Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Death and Taxes

Certainty? In this world, nothing is certain but death and taxes.
—Benjamin Franklin

In the modern mystery, death is usually a critical element, a certainty. If there isn't a body somewhere pretty early on in the story, most mystery readers get a little itchy and twitchy and wonder what's up. And, truthfully, I love exploring death (fictionally speaking). I can spend endless hours researching sneaky ways to kill people circa 1880 and thereabouts, and I love setting up and (ahem) executing the murder scene(s) in my books.

However, regarding the second half of Benjamin Franklin's observation, all I have to say is Bah!

I have a technical/scientific background, so you'd think that taxes would be a snap, right? It's only numbers. It's math. It's logic. For heaven's sake, we're talking basic arithmetic here—add, subtract, multiply, divide—not calculus or complex number theory. The financials of my writing/editing consultancy business (which includes my fiction efforts) should theoretically be neatly bound, gagged, and overdosed with Quicken and Excel. All those little numbers showing profit and loss, income and expenses, should be subdued and ready for delivery well before mid-April.

Unfortunately, my financial process is akin to my process for researching methods of death and destruction. Usually, when researching for fiction, I'm bouncing from book to book, website to website, landing on random facts, thinking "hmmm, that's interesting, and perhaps useful," stashing it away mentally (or on a random sticky note) before zipping off in another, tangential direction. In the financial realm, my approach is similarly random. Receipts are crammed willy-nilly into my wallet until the wallet is too full to close, whereupon the crumpled bits of paper are regurgitated into a paper bag (yes, that's what I said, a paper bag). Now, the wallet is free to feed again, and the process repeats. As for statements, consulting contracts, and so on, they alight on whatever surface is at hand upon my entering the house. There they linger, to become buried beneath equally important papers, until I can corral them into the all-consuming paper bag.

When the time comes to "deal with it," the paper bag is emptied onto the dining table, which cannot be used for dining until taxes are done.

In fiction writing, it's fun to toss motives, method, characters, location and era all into a big jumble, shake 'em up, and see what comes of it.

Unfortunately, the same process when applied to taxes does not yield a very satisfying result.

And that, dear Benjamin, is a certainty.


Anonymous said...

Excellent comparison and a well written post!

Morgan Mandel said...

I have a store-all collapsable cloth container I bought at Kohl's where all of my tax stuff is dumped. Very soon I'll need to undump and figure some of it out. First, I need to balance the check books. Yuck.

Morgan Mandel

Chester Campbell said...

I charge everything on a credit card and enter them in Quicken every few days. At tax time, I simply print out a profit and loss statement and there it is.

Actually, it isn't all that simple, as I have to contend with Schedules C, D, and E, and all that rot. Incidentally, I use a Choice Privileges credit card, which gives me free nights at Quality and Comfort Inns when I'm on the road.

Sharon Reece said...

This post evoked belly laughs to the point of tears! You couldn't have described the scene more accurately. Ours is a voracious box instead of a bag but everything else is pretty much the same. My husband swears each year that he'll do better at keeping records but it seems to be getting worse rather than better! I used to balance checkbooks, but don't even have time for that anymore! Now that we mostly use a debit card we can check our balance online in far less time than it would take to balance the checkbook and so far the bank hasn't made any grave mistakes.

Sorry I can't contribute any glorious words of advice here.


Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

Oh! I so agree with you. Thanks for the laugh.

Jane Kennedy Sutton

Gwyn Ramsey said...

Love this blog. How true. We work all year filing those little receipts away, forgetting them and then, BAM, it's tax time. Augh!

I do file mine in a multi-category file so I'm one step ahead this year. Plus I developed a spreadsheet for books sold. Then I plug in the receipts on another spread sheet.

This year I bought Quicken. I loaded it on the computer. That's it. . .Now I have to learn how to use it for the coming year. Another one of those little jobs I'll get around to in my spare time, like a video for U-Tube.

Thanks Ann, a very job well done.

Gwyn Ramsey

Ann Parker said...

Hello all...
crawling out of the woodwork after a long day.
Hiya Marvin, and thanks so much for the morale-building comment. :-)
Hey Morgan, I like the cloth container concept. So much nicer than a paper bag. I may have to hit up the local Kohl's. Hmmm. Or maybe use one of those bazillion bags I've collected from conferences...
Hi Chester, Wow, I envy your organizational abilities. I'll be highlighting the charge card statements, and you'll be looong done!
Hi Sharon, Well, you have plenty of company. I also stopped balancing the checkbook. When I can go on line and pull things up that way, it just doesn't seem to matter any more.
Hi Jane! Glad I could supply some "laffs" at this somber time of year. :-)
And hiya Gwen! Sounds like you are light-years ahead of me with a file and spreadsheets. You go, girl!

I still have my bag to paw through. Think I'll start tonight, as I have a long "to do"list from our tax preparer. And... I just realized... All those 1099s etc. etc. I gave her: I need them to fill out the FAFSA for our college-age kid! ARGH!

Anonymous said...

My father used to be a tax accountant, and he can't understand why I won't let him help me; how bad can it be, he always says. So I forwarded him your perfect post today. He gets it now. =)

Ann Parker said...

Hi Krista!
I'm so glad that my words were of use! :-) Now... if only I could borrow your dad...

Charlotte Phillips said...

I use a folder labeled "This year's taxes." Everything goes in there. I complete tax forms for my entire family. So, when someone else hands me tax papers, I "usually" remember to write their name on the paper before stuffing it in the tax folder - which is one of those expandable jobs.

In January, I swore I'd do better. I bought Quicken. I plan to install the software one day and then figure out how to use it.

Ann Parker said...

Hi Charlotte,
A folder! Sounds better than a paper bag...
Now that my writing/editing business involves more than writing fiction, I'm starting to think I need to "label" pieces of paper as well, so I know what project they involve when I look back a year later.
It's a shoulda, woulda, coulda for sure.
More resolutions to follow up on!

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