No, the blog has not been abandoned.

I have just been nursing several infections who decided to be especially cruel and invade my body the week before Christmas, including the first ear infection I’ve had since I was twelve.  Yes, InfectionsRUs.

Really, G-d, was it necessary to foist this upon me when I wasn’t done with Christmas shopping, baking, or with preparations to go out of town?

Was it then necessary to give me a rip-roaring case of bronchitis, despite having taken a Z-pack, which has allowed me to fully cough up one lung?  And give me my period at the same time (TMI, but have YOU coughed with a tampon in???)? I must thank You, though, for not giving me diarrhea,  as sharting is even less fun…

Just a request for next time – can You please wait until my son is fully recovered from his cold/asthma attack, as it’s not fun going to his doctor every other day and listening to his doctor tell me that I’m an undiagnosed asthmatic, and should really get to my own doctor?

So, my friends, I hope Santa or Hanukkah Harry or your spouse has given you everything you wanted for the holidays.

Around here we’re just praying for a return to good health.  Please, G-d.

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Guilty Pleasure – Tila’s Shot at Love Finale

Shhhh. Don’t tell anyone.

I cannot wait until tonight, when Tila Tequila lets us know which way her wind blows, at least for now.

Tila, someone famous for being on MySpace, for goodness sake, extended her 15 minutes of Warholian fame by signing on with MTV to become the Bi-chelorette on A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila. The show’s hook?

Tila is bisexual. So twelve males and twelve females compete for a Shot at Tila. Yes. And as the prospective winners were winnowed down to the final two, they all had to sleep on one very large bed.

Yes.

So, now that Tila eliminated all but two, will she choose the mostly-male Bobby, a twenty-something student of…something, who apparently has stolen Richard Dreyfus’ voice? Or Dani, a firefighter with a somewhat odd forehead curl, who is decidedly NOT a “lipstick lesbian” (I just looove that term!), in whom she could theoretically get the best of both worlds?

And am I the only one who didn’t miss the irony that the two finalists have sexually ambiguous names?

Oh, yes. A very guilty pleasure. And I’m apparently not the only one, if the frequency of the reruns and the pre-finale hype are any indication.

My normally quite sane sister confided to me that she watches the show, and that she’s rooting for Dani. When I told her that Dani’s firehouse is less than a mile from my home she advised me to start a fire in the hopes that Dani would be the one to come and put out the flames, just so I could tell her my sister was rooting for her.

Okaaaaaaaaaaaaay.

Not that I haven’t thought about dropping by the firehouse so that my son could see the fire trucks, and if Dani just happens to be there…but I SWEAR I was thinking about it even before I ever heard of Dani!

So, who am I rooting for? Bobby. Why?

I like Dani. I think she seems really, really sweet. And I think she deserves better than Tila, who still doesn’t know which way she’s twisting.

And I hate the haircut, Tila. HATE IT.

I will be watching tonight.

I know you will be too, you naughty, naughty guilty pleasure seeker, you.

Target’s Allure May Be Poison, But I’ll Drink to That

Paid Twice over at I’ve Paid for This Twice Already wrote a great article about why she’s avoiding her biggest impulse-buying trigger – the wonder that is Target.

I agree with her. I have spent far too much money on things I didn’t really need just because they were on sale. Often. A lot. Constantly. And not just at Target. I think I’ve come across a solution that will help me curb that, without having to stop my weekly Target Clearance shelf sojourns (my son and I go every Tuesday – the day that our local store makes most of it’s markdowns).

Why do I still want to go? Well, sometimes I find a deal that will make me money. Once I found brand new carseats on clearance for $22 apiece. I bought three and sold them on Craigslist for $60 apiece. I found a Baby Bike Trailer for about $20 that I think I sold for $75. I’ve done similar things dozens of times.

I’ve also gotten gifts for ridiculously low prices. A few weeks ago I was doing my weekly browse, thinking that I needed to get a birthday gift for someone. I ran across a really great gift for $16 that was regularly almost $80 (I’d budgeted $40) – and absolutely perfect for the birthday girl. And two shirts for another family member for $2.47 each.

And I’ve never found another store that gives me great deals so consistently.So, what I’ve started doing this past month (thanks in no small part to the inspiration I’m getting from my friends’ frugal blogs) is just ask myself, “Do we really need this? Can I sell this, and quickly? Can I gift this within two months, and do I have a specific person in mind (I have a gift shelf in my closet full of un-gifted bargains…)?” If the answer is no, well, then it stays in the store.

Last week I spent only $3.47. Two weeks ago I actually left without spending a dime. A record. I was so proud.

For me, I tend to cut out the moldy part instead of throwing out the whole ball of cheese. I’m not saying it’s always the best approach – I’m sure I’d be better off throwing out the whole ball sometimes.

It just always seems a waste to me to throw out that much good cheese.

We all have to do what works best for us. What I love so much about reading different blogs are the discussions they provoke, the thoughts they inspire, and the changes we make as a result. Or not.

Saying What You Mean, and Meaning What You Say

My father is struggling, and well-meaning people are making it harder.

Since my stepmother’s sudden death in July he is working very hard to build a new life. He is desperately sad, having lost a woman who in every sense of the word completed him. He knew she was for him right away – the first words he ever spoke to her were along the lines of, “Please don’t go yet. My name is E____, and I’m going to marry you.”

Yes, he really did.

He is very active. He still works, sees friends and family, travels. He’s mourning, but he’s living life.

He is a creature of habit and order, which serves him well in his career as a Certified Public Accountant, and has served him well as he processes his grief. He expects people to say what they mean, and mean what they say. Growing up it was a hard standard to meet (especially for a tried and true procrastinator like myself) but an excellent example, and all five kids are better off for it. If you say you’re going to do something, you do it. Few things annoy him more than lack of follow-through, professionally and personally.

That’s why it is so frustrating to him for people to tell him, “I’ll call you. We’ll have you over for dinner…” The offerers are being wonderfully compassionate in the moment – letting my Dad know that they support him, that he’s cared about and not alone. I understand and appreciate that, and so does he.

But please don’t offer and then not follow through. It’s not that he’s so desperate to spend time with you (although it would be lovely). It’s just that it creates another loose end. At this time of his life, when he’s feeling so let down by the events of the last few months, he’s counting on order and routine more than ever before. So when he’s reflecting about things, and remembering that so-and-so came to Shiva and gave him their best wishes and insisted they get together but then never calls, it annoys him.

So, please, before you tell someone who’s grieving that you’re going to invite them to get together, make sure you’re going to follow through. And then do.

Thank you.

The Accountant’s Daughter’s 2007 Year End Tax Tips

The end of the year is one of the most important times in our financial year. Besides putting our money and time budgets to the test with all of the holiday gifts and parties and travel, tax planning should also be a money and time priority.

Being the daughter of an accountant, there’s a few things I’ve learned over the years. The first is to always hire a tax professional to get correct advice, and to minimize your tax liability. Now that my husband and I have a small business we’ve discovered the minefield that is deductible small business expenses , and we’ve gotten invaluable advice on how to use those deductions correctly (for example, we decided not to deduct our home office), minimizing the risk of an audit. Even if you do them yourself, I’d at least get the return reviewed before submitting it to the IRS. Often communities will offer free or low-cost tax preparation assistance, so check in your area.

Still, even as laymen, there are things we should know about, even if only to ask our accountant. Here are a few things I’ve been doing or considering as the calendar and tax year comes to a close. I hope they are of help to you.

The bottom line when it comes to taxes is that you want to delay paying taxes on your income as long as possible, and pay expenses as soon as possible. By deferring income you in effect get the use of that money for an additional year before having to pay income tax – a year when you could make that money work for you. And by paying expenses NOW you get to deduct that which is deductible now, reducing your tax liability.

Delaying Income

1. Defer your compensation – If possible, defer your last paycheck or any bonuses due you until after the first of the year. When it comes to income, it’s always better to put off until tomorrow what is due you today. Try to get your job-related expenses reimbursed before the end of the year instead of your regular paycheck, if possible. That way you can still get some cash, and it’s not taxed as income.

2. Make additional allocations to your 401k or IRA – Deductions to some retirement accounts are made with pre-tax dollars, reducing your taxable income. You can contribute up to $15,500 per individual to a 401k (plus an extra $5000 if you’re over 50) or up to $400o per individual to an IRA ($4500 if you’re 50 or over), so max these out of you can. Even if you can’t max it out, even an extra $100 helps you now and in the future. A nice bonus – IRA contributions for 2007 don’t need to be made until April 15, 2008. There are also ROTH IRAs to consider. Though not tax deductible they may be better for you in the long run. There are also SEPs and Keoughs which have various rules, so check with your accountant to see what would be best for you.

3. If you have a small business, wait until January to bill your clients – a few weeks delay on you having that money is the same as deferring salary for others.

Expenses to Pay Now

1. Pay your property taxes early – If you do not escrow for your taxes and are responsible for paying them yourself (along with homeowners insurance something I highly recommend – why should you pay them a year in advance through your mortgage payments?), you may get a discount by paying them early. I save about $200 by paying them in November instead of waiting until March. That’s a pretty good savings.

2. Make your January mortgage payment a few days early – This way you can take advantage of the additional mortgage interest in this tax year instead of next. Note: It must reach them by December 31st to qualify.

3. Consider selling losing stocks – You can use the loss to offset some of the capital gains from your better-performing investments. Note: There are some tax changes coming next year which may make this not the right choice for you – check with your accountant.

4. Make charitable contributions – Generosity is tax-deductible. Make your contributions now, but please keep in mind that they’ve really tightened the requirements for appraising the value of non-cash donations. Money is easy, but you’ll need an appraisal by an expert for any contribution over $5000 (so if you’d planned on donating to charity the car that died 5 years ago that’s been sitting up on blocks in your back yard, you’re probably going to be out of luck).

5. Now is a better time for pricey medical procedures – Well, really never is a good time for this, but if you have any procedures you need done in the near future try getting them done before the end of the year if the costs will exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income. Another tax deduction awaits. Then again, who wants to do this around the holidays?

6. If you have a small business pay any deductible subscriptions, dues, invoices now – Again, better to take the deduction this year and reduce the tax due in April.

7. Make that big purchase – in my state we get to deduct sales tax, but that deduction may end this year. So if you live in one of the states without a state income tax (Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington or Wyoming) now is a great time to buy a car, a $6000 Apple computer, or a huge screen plasma HDTV television (hello, Super Bowl!).

8. For any deductible purchases you make this month, use your credit card – this way you get the item/benefit this year, get the tax benefit this year, but don’t actually have to pay for it until next year. When you can use that income you deferred. Hey, every penny counts, people!

Which brings us to an excellent point. Every year brings changes to tax laws. This may be the last year for several deductions (like the $250 supply deduction for teachers and the college tuition deduction). Please take advantage of them now. Also, the new tax year will bring new rules, so in some cases you’re better off trying to have some things fall under the 2008 tax year. Again, your tax advisor can help you wade through the muck.

As always, please remember that I am not an expert on finance, or an accountant. This is nowhere near a complete list. I’m just an accountant’s daughter. So, please, please, please contact your accountant for expert advice.

Perhaps Jewish girls shouldn’t have Christmas trees

I think He is trying to tell me something.

We put up our Christmas tree last Thursday, and all was well.

Then, yesterday, I attempted to put water in the base of our new tree stand, which I had bought on sale after Christmas last year. It’s a really cool stand – supposed to be one-person workable, easy as pie, make your Christmas even better. We were impressed.

And the tree looked beautiful. It was a perfect tree. The One. We’d had The Moment. You know, that moment when you just look at each other and know you’ve found the perfect tree.

We decorated it, and it looked lovely. Then, yesterday, I tried to put water in it. It did not go well.

The tree fell over. Yes, it really did.

The stand had broken, in a way that my post-tragedy online research has revealed is all too common with this type of stand.

Okay. We lost a few ornaments, nothing too tragic. We put the tree in a bucket so it wouldn’t dry out, cleaned up the mess and planned to go out in search of another stand today.

Which I did. I had to break my promise not to purchase any more Christmas stuff this year. I bought a very plain, regular stand. No muss, no fuss.

So, tonight we tried to put up the tree again. Tried being the operative word.

Seems the tree’s trunk is too narrow for the stand I bought.

Yes, it really is.

My husband now insists that he’s done, and this is the last real tree we’ll ever have. We’re supposed to immediately purchase a faux tree, complete with lights for next year.

As if.

So, tomorrow I have to go out and buy yet another tree stand. And if this doesn’t work, I don’t have to worry about what He is trying to tell me because the other “he” in my life, my dear husband, will throw the tree out the window.

A Jewish Dilemma…Chanukah Ham

Ever hear the one about the Jewish dilemma – free ham?

Well, apparently New York’s Balducci’s grocery store doesn’t get that joke.  According to blogger NancyKay Shapiro , some well intentioned but seriously clueless staffer there thought it would be a good idea to advertise their hams on cards that say, “Delicious for Chanukah“.

Oh, yes they did.

Really.

She has pictures, too.

And, in the spirit of true capitalism (and lending credence to a certain stereotype), she is already selling mugs, shirts and aprons sporting said photos.

Oh, yes she is.

They’d make great Chanukah gifts.

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