[Note: This post is intended as an in-your-face response to complaints against the FIRE community. I’m getting plenty of email telling me how wrong I am only to hear what I said at the end of the article. Read to the end! I explain why all the negative comments on the FIRE community are wrong and how the community is saving the economy and societal values, not destroying them. I could have written more to clarify, but I was over 2,000 words already.]
Members of the FIRE (financial independence/retire early) community might want to sit this one out. It’s going to get rough and I’m naming names!
The concept we now know as the FIRE community has been around for a long time under different names. Frugality and minimalism come to mind. Talking with grandpa they held many of these values 70 plus years ago without a fancy name to make it cool. Many of the personal habits of members of the FIRE community sound very familiar when reading the ancient Stoics: Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Epictetus.
Then Pete (Mr. Money Mustache) showed up the game changed radically. Pete resonated with his “I retired at 30 and doing fine” message. It struck a chord. Some loved the idea and took to it like ducks to water. Others called BS and think Mustachians are ignoramuses.
As a part of this community I’ve had one serious gripe since the beginning. It’s easier to show what I mean.
Would You Like this Person?
What kind of person would you want to work for? Someone dedicated to doing good work and is a team player or someone saving and investing every dime so she can blow this place the first chance she gets?
Employers and those with a side gig, who would you rather have as a partner or employee? The dedicated individual or the guy itching to scream out the door?
What about friends? Or a mate!
That’s the unspoken problem of the FIRE community. They are terrible employees, friends, co-workers, mates and even business owners. As a group their goal is to amass barely enough to pay the bills with a frugal lifestyle and dump the rat race to dick around all day!
Before we start pointing fingers, let me share a story.
Before I stumbled upon the FIRE community I was frugal. The community attracted me due the similar philosophy.
With decades of experience in the accounting profession running my own practice I started to burn out. Like traditional employees I started to feel drained and wanted a different path.
Over the years I set up countdown clocks to mark the date and time I planned my exit. As each date approached I chickened out. The thought of selling my business made me nauseous. What I really loved would be gone so I stayed. I also convinced myself I could milk the business for a lot more cash than a mere sale.
What an idiot I was!
I stayed at the desk for a few more dollars when I wasn’t completely happy with what I was doing anymore.
My introduction to the FIRE community was Mr. Money Mustache. I drank it in like a desert rat.
I also concocted an idea to have my cake and eat it too.
The DIY tax program you see on this blog was something I always wanted to make viable. My goal was to meet Pete and strike a partnership with him.
Pete, the ever gracious man he is, said no. Buuuuut! He was willing to give my business a push, including the DIY tax program. All this activity also meant I needed to start a “real” blog in the demographic as there was a growing demand for my opinion. (Ah, yeah.)
I had no idea what a 5-10 million pageview blog could do to my tiny office in Phuket, Wisconsin. I planned on some added emails, expecting most of the action to hit the tax software and the blog. Well, two out of three ain’t bad!
Ill prepared, my business suffered under the strain. I lost clients as fast as I added them. I stood the real chance this would spiral completely out of control and grant me my dream of retirement whether I wanted it or not.
Every skill I possessed was no match for my epiphany. For the first time my little world was exposed to a much wider audience.
After serious soul-searching I realized I was doing exactly what I wanted to do. It was enough with the countdown clocks and retirement. I’m an accountant, dammit! And account I shall do.
The opening of this post I mentioned what kind of business you would like to patronize or the kind of employee you’d like to hire. When my left foot was pointed to the door it showed in my performance and attitude.
My original thought to milk the business for all it was worth came tumbling down when new clients poured in. New clients expressed concerns with hiring my firm if I was soon to quit. I had to lie and say I was going to stick around when my heart said otherwise.
Once the BS was scrubbed from my gray matter I had to get serious if I was to save my baby!
Once my attitude changed the results followed. Slowly I turned the corner. I wore out countless employees and killed myself working seven days a week during tax season. There were no other alternatives. I screwed up bad and if I wanted to salvage my practice I had to get serious PDQ.
Stepping Back from the Edge
I’m glad to announce the corner has turned! The client list is growing and we are getting work done in a timely manner for the first time in years. Business is good and getting better. It’s not the economy, it’s my attitude!
Employees are finally staying and enjoying their work. The workload is heavy but not drowning the entire team. Technology I refused to consider in the past has been implemented, saving hundreds of man (actually a lot of woman) hours.
Accuracy is up, stress is down. What looked like it would collapse a few years prior was starting to be fun again.
I blame it all on Pete because taking responsibility for my own actions is too much to ask. (That’s a joke, kind readers.) Pete made it look easy. (Michael Jordan makes a layup look easy but I didn’t think I could do that without effort or practice.) There was actual work involved.
Pete sold me on an idea. The people calling BS on Pete had a point, in my opinion. We can’t all do this! The economy would collapse! Chicken Little was never so proud.
Then I started thinking about what Pete really did.
Pete called it retirement, but it wasn’t a dead retirement! He had a rental property at the time. Played with a construction business for a while until he experienced partner problems. And eventually started his very successful blog.
Retirement didn’t mean checking out of life for Pete! Sure, he spent more time with his family, the important stuff. He also became extremely efficient with his time.
He produced value for the economy and society in ways he never could have if he didn’t retire from the path he started on as a young adult!
Killing the Economy or Saving It
A frequent complaint against the FIRE community is that everyone can’t do it! Somehow spending less than you earn would destroy the fabric of the universe. The sun would dim; birds would fall from the sky. Hey, look! There goes Chicken Little again.
The oft repeated complaint is stupid at its best! When has saving and investing ever been bad for the economy? Ever?
The age you retire has nothing to do with how the broad economy will perform! And virtually all members of the FIRE community don’t bow out of life when they hit their magically arbitrary number they consider wealthy.
Pete had a property and business early on. Later his blog added millions to the national and worldwide economy with no end in sight. Now he opened his MMM HQ in his hometown as an education and social center of his community. Not bad for ol’ lazy bones taking the knee of early retirement at 30.
New Kid on the Block
There is a new kid on the block taking the FIRE community to another level. Gwen (Fiery Millennials) took the retirement knee at 27 with 200 grand in assets! What the hell is the matter with that kid!? (Gwen, if you’re reading this, don’t ditch me now. You know I’d never throw you under the bus.)
Gwen’s announcement caught the eye of MarketWatch (I’m jealous). Gwen started to feel my Mr. Money Mustache moment.
People thought Gwen was insane. And she is!
But when you think about it . . .
There is a certain accountant in the room who ditched traditional work in his early 20s after a whopping 14 months on the job to start his own practice. And I had less than $200k at the time! Yes, my $150k or so went further back then, but Gwen has something I didn’t at the time: real estate.
You see, Gwen accumulated a couple hundred K and recently purchased her second rental property. (I read on social media the deal didn’t close so she still has only one property to the best of my knowledge.) Investment property can produce enough free cash flow to live a frugal lifestyle with a very low net worth! Small amounts of investment property can leverage to a very comfortable income stream.
The new kid on the block was taking a path reasonably similar to your favorite accountant’s. By my late 20s I owned income property too.
Now comes the serious question. From the viewpoint of the world at large (according to the numerous negative comments on her MarketWatch article) she is nuts and it never will work. She will fail if some of the comments are to be believed. And she isn’t a contributing member of society anymore!
Okay. Let me ask this. When has providing shelter for families not been a benefit to society?
Ooooh! You didn’t think of it that way. Well, maybe you should.
If every business owner or investor waited until they were 100% financially secure and sound before taking a risk the economy would be screwed!
This concept of only traditional working environments producing value is flawed. Richard Branson runs a coterie of businesses technically under the Virgin brand. The work is done by thousands of employees. Branson’s job is to formulate ideas and to promote the businesses. He doesn’t book passengers on his airline, yet I bet we agree he adds serious value.
Steve jobs never wrote a line of code yet built from the ground up the largest company on the planet in the computer industry.
Imagine the same reasoning applied to Jobs or Branson and it becomes silly fast. Of course Jobs provided value before his early death. Of course Branson provides massive value around the world.
And so does Gwen, early retirement and all.
Retire and Travel
We can’t end this discussion without mentioning the folks who retire early and travel the world.
What a lazy good-for-nothing group of miscreants. To have the audacity to save and invest so you can cash in your chips before the clock strikes 40 and gallivant across the continents is the height of arrogance.
Travel isn’t in my blood so I can feel that way at times.
But when you start to think about it. . .
Traveling and sharing your adventures so others can enjoy their more limited adventures is actually providing value! Travel blogs are not new. Mark Twain wrote several travelogues. I think we can all agree Twain provided incredible amounts of value to society.
I admire those who can slow down more than I can. Elon Musk runs even faster than me.
It comes down to personality types. I speak out against travel because I don’t want to do it personally. But if you want to travel you should!
There is nothing wrong with following your bliss. The world is a better place for it. Imagine how boring this place would be with thousands of weaselly accountants running around and no one else.
Pete continues to expand his impact on his community. I still stamp out tax returns and advice at a rapid clip. J.D is back at the helm at Get Rich Slowly. Jim Collins is a force behind Chautauqua.
The economic miracle of the 1980s wasn’t the Reagan tax cuts; it was business creation. Small businesses were started at a rate of over 700,000 per year in the early 80s. Job growth and wage increases fueled that economy.
Today we struggle creating 400,000 businesses per year. The FIRE community is the only one I know of that encourages people to step out of their comfort zone, leave their job and start a side gig.
Side gigs are what we call business creation. Tomorrow’s business leaders are the people leaving their job today to think about a new path in life. Every business with rare exception started as a side gig. Apple started in the garage of Steve Jobs. A common story.
The FIRE community is not killing the economy or destroying society. Far from it.
They are the saviors. Our only hope.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Once I reached the age of majority I discovered something I learned to really hate. Money was tight in those days. I didn’t have a reservoir to draw from for basic expenses. Buying my first home required the purchase of my first furniture. There were always extra expenses to waste money on.
It also seemed like society was intentionally trying to keep me poor like the farmer I grew up as. Farming was part of my history shortly after my 18th birthday, but income was thin and I refused to dip into reserves.
Then came holidays, birthdays and other events. It seemed like every time I turned around there was another event I was supposed to spend money on. Every month had at least one birthday or holiday where the media pressed hard on the weak minded to squander money they didn’t have on stuff people would soon neglect.
A financial crisis was a wedding or milestone anniversary. The budget was stretched to the breaking point when a wedding arrived requiring yet another monetary outlay.
Christmas was the worst! Here was a time of the year to celebrate love and hope and instead every free moment was squandered thinking about what gift to buy whom and then running around purchasing said gift. There was no time to reflect on love, hope or family. We were too busy assuring the profits margins of retailers.
The hardest part for me was age. The starry-eyed feel of the holidays made way for the reality of exploitation by large corporations brainwashing the masses into believing Christmas was really about spending money. They never advertised the greatest gift you can give is you. No money in that. To suggest something so insane was un-American. (So my non-American readers don’t feel left out, just replace your country’s name in the last sentence where you see American. It’s not an exclusively American sickness. It exists where you live, too.)
The bright lights and decorations of the autumn and winter holidays (spring and summer for my Southern Hemisphere readers) were overwhelming as a child. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day always had a special feel to them. And marketers wasted no time raping the consumer of their money.
Buy Nothing Day
Buy Nothing Day is traditionally held on the day after Thanksgiving in the States: Friday, November 24th this year. It is recognized as the busiest shopping day of the year. It amazes me we can spend a day giving thanks and the next pushing our neighbor to the floor screaming, “Get the f*ck out of the way! It’s mine!” Love and thanks evaporate into mindless demand for self in less than 24 hours. The good news is retailers open early now on Thanksgiving Day to get an early start on the selfishness.
And it all costs money! An electronic gizmo marked down 20% will cause normally sane people to spend what they don’t have. Thank God banks invented credit cards so you can deal with the fallout later. Of course, the marked down gizmo will be passé in a year or less, selling for nickels on the dollar in the remainder bin.
Last year I wrote about Buy Nothing Day on the actual day. This year I want to get a jump on the more important holiday of spending nothing before people are out the door and trampling old women and children early Friday after the day of thanks.
Now I know you are better than what I’m describing. All readers of this blog are. I attract the best readers in the blogosphere! Instead of trampling wild women with credit cards in outstretched hands, you casually shop Amazon or some other online source. If Friday doesn’t tickle your fancy, you can rob your employer by shopping at work the next Monday. (If business is going to benefit from crazy spending they encouraged, you should have the right to screw them back. Right? All in the holiday spirit, of course.)
And if you are serious about financial independence you either have stepped off this madness long ago or need to right now.
The Reasonable Way to Gift Give
I get it. Some of you think I’m acting like the Grinch who stole Christmas. All I have to say to you is, “Bah! Humbug!”
I didn’t steal Christmas, I promise. What I did do is develop some responsible gift giving policies in my household. Shortly you will see how my children demanded they give Mrs. Accountant and me a Christmas gift. Giving is very important.
I have nothing against gift giving. I don’t have anything against buying stuff for yourself, either. As long as your spending is responsible for your personal financial situation I am okay with it. My concern is overspending and over gift giving until the meaning of the holiday is lost. Holidays, birthday and other important life events are times to reflect, not digress into spending madness. Keep the occasion special is all I’m saying.
In my household gifts aren’t exchanged or given for any birthday or holiday, except Christmas (with exceptions). Weddings and anniversaries are one-time events (or should be) so a monetary gift is usually given.
We buy a small amount of candy for Easter (a very small amount). We decorate the home (and yard sometimes) for major holidays. We don’t go crazy on decorations either.
Kids are different than adults. We bought our girls Christmas and birthday gifts when they were younger. They received their gift on Christmas. We don’t do that now that the girls are older.
When our girls need something during the year we may buy it for them and indicate it is for their birthday and/or Christmas. This year my oldest daughter had her college tuition paid and my youngest has a cell phone courtesy of mom and dad. No large boxes of regretful spending will grace the space below out Christmas tree.
My girls were aghast when Mrs. Accountant and I pleaded they don’t buy us gifts this year. Their response, “You mean we can’t make you something?” Oh, my God, girls. No! Of course you can make us something. The cost of making us a gift is really small compared to a retail purchase. And more important, giving mom and dad a piece of you is more important than any gift available in stores. Yes, you can make us something. My girls are artistic and I value every piece they give us. A gift filled with thought is the only gift that counts.
Mom and dad also have a different form of gift giving. I can gift my girls money. ($14,000 this year; $15,000 next.) If they have earned income and spend every penny, I can still gift them money to fill a Roth IRA up to their earned income limit. Also, remember, tuition paid for children doesn’t count toward the gift limit.
I think a gift that keeps giving a steady and increasing stream of dividends is better than the latest over-priced gizmo.
My parents are the only holdout. Holiday gift giving has decreased to zero. Mrs. Accountant and I stopped exchanging gifts decades ago. The gift giving thing died almost before it began between us. Our relationship is built on something more solid than trinkets.
My parents still give my brother and me gifts at Christmas. It is an awkward moment as we want for nothing. We have all we want and hunger only for intimate family time during the holidays. We have the family time, but my parents still believe in the traditional Christmas where gifts are given. I apologize to my non-Christian friends, but God gave his Son out of love. That is the real meaning of Christmas. That is the only gift that counts. The gift of hope.
Gifts will still exchange at my parent’s home Christmas Eve. This year we have an electronic gizmo I’ll use as this year’s gift. I don’t know what else to give. I received the gizmo as a gift and will re-gift. (I have no problem with re-gifting.) I’ll never use the gizmo. Contrary to popular wisdom, I’m not much into technology. I’m always a little late, if ever, adopting new products. The gift value is around $50. I see no reason to spend more on gifts for people who have everything they could want. My real gift this year? The ladies in my house will accompany me for some quality time with family sharing stories and a warm cider.
Please don’t read this and try to follow my advice to the letter. It takes time to get people to adjust to less gift-giving. Maybe you enjoy giving gifts and have plenty of money to do so. Then gift give!
What I will ask of you is this. Keep it simple and personal. A gift should be a part of you. You can create your gifts. They mean more. If you lack talent (as I do) you can buy a gift or re-gift. But it should have meaning. Fewer gifts with thought are worth more than a room piled to the ceiling with gifts given out of obligation.
My gift to you is this blog. My words come from the heart. I pray every day you find value and meaning in my work. Your satisfaction is the greatest gift I can receive from you.
You can give me another gift. Leave your words in the comments section below. I know it’s become so passé to say that in YouTube videos and blogs. I don’t ask often, but this one time, humor me, even if it is only to say “Merry Christmas”, Happy Hanukah”, Happy Holidays” or “May peace be with you, my friend.”
If you still want to buy loved ones a physical gift, go ahead. It’s not wrong as long as you are not trying to buy love.
If crowded stores of crazed people pushing each other to save a few bucks doesn’t appeal to you, you can shop online. If you buy from Amazon you can use the link here. It doesn’t cost you a penny more and it supports my work. (Humor me. This blog is a business and a profit does thrill me. All I ask for is responsible spending. I don’t need the money and this blog will survive regardless.)
I’ve neglected to tell you what I get Mrs. Accountant for Christmas. I’m sorry, but that’s none of your business. But like I said, the best gift is to give a part of yourself.
Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to every one of you, kind readers. May you find the perfect gift.
Don’t be alarmed, but The Wealthy Accountant is involved in a class action lawsuit. Mrs. Accountant and I were also dragged into the mess and we couldn’t be happier.
Class action lawsuits are everywhere as major corporations find increasingly clever ways to strip hard-earned money from your hide. Enterprising shysters, ah, I mean attorneys are equally as enterprising in exposing this malfeasance to line their own pockets while throwing a few crumbs to the proletariat to give the whole process an air of credibility.
Except the crumbs can be mighty large at times. This last week Google deposited $485 into my business checking account as settlement from a class action lawsuit. Mrs. Accountant received unwanted telemarketing calls that ended up in a class action lawsuit and she is eligible for up to $300 per unwanted call with a max of 3 calls. Yes, my lovely bride will bring a whopping 900 bucks into the family budget for being a victim. Keep a stiff upper lip, honey. It’s for the kids.
For several years I’ve worked the class action lawsuit network with reasonable success. Even in a low spending household, the amount of money owed us ends up over $1,000 every year. Some years we break $5,000. When that happens I break down and splurge by buying a pack of gum. Ah, the lifestyles of the rich and famous.
Whenever I broach this topic, people want to know if they qualify. (Why is it always about them? I’m the victim! Honest.)
Almost everyone is the victim of some scam. Even in the low spending Accountant household we find we are victims a lot. We just don’t play the role well. We need to practice our sad faces more.
Many class action lawsuits revolve around the purchase of a product or service. Other times you qualify for a reward, ah, compensation for damages caused you and your family for things like unwanted telemarketing calls.
You may be familiar with class action lawsuits as law firms send letters letting you know you are a part of a class action suit. If you take the time to respond, acknowledging you qualify for compensation, you get a check in the mail about a year later. But you have to respond and it can be a pain in the tail.
Then there are the myriad class action suits you have to discover yourself or forever hold your peace (or is that piece—I always forget which).
Finding Class Action Lawsuits
Now we need to find all the class action lawsuits we are entitled to compensation from. Thank God, it’s a simple process.
There are multiple websites listing all the many current class actions taking place. Top Class Actions is the best in my opinion and is the site Mrs. Accountant and I use.
Virtually all class action claims can be handled with a simple online form. A few require you to print out a claim form, fill it out and mail it in. The process takes less than a minute in most cases.
Many class action lawsuits are small in size, only a few million dollars. For a few seconds of time (if you qualify) you can get a check for a few dollars six months to a year from now. As long as you are scanning the list of suits you may as well submit a claim for all you qualify for.
Problems with Claims
The worst problem with filing a claim is proof. You probably don’t have a record of every nuisance call to determine if you should be compensated for an illegal telemarketing call. You probably don’t have a receipt, or any kind of proof, you bought xxxx between June 1, 2002 and September 24, 2012.
Some class actions require proof. Many provide a lower level of compensation with only a sworn statement you bought said product in question. When it comes to the list of telemarketing calls you can be compensated for, you enter your phone number and they’ll let you know if you’re a victim. (Ah, the new world order! Where the internet helps us determine if we should feel like a victim. Yes, we should, it seems.)
Review of Current Actions
The process is pretty simple, but this post is too short to stop here so I’ll use some current examples to spur you into action. You can send my commission check to . . .
Note: This is not an affiliate program and neither I, nor The Wealthy Accountant, receive any compensation if you use Top Class Actions and/or submit a claim to an action. However, if you see me at a conference you owe me a beer.
I will not link to any of the current class actions I found interesting as the links will break after the suit is finalized and I’m too lazy (or stupid) to remember to come back and update this post multiple times as class actions expire.
The first one we will review is of interest to travel hackers lurking about. The Citibank American Airlines Miles Promotion Class Action Settlement is worth up to $245. It seems Citibank reported erroneous information to the IRS causing people in their program undue stress. (The IRS wanted more money than they deserved and Citibank helped the IRS get it.) So Citibank owes you the losses due the faulty IRS document they filed and refused to correct. Since it is out of statuette, tax returns can’t be amended so Citibank is paying your taxes. Gawd! I love this country!
Did you get an unwanted text from Hooters? Then you might get 50 bucks! Doesn’t really make up for the tongue lashing the missus gave you three years ago, does it. But it is enough to enjoy a night at Hooters! (What’s a hooter? The boy from the backwoods wants to know.)
Do you shop at Costco? Yup, you might want to check out the claim form.
Did Citgo send you an unwanted text? Don’t remember? Fill out the claim form. They ask for your phone number and tell you within seconds if you qualify. (Dang! I wasn’t a victim. I hate it when I’m not a victim.) The settlement amount is still undetermined.
Did you buy a computer in the last ten years? Then you’re a victim! Congratulations! But you better hurry. Claims must be submitted by October 31st. I’m a victim here both personally and my tax practice. Verification of purchase is not required, but may be asked for later. I have most of my records (I hope).
This last one brings up a good point. Should I submit a claim when I don’t have proof? It depends. The instructions tell you which documents are required. I wouldn’t lie; it’s a good way to get into trouble. But, if you purchased a product—or at least think you did—then I would submit a claim. In most cases it’s not a big deal. I yell across the room, “Mrs. Accountant, do we buy xxxx?” If she says yes, I submit a claim.
Terminix had some trouble with the law due to their robocalls. I had no idea if we received any such calls. Good thing they had a record on file. All I did was enter our cell phone numbers (it only applies to cell phones) to see if we were victims. Sadly, I was not victimized. Thank Jesus and all the powers that be Mrs. Accountant was! We can expect 60 smackeroos in about a year.
I could go on, but you get the point.
I check the list of class actions every couple months and apply for those that I qualify for. It seems we qualify for a lot of them. Insane!
One final class action settlement you might qualify for if you were a part of the Ashley Madison data breach. It’s worth a humongous $3,500! I thought it was safe when I used my brother’s name. Now I can’t collect. Dang it!
Reminder: The forum is a great place to get tax questions answered and find a tax professional in your area. The more people active in the forum the more vibrant it will become.
More Wealth Building Resources
A cost segregation study can save $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.
Amazon is a good way to control costs by comparison shopping. The cost of a product includes travel to the store. When you start a shopping trip to Amazon here it also supports this blog. Thank you very much!
Today we have a first on The Wealthy Accountant: our first guest post. Offers to guest post are common once you reach modest traffic levels. Most offers are junk as they are nothing more than thinly disguised advertisements for things I do not approve of. (Anyone want me to promote forex trading? Thought so.)
Then a young lady, Patricia Sanders, emailed asking kindly if she could write a post for me. I did a Google search of her work and found she has a modest online presence. She sounds young, but genuine. Her writing is basic, but I took a chance and invited her to send me an article.
When I write I always try to find something few people are writing about. It is all about value. If I can share an idea with my readers I can make a difference, especially if it hasn’t been written to death before. I talk basic, but usually within the framework of a more complex financial or tax issue. Two things I shy away from—brevity and simplicity—works against me at times. My preference is for storytelling when attempting to convey a message. And no one had ever accused me of being brief.
Then I read the submitted article from Patricia. Her message was brief and basic. This started me thinking. My readers need to hear the basics, too. Michael Jordan was not a superstar because he made three-point shots. He was a superstar because he made the free throws without thinking. He was a superstar because he made the layup without thinking. He was good because the basics became automatic. Patricia reminded me of this.
It is important to encourage young people starting their life journey. We learn far more teaching than being taught. Patricia has a story to tell. Not some long-winded diatribe I like to spew. No, she has a simple message only a young adult can tell. Sometimes our old eyes forget where we came from and how we got where we are. I am not such a fool as to ignore the legacy granted me. It is a pleasure to present you Patricia Sanders today. She has a bright future. Maybe we will cross paths at a financial conference in the near future. It would be an honor meeting her in the real world.
* * *
[My apologies to you, kind readers. Tax season is getting long in the tooth and I was hoping for a small break with a guest post so I could focus on more tax returns. I did a minor check online and found the author to be legit. Except, a reader discovered if you clicked far enough it was a debt consolidation BS site. I’m leaving the post below for those interested and promise to do better in the future. I do NOT support forex, debt consolidation sites and similar crap floating around the internet. I learned a valuable lesson and know I need to vet guest posts more. All links and references to the author are deleted to protect visitors. Forgive a sleep deprived accountant slogging through the last two weeks of tax season. You deserve better. —The Wealthy Accountant]
A year of part-time jobs after completing my higher studies made me realize the importance of frugality. The money I made wasn’t enough to cover my student loan debt payments and credit card bills. I had to think of ways to generate free cash. Frugality seemed the only option at that time.
One Year of Frugal Living
The first few months were difficult since I was not financially disciplined. I had to fight with myself to be frugal. Every day was a challenge since I had to discover new ways to save money wherever and whenever possible.
I had to work hard on purposeful and goal oriented spending. For instance, I had short-term and long-term goals. My short term goals included covering necessary expenses and investing in things that have liquidity. On the other hand, my long term goal was to pay off my student loans and credit card bills.
I started saving money, applying the extra cash toward additional debt payments, built a short emergency fund and started investing in index funds. All extra funds retired debt in the beginning so investing was out the first 6 months. After six months I was ready to start building my investment portfolio.
Where I Saved Money
Food — I lived on homemade meals and gave up junk foods. Plus, I stopped buying frozen foods.
I planned the weekly menu before buying groceries and cooked something interesting every day with the leftovers.
Transportation — I sold my car and bought a smaller one to save on the maintenance costs, fuel, and loan interest. Earlier, I was paying $620 a month. But after switching to a smaller car, my loan payment came down to $373. It helped me to save 10% to 20% on my insurance premiums too.
Bathing — I stopped buying expensive essential oils. Rather, I used the old essential oils to make perfumes and air freshener. This helped me to save almost $5.70.
Home — I moved to a smaller apartment and saved $300 (per month) on my rent payments.
Clothes — I washed clothes once a week to save laundry cost. Plus, I sold old, unused clothing at consignment shops.
Medicine — The price of generic drugs are significantly lower than branded medicines. So, I bought generic OTC medicine whenever possible and asked my doctor to prescribe generic medications.
Energy — I installed LED lighting and insulated the windows throughout my apartment. Plus, I started using power strips to turn off electronics when not in use. It saved around $75 per month.
Events — I found a better way to celebrate birthdays and other social gatherings. I organized small parties at home for my close friends. In case of festive events, I looked for discounts on the goodies. I baked lots of chocolate-chip cookies and gifted them to friends.
Cell phone — I switched from unlimited plan ($100) to an economical plan (1GB data) and saved $50 per month.
One year later
Frugality became a part of my existence. It made me wiser as I now see things which I didn’t earlier. For example, I learned to live comfortably while trimming utility bills simultaneously. I learned how to survive on a small wardrobe. For instance, I used to buy a few t-shirts and jeans in solid colors. I could easily wear them in different color combinations and didn’t need to buy as many clothes.
Like I said before, I needed lots of money to pay off debts. Frugality helped me save 60% of my income every month. It made me realize that one could find happiness from the immediate surroundings without spending 90% of his/her income.
A year later, my life was happier and less stressful with over 40% of my debt retired. Frugality and a smart debt repayment strategy gave me an advantage and a psychological boost. It gave me hope my debts will soon be gone and I can start investing more than ever so I can reach my dream of early retirement.
Author bio: *** *** is a content developer and freelance writer. Her passion is writing on various financial topics. A coffee addict and a voracious reader by nature, her motto is simple: Live simply and spread happiness.
I hope you enjoyed today’s guest post. There are a few things I would do different. I would switch out the phone for Google Fi and I would have mentioned birthdays and holidays as gift-free zones. But Patricia is still smokin’ with a 60% savings rate! Awesome! Hope y’all enjoyed.
The Wealthy Accountant is turning into a vibrant community. Readers share their stories helping me do my job of teaching you, kind readers, how to live a joyful life without money problems. Readers also do things your favorite accountant cannot. For example, you would never ask me anything about IT. On my best days I am dangerous when given the access codes to computer files in my office. Karen, my office manager, has a standing order with the IT firm managing all our information to never give me a pass code or access to any secure files. It’s better that way.
When it comes to taxes, the story is different. I immerse myself in taxes the way a college guy plays video games. Most tax questions are front brain answers to me and minor research for most of the rest. (Every now and again someone throws me a curve requiring serious research, but we will not talk about those times to protect the ego of the innocent accountant in the room.) Then a reader sends me a link for a website that blows my mind. John Haldi did just that.
Clients tend to have the same problems when providing records to my office. Preparing an accurate return is required. Tax professionals sign tax returns they prepare under penalty of perjury. This means a tax professional better perform her due diligence. Still, the tax pro is not auditing the return, only preparing it. As long as numbers look reasonable, the tax pro will sign off on the return and move to the next. Tax season is triage. Tax accountants have no spare time to debate issues until after the due date.
One area I never gave much thought to was charitable deductions, especially the non-cash kind. If a client gives a car to charity I notice because those situations require special reporting. What I am talking about here is the mountain of clothing and household goods donated to Goodwill and other non-profit organizations.
A significant portion of clients drop receipts in their tax folder for non-cash donations. With rare exception, they put a best-guess estimate of the value of the goods donated. The client thinks they are being aggressive, but experience tells me they are under-deducting, leaving tax dollars in the government’s hands.
The Salvation Army has a worksheet they provide online to track your donations, including the thrift shop value. This is a perfect tool to maximize non-cash donations, but people rarely use it. My office prints a large stack every year for clients; most go unused because they need to be filled out by hand.
John Haldi, a long-time reader, emailed me a website he put together to track non-cash donations. The best part is it is FREE!!! I wanted to get that out up front so people don’t tune out. John is not a tax guy, but he knows his stuff when it comes to getting the largest deduction for non-cash donations. He has his own accountant (not me) who helped him put accurate information on his site.
John’s site is 8283ez.com, in honor of the form used when itemizing non-cash deductions in excess of $500. 8283ez has simple pull down menus with all the values built in. The program automatically takes the midpoint value for each item which you can change if necessary. (Sometimes a donated desk is worth more than the listed range.)
You still need to get a receipt from the organization proving you donated the goods. What is better with 8283ez is the time it takes to record the deduction. Paging through the Salvation Army worksheet is the main reason few people use it. It takes time to find all the items on the form and tally the donation. It’s easier to just tell your tax guy (or gal) you donated $250 to Goodwill. And in most cases you just screwed yourself.
Taxes are bad enough without overpaying. Mrs. Accountant this past week did some spring cleaning, hauling unused stuff to Goodwill. In the past I would spend an hour entering all the items and adding the amounts. Using 8283ez I was done before I started. It blew my mind.
Minimalists Take Notice
The worst part of non-cash donation recordkeeping is when you move or decide to turn minimalist. The stuff you collected over the years for the first time starts to look like a mountain. In most cases the client tells me they donated, say, $3,000 of stuff. I dutifully enter the deduction on their return. People have no idea how much it is really worth, missing massive tax deductions.
My staff respectfully offers the Salvation Army worksheet for them to fill out; I get maybe three back a year. It is easier to stamp a number on the receipt and move on. Life is too short. I predict this will change with 8283ez. Plugging the numbers is fast, easy and you get a really nice printout to share with your friendly accountant. The way this thing is designed I predict many taxpayers getting a big sloppy kiss from their accountant.
The client thinking their donation was worth $3,000 is always surprised when they list each item out separately. A $100 bag of stuff donated to Goodwill is probably worth double that amount. With 8283ez you can do the right thing and get the full tax break you deserve without painful recordkeeping.
Check out John’s site. Be sure to thank him in the comments below. He created 8283ez because he likes doing that kind of stuff and he doesn’t charge a dime. Anyone who puts together a useful tax site for grins deserves a round of applause. Thanks, John. Thank you for the email introducing this old accountant to a new (and useful) way to do business. You made my life, and that of my clients, better. A good day in my book.
Internet service in the U.S. can be spotty for people living out in the boondocks, like your favorite accountant. Travelers need to hunt for an open Wi-Fi hotspot to stay in touch. Even worse, internet is frequently bundled with cable, forcing you to buy both or face wildly overpriced stand-alone internet service. They got you where they want you and your pocketbook is the victim. There has to be a better way. There is. And since I’m an accountant I want a big tax deduction too.
Internet service can cost $50 a month and more for high-speed broadband. (Please sit for this next part. I don’t want anyone falling and getting hurt.) How would you like fast internet (I’m talking 10 Mbps and higher with 10 people on at the same time) for $41.67 a month, paid annually? That works out to $500 per year. After the first year the cost drops to $400 per year or $33.33 per month. You can take this little gem with you on vacation, too. Your fast and low-cost internet is as small as a cell phone, has a 10 hour battery life and is very portable.
Okay, enough of the baiting. Time to get down to facts, get a tax deduction and details on obtaining this money-saving, tax deductible gem.
Where It Started
Back when I was writing about library millionaires I ran across a device my library lent out. (Actually, my youngest daughter saw the library was lending a new Wi-Fi hotspot and she was hungry for internet that worked.) We checked the device out and were amazed by the quality. The backwoods of Wisconsin never saw internet work like this.
All good things must end. Our new Wi-Fi hotspot was everything we wanted, but everybody else wanted the darn thing too. After we were the first to get the thing from the library, a waiting list developed. Quick as a lick I sprung into action (actually, it was my daughter springing again) looking for more information on this little gizmo.
Turns out a non-profit organization called The Calyx Institute issues the device. The best part was that it was free! All you had to do was become a member. Okay. But what does Calyx do with my membership dues? They are a non-profit dedicated to education and internet privacy. They are also the company that got the first Patriot Act warrant unsealed.
My research unveiled the reason why this LTE/4G is available. Spectrum was set aside for educational purposes. Calyx, as a non-profit, gets a sweetheart deal on the service and passes along the savings to you. Membership is $500 and includes the Wi-Fi hotspot pre-loaded with one year of unlimited use and a t-shirt. (Hell, they had me with the t-shirt.) The cost is $400 a year afterwards because you don’t need to buy new hardware.
Before you rush out and join Calyx for the free Wi-Fi hotspot, check the coverage map to verify it works in your area. The hotspot uses the Sprint network. Be sure to check the “Data” tab as Sprint coverage is different between voice and data.
Now you can take your Wi-Fi with you on vacations and business trips. No more searching for open Wi-Fi or using an unsecured hotel or airport hotspot to view girly videos, ah, I mean stock quotes and catch up on email.
Many readers here retire early due to intelligent money management. (They save half their income and invest in broad-based index funds.) These people like taking a year or so off and traveling the country. Now your Wi-Fi can come with you at no extra cost. You can thank me later
Calyx is a 501(c)3 non-profit. This means your membership dues, which include a t-shirt and the Wi-Fi hotspot, are deductible on Schedule A.
Just a minute as I wipe a tear from my eye.
This is not an affiliate program where I get revenue if you join Calyx. This is all them, not me. I’m doing it out of the love of my heart. (Awwwwwe!) But if you insist on helping me financially you can use the DIY tax software link in this post. Or, when you are planning an Amazon buy you can start with this link. (Remember, no spending for spending’s sake. I like more money, but my waistline tells me I am eating just fine, so crazy spending is not allowed. Now, if you were going to purchase that thingie over there anyway . . .)
Update: 4Gcommunity.org is no longer available. A reader reported in the comment section about 4Gcommunity.org and I decided to go that direction based on cost. My original recommendation of Calyx seems to have been the smarter move. There are several smaller companies doing the same thing, but the risk is we end up with another 4Gcommunity.org.
It does not take long when you wander the blogs of the ‘retire early’ community before you hear the common refrain: If everybody did this stuff it would kill the economy. To which I promptly call foul.
Bill Gates and Warren Buffett managed to not spend over $100 billion of their money over the last few decades and the economy has done fine. In the 1950s the savings rate was much higher and the economy more vibrant. When the research is reviewed there is no doubt excessive debt, a low savings rate and excessive spending have more to do with an anemic economy than any responsible spending will do.
People look for any excuse they can to remain married to their poor habits and lack of self-control. It is easier to complain about successful people than it is to take responsibility for your own actions. Somehow these people have been lied to for so long they actually think poverty is the only way to keep the economy going. Really? They think the only way to survive is to spend every nickel they have. They think living on the financial edge of ruin from the first light breeze is what makes the economy purr and provides job security. Where does this nonsense come from?
No Help from People
In my office most payments are made automatically. Services are handled without much human intervention. Billing/invoicing is on automatic, payments are made by automatic transfer, personal and business bills are set up for automatic payment by either credit card (for the rewards) or from the checking account and the credit card is set to pay the balance in full on the due date from the checking account. The process keeps flowing without any human intervention in one big circle. All parties can focus on their tasks instead of wasting time playing around with financial transfers.
Think about what this really means. If the rapture were to happen this very second and God thought we were all worthy of the instant removal from earth to heaven and no one had a chance to turn off the electric generators, the economy would keep humming just fine. The automatic transfers would keep going round and round. In fact, the economy might actually start growing at a faster rate without people around to mess it up!
Now, if the economy will do fine without a living human on the planet, how bad will saving and investing half your income harm the economy? The arrogance it takes to even assume responsible spending behavior will destroy jobs and the economy blows the minds of intelligent people everywhere.
The economy will be fine if you save/invest a significant portion of your income. Look back at the most stable and productive times in human history. These times are marked by large levels of saving and investment. Without an ample pool of ready money there is no opportunity to move from concept to reality. Money for investment comes from savings—money people earned, but decided not to spend.
The Economy is Bloated
The economy is too big as it is. Most of the economy, the sales of goods and services, is mostly wasted material. If you don’t believe that statement, I invite you to join me on a short trip to your local landfill. That enormous pile is a testament to all the stuff people wanted and then threw away. If it was so important to spend money on, why are landfills so ungodly huge? All the resources wasted to produce junk we didn’t want in the first place end up as a credit card payment for the next 28 years at 17% interest. And you want me to believe this is good for the economy?
The stuff that really makes us happy and fulfills our lives is about a third of the economy. Yes, I mean two-thirds of the economy is nothing but fluff, waste. We keep buying junk until our homes are so full we can’t move. Then we buy bigger homes to store the stuff. The basement and attic are loaded. Don’t worry. In the name of ‘keeping the economy going’ and jobs we can always rent a storage unit. Let me ask you this. When was the last time you looked at your stuff in the storage unit? Thought so.
All that stuff and the debt from buying it harms the economy! A ‘healthy’ economy does not have so much waste. You, me and everyone else in town can easily live on a third to half our income without any problems. The economy will keep humming along. Debt loads will be modest. Stress will be low.
There are a few losers. The government is in trouble without all the tax revenue they need to service the massive pile of debt. The world governments have over $63 trillion in debt as I write this and it is growing at a rapid pace. The United States has nearly $19 trillion of government debt alone! World government debt interest is accruing at over $500,000 every seven seconds! At least it is good for the economy. Right?
Another loser in a world of modest spending is landfills. These tremendous piles of dirt covering the junk we bought on credit and decided we did not like after all would be mere molehills. Other than governments straddled with debt and landfill companies, there are few losers if the FIRE community ran the place.
A quick look around the internet gives a few different answers to the total worldwide government debt load. The numbers are all large and the differences are semantics at best. Debt in and of itself is not bad. What is bad is the level of leverage and what the money was wasted on to create the debt. Governments can print their way out of debt crises if they are willing to risk economic dislocation and/or inflation. You on the other hand need to engage financial responsibility.
The current world environment would seem to indicate high levels of debt are NOT healthy for the economy. More debt does not automatically translate into a larger economy, dollar for dollar. As more debt is added it has less affect on economic growth.
More is not Better
The sickness affecting Western societies is spreading to other cultures around the world that more equals better. But does more make you happier? Research tends to indicate it does not. Having more stuff is a responsibility increasing stress levels protecting, insuring, maintaining, and using said stuff.
Modern technology has made stuff cheap compared to our earning level. The more we have the more we want when it makes no sense to add more to the heap of crap already in the stable. Happiness declines instead of increasing after we reach a certain level of saturation. More things then start to eat into our happiness and overall satisfaction with life. You can have more, but does it matter?
The FIRE community is on to something and it boggles my mind more people have not climbed aboard. Where people got the idea financial independence and fulfilling labor are a scourge on our society is beyond me.
I am only a country accountant; I don’t have the answer for such an ignorant mindset.
Problems will not magically disappear if people start saving and living more financially responsible lives. The problems will change, however. The problems will also be less critical. Money is the leading cause of divorce so reduced money issues will lead to better family life. Children will have more nurturing formative years which translates into lower levels of crime and higher levels of overall life satisfaction.
Issues of resource usage will be reduced, but still an issue to apply our efforts toward solving. Moving from a carbon economy to a more green, renewable framework will increase further the quality of life. Technology will still be a vital part of a smaller, more efficient economy.
The real question to ask is: If we are happier spending at a much lower level, why do we waste so much of our most precious resource, time, so we can have stuff which ends up making life less pleasurable? Sure, we will still work, especially for things that interest us. I can’t imagine myself sitting around all day and there is no doubt I will find something constructive to do. But this idea of working ourselves to death for just a little bit more needs to stop.
With most of our time freed from required work to meet our basic needs and a modest amount of wants we can explore what truly drives our passions. It is easy to say what we really like, what we really want. But until we are in a position to really have the opportunity to live that dream we cannot be certain of our choices here.
Happiness dust is not fantasy. Happiness is possible. Living on $20,000 or so a year is easy. All the rest is play money. And we have enough toys. The Earth can’t take anymore waste. The place is starting to look like a dump. Even the oceans are filled with waste from garbage and stuff spilled from ships headed for markets around the world.
It is time for less trade and more living. And the economy will be fine without us.
More Wealth Building Resources
A 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.