the right decision.   

Weekend Assignment #364: Ahead in the Clouds?

Weekend Assignment #364: Ahead in the Clouds?

Suddenly the marketing departments of Microsoft and other tech giants are all about “the cloud” or “clouds,” the practice of storing large files online and streaming them rather than everyone storing them locally on their hard drives. Do you think this is a good idea, a bad idea or both?

Extra Credit: Do you still buy CDs and DVDs?

A few years ago, my laptop started sending me warnings that the hard drive was going to crash.  It was imminent.  I pulled my school assignments off to a thumb drive and my iTunes were backed up on an external drive.  But I had all those pictures in Picasa.  I didn’t want them mixed up with iTunes and there wasn’t room on the little drive with my stuff for school.  So I uploaded them to my web account.
Worked like a charm.  Such that this past weekend, when I bought the new laptop, I did the same thing.  And now I am wondering if I should bother to download those files again.
I have enjoyed streaming video from Academic Earth and from hulu.com.  But it is sort of like books.  There are things I borrow and things that I buy.  I still buy DVDs (though not nearly as many as in the past).  I still have a half-full DVR of things I am not watching.  I haven’t tried Netflix yet because I don’t want to add another monthly expense.  
Music is a bit of a different story.  Generally, if there is a song that I want, I will download it.  But if I want the entire album, I go with the CD.  The only exception was The National, whose CD was twice as expensive as the download.  So apparently, I have a tipping point somewhere.  But again, once it is “mine”, I back it up on an external drive.
Overall, I still think of online more as a place of “sharing” rather than “owning”.   So maybe I am just wading into the clouds.  But I certainly don’t have enough experience to judge.

Weekend Assignment #363: Scammed!

Weekend Assignment #363: Scammed!

Have you ever been successfully scammed? Was it a phone fraud, a phishing email, a trojan worm, or something else? How did they fool you, and what have you learned from the experience?

Extra Credit: Tell us about a scam that didn’t succeed in tricking you.

Either I have never been scammed, or I am so oblivious that I still don’t know I have been scammed.  I do not suck with money, but is probably the latter.
There was one time, at Noodles and Company, when I handed over my Visa to pay for lunch and it was declined.  I called Chase to rip someone’s head off and found that two hours earlier, someone tried to use my card to download music in Brazil.  Had I tried to use my card to download music in Brazil?
Of course not.
It was only one song, so Chase’s theory was that the charge was a test run.  The Bad Guy was going to do something very small with my credit card number, and if no one caught it, would go for the Big Catch.
People aren’t saying many nice things about the banks lately, so I must give credit to Chase.  I use plastic for pretty much everything, so for them to determine – again, within hours – that something was up, and to shut down my card to investigate…that was Heads Up.
How long would it have taken me to figure out?  Not more than a couple of weeks.  But you can do a lot of damage in a couple of weeks.  

Weekend Assignment #362: Emergency!

Weekend Assignment #362: Emergency!

How prepared are you for emergency situations? Do you know how to do CPR? Does your home or business have an evacuation plan or do fire drills? Do you have a generator, duct tape, candles, first aid kit, fire extinguisher, sandbags or other emergency supplies on hand? Why or why not?

Extra Credit: Does your smoke detector (if you have one) have fresh batteries in it?

Eh.  Sorta.  About a million years ago, I was certified to do CPR. Lapsed.  Which doesn’t sound that bad to me since I understand the experts are in the process of arguing the best method again.
Certainly my office has procedures and drills and we have been working seriously on a Business Continuity Plan.  We were asked to set operational priorities.  After making sure people are safe, and we can communicate, my priorities were:  Payroll first, health insurance second, 401(k) third.  This was my contribution:
“Just get me access to the Internet.”  
As long as we have Internet, we can keep payroll operating, keep BCBS paid, and maybe even keep up the 401(k) contributions.  So someone asks what I would do if there was just no Internet.  I turned to the committee chair and asked:
“What kind of disaster would have to occur for there to be no Internet in Chicago, Columbus or Washington, DC? (the latter cities being the alternate work sites under discussion)”
“A nuclear event,” was the answer.
Some things we just can’t plan for.
We don’t have a generator at my house, although the sump pump has a battery back up.  We have the first aid kits and candles and bottled water.  The fire alarm is part of the security system.  But the extent of our planning is how to get all of our pets out of the house in case it is on fire.  
I think the bottom line is that if there were a big-deal emergency event, we would survive.  But it would be expensive.

Weekend Assignment #361: Give It Up!

Weekend Assignment #361: Give It Up!

Lent has begun, and in certain denominations, people are “giving up something for Lent” – in other words, not indulging in some pleasurable food or activity between now and Easter. Have you ever abstained from something for a period of time for a religious or spiritual purpose? What was it? How successful were you at avoiding it?
Extra Credit: Regardless of whether you believe in doing so, if you were to give up something you enjoy between now and April 24th, what would it be?
I was just talking about this:
While I do not practice any institutional religion, I follow most of the JudeoChristian values and a few traditions. Back in the day, I gave up French Fries every year for Lent.  It was a good one for me because it was something that I enjoyed enough to make it a sacrifice, but not such a deprivation that I was twitching two weeks in – like those people that give up caffeine.  I considered it participating in a tradition that many of my friends and colleagues valued, and it was good for my health.
I stopped giving up things for Lent because my brother, who became a Catholic when he got married, derisively informed me that Lent was not meant to be my own personal diet plan.  And if I wasn’t going to take it seriously, I shouldn’t do it.
Apparently, Lent was meant to make certain people feel morally superior.
If I were going to give up something, I would probably make it some kind of consumerist behavior.  But then I would be accused of making Lent my own personal financial savings plan.  

Toy Show

Weekend Assignment #360: Toy Show

Do you have any old toys or dolls from your childhood, either the originals or replacements purchased as an adult? If so, tell us about them.

Extra Credit: Is there a particular toy from your childhood that you especially remember as a favorite?

There are a few stuffed animals that were favorites, and a couple that I still have.  But really, it was about the books. 
The earliest favorite was The Monster at the End of this Book.  That was Grover.
The Ramona books were particular favorites.  A couple were recently re-issued in “read aloud” editions that I have been picking up for Alex.  Lovely hardcover books with a few more illustrations.  He has been digging them.
Of course, the Judy Blumes were popular in my house when we were older
The special favorite was Little Witch, by Anna Elizabeth Bennet.  Long out of print, we still have the old paperback version, but I haven’t seen a decent hardcover copy for less than $75.  Not worth it.  
I have bought and borrowed so many books for the nephew and nieces, that I wonder whether they will have the same old favorites that we had when we were kids.  The one that they have to have over and over every night.  Good for me.  But are they missing something?
I don’t care.  As long as they are readers.

Career Day

Weekend Assignment #359: Career Day 2

It’s often said that most people will change careers several times over the course of their working lives. If money, age and educational resources were all conducive to your trying another line of work, would you do so? If so, what new career would you choose?

Extra Credit: When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Even if all the stars were aligned, I don’t think I would change my line of work.  I am good at it, I am compensated appropriately and I love my people.
However, as I have spent my entire career with one employer, I am in a position to take an early retirement.  In twenty years, but whatever.  When I think about “what I really want to do when I grow up”, I am thinking of the Second Career.  The Career in Retirement.
I have often said that I want to be the lady at the spa that brings you your ice water with lemon.  Because everyone is in a good mood at the spa.  And even if they weren’t, who the heck yells at the ice water lady?  I sometimes think I would like to work in a book store.  But there is no way I am going back to retail.  Library?   I think that if I knew any more about the municipal funding situation, it would just make me insane.  I also wonder about teaching part-time.  I believe my Master’s Degree opens the door to teach at the local community college.
When I was nine, I didn’t know if I wanted to be a Dallas Cowboy cheerleader or a Dallas Cowboy.  Then I hit puberty and came to the understanding that neither would ever happen.  When I was in high school, I wanted to be a financial mogul of some kind.  Or maybe a Senator.  Then I got to college (in Washington DC) and determined that political types are crazy and I would never be able to run for office with a straight face.  Then I took a finance course.  Boring.  And too much math.    That was when I discovered HR, and the rest is history.