Friday, March 26, 2010

Look who is 6 months old today!

Our niece is six months old today! Uncle Matt & Aunt Suz miss her terribly, but hopefully we'll see her very soon! Here's a look back at the first 6 months of her little life (also, click here to see some awesome photos of Hannah at 1 month, taken by Katie's dear friend & our wedding photographer, Scarlett):

September 2009
October 2009

November 2009 (This photo doesn't look like her! Who are you & what have you done with my niece?)
December 2009
January 2010
February 2010
March 2010
What a happy little lady. Love you, munchkin! Happy 6 month bday!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Today was a good day.

  • Matt turned 25.
  • He opened his presents (finally)!
  • He bought me a present...beautiful tulips!
  • celebrate 1,000 days of marriage!
  • (He stumbled across an online date countdown calculator)
  • March Madness began! 
  • We found out that Carson & Nicole will be living 2 hrs away!
  • We went for a run, so that we could....
  • Eat baby back ribs from the barby!
  • & carrot cake! Yum!
  • YAY for a great day!
  • (Sorry for the overuse of exclamation points. I'm just that happy!)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The presents

 T minus 70 minutes to Matt's 25th Birthday! And we're staying up late tonight, kids. Because when the clock strikes midnight, we are celebrating. You see, Matt & I have different philosophies about present opening. He prefers to open them as they arrive. Can't handle letting them sit there, staring at him. I on the other hand, like the anticipation. Makes the birthday a little more fun. This year, Matt decided to wait it out. It's killing him. I can't say he totally resisted the temptation; he did open one present, some sweet Carolina blue shades. Well, the wait is almost over, at midnight, Matt is officially 25 years old! If you're reading this today (March 18th), please send the hubs some birthday wishes. I love him tons & think he's pretty fantastic. (Oh & today is Baby Liam's 1 month birthday! We wanted to send him some love, too!)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Everything You Never Knew About St. Patrick's Day

I've lived in the "South" for a mere 6 months & I'm slowly starting to notice subtle & not-so-subtle differences between Northern & Southern customs (ignore the fact that I lived in Florida which is a hybrid state, if you ask me). Exhibit A: St. Patrick's Day. I don't think Southerners give a crap...

I learned a few things in my 6 years in the great state of Illinois:
   (1) There are a lot of Irish people in Chicago.
   (2) There are even more Chicagoans who wish they were Irish.
   (3) Alot of Chicagoans/suburban kids go to U of I.
   (4) Therefore, there are also a lot of wannabe-Mcs* in Central Illinois.
   (5) These folks love St. Patrick's Day.
 *I think I can say that, especially since I'm married "Mc."  If I just crossed the line & use a totally inappropriate racial slur, I plead ignorance!

All I really know about St. Patrick's Day is that it's an excuse for Chicagoans to drink green beer (I approve) and dye the Chicago River green. If you've never seen this before, please click on this link. For you southerners, yes, it's freaky-deaky real. Seen it with my own two eyes.

Since Matt is legitimately Irish (or at least 1/2), I invited him to contribute a guest column on the blog. I promised I'd make him corn beef & cabbage in return. Here's everything you never knew about St. Patrick's Day. Settle in folks, you're in for a history lesson, a la Matt McA:

I am about 50% Irish... and Susan is Irish via marriage, so here are some interesting facts about St. Patrick and his holiday.

1. Born Maewyn Succat in Britain around 385 A.D., St. Patrick was kidnapped by pirates at the age of 16 and sold to Ireland as a slave.  He turned to Christianity as a solace during his 6 years as a slave. He escaped slavery and went to Gaul (France) where he changed his name to Patrick and studied in the monastery under St. Germain.

2. St. Patrick's color is actually blue (as seen above).  Green became associated with St. Patrick's Day in the 19th Century.  Green, according to Irish legend is worn by fairies, leprechauns,  and immortals.

3. Up until the 1970s, pubs in Ireland were closed on St. Patrick's Day because it was a religious holiday.

4. St. Patrick's Day began in America in 1737 in Boston.

5. March 17th is supposedly the day St. Patrick died.  Nothing is known about the cause of his death.  His burial site is not known due to great anxiety of people of the Middle Ages to possess the bodies and relics of saints. 

6. St. Patrick is Nigeria's patron saint, since that country was evangelized by missionaries from Ireland.

7. St. Patrick never drove snakes out of Ireland.  This was a metaphor for all of the pagans he converted to Christianity.  He is said to have rid the land of snakes by ringing his bell from the top of Croagh Patrick, a 2500 feet tall mountain.At this site, however, there exists an ancient church, and at the base of the mountain is a natural spring known as Patrick's well or Tobair Padraig where St. Patrick baptized the first Irish converts.

8. The shamrock, which was also called the "seamroy" by the Celts, was a sacred plant in ancient Ireland because it symbolized the rebirth of spring. According to legend, St. Patrick used the shamrock to explain the Christian doctrine of the Trinity ( God exists as three persons--father, son, and the Holy Spirit) to the Irish.

Life for Less: Love Chile. Love Haiti.

Quick update re: Charitable Contributions for Chilean Earthquake Relief (from The Hill 3/10/2010):

"The House approved legislation that allows individuals to claim donations for earthquake relief to Chile on their 2009 tax return. Normally, these contributions would be claimed on the 2010 return since they were paid this year.The measure also extends donations to victims of the earthquake in Haiti. Donations made prior to Apr. 15 for either cause can be deducted on 2009 tax returns."

{Show some love to our brothers & sisters in Chile/Haiti}

Sunday, March 14, 2010


We had a baby.......................
No, not that kind (don't get ahead of yourself, friends)!!!
We prefer baby steps (plant, pet then person) This kind:
He's a cute little guy:
The Felkels gave us one of their spider babies about two years ago.
& it grew into a healthy big spider plant that Matt & I have managed
to keep alive and even transport states away to a new home in N.C.

We've had these babies before & we've always managed to kill them.
I blame it on the Internet. Strangers gave me bad advice. Is there any-
one reading this with a green thumb? How can we keep this little guy
alive? I'm afraid to cut 'em off life support. What should we do!?!?!?

(I just showed Matt this post & he scolded me. Told me I shouldn't
cry wolf. Forgive me, but I had to get your attention somehow!)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Life for Less: Suggestions?

I have lots of ideas for my life for less series, but since I'm writing this for my friends & I hope that my little bit of experience in this area can help a 20something handle their personal finances with confidence, I'd love to hear if any of y'all have any specific topics in mind. I can't promise that I'll get to it right away or that I'd have the requisite expertise to field your specific question, but I'll do my darndest (this blogging thing takes a lot of time!). If you have a suggestion at any time.... put it in the comments! And follow me if you'd to come along for the ride as this series evolves. I can't promise to be all business ... you'll still get a healthy dose of just plain life with Matt & Suz, too!

Life for Less: Taxes, Part Deux (In English, please?)

Matt gives me a hard time for speaking almost entirely in acronyms. It's true, I'm cursed. In fact, I'd say all CPAs (that's Certified Public Accountants, for those of you who've been looking at my profile & thinking to yourself, huh?!) have a tendency to abuse acronyms.

Can you blame me? After graduating from UofI with a BA in Accy and MST, I passed the CPA exam &  started my career at PwC, in the PCS group. I saved all of my work in DMS, complied with our QRM policies, squeezed in L&E & met my PC&D goals. Eventually I moved to the PFS group where I learned a whole new slew of acronyms..... and I've been consistently speaking in letters ever since.

When I start talking taxes, I effortlessly shift into accountant-speak and sometimes forget that not everyone is wired like me. In fact, most people aren't.

So I'm going to break down some basic terms (& acronyms!) you should be familiar with when filing your tax return. For those of you about to tune out since you pay someone to prepare your returns or use a software, I would urge you to read this quick overview since you dang well should understand what you're signing. Lastly, I want to assure you that it's okay to be a little clueless the first time you expose yourself to personal financial / tax matters. In all fairness, I frequently call my dad with questions about my own taxes / personal finances. He's a smart dude, loves me & is more than willing to help me make sense of the things I don't understand:
 Thanks, Dad!
Let's start at the top of a 1040 and work our way down with some key terms: 

Filing Status: Are you single? MFJ (married filing jointly)? MFS (married filing separately)? Head of household? Qualifying widow(er)? Quick tip: your filing status is determined by your status on the last day of the tax year. That means if you're a calendar year taxpayer and you got married in 2009, you would file either MFJ or MFS. See definitions of the different statuses in these instructions.

Exemptions:  Exemptions are reductions of your income for you & your dependents. For 2009, you may claim exemptions of $3,650 for yourself, your spouse (if you file a joint return) and any of your dependents. I get quite annoyed when I see babies with t-shirts like this. Children don't give you an extra deduction they generate a dependency exemption. Here's an example: Matt & I are married and file a joint return. We get 2 exemptions of $3,650 each for a total of $7,300. $7,300 of our income is exempt from tax. 

Gross Income: I hope this is pretty straightforward. Your gross income is the sum of any income you've earned that's subject to tax. Duh, right? I should note that some income isn't subject to federal income tax (like interest from municipal bonds) but those exceptions are few & far between. 

Above the Line Deductions: Deductions are typically expenses that you've incurred that the IRS allows you to deduct from your income. "Above the line" deductions can be taken regardless of whether you choose to itemize or take the standard deduction (more on that later). Examples include student loan interest, contributions to a health savings account or a traditional IRA, moving expenses, educator expenses, etc. 

Adjusted Gross Income (AGI): This is your gross income minus any above the line deductions. This is "the line" that the deductions are above. 

Below the Line Deductions: Here's where you have a decision to make as a taxpayer.... You may either take the standard deduction or itemize your deductions, whichever is bigger! 

Standard Deduction: This is where your filing status comes into play. Your standard deduction is determined by your filing status. For 2009, standard deductions are $5700 for single of MFS, $11,400 for MFJ. 

Itemized Deductions: You may choose to itemize your deductions instead of taking the standard deduction. You'd only want to itemize if the sum of your Schedule A deductions exceeds your standard deduction for your filing status. Generally speaking, itemized deductions include: medical and dental expenses in excess of 7.5% of your AGI, state & local income taxes, real estate taxes, home mortgage interest, investment interest, charitable contributions, certain job expenses & miscellaneous deductions in excess of 2% of your AGI, etc. Here's my rule of thumb, if you own a home, there's a good chance your itemized deductions will exceed your standard deduction, but for most 20somethings who are not homeowners, the standard deduction is typically the way to go. 

Taxable Income (TI): Adjusted gross income minus your exemptions and either your standard or itemized deduction. 

Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT): Just in case you haven't paid enough tax already, you may also be subject to the alternative minimum tax. This tax was intended to capture high-income taxpayers from benefiting from loopholes in the tax code and paying less tax than the government thought they should. Problem is, due to inflation, many middle income taxpayers are now subject to AMT. AMT has it's own set of rules and, quite frankly, is pretty darn confusing. For that reason, I'm not going to use this blog to try to explain it. Read this if your interest is piqued. You may be exempt from AMT all together. 

Credits:Whereas credits & exemptions reduce your INCOME, credits reduce your TAX dollar-for-dollar. Examples of some federal tax credits are the child tax credit, education credits, retirement savers credit, making work pay credit, etc...

Pop Quiz! If my taxable income is $100,000 (wishful thinking) and I'm taxed at a 10% rate (again, unrealistic), what is more valuable -- a credit or a deduction of $1,000?
  • If I have a $1,000 deduction, my income would be reduced to $99,000. At a 10% rate, I'd pay $9,900 in taxes.
  • If instead I have a $1,000 credit,  my income would remain $100,000. At a 10% rate, my tax would be $10,000. I could then take my $1,000 credit, reducing my tax liability to $9,000.
  • Which would you rather have? A $1k deduction or credit? The credit, of course! In this scenario I'd pay $900 less in taxes!
Here's a recap of the simplified individual tax formula. Forget what something means? Refer to your handy-dandy definitions above:
    Gross Income
    Less     Above the Line Deductions
    Equals Adjusted Gross Income
    Less    Standard Deduction or Itemized Deduction
    Less     Personal & Dependency Exemptions
    Equals Taxable Income
    Times   Tax Rate
    Equals  Tax
    Plus      Alternative Minimum Tax
    Less     Credits
    Equals Tax Payable or Refund

    Clear as mud? Great.

    Sorry.... My anal retentive side is telling me this is necessary: Circular 230 Disclosure: To ensure compliance with requirements imposed by the IRS, I inform you that any U.S. federal tax advice contained in this blog is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of (i) avoiding penalties under the Internal Revenue Code, or (ii) promoting, marketing, or recommending to another party any transaction or matter that is contained in this document.

    Monday, March 8, 2010

    Life for Less: As promised...let's talk taxes!

    Last week we finally finished & mailed out our state taxes. By "we" I mean I finished our taxes & Matt took them to the post office. Marriage, it's a team effort. 

    I'm secretly enjoying tax season this year. My days of churning & burning through tax returns are over, and this year, I got to just focus on ours! Instead of waiting until the last minute to rush through our returns, I took my time, did them by hand (gotta keep that brain sharp!), and had everything in the mail before March 1st.

    I've found some great links to excellent taxpayer information & have listed those at the bottom of the post, however, I'm going to try to briefly hit some highlights for the 20somethings in 2 sentences or less. Ready for rapid fire tax tidbits? Here we go:

    Teacher Classroom Expense Deduction: For all of my teacher friends out there, don't forget to deduct up to $250 ($500 for you married teachers) of qualified education expenses. Read the fine print on page 30 of the IRS's Form 1040 Instructions.

    Student Loan Interest Deduction: Paid interest on those student loans? Deduct your student loan interest on page one of your federal return. Refer to Publication 970, page 41, to calculate your deduction.

    Moving Expense Deduction: Did you move over 50 miles for a new job? (We did!) You can deduct the reasonable expenses of moving your household goods & personal effects & of traveling from your old home to your new home. See Form 3903.

    Haiti Charitable Contributions: If you itemize your deductions on Schedule A (instead of taking the standard deduction), you may deduct certain cash contributions for Haiti relief on your 2009 return. Instead of waiting to file your 2010 tax return to take these deductions (which must have been made between 1/11/2010 & 3/1/2010), you can take them in 2009. See page 1 of the1040 Instructions for more info.

    Making Work Pay Credit: I like how the IRS puts it: "It pays to work. You may be able to take this credit if you have earned income from work." Pay attention, working friends! If you have earned income in 2009, you may be able to take a credit of up to $400 ($800 for married couples). Note that if you received this credit through a reduction in your federal withholding, you still must file Schedule M to benefit! Read the instructions for the how-to.

    Education Credits: There have been some changes to education credits. The American Opportunity Tax Credit replaced the Hope Scholarship Credit. You can now take this credit (up to $2500/student) for the first 4 years of undergrad (instead only the first 2 years). For those of us still in school or still financing school for someone that falls out of that category, you can still claim the Lifetime Learning Credit (up to $2k). Pub 970 is your source for all things education. Note that you can also take a deduction, subject to limitations, for tuition & fees but in my experience this is rarely more tax advantageous than taking a credit. Read the instructions & run the numbers.

    First Time Homebuyer Credit: If you bought a house, I hope you've heard of this credit by now. If not, brush up on the incredible tax incentive in store! Enough said.

    NC Credit for Charitable Contributions: Thank you, State of North Carolina. Despite your ridiculously high state income taxes (I've somehow managed to move to progressively higher tax states. Florida 0%. Illinois 3%. NC 6-7%!), you throw a bone to those of us who don't itemize for federal purposes & thus don't get any federal benefit for charitable contributions. If you live in NC, you claimed the standard deduction on your fed return, & you've made cash charitable contributions in 2009, you may be able to claim a tax credit for charitable contributions on your NC return. I won't bore you with the calculation, but I did want to bring it to your attention. The NC Instructions (page 14) go into more detail. Also, see page 12 of the instructions if you claimed an education credit on your federal return. You may be able to deduct your tuition for NC purposes.

    Helpful Links:
    Other Matters:
    • Haven't tackled your return yet? Leave it up to a professional. Visit your local CPA!
    • Sorry.... My anal retentive side is telling me this is necessary: Circular 230 Disclosure: To ensure compliance with requirements imposed by the IRS, I inform you that any U.S. federal tax advice contained in this blog is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of (i) avoiding penalties under the Internal Revenue Code, or (ii) promoting, marketing, or recommending to another party any transaction or matter that is contained in this document.
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