Alone.

My youngest daughter turned 18 on Wednesday and while Mrs. Accountant and I are not yet officially empty nesters the handwriting is on the wall. High school needs to be finished and an adjustment into adulthood is in order before she leaves. The timing is the only thing undecided.

My oldest daughter (I have two girls) stuck around home milking mom and dad for all it was worth. At first the prodding was gentle. As the years passed the cattle prod was more insistent. It’s wasn’t about her behavior either.

Both my girls are well behaved and quiet. Neither took to drinking, drugs or promiscuous behavior. Brooke, the youngest, enjoys playing on the computer and working outside. Heather buries her nose in a book or online research. In many ways it was like they weren’t here.

Quiet and well-behaved doesn’t mean we didn’t enjoy quality time with the girls. We spent many hours outside throwing Frisbee. “Puss arm!” and “Butter fingers!” were shouted often as we laughed away an afternoon. Walks to the creek or around the farm are all fond memories. Fire pits, cook outs, and farm animals filled the formative years of my girls. I hope it was enough.

Where Did the Time Go?

Intellectually I knew my children were growing up and working toward a life of their own. Somehow it never sunk in that it wouldn’t last forever. Still, I managed to sprinkle each day with my wisdom and sorted humor. It’s amazing my kids survived at all with a dad like me.

It was impossible to know if my lessons were sinking in. Advice on interpersonal relationships was hardest because your choice in life mate determines a serious percent of your wellbeing and happiness. A good marriage or dedicated relationship (or whatever they call it these days) is one of the most important decisions you will make in life. Money is important, but I can be very happy and poor with the right woman next to me. I was extremely lucky in meeting Mrs. Accountant. Very lucky indeed! She stood firm through the roughest of storms. We weathered a lot and grew stronger over the years.

Here I am with Mrs. Accountant, my girls and nieces at the Jingle Bell Run.

Money was also a common discussion. I kept repeating my mantras hoping something would stick. Instead of demanding my girls live frugally I repeated things like, “You don’t save money by spending it.” Of course I had to qualify the statement as they got older. Spending money on your health is usually a good investment. Changing the oil in your car is spending money, but it does, in a way, end up saving you a lot more.

The two areas you are told never to talk about in public—politics and religion—were common discussions in the Accountant household. We’ll skip the religious conversation for brevity and to allow time for a short detour through politics.

Remember, the original, and still primary, goal of this blog is to leave my children a legacy of my knowledge and experiences. You are here to observe and comment if you want (and do it respectfully). My political ideology is definitely centrist with mild detours to the left and right.

Ronald Reagan was president when I reached the age of majority. I liked Reagan and voted for him when he ran for a second term. It was my first presidential election. Age and experience have tempered my appeal for Reagan, but I still like the guy. The first Bush got my vote, but his performance and communications skills left me wanting.

I voted for Clinton twice. The Monica Lewinski thing didn’t bother me. I knew it was dirty politics only. Considering what we see today neither party is much concerned with ethical behavior when it comes to women. It’s a talking point until they get caught in their hypocrisy.

What I liked about Clinton was his understanding of economics and government finance. The Republicans cried about the deficit once a Democrat was in office. President Clinton knew exactly how to balance the budget and he did it! Clinton knew he could keep a strong economy with growing government spending and balance the budget if he kept spending increases to 1% below the inflation rate. A deficit at 4% of GDP was resolve in about four years on its own. I thought it was genius and few ever talked about it. I guess you have to be an accountant to understand.

Bush II never thrilled me and I voted for Gore and Kerry. My opinion of George W. Bush has improved over the years. I never disliked the man, but I felt he was ineffective and too much a puppet of the establishment right. I’d still sit and have a beer with the guy. I think he is an honorable man forced onto a very big world stage.

I liked President Obama. He was cool under every kind of pressure. I voted for Obama the first time around and would have voted for McCain f he’d have picked anyone else for a VP. John McCain would have been a good president. His just right of center ideology sat well with me. He also played fair with both sided of the isle. Something I admire as professionalism.

Trump is dangerous in my opinion and I’ve shared my thoughts personally with my girls ad nauseam on the subject. Leadership by tweet is not leadership in my world.

Back to “Where’d the Time Go”

Politics is an important discussion point to have with your children. Your children will pick up your position on the political spectrum and that isn’t a bad thing. They’ll stray when they’re ready, also a good thing.

Politics is important and an important part of this discussion because politic affects many money issues. Tax laws can help or hinder you on your way to financial independence. Retirement plans offer tax advantages. The level of advantage is an inducement toward solvency.

Enjoying an ice cream at Frogg’s in Sherwood, Wisconsin.

My disdain for Trump doesn’t cloud my judgment because no matter how much I like or dislike a political leader I know some ideas they have will sit well with me and others less so. For example, I agree we needed tax reform. I’m not as excited the final result will allow for a long-term lower adjustment in rates, but since my crystal ball is cloudy on all future events I withhold judgment. Trump’s willingness (and last I heard a soon to be real event) to have a face-to-face discussion with Kim Jong-un is something I highly approve of. I also think Trump is more qualified on this one issue (face-to-face with Kim) than any president to ever deal with North Korea. I’ll withhold judgment, of course, but am guardedly optimistic. (As I read this aloud to Mrs. Accountant and Brooke I was informed the meeting will not take place. I hope Trump reconsiders. This is his strong suit.)

And then we realize the years have got behind us and the kiddos are finally adults.

After a slow start getting off dad’s couch, Heather has shown real maturity as she gains new friends in college. She is heading to China this summer with future plans of living permanently abroad. I wanted her to get off my couch, but I didn’t think she would travel so far away.

Heather works most Friday’s in my office. She is starting to miss more and more as she continues to spread her wings. She was coming home every weekend. Now she misses some weekends. Soon she’ll be gone for a month or longer and then. . .

Yeah, I miss my sweetie. A good parent teaches and then allows, even insists, their kids build a life of their own. Mom and dad are always there as a sounding board. However, flying is a solo sport. I gave them the tools. It is up to them now. I’d be a liar if I said my heart doesn’t flutter as I watch.

The New Kid in Town

For the Accountant household there are no new kids in town. The kids are all gone. Brooke is an adult now as she reaches for high school graduation and big plans of her own. She has no plans of moving out at this time. But before long the call will be heard and eventually answered. It is the way life is meant to be.

The house feels emptier without Heather around most of the time. She stays up really late (midnight or later) while Brooke and mom go to bed early (around 8). My bedtime is in between. I love the quiet time and house to myself for reading and writing. Yet, there is an emptiness causing me unease. I doubt it will ever go away.

No Regrets

I don’t regret the path I’ve chosen. Mrs. Accountant was better at staying at home than I ever was. Sue raised our girls with incredible patience. She has been a guiding angel for our children and her wayward husband. I can only imagine what she feels as the house grows quieter.

Whenever the girls had an event I was there. Except for 14 months I was self-employed my entire life. The drive which pushes me incessantly also knows when to back off. When it comes to family nothing is more important. I’d rather be poor in cash and rich in family than the other way around. Money is something nice to play with and fill time, but family is the real meaning of love and happiness. Family is what makes life worth living.

Tax season keeps me in the office long hours. Early in my career the office was our remodeled basement. Since 1995 I’ve enjoyed a storefront to escape to when practicing my passion. For nine months a year I am home a lot. Tax season is a nice reprieve for the family from a crazy dad. Then it’s time for the prodigal dad to return home.

Alone, Naturally

The day is fast approaching when Mrs. Accountant and I can sit alone together and enjoy uninterrupted time. It’s a skill we haven’t had much time to practice. There is a sadness in the approaching moment.

No goodbyes, just good memories.

I’ve always idolized older people who have the time to satiate the lust for learning. The ability to while away a day immersed in books appeals to me. I do also understand it is better to want than to have. It may prove difficult to concentrate when my thoughts keep straying to the years when my girls roamed the house.

I hope I don’t second-guess myself. That would lead to misery! I made the choices I made because I thought they were right at the time. There is no value in torturing myself with paths I didn’t take.

The lessons have been taught. All that remains is gentle support and guidance. It is a bittersweet joy raising children. Never once did I dream I would feel like this. Honestly, I can’t remember a time when I thought about the instant my last child would leave our home to live her own life. I never prepared because I was unaware of what should have been obvious.

Still, I have no regrets. I brought two fine young ladies to adulthood. For all my flaws they turned out darn good. There is no doubt Mrs. Accountant had a lot to do with it.

Even Pinky, our cat, sits in the front window more now. She stares to the distant horizon and chirps with thoughts I can’t even begin to imagine. Pinky probably feels it’s time for her to roam free too. She might also want to consider the difference between wanting and having.

Soon the house will be empty. Then I can start dating that young lady again I met oh so many years ago. No kids. We can dream again of our future.

Forever.

 

How many friends do you have? Thirty? More? Ten or less? It’s an interesting question because it determines a great deal of our happiness.

Loneliness is feared as much as the night. Losing a spouse or loved one cuts deep as we know how much we’ll miss the dearly departed.

Age can bring on acute loneliness. I wrote a Christmas post a few years back about a client who died shortly after I visited her Christmas Eve. Her name was Sophie. She died many years ago. I visited her because I understood how alone she was. Sophie was a client for many years and she spent the last years of her life in unrelenting isolation. Every time I think of her it brings tears to my eyes. I can still feel her weak hand squeeze mine all those years ago.

“One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever know . . .” is a familiar ballad that resonates because we all know how easy we could find ourselves alone. Deep down we all fear the emptiness.

The worst punishment in prison is solitary confinement. Cutting a human being from the stimulation of other humans is considered punishment. It’s really torture and any human forcing another into isolation deserves the death penalty. Isolation destroys the mind; destroys the human and any intelligent person undertaking such activity is the lowest form of life.

Personal Finance and Friends

It might seem strange for a personal finance blog to cover isolation as a topic. However, there are several correlatives between avoidance of isolation, the types of friends you have and wealth.

Some people like a certain kind of isolation. Personally, I like quiet time walking my farm and working with my animals. This is radically different from the kind of isolation Sophie lived through.

Isolation in a confined space is maddening. Sophie couldn’t get around those last years of her life and needed people to visit her. To the best of my knowledge she only had one friend who visited on a regular basis.

People are so desperate to avoid being alone they start to consider acquaintances as friends.

I have a lot of acquaintances, but very few real friends. I bet you’re the same.

Business owners tend to have a larger list of acquaintances. I meet people from all walks of life and learn very intimate and personal things about them. It’s my job! I have to know my client to advise wisely and prepare an accurate return. Even digging into a client’s life doesn’t guarantee I will not miss something. As I write, a client of many years emailed to ask why he didn’t get certain credits. He never answered the questions in the organizer so it was missed until he said something that triggered me to ask the question verbally. Good thing the returns are still able to be amended.

In my life I also have employees. They are acquaintances, not friends! Employers who are friends with employees are asking for trouble!

Then we have this blog. I meet loads of people due to this abstract. Some people I meet at conferences and many more via email, phone or the comments section.

You are probably different. Your acquaintances might be a group of people you socialize with at the bar. You might consider these people friends, but they are almost certainly only acquaintances.

Who constitutes a real friend then? Mrs. Accountant is top of the list for me. Deep down she is my only true friends. My daughters and extended family are friends in a way, but family is family. I get along well with my blood relatives. We don’t chum around, but make no mistake, we will defend our own vigorously. At best I maybe have two real friends outside my bride.

Life is like that. Our true friends are limited while our circle of acquaintances is vast. This is an important understanding to have if you value living a debt-free lifestyle with ample helpings of wealth.

The Lost Art of Small Talk

Valuable time is wasted on small talk. A typical greeting goes something like this:

“Hey, how’s it going?”

“Great. Haven’t been better. You?”

“Happier than a whore on her day off!”

We say it with incredible choreography. We say these things so often we don’t even know we are saying it. We even think we’re a comedian with our witty repertoire.

But nobody is listening.

If you answered a “How’ya doin’” with a “Worst day of my life” you’d probably here the same rehearsed reply of “Good to hear it.”

Small talk is wasted breath! Small talk is something acquaintances engage in. Friends are much deeper.

A simple greeting can waste irreplaceable minutes of your finite life. Added together over a lifetime and you might be surprised to know the average person wastes 4 years and three months uttering and replying to meaningless greetings (I made up that statistic).

Unchecked, you can waste massive parts of each day in empty banter with people you are only acquainted with.

There is a way to tell if you are dealing with a real friend or a fair weather friend. Think for a moment what would happen if you left the group. Would these people stay in touch at a significant level or would it dwindle in a hurry?

My experience tells me most people will evaporate like the morning mist. Staying in touch via social media doesn’t count either! When I meet people at conferences we sometimes end up connected on social media platforms. But once time passes the “likes” decrease and the interaction stops. Sure, you can keep an eye on what your acquaintance is up to, but that’s nothing more than satisfying your curiosity about how things have evolved for a prior acquaintance.

 Dealing with Fair Weather Friends

Fair weather friends can suck the life out of you. As long as you’re buying they are willing to lift a glass with a cheer.

In a manner of speaking clients are the ultimate fair weather friends. They are good people, don’t get me wrong. I love the people I serve. I also have no illusion we are not close buds.

Clients are similar to an employer/employee relationship. As long as you do good work and they keep paying for said work the relationship is golden. Do crappy work for a week and see how long the friendship lasts? Don’t get paid and see how long you feel friendly?

Fair weather friends are not bad people! Few people have what it takes to be a true friend. Most people wander through life focusing on the minutia and looking for drama. People who gossip are a perfect example of who will not make a real friend for anyone. They’ll cut you lose in heartbeat for their own petty dramas. And don’t worry. There is always something to feel righteous indignation about.

Before we deal with fair weather friends further we should discuss the interpersonal relationships between real friends.

It can be hard to look in from the outside and tell if the friendship is real or a friendship of convenience. Greetings between real friends happen all the time. Every night when I return home I inquire into Mrs. Accountant’s day. She asks about my day. Some days are only mildly informative. Some days we sit and talk for hours.

You can share a beer with a true friend as easily as with an acquaintance. You probably mix acquaintances and true friends at the same time.

True friends stick around when the going gets tough even if you are in the wrong. Real friends hold each other accountable but never dismiss the relationship over a disagreement.

Real friends have deep and meaningful talks. Talk is 99% superficial with acquaintances.

For people who enjoy traveling, tell me your stories. How deep are the relationships when you’re passing through? Your spouse or significant other is the only real friend you have in the room.

Even when people meet with common interests the friendships are superficial. How many people have you met at personal finance conferences? How many do you stay in touch with? How many are a deep and meaningful relationship? I understand.

Meaningful Relationships

Jim Rohn said you are like the five people you spend the most time with. I think this excludes to a minor extent people you work with and might include people you read and follow.

Deep, intimate relationships are built on more than casual nights to the movies or tavern. Real relationships have emotional attachments. If the relationship were to end you would feel pain.

Conversations in deep relationships are far more personal. Two guys (they don’t have to be gay and if they are, they are) can have a deep relationship built on trust, sharing and understanding. Think of the depth between soldiers in the foxhole. It gets real mighty fast or everyone is dead. There is no doubt when I see retired military guys meeting several decades later on a regular schedule to catch up they are real friends, even if the friendship was created by circumstances. When trust is that great it can’t die!

Research has shown if a skinny person has all obese friends the skinny person will put on weight instead of the obese group trimming down.

Heading to the shopping mall with crazy people friends who like to spend and you are more likely to overspend as well. I’ve even noticed this in the frugal FIRE (financial independence, retire early) community. The same people keep attending every conference as fast as they are organized. At some point you have to say enough.

Meeting with people of like mind is a wonderful thing to do in moderation. Time spent with people sharing similar thought patterns can be invigorating and FUN! But it is superficial! Most of these people are acquaintances only. You can learn a lot from them and teach a bit, too. But friends are what matter in life.

Everything in moderation. It’s not healthy for your favorite accountant to whine about traveling because I prefer to cocoon. Stowing away on my ten acres isn’t healthy either! I still need to get out. It’s a work in progess.

My preferred method of communication is writing. In the office plenty of verbal communication takes place too. But can you imagine if I only wrote letters to Mrs. Accountant and never verbally told her the depth of my love? Letters are special because most people don’t take the time to write them. I, on the other hand, need to assure I nurture the relationships that matter in my life with verbal confirmation. (I actually framed love poetry I wrote to Mrs. Accountant twenty years ago. It was my best attempt at a sonnet. She stayed so it must have worked.)

Fear

The things you read and study, the people you hang with, family and true friends play an outsized role in your success in life. Reading powerful leaders is important. Also read the classics.

The time you spend with people will influence your thinking more than you anticipate. Take the challenge. If you are deep in debt start reading debt-free blogs and books. Ask to hang out with people who save and invest a lot. Before long you’ll brown bag lunch because in your worldview people no longer have huge debts or spend like drunken sailors.

The opposite applies, too. Have too many people around you, even mere acquaintances, who are spendthrifts and within no time you’ll have some serious credit card debt to contend with. At least you’ll have an 8-mile to the gallon Hummer as a wasting asset in your driveway.

Don’t settle for friends or acquaintances who don’t share your values to avoid loneliness. Work hard to be a real friend and you will find true friends of your own.

Choose your friends wisely. The kind of life you live will depend on it.

At one time or another everyone has experienced the desire to do more things that interest them. It might be traveling the world or trying multiple sports or musical instruments. A few people, prodigies, manage to conquer several musical instruments at once.

In business we see Elon Musk tackling business after business with endless energy. Small business owners are lulled into a false sense of ability when they try to multitask at the same level.

In our personal lives we might attempt to read several books at once or even write multiple books at one time. After all, we dug deep into a handful of textbooks simultaneously in college.

At work we crack open several projects at once. Before long we stall out as our brain freezes. Why does this happen? Elon and a minor percentage of the population considered prodigies manage it. Why not me?

Back from Holiday

One of my favorite authors, Ryan Holiday, wrote about this issue a year ago.

People demand as much as they can get from you. I get a steady stream of emails from readers stating they wish they could find a local accountant like me.

Clients demand I, and only I, touch their tax return.

People demand every step be taken personally by people they admire. But they don’t know what they are asking for.

Does anyone believe I personally prepare a thousand tax returns annually without a bit of help?

We want to think our heroes are really superheroes!

If only your favorite accountant could be an awesome husband, father, business owner and blogger without a push from another living human being.

A New Brand of Musk

Elon Musk isn’t doing the incredible at the level outsiders think either.  If you watch closely, Musk is expert at focusing on the task at hand.

With so many businesses, Musk must multitask. But he doesn’t! At least not to the level many people think.

Musk has been candid about his work schedule. He works long hours with few days off. But he separates each day into specific tasks. Some days he’s working at Tesla, the next day at SpaceX.

Each day is dedicated to the project at hand. Musk attacks several projects over the course of a week or month, but each day is dedicated to one project.

Focus is key.

Most people are thinking about the time they should be spending with their spouse and kids when at work. At home they are preoccupied with work matters.

All this is insanity! You can only be where you are. When your mind wanders to a project you are away from you end up nowhere. The wife and kids don’t get your undivided attention. Later, when exhausted from all the mental anguish, you underperform at work. You end up spiraling down.

In college you read several books at once as you worked through each course. The same happens in your personal, work and/or business life.

Why it worked in college (if it worked for you in college) is that you were in Sociology when you were in Sociology and not in Algebra! It sounds like common sense, but we tend to lose this skill set once we enter the workforce or start a business.

Business owners are the worst! I’ll vouch for that.

Demands come from every direction. As a business owner you want to solve everyone’s problem. But you can’t!

Nobody is helped when you are spread thin.

But business (or side gig) demands constant attention. When a client arrives without an appointment you own them answers to their problem, right?

No, you don’t!

You owe the client who scheduled an appointment who happens to have her stuff spread across your desk at the moment.

If you take every call, constantly check your email or allow every interruption you will end up exhausted without getting anything done you wanted to accomplish. The client is screwed and so is your family when you get home.

Back on Holiday

Ryan Holiday is a writer. Writers need plenty of free time to allow the creative process to work.

Last year when I attended Camp Mustache SE in Gainesville, Florida, the facilitators informed me they tried to get Holiday to attend. Holiday immediately sent them to his agent who said the fee is $15,000, plus expenses. The fee is high as a way of saying “no”. There were some complaints at Camp when this was revealed, but Holiday’s career would spiral out of control if he attended every offer.

Readers who pay close attention can tell when I’m rushed. It shows in my work and the scattered mental process.

I was too busy getting our picture taken to watch the eclipse. Not!

Holiday talks about keeping his calendar as open as possible without harming his career. He says “no” to almost very distraction. He admits to lapses, as any honest individual would. Still, lapses evolve into serious issues if allowed free rein.

Holiday calls it “calendar anorexia”. By keeping his scheduled appointments down to a minimum he keeps ample open time to think and create.

I wish I were as good at it as Ryan. Writing a blog is a business all its own. A tax practice is a business requiring serious time commitments.  People reading this blog know they can dig for 30 seconds and have my office phone number. The call is corralled long before it gets to my office, but it does take time from my team members.

Distractions are common in an accounting office. If I’m to get any work done distractions must be avoided.

I spend more time at the office than I should, but I enjoy the work environment. I take time to read and research, manage my business, review my budget (what budget I have) and investments. Tax returns take plenty of time during tax season. Managing a small business is a time sink, if allowed.

People will wear you out if you let it happen! They’re not bad people either. They lack discipline so they just “drop by” for a quick question. Not a good idea if you want the answer from me.

The Cost of Yes

Yes costs more than money.

Every interruption has a cost. Each distraction takes more than the “few minutes” the client/potential client/salesman promised.

It takes time to push paperwork (or any project being worked on) to the side to do something else. Your mind has to shift focus to the new task. This takes mental effort!

Once you are finished with the “few minutes” you need to refocus again on the original task. Research says it takes up to fifteen minutes (longer for some people) to get back up to speed on the original project. The “few minutes” squandered as much as a half hour of productive time. And that’s assuming the “few minutes” were really only a few minutes.

Take a couple personal calls and client interruptions and you’re productivity collapses to nothing while you end up exhausted! Worse, the boss is ticked you aren’t getting anything done.

“Yes” costs more than money; it costs peace of mind, satisfaction and tranquility. Interruptions are stressful!

Good for Business?

I get asked to attend a lot of events. Mini conferences have sprung up all over the country and around the world in this demographic. My work with Mr. Money Mustache and other popular FIRE (financial independence, retire early) bloggers coupled with a Plutus Award has made me in somewhat high demand.

My first impulse is to always say “yes”; my inclination is to please people. I want to make the readers happy. And I might get new readers!

Focus is necessary to steal food from humans. It is easy for monkeys since humans are so easily distracted.

Except, if I really thought about it, there is no way I can sit with each reader personally. If my readership consisted of only people I met personally this blog would be very, very small. And unprofitable, too.

Traveling kills me. Of all the things in this world I loathe, traveling tops the list. I don’t begrudge those who enjoy the experience; I just want to be left out.

I felt obligated to attend several events each year as part of the price for being a blogger. There is some truth to that, but it wears me down doing something I really don’t enjoy.

Late last year it was made abundantly clear I need to stop attending events to please people. A natural part of my work/business life will bring me in contact with readers and potential readers. I don’t have to travel across the country or to the other side of the planet to be successful in this genre.

My readership will grow whether I travel to endless conferences or not. Your personal life is the same. Constant distraction subtracts from your overall enjoyment of life.

Media Kit

On the left side of my desk is a media kit I’ve been working on for a while now. It’s not done, but soon.

This upcoming Saturday I have a special “Stalking the Accountant” where I will share why I write so much. You’ll enjoy it.

From this I will complete my media kit so the world can share my stuff without contacting me. I already made it clear you can steal my stuff. Now you can poke and prod without bothering me. It’s the best of all worlds; everybody wins!

Camp Accountant will be my sole public appearance. I’ve committed to FinCon18 in Orlando, but am uncertain of any additional commitments beyond that.

Elon Musk may be the new fragrance of the business world. Without the discipline and focus necessary to succeed it will all end with exhaustion, anxiety and burnout.

We can do better than that. We can consider the consequences of every “yes”.

It might only take a minute, but I don’t have the luxury of spending that minute in an unscheduled interruption.

My New Year’s resolution is to relax more like my bovine friends.

2017 was one heck of a year. Business was good, investments were good, personal life was awesome. The good news never seemed to stop.

Many people like to make New Year’s resolutions. Not me. I forgo the whole ritual.

Instead, I plan all year round. When an idea strikes I write it down. It’s a rare moment when I don’t have a pen and paper within striking distance.

Ideas are impossible to control. A chance encounter, an overheard word can trigger a thought process. In moments another blog post idea is ready for recording. The same applies to projects in the tax practice and in my personal life.

It was all good news (unless you watch anything political).

Great Fortune

Time is an investor’s friend and 2017 added another year to the schedule of growth. The stock market performed well.

Of course, some years business isn’t all roses. The stock market can decline and the tax practice can be more challenge than profit or fun. This wasn’t one of those years.

I’ll mumble this out the side of my mouth because people react incorrectly when they know what I’m about to say. A certain farm boy from the backwoods of Wisconsin saw his net worth scratch a quarter inch above the $14 million mark at yearend. There I said it. Now forget it.

My greatest fortune is my girls. For the most part Mrs. Accountant and the kiddos were healthy. Who could ask for more? And we had more time together even with the oldest now getting serious about her education. They’re smart kids. I’ll take credit because without a doubt it has everything to do with genetics. Care to take a bow with me, Mrs. Accountant?

The Greatest Gift

After struggling with growing pains and changes in my business, I found solace this year.

Traffic to this blog has grown significantly in the last twelve months and the growth in demands followed. Procedures instituted to manage the flow have eased the feelings of overwhelm.

The overwhelm still exists, but I’m handling it better. By clearing my mind I’m making better decisions. The final pieces are falling into place which should allow me to add new clients to my tax practice without always being so far behind.

This has always bothered me. I struggle with saying “no” and I hate working to exhaustion daily and never keeping up. 2017 saw improvements; 2018 should knock it out of the park if staff additions and training work out as planned.

And I have learned to say “no” or just ignore some requests. It’s always a loaded question: Can you help me? Frequently the answer is yes, but I can’t because I’m six months out.

The good news is I’m able to help more while learning to say “no”. This leads to balance and balance leads to more life satisfaction.

Recognition

As if the world isn’t bright enough in this accountant’s world, I received the ultimate form of recognition: a Plutus Award for Best New Personal Finance Blog of the Year. I don’t think anyone understands how much this has meant to me.

Traffic and revenue are another form of recognition. Traffic has climbed steadily over the year and the first few days of 2018 are tremendously higher than the first few days of 2017. The trend is clear.

With traffic comes revenue; my favorite score card. Now that I’m committed to contributing the profits of this blog to charity I can focus on quality without a vested interest in the outcome. Money is the scorecard, a game of Monopoly if you will, to remind me the work I’m doing has value and that the value is growing.

Control Freak

All this said I still feel anxiety over issues I can’t control. I must constantly remind myself of the things I have control over and the things I don’t. Readers might recognize this as a Stoic principle. Well, I subscribe to the Stoic philosophy! Unfortunately, I’m not perfect at it. Consider it a work in progress.

With traffic comes comments from outside the demographic and from people whose only intention is to harm or irritate. I wish I could report my skin is thick enough to deflect all criticism. It isn’t. Sometimes I’m caught off guard and the attacks hurt. In taxes there is always another opinion. And just like law (taxes are the big section of the law library), everybody has an opinion. Too bad the Tax Courts around the country couldn’t agree. It’d make my job a lot easier.

Deep breaths, accountant. Deep breaths.

Planning for a Bright Future or Resolutions Writ Large

As awesome as the last year has been, the future holds even greater opportunities.

When I was at the top of my game I suffered a minor setback (my feelings were hurt) and I let’em have it with both barrels. I’ll be editing the bullets holes out shortly.

My primary goal is not to let people bring me down with insults or criticism. From the outside it must look petty. From the inside it hurts like heck! Everybody in the room isn’t going to agree with me. Thank God for that!

The Brain Trust in my abode.

Having more followers means there will be differing opinions. Even when someone unloads it probably has more to do with their personal experiences than reality.

I also have to be careful with clarity. The last post for New Year’s Day was a short story with an underlying financial moral. It was an emotional story told in the first person. One reader emailed to say sorry for my loss. He thought my wife really died! It was a story and I need to make sure readers know the difference between story to illustrate a point and fact. It’s important!

Here are some plans for the next year that will affect you, kind readers. Call them resolutions if it makes you feel better.

Tax practice: This is still my greatest challenge in life. Outsiders must wonder why I put myself through this hell when financially I don’t have to. I wish I had an answer, folks. Wish I had an answer.

2018 will be a year of growth. Three or four years ago Mr. Money Mustache gave me a shout-out and nearly killed me. It wasn’t intentional; it was meant as a “thank you”. Still, when a guy with 5 million plus pageviews a month says, “Here’s my guy” you’d better be prepared. Unfortunately, service businesses are labor intensive and finding that many good tax people fast is impossible.

It took a few years, but I think I have it. I will actually be able to add new clients and get their work done in a reasonable time (a week or less for most). This troglodyte clung tenaciously to old school methods of running a tax practice. We now have serious additions to our automation.

A few years back I dropped over $50,000 a year on a new computer network to beef up security to the highest level commercially available. Good for me. (Good for you, too.) Too bad I didn’t engage all the other neat features available to make my life easier.

That’s all history now. Our system can scan faster and better than ever. Data entry work will be reduced by magnitudes of order. This frees my team and me to focus on the value added work: review and consulting. We put the computers to work doing the mundane while my skilled staff focuses on serving the client with outstanding planning services.

I feel better about the upcoming tax season than I have in five years. Wish me luck! (Luck has nothing to do with it. Planning and hard work deserve the credit.)

Personal Life: My introduction to the FIRE (financial independence, early retirement) community required (it felt like it was required) me to attend more and more events around the country. This took me away from family and reduced my personal time.

Traveling is something I try to avoid unless absolutely necessary. People started joking about how much I was now traveling when I keep saying I don’t like it. A series of events brought me back to my senses. I CAN SAY “NO”!

I have no plans on killing anybody. But I do own a manual on how to get the job done. Just sayin’.

And so I have. As much as I love the FIRE community and enjoy meeting with like-minded people, my mental health is more important.

I will only attend one conference per year from now on. FinCon is my pick. FinCon 17 was mind-blowing. I’ll be better prepared for FinCon 18 in Orlando this time.

Other minor meet-ups, gatherings and conferences are almost certainly off the to-do list unless there is another reason for my attendance. (Keep reading to see what I have planned for my allotted conference plans.)

Hold onto your hats, kind readers, you’re not going to believe your ears. I am planning, yes, me, planning on a family vacation this year! Mrs. Accountant and the girls will all be there.

Where are we going, you ask? All the way to West Branch, Iowa, about a four hour drive. I know, I know. It’s not all that far, but just wait until I tell you what I have planed.

The crew and I are going to see the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum. I’m as giddy as a schoolgirl. I bet you can hear my voice screech as you read the page.

It’s okay if you don’t share my enthusiasm. President Hoover always intrigued me and a recent read of his biography has given me an exalted opinion of the man and his life’s accomplishments. I’ll be writing at least once this year on some lessons Hoover has for us today.

I’m so excited!

Blog: I bet you’re wondering what I have planned for your favorite blog? Well, it’s a secret. Mostly because I don’t have a clue of many of things I’m sure to pull out of my hat over the next twelve months.

Okay, okay! Stop pushing!

I do have some plans. The first involves pushing cash into the hands of subscribers. Periodically (usually associated with some tax due date) I will pick a subscriber at random and give her a $250 Amazon gift card.

This is my way of saying “thank you” to people kind enough to subscribe, the lifeblood of any blog.

There is one more surprise, but it needs a formal heading.

Camp Accountant: When I introduced the idea of Camp Accountant I had a large influx of emails asking when and where.

Many readers here are also in the tax profession. Several requests asked if I could offer continuing professional education (CPE) credits for tax professionals attending so their employer would pay their way. I’m working on it.

The best part is where the first Camp Accountant will be held.

Ask me! Just ask me where the first Camp Accountant will be held!

Well, I had several offers from readers willing to organize the event. One offer came from Hawaii (someday soon if I know what’s good for me (Note: Mrs. Accountant has always wanted to go to Hawaii) I will accept that offer).

Southern Ohio is another possibility.

But then I got an email that forced me to palm slap my forehead.

A highly intelligent reader said, “Pete (Mr. Money Mustache) has a nice new MMM world headquarters in Longmont that would be perfect for a Camp Accountant.”

Duh!

Sometimes a certain accountant in the room can be pretty dense.

Now before we get carried away, let me remind you I haven’t asked Pete yet if this will work for him. But my plan is to get the initial stuff out of the way during the next few months (with all the free time I have over tax season) and then plan the venue in May.

The goal is for the last weekend in August or September.

Now, kind readers, I know many of you know each other and a few know Pete personally. Don’t go blab to him what I have in mind. He might not like the idea of me publishing my plans without first consulting him.

And that boy can run. I do his taxes, so trust me. I’m an ‘ol farm boy and know from personal experience the mustachioed man from Colorado can run like the wind. He can whoop up on me too.

That’s All Folks!

There you have it. Your favorite accountant’s plans for the next year.

A real family vacation without a business motive. What readers around here call a walk around the block.

Sending out free money several times during the year.

A new and improved tax practice.

I couldn’t be happ. . .

Oh, $hit! Somebody already squealed to Pete. I gotta run!

 

Think of the most beautiful sound you ever heard. I bet it was the sound of a child singing at Christmas time (or holiday of your religion).

The video above of children singing Christmas Canon for the Trans-Siberian Orchestra is a moving sound. It echoes into the heart and soul as their voices lift. Multiple sounds come from every direction to create a pleasant feeling inside.

Then it’s over. The song is done, the singing at an end.

And so it goes.

The beautiful and the vile all come to an end. But it’s the beauty that sticks to the soul and lingers; a song you can’t get out of your head.

We believe there is always another day to hear the sound again. We know when the sound is broadcast it also races into the depths of space at the speed of light. However unlikely, there is a chance a faraway species might someday pick up the broadcast and hear the beautiful sound for the first time.

We believe. But there are no guarantees. On day the sound will end forever.

One day the last child will gently murmur a joyous noise before it stops without hope beginning again. As with all things, it will end.

The end of such an incredible voice is impossible to understand by mere mortals. How can the children stop singing?

But it will happen; we all know it!

Maybe we destroy ourselves in a fit of rage, misunderstanding or ignorance. Maybe nature brings the Anthropocene to an end in a terrorist haste as it did the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. Maybe we avoid those fates to await the aging of our sun as it expands, boiling the surface of Earth sterile.

Regardless our fate, the sound of beauty will end. We can take solace knowing electromagnetic waves carry the voices of our children deep into the ether. That is until the universe expands so much that the message is diffused so thin no technology can ever recover what once was.

And maybe there is nobody to listen. Or nobody able to hear.

Someday the music will end as all things do. A beauty so great it moved a people, will cease to exist.

The day may come tomorrow, in a hundred years or eons in the future.

But not today. Today we hear a sound. A sound of Christmas. A sound of beauty. A sound of children singing.

It’s the most beautiful sound ever heard anywhere in the vast universe and we are fortunate to live in a time and place where it is possible to experience the joy.

We must listen to the incredible sound; we must recognize out great fortune for someday it will be part of history as it evaporates into the emptiness of space.

But not now. Not today. Today we can hear the sound.

We are the few, the blessed. Never forget how fortune has smiled on you.

Merry Christmas, kind readers.

A clickbait title like above requires some quantification before we begin. It’s not what you think. Fewer than one in a thousand have a clue what I am about to reveal. And the personal finance ramifications are incredible. If you live the story the cost can be a million or more; it can even cost your life.

J Money from Rockstar Finance recently sold his site so he could focus on his blog: Budgets are Sexy. J’s work over the years is legendary. His work has helped countless people in desperate need. As he exited the building he had cash remaining in the community fund. I was contributing $10 per month and added $500 to the Debt Drop program in September in honor of Suicide Prevention Month. The community fund was ending as new management took over Rockstar.

J emailed bloggers asking any who would be willing to take $100 to do a good deed in their community and write about it. I answered I would, but didn’t need the $100; the $100 would be my contribution and the idea I had would require a bit more than $100. J’s original goal was to enlist 20 bloggers; he now has 21. Another example of how the FIRE (financial independence, retire early) community is making our world a better place.

Before we begin, would you hand me the box of tissues next to you. What I am about to write is very personal and painful. This is a story about how I almost sold my business and walked out on life. I had the pills in my hand as I contemplated ending it all. A moment that should have been filled with joy changed my perception of life and love forever.

And it started from my misconception of sex, or more accurately, gender.

The Gift of Life

I’ve become so numb, I can feel you there

Become so tired, so much more aware

By becoming this all I want to do

Is be more like me and be less like you.

Numb, Linkin Park

Mrs. Accountant and I waited to have children. I wanted to be financially secure before bringing a life into this world. The truth is I never wanted children. Deep down I felt I’d be a terrible parent and the thought scared the wits out of me.

When we decided to have children Mrs. Accountant was so happy; I prayed to God the day would never come.

Finances were better than they ever were when I was growing up in the backwoods of Nowhere, Wisconsin. I remember our kitchen table when I was a young child consisted to two sawhorses with a piece of plywood laid across them. I was too young to know how poor we were. Then I grew up.

Now it was my turn to start the next generation. Mrs. Accountant had difficulty conceiving, not that I was complaining. For this crazy accountant it was all fun without a baby bump. I was happier than a pig in, ah, you know what I mean.

Then the inevitable happened. Our first child was on the way and I adjusted to the New World Order.

Regular doctor visits indicated everything was going smooth. We attended Lamaze classes. These sessions were designed to give the mother confidence in giving birth, as if she had any choice at this point. Dad was there to learn a thing or three, too. Unfortunately, fate would exempt me using the newly acquired knowledge.

It was right after the holidays when Mrs. Accountant didn’t feel well one morning. Within an hour her water broke and we on our way to the hospital. The baby was due February 28, over a month early.

The doctor suppressed labor to give the baby time to develop more before breathing air. Eventually the wait had to end. Our first daughter entered this world early and spent 19 days in intensive care at Theda Clark hospital in Neenah, Wisconsin.

In the end it was a minor problem modern medicine could fix. Life was good.

Until we tempted fate again, that is.

The Son of Cronus Awaits the Fool

My brother and I are five years apart in age. It’s only a coincidence my daughters are exactly the same number of years apart in age as well.

Waiting to have children is a double-edged sword. I was 31 when my first daughter was born. If we wanted another child we needed to make up our mind soon.

I wanted more time before we added to the herd; Mrs. Accountant felt her biological clock ticking. I’ll give you one guess who won.

Since it took time for Mrs. Accountant to conceive the first time we needed to get to work. (It’s good work, but the pay is, well, shall we say, awesome!)

We were prepared this time around. Medical issues with our first daughter meant we needed a specialist to prevent a repeat. We found an OB-GYN with ample experience with delivery issues. What could possibly go wrong?

The pregnancy went smooth. Soon the happy day arrived and it was time for baby number two.

Due to the emergency nature of the previous birth I wasn’t allowed in the delivery room. This time I would see the magical moment my child would enter the world with my own eyes.

Our first child came cesarean. The doctor decided it would be best to do the same this time around so no labor issues could ruin what was so far a picture perfect pregnancy.

As reluctant as I was to have children I was eager to see the process in action. Three doctors were working in the delivery room as I watched. The incision was made and then widened a tad before the doctor’s hands massaged my child’s head through the opening.

Once the head was out the rest of the baby slid out easy.

The OB-GYN said, “Congratulations sir, you have a son!”

Another doctor immediately said, “Look again, doctor. Sir, you have a daughter!”

All I remember is mumbling, “It’s both.”

I actually called my child “It.” I was so numb I felt nothing. It? What was wrong with me?

The delivery room was dead quiet from that point on. Mrs. Accountant kept asking what was wrong. For once in my life I couldn’t find words.

Boy or Girl?

The doctor closed the incision as I was shown to a waiting room. I was informed the doctor needed to make some calls to figure out what to do.

I was allowed to see Mrs. Accountant. I managed to explain what had happened.

The birth certificate read:

GENDER: UNKNOWN

How could I face the world? My child, my baby, was a. . .  A what?

The first question people ask when you have a child is, “Boy or girl?”

I had to answer, “I don’t know?”

People think you are pulling their leg when you say it.

It was the middle of tax season (no comments on my planning skills). Mrs. Accountant needed rest so I went home to pick up my oldest daughter from my parents. My office is between the hospital and home.

Bev was still working when I stopped. I couldn’t even enter the building I was trembling so badly. All I could get out was, “I’m not coming back.” I tried to tell her to sell everything; I was done. Bev feared the worst and I wasn’t in good enough shape to tell her what happened. Even driving was a stupid thing for me to be doing.

Medical Nightmare

If you think this story has nothing to do with personal finance you’re going to see how wrong you are. This story is perfect for a tax and personal finance blog.

We had insurance; thank God for that. The medical bills approached a million dollars in the first few years and the out-of-pocket was substantial, too. My wealth at the time was working toward the second million. It is a blessing I had the financial ability to make sound medical decisions without considering money.

Our child needed several surgeries the first few months. The gonads were purplish masses and precancerous. It was, as the doctors said, a “medical imperative” they be removed immediately.

The gonads hadn’t dropped so they were deep inside in the position of ovaries. They were removed when she was three weeks old. That was surgery number one.

Our baby had ambiguous genitalia. There was a distended, though not fully formed, penile structure and a vaginal opening. The urinary tract exited both and was certain to cause infection soon if not corrected.

A decision had to be made in the gender of the baby. The University of Wisconsin Medical School in Madison did a genetic test. The results was X iso Yp.

In laymen’s terms it meant our baby was conceived male. After a few cell divisions the Y chromosome became isolated. Our baby, my baby, had ~15% of her cells with the XY chromosome, or male, and 85% X. XY is male; XX is female. When you only have X instead of XX it’s like have no sex chromosome at all! In such cases the human body tends toward the androgynous, or feminine. This explained the ambiguous genitalia.

In my mind X meant girl. 85% beats 15% so girl it is. The doctors also encouraged us to choose female for our child. One, it’s easier to make a female medically. Constructing male organs are usually less functional and our child would always tend to be more feminine in appearance. And two, the genetic test said girl and my analytical mind would have taken any result with greater than 50%. It’s how I’m wired.

That was surgery two. There were many more to follow.

Blame Game

Guilt took over. It was my fault our daughter was deformed! The Y chromosome only comes from dad and my genetics failed. The guilt was overwhelming. Get me in a corner talking about this and I still fight back tears. The wound cut deep and the pain never went away.

All the while the stuff above was happening I fell deeper and deeper into depression. One night I went out to the barn and put my head in a noose. A few nights later I emptied a bottle of pills in my hand. In either case I stopped short. Don’t ask me why. The pain was so deep there was no feeling left.

As this was happening I attended a support group from Reach Counseling. Only a few children are born each year in Wisconsin with such issues. I was told once an average of two babies per year in the state have what my youngest daughter has. A traditional support group wasn’t available.

This support group had every sex issue known to man in it. Victims of abuse and even a few sex offenders attended. (Many sex offenders are victims of sexual assault in their childhood and seek out support groups to deal with their issues.) And then there were the odd couples like Mrs. Accountant and me.

I thought the whole thing was stupid at first. There was a young woman dealing with a childhood of sexual assault while her dad was there due to assaulting his daughter. Several men were dealing with sexual assault issues from their childhood. Then there was a guy I affectionately called Dudeman. Every sentence he said ended with “Dude!” He was a good guy, just weird.

Every Thursday our group met and talked out our emotions and problems. I broke down every week. “My baby’s an abomination and it’s my fault,” I cried. It was an emotional roller coaster with the only ending a bad one. I shirked my parental duties for a pity party.

Shortly after my daughter’s second surgery I was in the support group crying when a young Asian man dealing with assault issues of his own turned to me and said, “In my culture you would be the most popular man in the village. Your daughter is special. Every man would want your daughter as his wife.”

He was from Laos. His childhood wasn’t easy. And here was this man who could only speak broken English telling me my child is a gift!

The pain and guilt have never gone away, but that was the day I stopped thinking about me and started thinking about my little girl. She is NOT an abomination! She is a GIFT! I was acting like an a$$. My daughter needed her dad and not some sanctimonious coward trying to find the courage to end his life.

The tears stopped instantly. I continued attending the support group for about a year. The young man from Laos eventually moved on. I doubt he even knows he saved my life and gave a beautiful young lady a good childhood.

My youngest daughter reaches the age of majority in a few months. She is a happy person filled with joy and dreams. Maybe I wasn’t such a bad dad after all.

Reaching for Help

Then I got an email from J at Rockstar Finance.

The moment I read the letter I knew I had to participate and I knew exactly what I wanted to do.

I hated Reach Counseling at the time. They symbolized my greatest failure in life, or so I thought. Now, almost 18 years later, I wanted to contribute to the organization that changes the lives of so many, changed my life.

Reach Counseling helps sexual assault victims in northeast Wisconsin. They also have programs to help sex offenders rebuild their life. The work never ends.

Even if you read the news poorly you know of all the women coming out in the #metoo movement. The Silence Breakers are Time Magazine’s people of the year. The number of people floating through my social media feeds raising their hand as also a victim of sexual assault is depressing. Most people knew back brain about the casting couch. Harvey Weinstein isn’t a total surprise.

The real surprise is the massive swell of victims silently suffering finally coming out to be heard. I’ve seen plenty in my days and know the devastation sexual assault causes. Almost from the beginning of this blog a woman reached out to me for help. She was sexually assaulted by her step dad since she was three or four years old. The assaults went on for years. She is in her forties now and struggles with the issues. She is intelligent and hard working. She is a survivor! Now I help her with personal finance issues so she can have the life she deserves, the life her stepfather raped from her.

I contacted Reach Counseling and showed them the email thread from J. I spoke with Kim Massey at Reach and explained to her what I wanted to do. Mrs. Accountant came with me. She said I was shaking as I told the story. The emotions are still there as I fought back tears. I haven’t evolved as far as I pretended.

The goal is to pay it forward. I can’t pay Reach back for what they did. Sure, I can donate money and I did: $500. But there was much more I had in mind.

I outlined a three pronged program serving victims of abuse, sex offenders and those at risk of abuse. I surmised if money is the number one reason for divorce, financial issues might pay a role in sexual assault and the healing process.

The issues people face when assaulted runs deep. Emotions run wild as the victim of crime tries to deal with what happened. And the kids still need food on the table.

Women are disproportionately affected. When I donated the $500 I had no string attached. I was informed a few hours ago by Kim Massey (I’m writing this the night before it’s published) some of the money was used to help a single mother with two children ages 9 and 12. They just moved into an apartment and have no furniture. The money was used for a Christmas tree and some gifts for the kids and even something for mom. The unspent money is in a fund for other families. I was told “. . .this gift filled their house with joy!”

J reminded me why I write this blog in the first place: to help people understand money better. I am working with Reach to build a program where I personally help people with serious financial issues. They need this advice more than anyone. I will use my experience and knowledge to make my community a better place.

In the past I’ve raised funds for Special Olympics. Now The Wealthy Accountant will adopt Reach Counseling, contributing a significant portion of its income to their cause along with my time and talent.

Please join me in this important work. Together we can do more than any person alone can. Support organizations similar to Reach Counseling in your community. Consider donating to Reach as well.

The workload is endless and demanding. You can read more about Reach Counseling and contribute here. No gift is too small. Consider an automatic monthly gift. This community is blessed with so much we can make a difference. You never know who you will help. It could be a woman fighting to survive after an assault; you might help a young girl break free from a violent and abusive environment; or maybe you’ll help a crazy accountant who needs a knock up beside the head to understand his child is a gift, a beautiful, wonderful gift.

Reach Counseling also has a crowd funding fundraiser going on right now. If you think men can’t be victims of abuse, think again. There is a moving video at this link of a man who found Reach after childhood abuse. It gave him a new lease on life.

Christmas Eve and Christmas morning I’m going to raise my glass in a toast to the single mother with two children struggling to survive.

May you have peace, my friend. May you have peace.

 

Note: I’ve attempted writing therapy on this issue in the past. I always cover with something different to get the true story out. You can read an earlier attempt here.

Wisconsin’s first public school teacher, Electa Quinney.

Traveling is a real pain in the tail. Even people who love traveling don’t like the moving part. Planes, trains and automobiles are a necessary part of traveling. Without transportation you can’t get from here to there.

People claiming to enjoy travel really are saying they like to experience other places and new people. Not me. I hate the moving part and I’m always a bit uncomfortable in strange surroundings. Believe it or not, people make me nervous!

All this said, I travel waaaaaay more than I care to. I travel for business mostly. In the last five years every trip from home had a business purpose except for the eclipse this summer. That’s it. This blog has increased my travel to record levels! And as soon as I was given an excuse I cut loose and ran.

Now I’m planning Camp Accountant. Yes, it means I’ll be traveling again. But at least I have control over the flow. And when it overwhelms I’ll find an excuse to crawl back into the hole from whence I crawled from.

When I do travel I am a keen observer. While people make me uncomfortable, I find the creatures entertaining as they scramble through their lives searching for something they’ll never find.

I AM a social animal, however. It never takes long for me to roll up my sleeves and start a conversation. My work requires I know my client. My habit is to know people. I ask lots of questions and tell lots of stories. Thank god you guys reading this are only a computer screen where I can talk without the nervousness of an alien environment.

And when I talk (and sometimes listen) I notice something strange. It’s clear to me the people talking to me don’t even know what they are saying! When visiting a new area Mrs. Accountant and I check out zoos and museums. Sometimes we hike the outback or some other mentally stimulating activity. When I mention our plans the most common response is, “We’ve never been there.”

Say what!

It seems locals rarely enjoy the advantages of their own community. Travelers visit and enjoy all the good stuff a community has to offer. Yet the locals are aware of the institutions and entertainment venues, but rarely imbibe.

Call Me a Crazy Local

My ideal vacation is a twenty minute drive from my home or office. When I’m done vacationing at the end of the day I want to sit on my own couch, read a book and sleep in my own bed.

Here is the best part. There are so many things to see within striking distance of my home I couldn’t see it all if I took a five year sabbatical! And I live out in the boondocks! I can only imagine what’s available for you, kind readers.

Here is a short list of things twenty minutes or less from my home or office (and I only scratched the surface):

High Cliff State Park, Brillion Wildlife Area, and the Killsnake Wildlife Area for the outdoor lovers. My office is next to Heckrodt Wetland Reserve; I hike there several days per week; it’s an awesome park. The Gordon Bubolz Nature Reserve is about a half hour drive from the office. If I want a day trip (an hour drive) I can enjoy the massive Horicon National Wildlife Refuge and the Kettle Moraine State Forest. Both have plenty of hiking trails. Kettle Moraine contains a large section of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail.

There is a historical society in many of the small towns of the area with plenty of interesting stuff to examine.

Appleton is loaded with museums. Several are a part of or next to Lawrence University or the UW extension. The History Museum at the Castle, Hearthstone House (the first central hydroelectric power station to operate in the U.S. invented by Edison operated here), The Trout Museum of Art (my oldest daughter’s favorite) and the Barlow Planetarium are among my favorites. The Weis Earth Science Museum is next to the planetarium; both are worth the price of admission. Weis is free to students and once upon a time to everyone. I still swing the admission fee because it is so worth it.

Zoos are less prevalent. Menominee Park Zoo in Oshkosh is a 40 minute drive and the New Zoo north of Green Bay is awesome. It’s like living in a big city without big city problems. Mulberry Lane Farm is one of many petting farms in the area where the kids (and mom and dad) can experience farm animals up close. They also have a pumpkin patch for family picking each autumn. We live less than five miles from Mulberry.

Heckrodt Wetland Reserve next to my office. I haunt the grounds often.

Then, if you search hard enough, you’ll find the downright strange facts about your community. Cemeteries are a wealth of information, history and pride. Two miles from my home is Portland Cemetery where Civil War veterans are buried. Portland is an old graveyard next to an old currently unused church. The land to the west of the cemetery belongs to my family. I grew up working the land next to Portland. It’s always held a special spot in my heart. I am humbled when I walk past faded gravestones of children who died after only a few days or years of life. At those moments I reflect on how lucky I am and how easy life is today.

Talking of cemeteries, Wisconsin’s first public school teacher, Electa Quinney, is buried in an Indian graveyard a few miles from my home. I find these facts intellectually stimulating as it connects me to my roots.

You Don’t Have to Travel far

Immanuel Kant is one of history’s greatest philosophers. My Stoic and minimalist nature is drawn to his strict daily routines. Kant was born in Konigsberg, East Prussia and never traveled beyond the city limits during his 79 years on this earth.

Electa Quinney is buried here. Notice you have to drive through a farmers yard to get to the cemetery.

You don’t need to travel the world to be worldly wise. Kant proved that. While I have a toxic reaction to traveling, even I am willing to travel beyond the city limits! But not by far. Maybe ten, perhaps twenty, feet or so if the weather is right.

You can see the world right in your own backyard! You can sit on a plane all day and experience less history than you could if you opened your eyes where you stand.

When Jim Collins visited Wisconsin earlier this year I was willing to travel an hour and a half for Conclave. Carl from 1500 Days and his friend, Brandon, joined us on that wet and cold weekend. On the way in they found a cemetery deep in the woods a short walk from Jim’s place. It was an interesting afternoon of learning local history of the Lake Michigan shore community of Oostburg. It seems I’m not alone in these local adventures.

We close with my favorite travel of all; the kind of traveling I can’t get enough of. Best of all there are no airports or highways.  I enjoy this kind of travel nearly every day with a warm beverage. I travel thousands of miles and more and even through time to speak with the greatest minds the human race has ever known.

Books.

I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is a certain unnamed accountant will do rather well over the next several years with the new tax code. The bad news is you will not.

The current tax bill on the verge of becoming law will make an experienced tax professional more important than ever. Worse, you’ll have no choice. You’ll either pay an increasingly overworked experienced tax professional or overpay your taxes. Either way you pay.

As for me, I was busy enough. I didn’t need more busy work. The tax bill is 500 pages with handwritten notes in the margins because it is being pushed so quickly toward passage. You know what they say? Fast is better than good.

The ink hasn’t dried and new ink is still being added as I write, but the tax bill is almost certain to become law now. There are plenty of surprises to discuss. A few issues are still up in the air; I’ll cover those in a future post.

For now I want to provide a guide as we head into the last month of the year. Some issues in this tax bill are effective (if passed and signed by the President) on varying dates in 2017. Since planning is not possible I will skip those items for now.

The Craziest Tax Bill Ever

Over three decades of experience and I had to live long enough to see this. We can debate the merits of the economic benefits of this bill, but the truth is brutally painful.

Pass-through businesses (partnerships and S-corporations) will see tax relief. More than ever small business owners will need to organize as a pass-through. Even taxpayers will smaller amounts of side gig income will need to have a serious conversation with their tax professional to determine if an entity is right for them.

I’ve seen (and heard) a few different versions of the pass-though deduction. Since the hand written notes were not available to me before publishing I refrain from giving exact numbers. Last week Tuesday and Wednesday I was in training and plenty of time was used to discuss the potential tax changes. As crazy as it sounds, one short week later and part of my training (and two days of my life) are obsolete.

The wealthy will benefit the most from this bill. Tax brackets are coming down for individuals at the upper end of the scale while the lowest tax bracket goes up from 10% to 12%.

The standard deduction is going up and exemptions are going away. When you’re done playing the end result is nil. Families with children will see a higher Child Tax Credit. I ran several illustrations on the Senate proposals late last week and many typical situations will result in a tax increase!

Bad for Business and Bad for the Economy

Small business owners might be jumping for joy at their tax reduction. However, it might be wise to delay the celebration.

Yes, pass-through entities will see a tax reduction, but if customers pay higher taxes who will drive sales? That is the catch-22 of this tax bill. High income/net worth individuals will keep more of their income while the middle class and poor are gutted.

The argument goes back to the old “trickle-down” theory of thirty years ago. It didn’t work then and it’s doubtful it’ll work now.

Wealthy people don’t spend more just because they get a tax cut! They’re rich. They wouldn’t be rich if they spent every penny they made.

The middle class and poor spend a larger percentage of their income just to meet necessities. A tax increase for the middle class and poor means an immediate decline in spending!

Your favorite accountant will enjoy more income and lower taxes from this bill. However, I will NOT pay higher wages based on my tax rate! (Sorry to any employee reading this.) I pay higher wages for higher profits! Wages are deductible so profits, not tax rates, drive wages! Congress is wrong, lower tax rates will not increase wages. It’ll just add to the deficit and probably cause higher interest rates.

Most small businesses will have it worse since they are not in the tax services business. In fact, I predict the only two groups of small businesses who will win with this tax bill are tax professionals and businesses who cater to the very wealthy. How can it be any other way?

Don’t be fooled by the news reports. The economy might have a minor upward blip, but it will be short-lived as spending from a serious percentage of the population is pressured by higher taxes. As for me, don’t expect me to spend more based on a tax cut. I don’t spend all I earn already and encourage you to undertake the same habit.

More than ever, a frugal mindset will be needed to navigate the course of the next many years.

Stock Market

The last I saw the corporate tax rate will be reduced to 20%. I also heard there could be an upward adjustment to this.

Investors will benefit from a lower tax rate for corporations in some industries. Tech will not do as well as first thought. My largest investment, Altria, will probably do very well. Pharma will also have mixed results.

The reason the lower corporate tax rate will not lift all large corporate boats equally is because of the lie the American people have been sold for years. We have been told time and again that the U.S. has the highest corporate tax rate in the world.

There is a kernel of truth to the statement. What the lie involves is the “real” tax rate after all deductions and credits. Then the U.S. is decidedly in the middle to slightly below the centerline.

The lower tax rate and bonus depreciation brings back the Alternative Minimum Tax for corporations last I saw, but it looks like an accidental effect and could be resolved in committee before the law is passed.

Some companies, like cigarette company, Altria, will do well under the new tax scheme. Altria pays at the top 35% tax bracket under the old law. If the 20% top corporate bracket holds Altria and other major corporations paying a larger portion of their profits in taxes will see benefits. However, many large corporations already pay a lower rate.

Note: I do NOT buy a stock based on tax rates! This is not a recommendation to buy stocks of companies paying near the highest tax rate under the old law. Any tax benefit will be short-lived. Once the reduced tax cost is digested profits from continuing operations and cash flow will determine a corporation’s value.

The bill also requires first in, first out accounting on sales of stocks and mutual funds. This will make tax-loss harvesting more difficult.

Republicans Hate Jesus!

Never mind the provision allowing 529 plan funds up to $10,000 for private and religious schools. Tapping into a 529 sooner means there is less tax-free gain to accumulate! Since 529 plans are only deductible on state tax returns in a limited way, the only real benefit on a federal return is the tax-free growth. Unfortunately, if you allow withdrawals earlier for primary and secondary education, there is less benefit. It might not even be worth the effort. And the money earmarked for higher education will be diminished.

What surprises me the most in all the proposed bills is the damage non-profit organizations will face. When the standard deduction is increased to offset the elimination of exemptions there will be consequences. Limits will be (likely) placed on the amount of mortgage interest deductible. The same for state and local taxes.

This means Schedule A will be used a lot less in the future and contributions to charity are claimed on Schedule A. Though charitable giving shouldn’t be predicated on tax implications, it frequently is.

Small businesses can promote their favorite charity through sponsorships, but individuals will see less, or no, benefit from their charitable contributions. I expect churches will feel the squeeze as more people discover their tithing translates into a tax increase!

Donor advised funds may allow for a larger charitable gift deduction in a particular year, but the higher standard deduction will always diminish its true value. The same applies to charitable remainder trusts (CRT). There could still be estate tax reasons to use CRTs. But, the estate tax is virtually eliminated.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out when politicians meet angry parishioners at church on Sunday. I don’t think many people have a clue how non-profits will be affected by the tax law changes.

More Good and Bad News

The Child Tax Credit is expanded to age 17. Buuuut. . . it expires in 2024. That is a recurrent theme in this bill. Corporate tax cuts are permanent while individual cuts are temporary.

Kind employers (like me) can’t even be nice to our employees anymore. Employers in the past could have incentive rewards. Small gift card rewards were tax-free. Not after the end of 2017. Corporations with billions in profits see their taxes decline nearly half while employees can’t avoid tax on a $25 or $50 gift card! If you had a warm and fuzzy feeling I bet by now it’s gone.

A Family Leave Credit was added at the last minute. Buuuut, it only counts for certain states. Talk about insane! It seems the family leave provision is only allowed on the federal return if the state doesn’t have a similar provision. My guess is states will adjust so the federal credit applies in their state, too.

This brings up another interesting topic. It seems the Republicans have built a tax code to punish blue states. California, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts will suffer greatly under the new tax proposals. The problem is these states contain the largest percent of our national economy! California is ~13.7% of the U.S economy alone.

And these states have the highest populations. The tax bill is designed to hurt a large portion of the national economy. What could go wrong? I predict the next recession starts and spreads from these economic growth centers.

SMH

I wish I could offer better news. This tax bill is the biggest mess I’ve seen in my career.

There are plenty of solutions. I’ll wait until the ink dries from the President’s pen before giving advice so I know it’ll stick.

I’m an optimist. I think this tax bill is so riddled with holes I’ll be able to drive a Mack truck through it. My guess is the law will not last long as the deficit balloons out of control and the economy stutters. In the mean time I’ll do everything in my power to help you maximize your results.

Stay tuned.

When you’re born you get a ticket to the freak show; when you’re born in America you get a front row seat. —George Carlin