It's late February, and that means many of you have gathered your W-2s and other 2011 financial information and delved into that beloved annual American ritual of tax return preparation.
Perhaps the word "beloved" is a bit of an overstatement when it comes to the average person's feelings about tax time, but for me, it's almost true.
Due to complexity in our tax filings brought on by freelance writing my wife and I do, we've taken our information to a professional tax preparer for several years.
Our ritual is always the same. One or two nights before our tax appointment, I pull out the card table (one of my children suggested we should call it the "tax table," since that's practically the only time we use it during the year) and get out our financial documents. Then I search for and sort everything so it will be ready.
My wife and I discuss the previous year's finances and the likely result of our appointment — will we have to pay this year, or will we get a refund? Will the refund be relatively small, meaning we've got a good handle on how much is withheld from my paycheck, or will it be large, meaning we should consider an adjustment.
On a Saturday afternoon in February, my wife and I head to our tax preparer's office for our yearly "tax date." Romantic, isn't it?
This is the part we actually enjoy. Our tax preparer is great. We've know him for several years now, and even though we see him once each February, we always take a few minutes to catch up on things. He strikes the perfect balance between chatting about life in general and getting down to business. And we know the returns he prepares are accurate and have helped us pay our fair share without paying more than we should.
The bottom line is, we trust him. And because of that trust, I don't worry about tax time.
In my opinion, that's a big deal. When it comes to seeking work/life balance, one of the things that often throws a wrench into my efforts is financial worry. Stress about finances at home can lead to distraction at work, which can lead to lower productivity and, perhaps, longer hours at the office. Not to mention the anxiety you feel as a family when financial worries are looming.
I sometimes think many of the financial concerns I have on a daily basis are due to a lack of trust in those with whom I'm doing business.
For example, I'm no expert when it comes to car repair. Actually, I should be more blunt: I don't know anything about cars.
Over the years, every time we've moved, we've tried to find a car repair shop we could trust. Sometimes, we've been successful. Often, we have not.
As a result, when something happens to one of our vehicles, I usually feel like I'm getting taken for a ride, so to speak. Even though that's probably not the case — intellectually, I'm sure most, if not all, of the repairs that are made are legitimately needed — I just can't shake the feeling.
By contrast, I have only positive feelings about the plumber we use. After we bought our home about 11 years ago, we needed to call a plumber a couple of times, and I had that strong suspicion that things weren't handled quite right. As a result, we asked some friends and neighbors for recommendations, and we got the name of a family-owned business that had been established in our area for years.
We've since called on this particular business several times, and I've always felt that they did an excellent job at a fair price. Granted, this is plumbing we're talking about, so it hasn't always been a low price. But as I said, I have trusted that it was fair.
Financial dishonesty seems to be running rampant right now. You hear every day about new scams that prey on people, often when they're at their most vulnerable. It seems like our personal information is always under attack. If we avoid having our identities stolen by fraudsters, we feel we've been especially fortunate.
Real trust in money matters, built on a foundation of proven performance during a long-standing business relationship, is all too rare. When you find it, as we have with our tax preparer and our plumber, it makes life so much easier for everyone involved. And that makes me wonder why we don't seee more of it.
I'd be interested in your thoughts on this subject. What bad experiences have you had in financial dealings with people you couldn't trust? How did those instances affect your life at home and at the work? On the other hand, what positive experiences have you had in money matters with people you could trust?
Please let me know. And, in the meantime, here's wishing you a pleasant tax preparation experience this year.