Frugality is the animal that must be bred to achieve financial goals. There is no amount of income that can’t be spent, and then some. If you don’t believe that, take a long look at the U.S. government to get a view of an amount of money that can be spent with ideas to spend more.

The seed of wealth is the money you didn’t spend and instead invested. That is the only course in building a steady stream of income to enjoy the life you want. 

The investment isn’t the problem; the seed is. You can generate a generous income stream from real estate, index funds or a business. In each case it is the excess cash you didn’t spend that is the seed that grows to satisfy your dreams.

The more frugal the lifestyle, the less you need to retire. 

Image a man with a million dollars invested. Is he rich? Could he retire? Well, the questions are impossible to answer. If he spends $300,000 per year the million isn’t so much. If he spends under $40,000, he qualifies under the 4% rule to retire because he is unlikely to ever deplete his nest egg. 

 

We have all seen short lists of frugal things we can do to cuts costs. Those lists tend to focus on daily actions that can save a few dollars. This list will have some of the same advice, but will also include actions that are long-term in nature and build serious financial wealth. Coupled together, the long and short term frugal behaviors, lower your cost of living without giving up anything that you value in life.

Frugality sometimes gets a bad rap because it is perceived as depriving yourself of things you want. Nothing could be further from the truth! Frugality is discovering what you truly value and focusing on those things that give you the greatest pleasure. Nobody ever found nirvana in being a buying unit. (Well, except for that one guy in Tupelo, but I have it on good authority he doesn’t read this blog so I am safe.)

This list of frugal tips and tricks will not ask you to give up anything. I will ask you to reconsider your behavior, as in, how to acquire the things desired.

Epictetus gave us words to consider close to 2,000 years ago:

Demand not that things happen as you wish, but wish them to happen as they do, and you will go on well.

For our discussion, this means that we can’t gain the maximum benefit from these frugal tips and tricks if we refuse to make even the most minor of changes to our behavior. In other words, you can still enjoy a pot of coffee every day, but every cup doesn’t have to cost $5. (I might ask you to consider a more modest caffeine intake over health concerns if you consume a whole pot every day, however.)

As we begin our list, know that these tips are in no particular order. I am not going from smallest savings to largest or shortest term to longest term tips. I mix it up because that is how life comes at us, in bits and pieces. It is how our billfold gets crushed, too. Rarely are our financial woes the result of one decision (and even if it is, these frugal tips will get you back into the game quickly); it is usually financial death by a thousand cuts.

Let’s begin with our morning cup of coffee since the topic has already been broached.

 

1.) The Best Coffee You Ever Drank for Pennies a Cup

The morning cup of coffee is something many people cannot give up. I understand. Office coffee can be nasty so stopping at Starbucks along the way has become a routine. At 5 bucks a cup (price depends on geographic location) that adds up over a year. 

You can have coffee equal in quality or better with the right coffee machine and coffee beans. Many years ago I wrote a series of short articles on getting a really good cup (or pot) of coffee for a fraction of the price at a coffee house. Fill your coffee mug before you head out the door and you keep $1,825 in your pocket each year, assuming you only imbibe with one cup per day. 

Here is the list of articles I published on coffee:

Gourmet Coffee for Less

Kona Coffee: The Drink of Heaven 

The Best Coffee Machines

Choosing the Best Brew Coffee Machine

The best cup of coffee you ever drank does not have to cost a fortune. Gourmet coffee for less is easier than you think. It’s the frugal thing to do.

2.) Trains, Planes & Automobiles

I never saw the movie, but the title is catchy. 

This tip is a biggie. So big that it can single handedly make you rich! 

I know, I know. There are bloggers that say you should never drive. Bike and walk everywhere. Awesome idea, but not for everyone. 

Your car can drain your finances more than any other purchase! It is a depreciating asset. The speed at which it travels to zero is determined by make, model and condition. But make no mistake; it will end up in the scrapyard like every other vehicle ever made. 

People all too often focus on the depreciation of an automobile. There is another vehicle cost that digs nearly as deep: transaction costs.

I have only owned 3 cars in my life and I’m on the wrong side of 50. I tend to buy used vehicles and keep them for 20 years. (Most vehicles come to their natural life expectancy around 20 years.) 

Depreciation still hurts. Fortunately, I don’t have that accelerated depreciation newer vehicles suffer. The best news is that I have few transaction costs because I don’t do a lot of transacting. Every time you buy a car the state wants a piece of the action. With the exception of 5 states (Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire and Oregon) you will also pay a sales tax. 

Used car prices are out of line as I write this. I probably would buy a new car if I was in the market at this time. Regardless, I buy a vehicle when my current vehicle is close to the grave and then keep it for a really long time.

This one tip can save you enough to fund your retirement account if you funneled all those payments you didn’t have to make. And you would trade title, transfer and sales taxes for a tax deduction! Easy choice, I think.

 

3.) Grow a Garden

I’m lucky in that I live in the backwoods of NE Wisconsin. Gardening is easy for me. 

If you have the ability (space) to grow a garden I would encourage you to do so. It doesn’t have to be big. A few tomato plants, carrots, beans and anything else that pleases your palate can make a difference.

Living in an apartment limits your ability to do this. You can still grow a few plants by windows that get sun. There is nothing like enjoying your own fresh tomatoes.

It isn’t the food you grow that saves a lot of money. There are savings, but the real advantage is spending a few more meals at home with your family enjoying a home grown and cooked meal. And that is priceless compared to the $500 or so in savings over the course of a year from avoided dining out.

Might I also suggest planting a fruit tree if you have the room. There is nothing like picking your own fresh apples/peaches/pears/plums . . .  The flavor from tree ripened fruit is nothing like you find in a grocery store.

 

4.) Adjust the Temperature

I know I’m a bit more extreme on this than most.

Living in a northern climate (in the Northern Hemisphere) allows me the luxury of rarely using air conditioning. The winters are another story. 

I have found that my entire family can enjoy a cooler house in the winter comfortably (low 60s F). Yes, we wear clothing in the winter, as in a flannel shirt or other such comfy warm garment. The wife and kiddos cover with a blanker when watching TV (me when I read). The cooler house means we sleep better at night, too.

During the summer we adjust to the warmer temperatures. When it gets hot in July we draw cool basement air into the house. Rare is the year when we kick on the AC. (I actually have a geothermal heat pump for space heating, water heating and AC.)

 

5.) Use the Library

It is well known that I sin when it comes to buying books. I love owning books. It is my one non-frugal habit.

However, several local libraries still know me on a first name basis. Some books I borrow from the library. But the library is so much more than books, books on tape, music and so forth.

I encourage you to read this post on all the surprising things you can get for free from the library. (Did you know your library might offer free college courses, tutoring and more? Some libraries have fishing equipment and one I interviewed even had a sewing machine they borrowed out.)

 

6.) Down Time

One of the most frugal things you can do is give yourself down time. Bill Gates has a “think week” several times per year. Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs both scheduled “no time” where they had no duties or interruptions so they could focus on just thinking creatively.

While it might be hard to understand how down time is a frugal activity, it is time where you are not spending money and instead are focused on making good decisions in your life, finances and business. 

Creativity happens during down time. When I write I close the door. This is “me time”. I’m actually talking to myself and letting you listen in. 

Time spent with the door closed and the internet and email off is vital to mental wellbeing and financial wealth. Your best ideas will come from the quiet time where distractions are not demanding your attention.

 

7.) Write it Down

Along the same line as down time, writing notes, a journal, a blog, a to-do list and any other things you want to think about later during down time is important to a frugal lifestyle. Frugality is not only about money. You can always make more money, but you can’t make up for lost time! 

Slowing down and writing notes is the best way to reduce expenses! You are not buying the best goods and services when you are fighting the clock. 

Notes allow you to slow down and make better decisions. I can give you a million ways to reduce costs, but only you know what things you can reasonably cuts costs on. 

The goal of this post is to provide ideas and spark ideas in your mind. Don’t just do it because some crazy accountant from the backwoods of NE Wisconsin told you to do so.

Write it down. Record your thoughts in a journal and review those thoughts later. Use a grocery list. You will be amazed at how your thoughts change and the money you save. 

And always be willing to revise. Editing your notes and lists is required. The first draft is always junk. That is why you need to review and edit, preferably with the door closed.

 

8.) Health Insurance

This tip only applies to my American readers. Virtually every country on the planet has a single payer healthcare system. In the U.S. getting sick is a major crisis that requires work on your part at your lowest moment of health.

Serious savings can be had by comparing your options. If your employer offers health insurance be sure to review what is and is not covered. Be sure to review the health reimbursement features if your employer offers one.

For everyone else, you need to review the Affordable Care Act options, private insurance and medical health sharing. 

I personally settled on the Christian health sharing options. It was the best value. My worry was it would not deliver if claims were made. A serious illness in my family has put those concerns to rest. You can start your health sharing research here.

And here is a medical health sharing option.

 

9.) Read

Read voraciously! Reading is the acquisition of knowledge. Knowledge is power! 

Don’t read only one source. Not even this blog! (Please, continue reading my blog as a starting point. Thank you.) Dig deep into a topic from multiple sources and come to your own conclusions. It’s important.

Learn to think. Reading builds your thinking muscle. 

Read good books. Even a pleasurable novel now and again.

Read blogs.

Read.

Very few have built serious wealth without serious reading. 

 

10.) Cut Cable

Are you the last person on the planet to cut the cord? Cable is so 1990s. And expensive!

You do know that the local networks broadcast over the airwaves 30 or so channels now? You can watch about as much for free from broadcasts as you can with cable and at no cost.

Then you have YouTube and Netflix and Hulu and Amazon Prime and many more. YouTube is mostly free. Netflix is still pretty cheap. If you have Amazon Prime you already have a streaming service at no additional cost.

You can also check out the library tip above for even more free programming, including the expensive stuff on HBO, etc. Yes, your library has many of these programs, available at no cost to you. Check it out.

 

11.) Cell Phone

Cell phone service can be out-of-this-world expensive. I (my whole family) switched to Visible Wireless a few years back. You get unlimited data, messages and minutes. Visible Wireless is owned by Verizon.

All this for $25 a month!

Since I live in the boondocks I have few options for internet. I use my Visible phone as my internet as well. They even have 5G in areas where available. I am writing this post over my Visible Wireless data using the hotspot.

Visible Wireless is the best deal for cell service I could find. Be aware the link in this tip is an affiliate link. Also know that I went to check to see if they had an affiliate program if I refer them. They did and I signed up just now because, well, I may as well get paid for my referral if I was going to make the referral anyway.

 

12.) Buy a Freezer

When a food item goes on sale it is time to stock up. . . 

. . . if you have the space.

A freezer can cut 20% or more off your food bill. A meat special can be maximized. You can prepare larger quantities for later consumption. 

For the best meat quality and price, check your local butcher shop. Many sell the whole animal (already in the familiar cuts) for significantly less than buying piecemeal over time. A freezer is required is such a situation. 

A freezer is a must if you have your own garden or fruit trees. Nature produces more than you can consume before it spoils. A freezer pays for itself quickly.

 

13.) Can and Dehydrate Your Excess Food

Canning is a lost art. It used to be that folks in the backwoods canned their food. I only know of one other person that cans their own food now. That is a shame since it is such a money saver.

Mrs. Accountant cans and dehydrates like crazy. Fruits and vegetables fill our cellar. When a semi bringing fresh Georgia peaches to Wisconsin arrives, we stock up. A lot. We eat peached until we had our full and can the rest for later. 

The wholesale trucks are hard to find so keep your eyes and ears open. The prices are super low! A box of peaches can run a few dollar at most. And they are better than we can find in the grocery store. 

Consider canning as a hobby. One that pays you in more than one way.

As long as you are at it, you should consider dehydrating food, as well. This is easier than canning. And your food will taste incredible.

Frugal living is easy with dehydrating and canning food. And your food will taste incredible!

Dehydrating and canning are powerful ways to preserve food. Buy on sale and preserve for all year round.

14.) Cut Your Electric Bill 80%

A watched pot never boils, it is said. I’m not so sure about that. When I was a kid I kept my eye on a pot on the stove, and sure enough, it boiled.

Electric bills are out of control. There are so many phantom energy drains in the average home that half or more of electricity consumption goes down the drain without any benefit to the homeowner. 

Read more about recording your electricity consumption here. This one simple step can lower your energy costs significantly. 

 

15.) DIY, Except When You Shouldn’t

The mantra is getting old. The frugal tip of doing everything yourself is a double-edged sword. 

Sure, you can save money doing it yourself. Sometimes. If you know what you are doing.

When I owned rental property years ago I learned quickly I was not cut out for carpet laying. It was cheaper to hire it done. (Really, I was bad at it. One job was so bad all the carpet had to be ripped out and tossed.)

Where you are able to handle the repair or maintenance, doing it yourself can save a lot of money. Changing the oil in the car, sharpening lawn mower blades, light appliance repair, changing a faucet and other tasks might be under your purview. If so, by all means, consider it a DIY job. 

However, knowing when to hire the professional is important. A DIY job when you don’t know what you are doing can lead to disaster. 

If you want to increase your skills, consider volunteering at Habitat for Humanity. A summer of free time spent learning several crafts of the trade is a powerful education that will pay off the rest of your life.

 

16.) Consider a Spending Fast

Sometimes the best way to accomplish a goal is to go all-in. This is where a spending fast comes in.

A spending fast is exactly what is sounds like. There are 5 levels to the spending fast. Each level teaches new financial skills and supercharges your frugality muscle.

You can read more about conducting a spending fast the right way here.

 

17.) Manage Your Taxes

Taxes will cost you more than any other thing in your life, including your home. It may not feel like spending, but taxes are a massive expense everyone can do better at reducing.

I see people in my office all the time that had prepared their own tax return. In nearly all cases they overpaid the government.

Since income, sales, excise, property and other taxes consume over half of the national income, you will need a two-pronged approach in applying frugality to your tax spending. 

First, most people need a tax professional to assure they are utilizing as many tax benefits as possible. The tax code is complex and getting more so every day. Even the pros struggle to keep up with the changes. What chance do you have? And the over-the-counter DIY software can’t do everything for you either. 

Second, even with a tax pro in your corner you need to keep yourself informed on tax issues. Read about tax breaks that apply to you. Question your tax professional. Don’t be afraid of paying for some consulting with your tax pro. When I consult with clients I have in excess of a 10x return for the client. That means for every dollar they spend they benefit over $10. We call that hyper-frugal!

 

18.) Stay Healthy

Easier said than done. 

Illness is expensive and the cost goes beyond the medical. Lost wages and a lower quality of life are two huge costs of poor health.

Staying healthy is easier for some and harder for others. Regardless, you need to eat quality food in proper proportions. Exercise is vital.

Because everyone reading this will be in a different place with their health, I encourage you to consult with your doctor in building a plan to improve your health. Get on the right diet for you. Find the best exercise program for you. 

Don’t forget your social life. Family and friends play a large roll in your health. If you sit in taverns with friends that drink too much and smoke, you might have a problem. Consideration for your lifestyle is an important part of your frugal lifestyle. Choose who you associate with well.

 

19.) Make Your Own Laundry Detergent

Laundry detergent in the box stores have so many fillers just to make it look like you are getting a lot for your money when you are not.

You can cut your laundry costs up to 98% by making your own laundry detergent. It is easy to do and it cleans better than store-bought detergent. 

Consider the detergent-making process a family project. It is fun and teaching your children the low-cost way of living is priceless; a gift that never stops giving.

 

20.) Stay Put

As discussed above with vehicles, transaction costs add up fast. The same applies to where you live.

It is expensive to move. It takes time and requires helping hands and/or a moving truck, etc. If you are renting there might be some damages that get deducted from the security deposit; the new place will also require a security deposit.

Owning your own home can be a very frugal move! But take a page from Warren Buffett’s book. Buffett is one of the financially wealthiest people on the planet. He bought the home he lives in back in 1958 for $31, 500. His home is worth over $650,000 now. 

Buffett mentioned many times he would not be happier living in a bigger or newer home. He is happy right where he is. And good thing. The money he saved in Realtor fees and other selling costs would have come from the seed money he used to build his fortune.

Fees generally are things you pay that give you next to nothing in return. Cutting fees is the surest frugal step you can take. Stay put. Move only if you have to (i.e.. job change).

 

21.) Use a Clothes Drying Rack

Everyone loves the smell of clothes dried outdoors. 

We saw in Tip #19 how to save money on laundry detergent. How about cutting the cost of drying your clothes to zero?

If you are able to hang clothes outdoors, do so. If not, you can use a clothes drying rack. They are inexpensive and pay for themselves many times over. 

As a bonus, you add moisture to the air during the dry winter months. That means your frugal clothes drying habit will also make your home more comfortable.

You can read more about the clothes drying racks I use here. There are some links to Amazon to help in your search for the best clothes drying rack also.

 

22.) Get a Free Bike

You can save the world and yourself one frugal act at a time. Whenever possible, bike to work, the grocery store, the bank or anywhere else you might be going.

There are bloggers who think you should live close to work to be frugal. I personally love living in the backwoods where I grew up. It is 15.1 miles from my driveway to my office. And I bike it many times every year. 

I had an old Huffy bike I rode forever. I decided to get myself a new flashy set of wheels and pulled out my pencil and paper to calculate exactly what it would take to get a free bike. You can read that story here. It is about halfway through the linked post.

 

23.) Dispose of Disposables

How full is your recycling bin each week? How about the garbage bin? 

All the stuff in those bins is filled with stuff you paid for only to throw it away.

Want to inject frugality into every purchase? It is simple. Buy stuff with the least packaging. 

Packaged foods are the worst. Processed food is a bad health choice, as well. All that packaging is paid for by you. But did you want the food inside or the box? The food, of course. Yet you paid for the box, too. (There is no free ride. The box has a cost and it is added to the price of the product.)

When you purchase something, be aware of the packaging. It is costing you a fortune. 

 

24.) Watch Your Water Consumption

Water isn’t an expensive commodity in my part of the world. That isn’t true everywhere. Water can be an expensive purchase. Heating the water adds more to the cost.

Shorter showers and a low-flow shower head is an excellent way to reduce water consumption. Turn off water when not in use. Turn off the water while brushing your teeth.

So much of frugality is common sense. Examine all water use. It should be easy to see where you can reduce consumption in your household.

 

25.) Clean Filters

Filters make a difference. 

I have an open-loop geothermal heat pump in my home. The filter where the water comes in needs to be cleaned periodically. If it gets dirty the efficiency is reduced. If dirty enough, the heat pump trips off. 

The air filter also needs changing a few times per year. I have a reusable air filter I clean and then put back into the unit.

Filters on your vehicle, lawn mower or any other item in the house, need to be charged or cleaned on a regular basis. Forgetting this reduces the life of the item and increases energy consumption.

And clean the grill behind your refrigerator! And under the darn thing, too! Stressing the compressor on your refrigerator can cause the compressor to fail. Have you seen what refrigerators cost? Yes, it is very frugal to clean and replace filters often.

 

Knowing when to do-it-yourself or call in the professionals is the smart way to save money. Sometimes the repairman is the cheaper choice. And the frugal one.

26.) Insulate Your Living Space

A sure way to save money is to keep the heat (or cold) where you want it. Insulate the attic. Wrap your water heater and the hot water pipes. Weather stripping around windows and doors offer serious energy savings. 

Many communities have low-cost services to help with your insulating needs

If doors and/or windows are deteriorated it might be advantageous to replace them. Tax credits are available to reduce the cost. 

 

27.) Dump the Landline

Is there anyone left with a landline? Everyone has a mobile phone today. There is no reason to have a landline as well.

And as long as we are talking about it, stop paying for AOL!!! Or any other unnecessary service. It blows my mind when I see people still paying for dial-up service or other such nonsense.

 

28.) Cancel Recurring Payments

Companies love to set customers up on recurring payments. The customer is later either too lazy or doesn’t remember to cancel the service.

Recurring payments are a cancer on the family budget. It is also low hanging fruit when it comes to frugality. And some subscriptions are outright scams! 

These recurring payments are financial death of a thousand cuts. They drain you dry a few drops of blood at a time. 

You must review all your credit and debit card statements each month. The same for all checking and savings accounts. Highlight the little buggers nickle and diming you to death each month and exorcise them. Be merciless! Your frugal reputation is on the line. You can probably retire 10 years sooner if you avoid these vampires.

 

29.) Review Insurance Annually

Insurance is a necessary evil. At least for home and auto coverage.

The insurance they sell to protect a $100 purchase at Best Buy or Walmart or Amazon is worthless, in my opinion. 

Insurance is a commodity. The insurance company hopes you don’t see the relentless climb in the premium. 

Your best defense is to review and shop your insurance annually. This is the only way to ensure the best insurance for you at the lowest cost. 

Also be sure to review that you have adequate coverage. Especially liability. Lawsuits can take out just about any nest egg.

 

30.) Get All the Rewards You Deserve

Just about everything today has a rewards program attached to it. Credit cards have offered cash-back rewards for a long time and debit cards have also started adding rewards programs.

If you enjoy playing the game, you can find inconsistencies inside rewards programs. You can game the system for profit. Doctor of Credit is a good place to start playing the game. Sign up for their newsletter and get a weekly email on all the deals and specials on rewards programs. There are juicy deals each week. It can even be a profitable side hustle.

Paying with a credit or debit card also comes with hidden perks. Many credit cards offer free extended warranties of products bought with their card. Purchase protection guarantees the lowest price or the card will refund the difference. Roadside assistance, delayed or lost luggage, trip cancellation, auto insurance are all free perks found with many credit cards if you know enough to ask. Even if you have an item stolen, many credit cards will replace the item!

And don’t forget about local rewards programs. A local gas station created so many moving parts to their rewards program that I will pay under $2 a gallon for gas for the next year and a half.

More details about utilizing all the hidden perks on credit cards can be read about here.  

 

31.) Have Fun

Frugality only works if you are having fun. Deprivation is not a long-term solution. Make it easy. Make it fun. 

Your financial goals are closer than you think if you can get rid of all the dead weight spending. 

And it is even okay to be silly about frugality. Here is a post on 10 Ridiculous Ways to Save Money.

Life needs to be fun. Frugality is a way of life, a way of living. There is no need to give anything up! Quite the opposite. You can actually have more while being frugal. And so much of it allows for high-quality family time. It is fun to see how things work. It is not about yelling at the kids to turn off the lights. 

 

I hope you enjoyed these 31 tips and tricks to cutting spending. Frugal seems to be a dirty word until money is tight. I think good money habits are best applied at all times so money stress is reduced or even eliminated. 

And please, don’t let me do all the heavy lifting. My back is sore as it is. Share your favorite frugal tips and tricks in the comments below.

 

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.

This past week an old story returned to the surface. A tax office that handles mostly simple tax returns for a very low price and gets paid mostly cash might not be claiming all that income. A previous employee of that firm informed me over $300,000 in cash was kept in a safe in the money cage. 

The final response (and I was thinking the same thing) was, “And I’m sure all that cash was reported.

Cheating on your taxes is as American as apple pie, but a whole lot dumber. If this other tax firm really has that much cash on hand and does not report all their income they lose a lot more than most people expect. 

First, if they get audited and the unreported money is found you can expect more audits. This is a tax on your time and I can’t think of a more usurious tax.

Next are the penalties. Here is a sampling of the penalties that could apply:

1.) Accuracy related penalty (§6662): 20% of the assessment.

2.) Fraud (§6663): 75% of the amount attributable to fraud.

3.) Willful attempt to evade or defeat tax (§7201): Up to a $100,000 fine, five years in prison, or both. This is a felony! If they are a corporation the fine can climb to $500,000.

4.) Willfully making and subscribing to a false return (§7206): Also a felony with a fine up to $100,000, three years in prison, or both. Corporations face fines up to $500,000.

Even worse, with underreported income at those levels it is likely the IRS will seek to bar the owners from ever preparing taxes again. And my guess is they would find a few more penalties to apply to make the financial pain even worse. 

He would probably make the local evening news. Clients would bolt. Clients would face greater scrutiny. There isn’t anything I find acceptable about the risk of underreporting income in their situation.

The odds of getting caught are small, however. And even if they get audited, the IRS may not find the underreported income. 

And none of that matters because there is another cost to cheating on your taxes that costs more than the taxes saved even if you don’t get caught.

S&P 500 10-year chart

Why Cheating on Your Taxes Costs More Than the Tax Avoided

The first time I heard the rumor was at least a decade ago. The firm files a lot of returns. I mean a lot. 

Their fee is the lowest of any firm in their service area of any size. I imagine a few guys working out of their home might do a return for less, but this firm is the lowest fee of any major player locally.

Probably 80% of the firm’s revenues are in cash with the firm pulling around seven figures of revenue annually. The owner could siphon a cool $100k off the top with no problem. 

Cheating on your taxes has a hidden cost. You can’t just deposit the unreported cash into a financial institution. The IRS might be slow, but they ain’t stupid. They will find that quicker than a starving mule finds a load of oats.

If you can’t deposit the money you are left with spending it. (You could launder the money, but that has a cost, too, which is nothing more than a tax paid to a different entity.) And when you spend it you can’t look like you are spending that much. Buy a car with cash and the IRS gets a report. 

I guess you could save it up for retirement, spending some here and there as not to look conspicuous. 

Yet, that isn’t the real problem. The real problem is lost opportunity cost! 

Let’s say the tax on this $100,000 is 40%, federal and state taxes combined. That would leave the business owner with $60,000 after tax.

Yet, if that $60,000 was invested 10 years ago in an S&P 500 index fund it would now be worth nearly three times as much! Even if we take a bit off the top for spending we still have more than $120,000 and in reality closer to $150,000! The best the unreported income can do is maintain $100,000, unless you want to risk some prison time.

Cheating on your taxes never pays! It always costs you more in the long run with serious risks in the short run. If you underreport income by up to 25% the IRS can audit you on that return for up to seven years after you file or from the due date, whichever is longer. This is up from three years when you play it straight. If the underreported income is over 25% that tax return is open for audit forever!

Cheating Uncle Sam costs more than the tax even if you don’t get caught.

Wink, Wink

There is a way to profit from people who do cheat on their taxes. 

When a client offers to pay cash they sometimes do so with a wink. I assume they mean that since they paid me cash I will not report it. Unfortunately, I invoice each client separately so I create a paper trail. It all gets reported. It is how a real business operates. (I’m a real business.)

It has been a long time since I was asked for a discount if I am paid cash. When I was the answer was always no. I use the Seth Godin plan: full price or free.

When purchasing a good or service I might ask for a discount if I pay cash. I remind the business owner they don’t have to pay bank transaction fees. It is a win/win for all parties involved. I never make it a tax cheating issue

Several years ago I was coming home from the office during tax season when a deer attacked my car. Hit the from wheel well. A rural body shop quoted me $800 to fix the damage. It was a really good deal.

I brought cash when I picked up my car, concerned he might not want to accept a check. Without asking, the business owner offered me a $200 discount for cash.

That was a whopping $200 discount; 25%! It was accompanied by the ol’ wink-wink. I took that to mean he would not be reporting the income. (Hey, I’m not here to judge.) 

He traded his tax bracket for a 25% tax paid to me. And my savings were tax free!!! (You don’t pay tax on money you didn’t spend on a service.) By the looks of the place I don’t think his tax bracket was much higher. I enjoyed the discount, but it was still foolish on the business owner’s part if he did so just to not report a small amount of income.

The choice is clear. Cheating on your taxes destroys your wealth even if not caught. Honest pays better!

Tax season is heading into the final stretch as I write this. I hope I made the case for not cheating on your taxes. It isn’t too late to file a superseding return if you left something important off your tax return, like some income.

The risks are too high for anyone serious about accumulating wealth. The math doesn’t add up. Cheating on your taxes will bite you in the tail regardless the outcome. Audits waste a lot of time and are not fun. (You can make more money, but ya can’t make more time.)

The lost opportunity cost of wasted time hiding money from the government and the lack of ability to invest all your money optimally make it real clear: cheating will always cost you.

Worse, you could have enjoyed a few posts around this blog and saved as much or more legally than you potentially saved cheating. (What are the chances traffic to this blog will spike now?)

I know you will do the right thing.

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.

 

How much are you really paying for tax preparation?

What if I told you there was a hidden fee in your tax preparation bill. This hidden fee costs you serious money every time you file your taxes. This hidden fee shows up even when you prepare your own tax return. And it is totally avoidable. They sneak the fee in because you never see it and therefore never complain about it.

The hidden fee is hard to identify. It doesn’t show up as a line item on your accountant’s invoice or the online software payment page. Yet the fee digs hard into your wealth.

This same hidden fee looks different when you prepare your own tax return than from a professionally prepared return. The best way to expose this usurious fee is to handle it separately from how it is applied to DIY tax preparation and professionally prepared return.

 

DIY Tax Preparation Hidden Fees

There are numerous online tax software packages to help you prepare your own tax return. Some are very expensive, charging more than low-cost tax offices. And they still have the same hidden fee the expensive software charges! 

Your money, your rules.

By now you might have figured out the hidden fee is overpaying your taxes. While it is understandable a DIY tax preparation can have problems because you don’t understand the tax code as well as a professional, it is good to know what it is really costing you when you file your return. Before you toss in the towel and hire a tax pro you will want to read how this hidden fee applies to DIY tax preparation and how even seasoned tax pros can be hammering your wallet with you none the wiser.

Should you prepare your own tax return? It depends. If your return is simple, you are comfortable with the computer and filling in tax forms, you are probably okay. Most DIY tax software has ample Q&A to help you file an accurate return. 

However, no software in the world can point out every issue. Sometimes the issue deals with money outside the tax return or affects multiple tax years. Software is no substitute for tax knowledge and experience.

There is a simple way to determine if you need a tax pro. If you have a small business or own income properties you probably should hire the professionals unless you can answer these three questions:

1.) Do I understand the tangible property rules and know when to deduct rather than depreciate? At what level must I depreciate? And, do I know what election to make so I survive an audit?

2.) Do I understand the repair regulations? What is the limit? And the rules surrounding this juicy deduction? Do I understand the election allowing me to deduct, rather than depreciate, up to $10,000 of improvements per building? Do I understand when a roof or other major repairs can be deducted rather than depreciated?

3.) Do I understand the Qualified Business Income Deduction? Do I understand the rules surrounding the definition of a “trade or business”?

If you can intelligently discuss the above questions you can prepare your own tax return with a business and/or income properties. If not, you need a pro. (Might I suggest you become a tax pro if you can intelligently discuss these issues.)

Since many elections that save you massive amounts of money require the election to be claimed on an original and timely filed tax return, it is important to get it right. There are no amended returns to fix some problems, you just pay the extra tax.

Wages, itemized deductions, interest and dividends have fewer issues. Tax software handles most issues revolving around these items well. If you have complex interest expense issues and don’t understand interest tracing you might want to try a tax pro until you do understand the issues.

Before we leave the DIY arena I want to talk about which tax software to use. The big names have become so expensive while you do all the work you would be better off going to the cheapy deluxe tax offices because they are cheaper (and at least they do the work). There is one DIY software I recommend.  This software is used in over 64,000 tax offices and had a hand in the original software the IRS used when e-filing was starting out. It is the same software I use in my office. The best part is they have a flat $25 fee, including as many states as you want. That is by far the best deal in DIY software currently. And for full disclosure, the link in this paragraph to 1040.com is an affiliate link.

 

Tax Professional Hidden Fees

It is understandable when a lay person doesn’t understand the tax code well enough to get all her deductions. But when you pay good money to a pro it is downright insidious! 

Let me give an example from my tax office earlier this very tax season:

A conversation with your tax professional can reduce or remove hidden costs to your tax preparation. Increase your wealth and cut your tax bill by working with your tax professional.

A new client this past week had her tax return prepared by one of those $95 preparation fee outfits last year. My fee this year bumped up against $300, but I was cheaper.

 
How is that!? Are my math skills off on the Saturday I’m out of the office?
 
Nope.
 
Said client had nonemployee compensation last year and this year. This should be treated as business income on Schedule C. There were no business expenses so the previous preparer dropped the amount on the front of Form 1040 as other income (that is really on Schedule 1 the past few years) and on Schedule SE to pick up the self-employment tax. In short, the preparer was too lazy to fill out a simple Schedule C.
 
Can you see the problem with the prior preparer being too lazy to fill out Schedule C?
 
First, dropping the nonemployee comp on Schedule 1 and Schedule SE is not the proper way to report the income, even when there are no expenses.
 
Second, the previous preparer forgot to adjust for the Qualified Business Income Deduction (QBID), costing the client over $500 in extra tax.
 
I didn’t make that mistake this year so I was the lower cost tax professional even though my fee was higher.
 
Them: $100, plus a $500 mistake of extra tax.
Me: $280 without the screwup. (It was a very simple tax return.)
 
I was less than half the low fee preparer at the end of the day.
 
Moral of the story?
1.) Experience matters.
2.) The lowest fee isn’t the lowest cost to you.
3.) Don’t hire people who take shortcuts.

This story begs the question: How do I know I have a good tax professional? 

First, you can’t prepare a quality tax return for under $200. I know, I know. I can hear the vitriol already. But it is true. Low cost returns are prepared by data processors. They have the same skill sets as someone preparing their own return. In other words, they plug numbers and hope the computer got it right. Again, for simple returns this might be fine. But, as we saw above, as soon as even a modest complication enters the scene issues can arise that the data processor can’t handle. 

The next step is finding a tax professional who can handle your tax issues and has a reasonable fee. A good tax professional, in my opinion, spends time with you AFTER the return is prepared. The before the preparation meeting is more about data processing; the meeting afterwards is about saving you money. Probably more money than you paid said tax professional. In effect, really good tax professionals are actually less than free since they return more tax savings and wealth building advice than you ever pay her.

So, where do you find these unicorns, tax professionals that know what they are doing with a reasonable fee? I have some ideas to increase your odds.

I have published on this topic before. These are two articles I strongly recommend, if I can be self-serving in the recommendations:

 

7 Questions Rich People Ask Their Accountant, and

 Finding a Good Accountant.

 

Not every tax professional is good at every aspect of tax law! For example, I avoid ex-pat returns like the plague. It’s not that I can’t do them; it’s that I don’t want to and don’t do enough to be good at it. Good tax professional are honest and admit their limitations. A tax professional too eager to get your account without first knowing the client (you) is guilty of one of my favorite saying:

Prescription before diagnosis is malpractice.

And it is.

Time with your tax professional can reduce your preparation fees, lower your taxes and increase your wealth.

Before you start your hunt for a tax professional I have an added suggestion. People with simple tax returns and older people (many times with simpler tax returns) might want to consider the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. This tax preparation service has no cost to you for preparation of your return. They handle simple returns only, but many of the preparers came from the professional ranks and are retired now and don’t want to sweat as hard as they did in their traditional working days. If your return is too complex for the VITA program they will tell you. Then you are back to finding a tax professional on your own.

When looking for a tax professional you need to ask questions. Price is not the first question! It is the last one. You want to know if the supposed tax professional can push a 1 up against a 2 in an accurate way.

A good place to start your accountant search is by asking people in a similar situation as you are. If you have income properties, ask other income property owners who they use as a tax professional. Business owners should do the same. If you have multiple state issues you certainly need to find someone in the same boat you are because not all tax professionals handle out-of-state or multiple state tax returns.

This blog also has a list of tax professionals accepting new clients. It might be a good place to start your search. If you are a tax professional looking for more clients, use the contact page of this blog to see if we can include you on the list. 

Always ask questions? If you feel uncomfortable, leave! You are going to spend serious time with your tax professional if they are good because they are going to save you a pile of money AND help you grow your wealth.

 

You can’t avoid the risk of the hidden tax fee. Whether you DIY or hire a tax professional, the risk is the same. My hope is that this short guide removes the bulk of that risk and puts serious cash into your pocket.

Tax professionals and clients, use the comments section to share successes and failures related to tax preparation. Your story is important in helping the entire group (our tribe, if you will) crowdsource the problem and solutions. 

Until next time, keep your cash in your wallet.

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.

People pay me a lot of money for advice. It’s called consulting. Questions on taxes and money are what start the conversation. But once we get under the hood it becomes clear there is another motive. The real questions involve medical issues, raising children, starting a business and retirement.

It would be easy for me to give a short pat answer. It wouldn’t do much good, but I could do it. Instead, I ask a series of questions helping the client to come to her own conclusions. Some crazy tax guy from the backwoods of northeast Wisconsin will never have clever enough words to convey the right message. I have to help the client find there way there  on their own. If I say “Yes” to the best business idea ever and the client is not ready or in the right mindset, they will fail. 

And it always comes around to the finish line, aka, retirement. When can I retire? Should I retire? 

I could give you a simple formula if you want. Better yet, skip the whole post and scroll to the bottom for the quick and easy answer, for all the good it will do you. 

However, it might be better if I share a story and ask a few questions first.

 

Old Man Take a Look at My Life

I’m feeling old this tax season. At 56 years of age my eyes stray to the horizon. I’ve seen a lot over the years and this tax season is already one for the record books. 

I entered the profession full time in 1989. Since 1982, my senior year in high school, I have been stenciling in numbers on tax returns for side hustle money. I am at a total loss when I look back and realize I have nearly {gulp} 40 years into this career. There was no clue when I planted that first number on a 1040 for a quick twenty bucks how much it would dominate the remainder of my life.

After 40 years it might be time the cleats get hung up. There are entire communities dedicated to early retirement. I was nearly sucked in all the way 5 or so years ago when I met Mr. Money Mustache, a guy whose claim to fame is retiring at 30. The falling out is totally my fault. I found nothing familiar in the lifestyle presented so we had nothing to talk about. We came from different worlds.

So, if I’m going to help people reach retirement, shouldn’t I have a clue about my own? Well, I think I am more than qualified to help people attain and transition to retirement without ever planning on doing so myself. The best sports coaches are not always pulled from the greatest players of yesteryear. Sometimes, but not always.

If my retirement plans are a fantasy, why do I feel so old? Is it the clock and its incessant ticking? Do I think my skills are waning? All good questions. 

Tax professionals are a unique crowd. I belong to several Facebook groups dedicated to tax professionals only. The crowd is quite friendly until mid-February when things take a left turn. Normally quiet individuals start complaining about clients and their behaviors. Mid tax season changes by Congress and the IRS adds to the stress, and don’t think the folks with pocket protectors don’t let the rest of the crowd know about it.

To the best of my ability I do not complain about the tax code and especially clients. This tax season, only half over, has provided ample reasons for complaint. But it doesn’t help so I focus on what does; the things I can change.

You don’t live long in my profession before you notice strange things. Things most people never think about. 

You can’t imagine — unless you’re a tax professional — how many clients die every year.

It is rare for a tax season to pass where I don’t hear of a client that has lost a child. If not their child, a nephew or niece. I have at least two clients with a child that committed suicide. Clients that had a child drown, killed in an automobile accident and one that died playing a choking game. 

I prepared two decedent returns (a person’s final tax return) this year already. The first was for a 26 year old woman. I never know what to say to the client. The pain must be unbearable.

The second decedent return was picked up last night late. He was 38 when he died. 

In both cases medical issues were involved. They were sudden issues so no one had a chance to prepare or even say goodbye. The wounds are deep.

When should I retire? Reflect on your life and what matters to you. Do the things you most love. Never give those thing up.

Love Lost, Such a Cost

You can’t understand how much I love my work. This morning I was at the office at 4 a.m. Instead of knocking a few more tax returns out I decided to write and publish this post after a few months break due to medical issues in my family, still ongoing. 

With the exception of one tax return stalling me out, everything on my desk is fresh. I’m getting my work done and in a timely fashion so I had the luxury of writing for a few hours. Lucky me!  

I often get to the office early. It allows me more family time later in the day. I have the great fortune of satisfying both my great loves as a business owner.

But there is a cost for not retiring! Every time I walk in the door I take the chance the news of another dead client will reach me. So many of my clients from the early days of my practice have left this world.

A few weeks ago an elderly client came in with her son. She couldn’t get out of the van easily so we took her papers, prepared the return and brought her a copy of the return and signature pages to the parking for her to sign. She is 81 years old. She doesn’t need to file anymore, but worries so we file for her anyway.

We charged her $25. She has no money and was struggling to put food on the table. She asked for time to pay and we granted the offer. When Dawn, the preparer, brought this to my attention I told my assistant to delete her invoice. Dawn called to inform the client. The client cried. You see, people are good; all of them. They have pride. They are okay with a discount, but free makes them feel like they have taken advantage. It hurts no matter what you do. 

I am feeling very old.

A former employee is good friends with Dawn. The former employee visits a Feeding America food bank weekly to bring food to people shut in. Dawn asked for two packages. She delivered the food to the client. She cried again. 

I don’t know how long before the client will no longer need my services (dies). She has a son. Her husband died long ago. All I know is it makes me feel old.

 

Beyond the horizon of the place we lived when we were young
In a world of magnets and miracles
Our thoughts strayed constantly and without boundary
The ringing of the division bell had begun

 

When you practice as long  I have something else happens. I prepared taxes for young people back in the 1980s and 1990s. They got married, had children and sometimes retired themselves by now. Their children are now old enough to file a tax return and are having children of their own. Those children are starting to grow up. If I last much longer I will have filed tax returns for three generations in some families, if I haven’t already! 

And this is the part that hurts.

A husband and wife have been clients since about 1990. They worked with me many years ago when they and I had rentals. They were more than clients; they were friends. The husband’s health has deteriorated for years. He was admitted to hospice and was given less than six months. He is down to just over 100 pounds. It breaks my heart. The wife is suffering from dementia. 

Their daughter brought the news when I prepared (actually Dawn prepared) the return. A few days ago they had a fire at their home. It made the news. I don’t watch TV so I missed it. Dawn informed me the next day. I’ll never complain about bad luck ever again.

Ambition to reach the dreams of your life. Know what you are retiring from and retiring to.

When Should I Retire

The answer is different for everyone. There is no disgrace in wanting to keep doing what you do to fill your days. There is no disgrace in retiring, at any age.

I ask you these questions: What are you retiring from? And what are you retiring to? 

If your job is a drag it might be time to move on. Maybe a different job, one that fulfills you, or retirement. 

Before you take the long walk, consider this. Have you thought about an extended vacation or gap year? Do not confuse tired or exhausted with being ready for retirement. 

Maybe you are ready to retire, maybe not. 

For me, retirement is a hollow promise. The faces in my office are changing. Clients so familiar all these years are disappearing; first one-by-one, now in droves. With each passing minute I become the old guy with lots of crazy stories from history. 

I am desperately afraid of the night. This is what I do and what I am. I will not complain about complex tax law changes or clients sending me unreadable photos of their tax documents. I will gently nudge them in the right direction. They meant no offense and do not understand what it is like on my side of the desk. Age has granted me more patience; an example of a blessing from growing old.

Whatever path you choose, know you can always make additional changes in the future. You are not wedded to what you are doing now. Plans should be changed when things don’t work as planned. 

Most of all, do what you love. Life is too short for anything else.

 

We close with a few more words from Pink Floyd.

Encumbered forever by desire and ambition
There’s a hunger still unsatisfied
Our weary eyes still stray to the horizon
Though down this road we’ve been so many times

 

I have High Hopes for all of you.

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.

 

I need to tell you a story. It is the only way to explain the most important money lesson you can teach your children. 

Personal finance writers miss this tip often. It takes explaining and that slows down the information transfer which is why the lesson is so often forgotten, yet it is vital you have this information. If this were a minor tip it wouldn’t be that serious. But it is the most important of all the financial lessons you must teach your children.

After nearly 40 years in the industry I paid the price for my lack of understanding. It caused more pain than you can imagine, as you will soon see. It is important to read to the end where the lesson is revealed. If there is only one lesson this blog can convey, this is it.

 

In the Beginning God Created…

Five years ago when I started this blog my goal was to leave a guide for my children. Along the way I shared the medical issues my children have suffered so readers could understand the situation and benefit as well. My wife, Sue, and I have been married for over 32 years and going strong. I shared how we met. I shared some of the medical issues my oldest daughter, Heather, deals with.

There is one money lesson you must teach your children before it is too late. (This is Brooke on December 20, 2020 at UW hospital in Madison.)

And then we come to Brooke, my youngest daughter, age 20. Her medical history is longer than a Russian novel. Some medical problems are filled with guilt

The Reader’s Digest version is this: Brooke has a birth defect; she was born intersex. In other words, she had a bit of everything and a lot on nothing, if you understand my meaning. The technical answer is she was conceived male, but the Y chromosome went AWOL after a few cell divisions. Whereas most people are either XX (female) or XY (male), Brooke is about 15% XY and 85% X only. In the absence of a complete sex chromosome the body defaults to androgynous, which is more feminine.  

Her deformities were what was called a “medical imperative.” Her urinary tract exited the penile structure and the vaginal area; a serious infection risk. Her gonads had not dropped (they were where ovaries would be), but were pre-cancerous purplish masses. They need to be removed. 

In the first year of her life Brooke had something like six or seven surgeries. It was a stressful time. Our family strengthened as we fought to hold the family together on this side of the grave.

 

Growing Up

After the numerous surgeries Brooke’s first year things settled down. The initial risks were behind us and Brooke would grow like any other child with one exception: her body would not produce the hormones she would need to move from childhood to adolescence. 

Brooke enjoyed a typical childhood prior to puberty. The unique thing for Brooke is that we got to choose the exact date she would enter puberty. Without gonads her body would not fire up the hormones needed to become an adult and that was a real problem. Without hormones Brooke would go from childhood to menopause and old age. 

Around age 12 we worked with the doctors to start the process. Brooke’s body did not handle estrogen well. We tried every option available. Every prescription made her very sick. Then the headaches started.

A risk factor of taking hormone therapy is stroke. Little did we know that when Brooke started having massive headaches that no pain reliever could solve that she was having mini-strokes. The doctors diagnosed the headaches as migraines. Nobody had an inkling of what was about to happen.

 

Into the Abyss

We fast forward to today. I am writing this December 20-21, 2020. 

November 4th started like any other day. Brooke had been tired lately. We didn’t think a lot of it because Brooke never complains. She stoically accepts life as it is. 

I kiss my girls every day. In the morning I kiss them on the forehead and they kiss me on the cheek. Sue gets a peck on the lips. I do the same when I come home at night and before they go to bed. 

November 4th was no different. I kissed my girls goodbye and went to the office. By 10:00 Sue was on the phone. Sue doesn’t call the office unless it is serious. “I’m at the hospital. Brooke had a stroke.”

Sue was fighting tears and I remember standing up and saying, “You have got to be kidding me!”

Brooke holding a large mouth bass she caught in our pond in August of 2019.

I regained my composure quickly, knowing that stroke was a risk factor Brooke had. Sue didn’t have a lot of information. I left the office for the St. Elizabeth Hospital emergency room. I was not allowed in; it is the Age of COVID. Sue was with Brooke, but they only allowed one person to see Brooke. I had to return to the office.

Little did we know the nightmare entered. Brooke spent several days at St. E’s as they did scans of her brain. The diagnosis: moyamoya

Everything started to fit into place. Brooke’s growing fatigue and endless headaches finally made sense. She was having strokes for years and they got progressively worse. It took a major stroke for us to notice. 

She had a slight droop to the right side of her face. Everything else went back to normal. We got to bring my sweetheart home. We had no idea this was the calm before the storm.

The scans were sent down to Madison where Doctor Dempsey would handle Brooke’s case.

Brooke needed surgery on both sides of her brain to bypass the blockages. The left side of Brooke’s brain has received significant damage. We were lucky that the damage from the strokes didn’t do too much damage to sensitive areas. That was about to change.

Brooke was scheduled for surgery December 4th. The plan was for Brooke and Sue to arrive at the UW hospital in Madison the night before. If all went well Brooke could possibly be home Sunday night!

Doctor Dempsey is an incredible doctor and surgeon. He is soft-spoken with an over abundance of compassion and talent. He prepared us for Brooke’s surgery. He first wanted to work on the right side of Brooke’s brain, but after more thought and consulting with colleagues he changed his mind. Brooke’s brain on the left side was another stroke waiting to happen.  The left side needed attention now.

The surgery went well; the aftermath did not. Brooke started suffering severe pain and her face had a major droop; her face swelled to the point one eye was completely closed. Fluid was building on her brain.

Emergency surgery was required. On December 8th Brooke was back in the operating room. We waited nervously.

The second surgery went well! The swelling in Brooke’s face receded and the pain subsided. By December 10th optimism was high. On December 11th we brought our baby home.

 

The Darkest Hour

It felt good to have Brooke home. She loved up the cats and rested as she healed. It was late so Brooke went to bed shortly after arriving home.

Saturday, December 12th, started good. Brooke was bright eyed and alert in the morning. About 11:00 she started getting tired. We had lunch and Brooke went to bed for a nap. She got up at 2:00. Being Christmas season she wanted to light some Christmas candles. She struggled with the match so I helped her.

We are family. Brooke is under the dog, Pharaoh. This photo of our family was taken with Bernie Keene (holding Pharaoh). He invited us to stay at his place while we watched the eclipse in 2017.

She went into the kitchen. A few minutes later I heard Sue say, “Brooke?” in a weird voice. “Say something.”

I flew to the kitchen. Brooke was crouching, looking into a floor level cupboard. I looked Brooke in the face. She had a blank stare. I called her name. No response. I said, “Smile for me, Brooke.” Only one side of her face went up. “Call 9-1-1,” I said too loudly to Sue. “I’m getting her an aspirin.” “No,” Sue said, “the doctor said no aspirin because of bleeding.”

The only treatment I knew to deal with a stroke was unavailable to me. First responders were at our home in minutes, followed by the ambulance. Brooke was going back to St. E’s.

Once she was stabilized Brooke was transported back to Madison. They put her in a room so Sue could be with her. 

Around 3:00 a.m. the call no parent ever wants to receive came in. Brooke was dying. Sue was chocking on her words. I could hear Brooke moaning in pain in the background. I grew up on a farm. I knew that sound. It was the sound made just before an animal died. 

Heather called my parents and they rushed over. We prepared for last rites.  We are Lutheran so technically it wasn’t last rites, but you know what I mean.

The next hours were the most intense up to that time in my life. Once again, I had no idea the bottom was not reached. 

Brooke was moved to the ICU. Sue couldn’t be there so she went to a hotel next to the hospital. Brooke couldn’t lift her right arm at all, the right side of her face drooped and she could no longer speak as they took her to the ICU. This time the disease was going to extract a dear price.

Doctor Dempsey gave the news the next morning. Brooke had another serious stroke. Her speech and motor skills for her right arm were damaged. (This morning Doctor Dempsey confirmed those areas of her brain are dead and not coming back.)

Brooke wanted to be home so bad. In less than 24 hours she was back at the hospital. At home, when the stroke hit, Brooke gathered herself as the ambulance arrived. All she said was, “I’m done.” Her morale was shattered. She worked so hard to meet the doctor’s goals to get home only to face a massive setback. We were able to get video chat (and later FB Messenger) with Brooke. We kept working to bring her spirits up. She had to fight.

I explained to Brooke about all the people on The Wealthy Accountant Facebook page pulling for her; the number of churches with her in their prayer chain. I was in tears as I explained to Brooke I never saw anything like this. “There are thousands of people who care and are watching. Thousands! All those people want you better so bad.” Brooke was unable to take it all in, but she knew she had to fight, to find a way. She could only say “Yeah” and “No” in response to any questions. Communication was a challenge, but we managed. The best news was that Brooke could understand us.

Doctor Dempsey put Brooke on medication to raise her blood pressure and push more blood into the damaged areas of her brain. 

Result were immediate. Brooke was listed at 10% Monday, 30% Tuesday, 50% Wednesday, maybe 60% Thursday and reached 75% over the weekend.

But the scans showed her brain was still not getting enough blood. If Brooke is to get home ever again and lead a normal, healthy life she needs another surgery. The surgery is scheduled for  tomorrow (December 22). And this is where the personal finance lesson comes into play.

 

The Money Lesson You must Teach Your Children

I am typing these words Sunday night, December 20th, and editing Monday mid-day. We struggled with this third surgery for most of the past week.

The Facebook page for this blog was a place for me to get the story out. My family needed help. Brooke wants to go home, even if it means she will die there. The third surgery on her brain in less than three weeks is “not without risk,” as doctor Dempsey said. The third surgery requires yet another surgeon who specializes in a unique type of bypass. 

The surgery is safer for Brooke than doing nothing. Without it another stroke is going to happen and if it hits a vital area Brooke may die or be vegetative. Sue thought we should opt for the surgery. I felt we should respect Brooke’s wishes to go home.

Brooke at her high school graduation with mom and dad.

This morning (Sunday, December 20th) Brooke came on the video conference a bit down. We were spending a lot of time together digitally this week; it was Brooke’s (and our) lifeline. She was doing so good.

The doctor called so we talked with him. The surgery had to happen. He had talked with Brooke about it. 

We got back with Brooke and broke the silence on the elephant in the room. Brooke was afraid to say anything over fear it would upset us; we were afraid to say anything over fear it would upset her.

Once it was out (and with lots of tears) Brooke acknowledged the surgery was the best course.

Then she broke down in tears and couldn’t stop. She said, “Can I ask something?” in the broken way she now spoke.

“Of course, sweetie. You can ask us anything,” I said. 

“Will you still love me?”

And that broke the record from the week before. I never cried so hard in my life. Brooke struggled to get the words out. I knew why she was worried we might not love her anymore. After the first surgery when things went wrong she said she was worried about the money this was costing us. We explained money is not an issue when it comes to getting her better. Brooke actually believed we would not love her because it was costing money and disrupting our lives!

Here is what I said to Brooke, “Do you know what unconditional love is?” She nodded. “Well, mom, Heather and I love you unconditionally. We love you and will never stop loving you. Ever! I know we work hard to be frugal and save and invest. But this is why. Times like this! If we don’t spend whatever it takes to get you better, what good is having money? I don’t care what it costs. We will not be frugal when it comes to getting you better, getting you back home. I would give every dime I have just to have you.”

The whole family cried for a long time. Brooke finally understood we love her unconditionally, no matter what. But it exposed a major flaw in our teachings about money. 

By tonight (Sunday, December 20th) Brooke digested the new information. Once she knew we would love her regardless the amount of money this would cost, she was ready to move forward. She is still nervous about the surgery, but she knows we will never abandon her or stop loving her.

What Brooke doesn’t understand is that insurance is covering virtually all the expense. There are some hotel and meal costs. Big deal. And we are spending a lot of time with Brooke. I consider that a good expenditure of time.

I see bloggers in this demographic encouraging readers to go with no health insurance or something subpar so they can claim the frugality banner. I am 100% against that advice. Even if you have plenty of money to cover any and all medical bills in even the most extreme circumstances, do you want to spend time with your loved ones or paying bills? To me it is clear. Medical insurance is important for covering medical bills and freeing time during times of high stress to spend with family. I think bloggers publishing about not having health insurance are harming their readers, simple as that. It is irresponsible.

Here is the lesson we MUST teach our children in a nutshell: Frugality, saving and investing are important. But it is worth nothing if you never spend for the right reasons. Health and education are two areas where I am willing to spend. Habits that gave you financial independence don’t die when you have financial wealth. But you have to know when spending is not an issue. Your children must know at all times they are more important than any amount of money. Money is replaceable; they are not!

Now I want to close with a word to the dads in the room. Hug and kiss your children every day. Tell them you love them every day, even when they are adults. This is easier with daughters, I understand. But you have to do it with your boys as well. I give my mother and father a hug and tell them I love them every time I see them to this day.

You need to say and show you love them, even if you have disagreements. If your children are at that age where they refuse, it is okay. Just say, “I want you to know I love you. When you are ready, I am here to listen.” No forced hugs. No preaching. They need to know you care, love them unconditionally and want to listen to what they have to say when they are ready to share their thoughts.

You do this because you never know when you will get a call at work at 10 a.m. and never get the chance to say those words again.

 

Postscript: This drama unfolded on this blog’s Facebook page. I shared the events as they happened. I feel it is important for readers to see how I deal with crisis situations live. If you want to see how this unfolded in real time (and is still unfolding) or know more details, you can visit the Facebook page here.

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.

 

Bill gates, Elon Musk and books for success.

The books the most successful people alive today recommend might surprise you. Elon Musk mentions The Lord of the Rings and Douglas Adams’s Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy more than once when listing must-read books. 

These books might seem like strange choices, but when you think about it these and similar books start the engine of creative thinking. The technology Tesla uses to manufacture electric vehicles is not new technology. Some of the technology used is 18th century knowledge, even more from the 19th century and early 20th Century. The magic of Elon Musk is applying this knowledge in novel ways. Remember, electric cars came before the internal combustion engine (ICE). The ICE won until Musk built electric vehicles with existing technology that really worked. Then he revolutionized batteries.

Bill gates, Elon Musk and books for success.

“You can become an expert at anything if you read enough books.” —Elon Musk

Yes, Musk and Company came up with new technologies, usually building off existing technologies. Technologies known for 50 years are now for the first time since, ah, well, Nikola Tesla, being built upon. And the push forward continues. What was once unthinkable is now possible. Tabless batteries are now a reality. And new manufacturing systems are making batteries faster and cheaper.

So how did a kid from South Africa, uprooted to a new home in Canada and later America, do it? In his own word, he was “raised by books”. 

It gets even better. Elon Musk is not a rocket scientist, yet he runs a leading space launch company: SpaceX. Once again, old technology is being put to new uses and doing the once unimaginable. When asked the secret, Musk simply stated, “I read books.” When pressed, Musk went on to explain you can become an expert at anything if you read enough books. And Elon is a living example. His claim that he once read 10 hours per day does not seem like an exaggeration. 

Bill Gates echoes similar opinions on reading. Gates takes time for what he calls “Think Week”. This is a time where Gates sneaks away to a quite place with a load of books. He finds as many books as possible on an issue he is trying to tackle and immerses himself for a week on the subject. Seven days later he is a much smarter man.

Gates makes time for two Think Weeks per year. Some of the world’s most pressing problems, many thought intractable, get new life on the day after a Gates Think Week.

People are interested in what Bill Gates reads. His Gates Notes’s selections are must-read material. And those are only the books he recommends. There is no doubt he reads many more books than just those recommended.  

When Gates was asked if he read the Russian novels he stated he had read them all. Why such strange reading for such a beautiful mind? The Russian novels referred to are the great works of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and others during the Golden Age of Russian novels. What makes these novels so special? They don’t reveal some great technology to help civilization run smoother, do they? 

Like Musk, Gates reads novels that create a spark in the mind. The Russian novels in question are more than mere stories. They reveal something about the human mind, how we think and react to the world around us. The Russian novels tell us something about us; make us feel uncomfortable about something inside us. By looking into the mirror with a new set of eyes, Gates allows his mind to expand to wider horizons. Technology changes; people are still the same animal.

Why do I bring up the reading habits of Elon Musk and Bill Gates before sharing my latest reading recommendations? Because my current list is different from any I recommended in the past. Like Gates, I once read a lot of novels; not so much anymore. Yet, this current list of seven books you should curl up with this winter contains more novels than non-fiction. 

There is a good reason for the temporary change in my reading habits. I found some excellent books I knew I had to consume and they happened to be novels. I knew each of these works would educate me equally or better than most non-fiction books I absorbed. 

There are a few doorstops in the group so you will be blessed with ample reading material as the weather turns chilly. Each is worth your time. And as always, share your latest finds from the bookshelf in the comments section so other readers and I can enjoy your discovery, too.

Books for Success

 

The Brothers Karamazov

by Fyodor Dostoevsky

I start with one of the Russian novels. Crime and Punishment was such an incredible book I still can’t get it out of my mind. I was told The Brothers Karamazov was even better. 

The Brothers Karamazov takes a deep look into the human mind and uncovers all the things we don’t always want to see, but must to learn what makes us what we are.

It’s hard to go wrong with Dostoevsky. His novels grant you ample time to examine your own inner working. In Crime and Punishment Raskolnikov commits the perfect murder against an undesirable woman and gets away with it. Then his own mind drives him to madness until he finally confesses his crime.

The Brothers Karamazov dives even deeper into the psyche, examining weighty issues like religious faith and patricide (the killing of your father). 

The early part of the book dives deep into Christian faith. The story then focuses Mitya, one of the brothers. Mitya is a troubled man, leading a life of debauchery. He eventually is accused and convicted for the murder of his father. Yet he is innocent. It is his half brother who commits the crime and commits suicide before clearing Mitya in court. 

Mitya’s life is shallow. But deep down he is a man of honor. His brother, Alyosha, a monk, helps Mitya find his way to an honorable life, if not to a Christian faith. Alyosha give the Speech at the Stone in the novel’s final pages. It is without a doubt one of the most moving words ever put to print. That short speech is a manifesto for the early retirement, financial independence movement, and it was published nearly 150 years ago!

I picked up a new habit this year. When reading classics,  I follow up by borrowing the movie from the library, if available. The Brothers Karamazov is indeed a movie with Yule Brenner and William Shatner (Captain Kirk never looked so young). The movie was a dud. The novel is so rich and detailed, with so much happening, the movie didn’t have a chance. The movie is impossible to follow if you didn’t read the book first and the movie is not true to the book, IMHO. Read the novel instead.

 

The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History

by: John M. Barry

You know as well as I why I read The Great Influenza. I, like you, want to know how society, the government, the medical community and individuals acted during a time of pandemic in modern times. The Great Influenza provides plenty of details on all this.

The Spanish Flu pandemic is eerily similar to what we are experiencing in the current pandemic. The name of the disease changes, but people’s reaction does not.

What I found most surprising is how similar the response and reaction was to the Spanish Flu and the current pandemic. I checked several times to verify this books was published many years prior to COVID-19. Once again, times change; people don’t.

The Great Influenza is more than a timeline of the Spanish Flu. This book digs into the lives of the people who dealt with the medical disaster unfolding. Many characters could easily blend into our modern news feeds. 

Another thing that interested me is how young modern medicine was in the U.S. at the time compared to Europe. It was only the generation experiencing the pandemic that acted in a modern medical manner. The medical dark ages in the U.S. was barely 20 past.

Much of our modern medicine has roots to 1918. There were already vaccines back then and the early hope was a vaccine could solve the Spanish Flu pandemic. It wasn’t to be. Medical researchers also went down a wrong path, convinced the cause of the Spanish Flu was a bacteria; scientists didn’t have microscopes strong enough to see viruses yet. But some medical doctors suspected there was something more to the disease.

The most interesting part of the story was the spread of the Spanish Flu. I wanted to know how disease spread in 1918 compares to the spread of COVID-19 today. The similarities are eerie. Once again, The Great Influenza could be a news post from today. People used the same arguments against masks when it was just as obvious as today that masks slow the spread. 

The economy was shut down, just like today with the same results. People found ways to get out and gather. It was better to die than to hunker down for an extended period of time. The name of the disease changes, but the reaction of people is a constant.

You will enjoy reading The Great Influenza. A pandemic from 100 years ago will give valuable insights into our modern scourge and how it might end.

 

How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking 

by: Jordan Ellenberg

How Not to Be Wrong has a certain appeal. Call it a clickbait title if you want, but it really is a book about how not to be wrong versus how to be right, which is not always possible.

I found this the most challenging book of the lot. I took the time to work through the thought process on why certain things are as they are. For example, we all should know the lottery is always a bad idea. Except, it isn’t! There are a few instances where the lottery in the last few decades in the U.S. delivered incredible odds with a virtual guarantee of a massive profit. The information isn’t to encourage you to waste your money on lottery tickets. Instead, it helps you calculate what the real value of a lottery ticket (or any other financial instrument) is and when the lottery officials make a mistake you can average out the expected value with a simple strategy.

What was most interesting to me was the mathematical proof elections don’t always reflect the will of the people in democracies. The more people in the race, the worse it gets. That is why the candidate for each party in the U.S. presidential elections is not usually the real choice of the people. There is no such thing as public opinion, as one chapter title states. Once again I turned to the publication date to make sure this wasn’t preaching about the current election. Nope! Published in 2015.

How Not to Be Wrong takes more time to read as you will want to stop at times and work through the math and logic behind it. Math will not always make you right, but it can make sure you are never wrong. There is a difference.

 

The Complete Works Of Raymond Chandler

Reading the lifetime’s work of an author is going to take time. Good thing the stories are so darn good. 

Raymond Chandler gives you ~2500 pages of engaging reading. If you love noir, as I do, you will find Chandler addicting. Hard-boiled detective novels of the 1930s era, with the tough talk and wise cracks had me wanting more when I finished those thousands of pages. 

Seven novels — including The Long Goodbye and The Big Sleep — one screenplay, numerous essays and a large number of short stories fill these two volumes. (For Amazon purchase here: Volume 1 and Volume 2). With these books in hand you will pray for a snow storm to close the roads this winter.

I watched a few movies from the library on Chandler’s novels. They were actually pretty good and true to the printed story. Check with your library.

 

The Maltese Falcon

By: Dashiell Hammett

While I enjoyed the descriptive writing of Chandler, I was willing to read another classic in the same genre because I was missing the hard-boiled detective story before I closed the pages on Chandler. The Maltese Falcon is a fast read and an excellent story. (The movie from the library was also good and stayed true to the novel.)

Noir just does something for me. It seems over the top at times with the smart aleck talk and testosterone behavior. I think what is so powerful about these novels is that it is the way we want ourselves to act in the face of danger: with courage, intelligence and no fear. 

Novels, done well, can teach as much or more than any non-fiction book. Chandler and Hammett tells us something about ourselves in a way different than Dostoevsky. Yet, powerful understandings all the same. 

This time I promise to not give away the plot. 

Consider borrowing this one from the library. I like owning many of the books I read and bought this one as well. However, except for the most diehard bibliophile, the library book will do just fine.

 

Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones

By: James Clear

Of all the books on this list, Atomic Habits is a book you need to own. You will read, and re-read, this book again and again.

The right habits are the most powerful tool you have in reaching your goals and dreams. Bad habits destroy your chance to realize your goals and dreams.

Every time I ask for great books people have read on this blog’s Facebook group, Atomic Habits always came up. I had no choice at last; I had to read the book my groupies were talking about.

The title is self explanatory. Rather than give a blurb to a number of strategies in the book I will share just one and how it impacted me.

It might be hard for people who follow my work to realize I can procrastinate periodically. A good example of this is during tax season. The hours get long and I get tired. Difficult returns gravitate to the edge of my desk and easier returns get prepared. Returns that I am waiting for more documents on start to age. Before long I believe it will take a lot of time to complete each of those returns. When I finally get desperate (the client is mad) I open the folder and start. And to my surprise it almost always takes less time than anticipated.

While I am not perfect, I have made improvements using James Clear’s advice. He said I should open the file (start the blog post, open the tax file, answer the emails, film the video, on ad nauseum) and just give it two minutes. If it doesn’t work I have permission to put it back away and deal with it later. In all but rare cases, once I start I keep going and the tax return is finished, the client is happy and whatdaya know, I get paid. 

The best part of Atomic Habits is the strategies are not hard. It is so simple even a tax guy can do it. You will find value in building habits that support your goals. Therefore, I heartily recommend Atomic Habits for your night stand.

 

The Plot Against America

By: Philip Roth

The current political climate has brought novels of yesteryear with similarities to today to the forefront. Previously I recommended Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here. In a similar vein I recommend The Plot Against America.

The story follows a Jewish family in an alternate history where Charles Lindbergh is elected president in 1940 and sides with Germany, Hitler and the Nazis. Each step, as the story unfolds, is thought provoking. Written well before Donald Trump even considered running for president, the action in The Plot Against America can easily have come from this morning’s news feed. 

Riveting and chilling. It is impossible not to find your mind wandering to that place where you were that Jewish family or a Charles Lindbergh supporter. 

Pulled from the front pages of 1030s newspapers, The Plot Against America could have been a real possibility. And as all the novels is this selection reveal, we all have something to learn if we allow ourselves to look inside our minds.

One spoiler: Charles Lindbergh is shown in such a negative light in this novel I wondered how his descendants received the novel. Lindbergh was a know anti-Semite. There was something chillingly real about the story. It was totally believable. Toward the end of the novel we discover Charles Lindbergh was not the monster we thought he was. He commits the ultimate act of bravery and sacrifice for his country which finally allows the U.S. to enter the war against Germany and bring the Allies to victory.

 

The above selections are a good reading list. Whether you read one, some or all of the suggestions, you will be amply rewarded for the time invested.

A good book never goes to waste. You can learn something from a book, and if you are real lucky, you might learn something about yourself. That makes the world a better place…for you.

More Wealth Building Resources

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.

 

Deduct work home expenses with an accountable plan.

The timing could not have been worse for remote workers. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 nixed the deduction for work from home expenses and other unreimbursed employee business expenses. 

Prior to the TCJA it wasn’t the best deduction in the world either. You had to itemize to get the deduction and it was combined with several other deductions and then reduced by 2% of your adjusted gross income. But it was at least available and with some planning could provide modest tax relief.

Self-employed people can still deduct these expenses on their or Schedule C. Same for farmers (Schedule F) and income property owners (Schedule E). 

For employees, the deduction is now gone, unless you know the rules. With proper planning you can benefit by working from home, getting a tax benefit for work related expenses. The home office, the pro-rata share of utilities, insurance, property taxes and/or rent and mortgage interest can get tax-free treatment. Same for office supplies and equipment. And don’t forget business travel expenses.

Working from home has plenty of benefits: no office politics, no fighting traffic and every day is casual day. The downside is you have expenses at home that can’t be deducted on your tax return. We are going to fix that right now.

 

 

Deducting Work From Home Expenses

Just because work expenses are not deductible on your tax return doesn’t mean they aren’t deductible on somebody else’s return. Yes, I am talking about your employer. 

It’s called an accountable plan and they are easy to set up and maintain. It requires your employer’s cooperation, but when the employer sees how much they will save in taxes they will want to be on board. (Send them to this article, if necessary. Accountable plans are a win/win with an IRS blessing.)

An accountable plan is where the employer reimburses the employee for work related expenses. The employer then takes the deduction and the employee is not allowed to deduct the expense, something employees can no longer do anyway.

There are three requirements to an accountable plan under IRC §62(c):

  1. Business connection: The expense must be an actual job related expense; personal expenses are not allowed.
  2. Substantiation: Within a reasonable period of time the employee must provide receipts or other documentation substantiating the expense.
  3. Return of excess reimbursement: If the employer provided an advance or over-reimburses the employee, the employee must return the excess within a reasonable time. Money not returned is added to the W-2 wage.

Now we need to determine what a reasonable period of time is. Here is what the IRS considers reasonable:

  1. The employer can reimburse the employee when receipts or other documentation is provided. 
  2. The employee can receive funds up to 30 days in advance. This means the employer can provide an advance on the first of the month for expected expenses for that month. This can be a flat stipend with accounting afterwards to determine if the employee had more qualified expenses for reimbursement or owes the employer a refund for an excess advance.
  3. The employee has 60 days from the time the expense was incurred or was paid to make an account with the employer. This means the employee needs to submit expenses to the employer for reimbursement within 60 days or, in the case of an advance, provide an accurate account of the work related expenses.
  4. Excess reimbursements must be returned to the employer within 120 days of the expense being paid or incurred.
  5. The employer needs to provide a quarterly statement at minimum tallying the advances, and receipts and other documentation submitted. The employer needs to ask the employee to return any excess advance not covered by qualified expenses. The employee has 120 days from the statement date to comply. If more qualified expenses were submitted than the advance the employer can reimburse the employee at the time of the statement or the employer’s choosing.
Deduct work expenses.

The rules for an accountable plan are straight forward and simple. Follow the rules and get something even better than deducting work related expenses.

Qualified Work Expenses

Not every expense is straight forward. For example, it is easy for an employer to understand a reimbursement for office supplies; the employee turns in receipts for paper and printer toner and the employer reimburses the employee. 

Other expenses have options. Actual expenses can be used, but per diems and safe harbors also exist for easier recordkeeping.

The home office is a good example. The employee can be reimbursed for a pro-rata share of their home expenses (insurance, property tax or rent, utilities, internet, repairs and maintenance and mortgage interest to name the most common). If the home office is a 10×10 room (100 square feet) and the entire home is 2,000 square feet, 5% of the home expenses can be reimbursed. Or, you can use an annual per diem which is $5 per square foot up to a maximum of 300 square feet. The maximum annual home office per diem is $1,500. 

Travel is another area where actual expenses are not required:

  1. Instead of actual expenses for auto travel you can take the standard mileage rate. The standard mileage rate is the simplest method when it comes to autos and trucks; a mileage log (with details on the business purpose of the miles) is all you need. Under actual expense a mileage log is still required, plus, all expenses related to the vehicle (gas, oil, repairs, insurance…). Then you only get the business percent of all miles for reimbursement. Actual expense might get a bigger deduction, but with a bigger recordkeeping headache. You and your employer can decide.
  2. Business travel is a recordkeeping nightmare. The IRS makes it easier by providing per diems for meals and incidentals and lodging. (Self-employed persons cannot use the per diem for lodging; only meals and incidentals.) The per diem means you only need to provide documentation for the days traveling. The employer provides a reimbursement up to the per diem and the employee does not record the reimbursement as income, even if the reimbursement exceeds the actual expense. The GSA has a handy tool for determining how much the per diem is for each area of the U.S. Travel expenses under $75 do not require a receipt for deduction/reimbursement (except for lodging). A record is required stating the time, place and business purpose of the expense. (Note: You are allowed the per diem “or” actual expense per business trip. You are not locked into one method for the entire year.)
  3. Meal expenses also have easier recordkeeping rules, even when not traveling. Meals under $75 do not require a receipt. A record of time, place and business purpose of the meal is required. Note: Home office snacks or meals on your own are not a deductible or reimbursable business expense. 

Any employer can reimburse all employees for work related expenses, not just remote workers. Uniform expenses (purchase, laundering, mending), work shoes or tools, for example, can also be reimbursed, even for employees working on the employer’s site.

Remote workers home office deduction.

Remote workers still have tax benefits after the loss of home office deductions.

Tax Benefits for the Employee and the Employer

The tax benefits to the employee are obvious. Previously nondeductible expenses are now reimbursed so the employee has no out of pocket expense. (The employer can choose to partially reimburse, as well. It’s not an all or none game.)

The employer usually gets a full deduction for the expenses and employee retention is higher when employees are not out money for work-related expenses. 

Then come the big tax advantages for both parties. 

 

Trading Wages for Reimbursements

I can see the wheels turning in your head. Wouldn’t it be easier to swap out wages for reimbursements? The IRS thought of that too and said “No!” in Revenue Ruling 2012-25

While an employer can’t reclassify wages or salary as a reimbursement, it doesn’t mean a reasonable compromise isn’t possible that saves all parties involved some tax dollars. 

Let’s say John works for XYZ Inc. His annual salary is $100,000. John works from his home office and has some typical expenses related to his work. If John’s employer will provide a $95,000 salary with work related expenses reimbursed (assuming John has over $5,000 in work related expenses each year), it might be a better deal for John than the higher $100,000 salary since John will pay income and FICA taxes on $5,000 less. The employer also saves the employer’s portion of the FICA tax, paying the tax on the $5,000 lower salary. Everyone wins!

You can offer one salary without reimbursement of work expenses and another salary with reimbursement as long as it isn’t a dollar for dollar exchange. Wages and salaries cannot be reclassified as a reimbursement!

 

One Last Tax Tip: Rent Your Home Office to Your Employer

If all else fails there is one more option. Employers don’t always want to reimburse mortgage interest expenses and so forth. The open ended nature of home office expenses can also scare an employer when it comes to reimbursement. 

If your employer has these concerns or is uninterested in an accountable plan, offer to rent your home office to them. (“Hey, I get paid when I rent my property to someone, Mister Employer!”) The rent must be reasonable. If your home office garners a $500 per month rent, then the employer should pay $500 rent per month for use of your property. 

Rent received is taxable income and reported on Schedule E. And expenses related to your rental are deductible! Keep in mind, only the expenses related to the office count in this instance (pro-rata share of utilities, insurance…); office supplies still require an accountable plan.

 

Things have changed ever since the pandemic arrived. Remote workers were a growing category before the pandemic, but world events pushed remote employment into overdrive. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing leading to a pay cut due to unreimbursed work expenses. Now you have a plan, and the tools, to solve the problem and move forward.

 

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.

What you spend on is more important than frugality.

When it comes to the blogs and other tracts providing information on building wealth, frugality carries most of the weight. And it makes sense. The greater the difference of income over spending is a strong determinant of the level of wealth an individual will achieve during their lifetime as compared to their income level. 

As important as frugality is, spending is even more important, even if it doesn’t garner the column inches the matter deserves. Spending less than you earn is the seed money for investments and without investments it is impossible to build significant wealth.

As an accountant I see people from all spectrums of income. Frugality, even hyper-frugality, is the hallmark of those with modest levels of wealth. Even the lowest income earners can amass a half million or more in a working career when frugality is taken to religious levels, with the excess invested in equities like index funds.

Mid-levels of income also do well with only the single tool of frugality. As their wealth grows they sometimes seek out professionals to help them. These clients tend to want short consulting sessions once a year with a review at tax time. 

Then come the serious achievers. These people sometimes have modest incomes, sometimes large incomes.  Regardless their income level, these people smack it out of the park. Their level of wealth is well beyond what would be expected for their income level or level of frugality (the excess of income above spending).

Super-achievers in wealth building focus on spending rather than frugality. They know spending is more important. And they know most spending drains their energy and wealth while proper spending can actually make them richer!

They also know that wealth is fleeting. The highway is littered with the corpses of wealthy people of yesteryear. A lifetime of building wealth can be lost in less time than it takes to snap your fingers. That is today’s topic. Wealthy people that keep it long enough to leave a legacy spend on the 5 things listed below in a disproportionate amount compared to the general population. As you flex your frugality muscles you want to consider spending some of that excess on these things to grow and preserve your wealth. Because, remember, when you have money there are always those looking to separate you from it.

Millionaires and Health

How wealthy can you really be if you are chronically sick? In pain? Or dead! 

If you have your health you are already wealthy and rich people know it and take steps to keep it that way. Eating quality food and exercise are primary. Proper medical care also plays a key role.

I see poor people and those looking to super-charge their frugality, to achieve goals like early retirement, refuse to pay for quality food or a gym membership or a piece of exercise equipment. It is counter-productive behavior.

I have a membership at Lake Park Swim & Fitness. Mrs. Accountant attends two or three exercise groups per week and I hit the floor (where the weights are) three times per week. This is a part of our routine! Physical activity is a priority in our life. Mrs. Accountant loves it so much she took a part-time job their working two nights per week cleaning up a bit (and for a free membership).

Outside the gym I also remain active. I walk an hour each day and sometimes jog. My sneakers see at least 3 miles of travel daily above and beyond normal movements (walking to the water cooler, et cetera). I chop wood on my farm, plant trees and work the garden. I recently bought a step meter to see how I’m doing. Rare is the day with fewer than 10,000 steps and many days are well above 20,000. Mrs. Accountant has similar numbers.

Lake Park isn’t the cheapest gym, but they also are not the cheapest gym. (Yes, you read that right.) It is the cleanest gym (and friendliest) gym I’ve ever been a member of.  I want a clean environment and working equipment. My workouts are serious business and I want a gym that feels the same way.

Food is another important expenditure for the wealthy. I grow much of my own food, but nutritious food can be had from the grocery store and it doesn’t require the “organic” label. Processed foods are limited in my household. Fresh fruits and vegetables are a common sight. We freeze and can lots of homegrown produce. Home prepared meals are the best so we do it a lot.

Health includes medical services. I see many poor people (and even some earning a reasonable wage) foregoing medical care and recommended treatments. Modern technology has given us the longest lifespan in human history, but it does no good if you don’t use the technology. 

Reasonable medical insurance to deal with a big medical issues is a must in the U.S where there is limited national healthcare for people under age 65. Regular checkups and taking required medications are all part of the program. Wealthy people know it is easier to stay healthy than to regain health. And as a reminder, without health, financial wealth has far less meaning.

 

Millionaires and Legal

Most people know they need to take care of their health. Fewer understand the importance of legal protection.

What takes a lifetime to build can be sued away in a fraction of a moment. Wealthy people know it, too. Keeping wealth already accumulated is vital to keeping wealth all the way to the finish line. 

It blows this accountant’s mind when people set up their own business entity. They have no experience (in most cases) in how to do this correctly, but they do it anyway. These hard working people put in the hours for years and even decades. Yet, their first step is to take a shortcut, the cheaper way. (Notice I said cheaper, not frugal. Frugal doesn’t take shortcuts; cheapskates do.) 

The same applies to wills and other legal documents. Of course, if you do it wrong you will not be around to clean up the mess; your friends and family will. (Nice memory you left the kids.) 

In all my 37 years in practice I’ve never seen a truly wealthy person take legal shortcuts. I have seen many people lose a lifetime of work, sometimes while in retirement, over  not using a qualified professional to handle their legal needs. 

I keep a law firm on speed dial for legal questions and other legal services. They have my retainer. When in doubt I go to the professionals to help me make quality decisions. I understand tax laws well (and still rely on other tax professionals for research all the time), but legal matters not so much. Attorneys sometimes have a bad reputation. It should not be that way. My legal team is a vital part of my financial plan. Their advice is always welcome. Attorneys can save you a massive amount of money and grief when planning ahead, or, they can cost even more trying to fix a mess that might end up with a settlement costing you decades of your invested savings (work or lifeforce, as some say).

 

Millionaires and Tax and Accounting

I’ll admit this part is self-serving. It is also a vital part of wealth creation and retention. 

When you add up all the taxes you pay (income, property, excise, gift, sales and more) it is the biggest single expense in your life. Even your home doesn’t cost as much as all taxes combined are pealing from your wallet. Even a modest income can see half or more lost to the litany of taxes the government has devised to separate you from your hard-earned money.

In my office the tax professionals sometimes laugh when people say they prepare their own tax return. “We always enjoy summer work,” is their response. There is some truth to that.

Frugality is not enough if you want to be wealthy. How you spend and what you spend on will make the difference in how wealthy you become. If you want to be a millionaire you need to spend like a millionaire. That means frugality one one hand and intelligent spending that serves your needs on the other.But it gets worse. To this day I have never had a consulting session with a client or someone from this blog where I didn’t save that client several times in taxes what they paid me. There have been cases where a $1,000 consulting fee yielded 6-figures in additional wealth, much of it from tax savings. 

I have no problem with people preparing their own return when it is very simple. However, a tax professional is worth her weight in gold if she works with you! Rare is the non tax professional that knows when it is best to elect to treat their side hustle or business as an S-corp over a sole proprietorship. If you own income properties do you understand the mechanics of a cost-segregation study? If you own any investments are you aware of tools to defer and eliminate taxes on the profits? Like-kind exchanges? Opportunity funds? Delaware Statutory Trusts?

Even something as simple as  professional bookkeeping can send your net worth skyward faster. One of my accountants just helped an investment property owner from Mississippi clean up his books. Now he knows where he is financially at all times. He can make better decisions; I can give him better advice. Banks loans are easier to get and rates lower. He really has professional looking books! (It would be bragging if I did the work, but Dawn gets all the credit.)

His taxes are also lower because I can help him plan instead of react. He refers to us as his OCD accountant. Yes, we take pride in our work and pay attention to detail. It is never enough to have clean books. We demand we provide guidance to optimize wealth building for every client we serve. 

It doesn’t come cheap, of course. But I deliver greater results because I am incentivized to do so and invest in growing my arsenal to better serve clients. The cheapest isn’t always that cheap.

The income property owner discussed above had several accounting firms who could not get his fast growing rental business under control. Dawn even struggled in the beginning. There was, and is, a lot to digest. I kept applying steady, yet firm, pressure. While the client benefited, I was training an accountant on how to handle the difficult cases. Now that the books are clean it isn’t so challenging anymore.

And this brings up another important point. Not every tax and/or accounting professional is cut from the same cloth. Some are better than others and some are outright incompetent. In a previous post I discuss how you can find high quality tax professionals and accountants for your wealth building team. The same applies when looking for a legal professional.

With so much on the line it is worth hiring a competent tax professional. If your return is simple you can prepare it yourself. I have many consulting sessions with people who prepare their own tax return. I review the prior return as part of the consulting session and it is usually okay.

Tax and accounting  professionals are worth their most when consulting. Their large reservoir of knowledge and experience can help you make better career and investment choices. It is difficult at best to build serious wealth without a highly qualified tax professional.

 

Millionaires and Education

Primary and secondary schooling, along with a college, is designed to teach you how to learn. Until you learn how to learn nothing else will matter. Yes, college will educate you on the basics in your field of study, but it is just the basics, as hard as those final exams were.

The most powerful tool the millionaires has to create and build wealth is never-ending education. Learning never ends for the wealthy.Nothing prepares you for real world. College textbooks have nice neat questions with exact answers. Real life rarely delivers such a neat package. Thinking on your feet and designing answers on the go is vital to success. That is why doctors spend so much time in college and even more time sharpening their skills as interns and in residency.

Once you learn how to learn the world is at your beck and call. What you learn in college can quickly become dated. Your “real” education begins after graduation!  

Many professions require continuing education (CE). Doctors, attorneys, accountants and enrolled agents (a tax professional designation) all are required to take continuing education courses each year. And for good reason. Bad habits can set in and CE can bring behavior back in line. New technologies and changing laws all require more learning, more education.

Application is harder than theory. I see tax professionals and accountants come out of college and struggle when they move from the legal facts to applying those facts in real world situations. Clients don’t always bring in all their paperwork. Some (all too many) are trying to game the system. Your job is to keep clients in line (they didn’t teach you that in college, did they?) and use the material at hand to build the most accurate record.

Doctors face a rude awakening when the classroom makes way for the medical theater. Answers are not always easy to define or find and time is of the essence. It’s an open book test with a human life on the line and the clock speeding forward.

You don’t have to be in a profession to benefit from education. In all facets of my life I have continued learning. Reading is a daily part of life (a big part of life). Every day is a learning experience! Even after all these years of study and thousands of books digested, I still feel like a neophyte most of the time. The more you learn the more you realize there is to learn. It is humbling.

Learning is one of the great pleasures in life, too. Wealthy people find this compelling. They spend a disproportionate amount of their income and wealth on education at all times of their life and enjoy the process. The wonder of discovery never grows old. 

Spending on education is a guilty pleasure wealthy people never skimp on. My personal library has pushed past 3,000 volumes and I make prodigious use of several local libraries as well. I am a sponge for knowledge and people pay me a lot of money to see how I put the pieces together as it applies to them. And there is nothing more pleasurable and fun than that.

 

Millionaires and Insurance

This expenditure of the wealthy might come as a surprise to many. That is because you need to sift the junk insurance from the stuff that matters when it come to building and retaining wealth.

To start, we are not talking about the insurance you purchase for small electronics at retail outlets. If you can’t afford to fix or replace an $86 item you can’t afford the item. This is junk insurance and wealthy people don’t buy it. Besides, most credit cards provide similar insurance for free just for charging the item on their card.

Wealthy people strategically target their insurance spending. It has to protect wealthy adequately or build wealth.

Large assets require coverage. Homeowners should have adequate insurance to protect against large losses. Wealthy people frequently have high deductibles, however. Small losses are easily handler out-of-pocket and insuring for small losses is always a losing game.

Home and auto insurance are more than just protecting the asset’s value. Many wealthy people don’t have collision on their vehicle or have a high deductible. That is because a damaged car is a mild inconvenience when it comes to building serious wealth. 

Lawsuits, on the other hand, are a different story. A minor fender-bender might set you back a few thousand; the lawsuit several hundred thousand and a boatload of time, anxiety and stress.

Wealthy people almost always enhance their insurance with an umbrella policy, extending liability coverage beyond the original policy limits. Damage to property almost always  is a minor issue when it comes to wealth, but a lawsuit can eliminate all vestiges wealth ever existed in your portfolio. And, as already mentioned, it can happen faster than the snap of the fingers.

Other insurances wealthy people use fund legacy planning and business protection. Protecting a business protects the income stream, an important consideration for the wealthy and those soon to be. Legacy planning frequently includes insurance to deal with tax issues, fund charities of choice and provide long-term for family after our wealthy friend departs this realm. You would be surprised how much income can be generated with a proper insurance policy and it isn’t the insurance policy providing the income, only the protection and/or framework to provide such additional income.

Non-wealthy people fight this expenditure the most. I even saw a popular blogger a few years back claim he forewent homeowner’s insurance. I can only imagine the risk and damage readers taking his advice faced. (The real value of homeowner’s insurance in the liability protection, not the casualty coverage, by the way.)

Wealthy people buy insurance that protects against serious losses to wealth while poor people insure items on Amazon with a sticker price under $100. That one simple fact tells a very large story.

The right insurance is important. The insurance agent might not be the right place to go to find out the best values in insurance (insurance agents don’t always understand legal and tax issues). That is why we consult with educated attorneys and tax/accounting professionals. Your accountant and attorney are a vital part of your plan to build and retain wealth, and frequently have a fundamental understanding of all the wealth issues involved, including insurance.

 

Coda

There are other things wealthy people spend on too. The 5 above are areas wealthy people generally do not skimp on. Too much is at stake if they do.

Thinking like a wealthy person is the first step in building wealth. Keep yourself as healthy as possible, adequately protect yourself with qualified legal professionals, also hire qualified people in the tax and accounting field, never stop learning and protect your current and future assets with proper insurance.

You might have other priorities. Many wealthy people travel more than I do, but it isn’t required. Some buy more home than I would feel comfortable living in. To each their own, I say. But the 5 categories above are where all wealthy people focus their spending if they plan on keeping it. That might be a hint you should, too. 

Engage frugality and put the excess monies to work. Learning to save and spend properly is the only way to reach financial goals; to reach true levels of significant wealth.

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.