March 31st, 2015

The Late-Onset Adult: Tax Tips

I think late-onset adulthood is fairly common in our society now–even the phrase “live at home” has developed a meaning specific to recent times (surely we all, in fact, live at home). And frankly, at 36, I’m rather proud of all the grownup things I do–I support myself financially, I shop for and prepare healthy meals, pay bills, care for cats and occasionally other people’s children, take myself to the doctor when I’m sick, travel, even drive a car if I absolutely have to. I’ve booked hotels, helped friends in trouble, run meetings, navigated strange cities, gone to parties alone, hell, I even got married. Sometimes I add it all up (usually when I’m on the subway for some reason) I’m genuinely shocked that I’m so…functional.

But I don’t do my own taxes. I’ve always found this rather embarrassing, but every year I still bundled up the papers and trucked them off to my mom. She does the whole family, and is very very good at it. She used to be part of a volunteer squad who would go to nursing homes and community centres in low-income areas and do tax returns for whomever asked. When she wasn’t able to volunteer any more (logistical reasons), she still had us to keep her busy.

But really, taxes are stressful and I’ve been feeling guilty about putting the burden on her. Also, a bit embarrassed at not really understanding my own financial matters. So I’m on a slow, easy path to tax maturity–this is year three, and I figure there’s probably about three more in the process. I thought I’d share how I’m doing this, in case you’d also like to try for tax maturity. A few caveats…

* this process probably won’t work unless the person who is doing your taxes is doing it out of love–a parent, sibling, partner, or close friend–someone who is willing to help you however you want to be helped, and spend a lot of time with you to do it. This will probably not work with, say, a professional tax preparer.

* my taxes are semi-complex due to the fact that I have both a day-job and a small business as a writer and editor. I don’t earn all that much from my biz, but it’s all in little scraps and so are the deductions I have to take against the earnings (true fact: I got a T4A for $25 this year). Plus I’m dealing with lots of little, disorganized publications and groups, so they don’t always issue their paperwork properly–or at all–so I have to keep detailed records of what actually happened to present to the CRA. This makes my taxes more confusing, and much bulkier, than those of someone who just has a job with a single T4 and then some deductions and that’s it. So that sort of person could likely zip through the process a lot faster than me.

* I do my taxes by hand, because that’s how my mom does them. Apparently there’s all kinds of software that makes things easier, but if I used them then my mom couldn’t help me and I am only halfway through the process so I still REALLY need her help. I figure in a few years, when I’ve really got things sorted, I will try to learn the software–for now, my forms come from the post office and I mail them in a manila envelope. No online tax tips here.

Ok, here we go…

Year 0 (as many year 0s as you need): Sort through your receipts and slips and give the person doing your taxes an orderly set of papers. Sift out all the unnecessary stuff. If you’re me, you keep any vaguely important paper in a box all year–receipts for things you might want to return, vet bills, notices from your landlord–and only at tax time do you sort through and shred the stuff you didn’t wind up needing. At least, I do that now–I’m ashamed to admit there was a time when I just gave the box to my mother and let her decide to do with that fully-paid dentist bill.

In addition to simply removing the useless stuff, try asking the person helping you what categories the papers should be sorted into and then do that (the first year I also organized within categories by date, but I found out that’s pointless). This allows you to not only take some of the stress off your helping person, but also start to form a basic sense of how taxes work. I actually wrote a decent story set in a tax preparation class way back in 2007 based only on this sort of info. You can learn a lot just by making neat little piles of papers.

Year 1: Show up with your papers for your mom or other helpful soul to do your taxes, but then–this is big–stay. Don’t run away and let the tax preparation process remain mysterious–stay and watch, and hopefully your person will narrate what’s going on. I’m lucky (very lucky!) in that both my folks are born teachers and my mom is at ease not only working on the taxes but explaining what she’s doing. I wish you similar luck, but you may have to ask more questions if you’re not able to follow. Don’t be too intrusive, bring tea, offer shoulder rubs, and try not to let your mind wander. This is the last low-stress year, since you’re just absorbing the process and no one is asking any hard questions of you. But again, you should still be learning.

Year 2: Ok, this is the first scary year–show up with your papers, bring your person a cup of tea and now YOU do the taxes, with your helpful person watching. This can end up a lot like year 1, in that if you stare blankly at a piece of paper long enough the person who knows what she’s doing will probably just tell you what to do next, and if you do that enough times you’ll eventually be done the whole tax return. Try to make some stabs at finding your own next move, and trust your person to tell if you’re screwing up. Keep a copy of the Year 1 tax return handy, too, so you can imitate what worked last time around when the much smarter person was doing the return.

Year 3: Do your taxes by yourself based on what you’ve learned so far, the guidance of reviewing last year’s return, and the occasional phone call (I may or may not have called my mother 6 times in March specifically about taxes) or email. At the end of this process, give the completed return (good copy, but be prepared to make an even better copy) to your person to make sure you didn’t go off the rails anywhere. This is the year I’m just completing–I handed over my forms on Sunday at brunch, and I’m feeling pretty darn proud. I guess I should wait until I get the feedback before counting any grown-up gold stars, though…

Year 4: This is a projected year, but I anticipate it’ll be similar to Year 3 except with fewer phone calls.

Year 5: I think I’ll try to learn the software this year, which means I can call for advice during the process but I can’t  show my mom the final product (because it’ll live in the internet somehow? do I have this right?) I really should be ok with that at this point, I think–especially with the in-process phone calls.

Year 6: I’m not sure this is really as close as three years out, but eventually I want to be the sort of person my mom is, tax-wise and generous with said wisdom. My aim is to take over my husband’s taxes and save him the money he’s currently spending on H&R Block, but I’d only do that if we were really feeling confident, because I find another person’s documents trickier to understand than my own. And then perhaps I’ll go further afield, wandering the streets and helping others with taxery. I shall be beneficent and carry a flaming calculator…

Well, you get the idea! Did you come to any useful life skills at a later age? How did you do it?

May 12th, 2014

The no-house blues

I am a relatively lucky person, I freely admit it. I’m also a pretty hard worker with low standards. So, what I mean by that is, I’m not troubled by a relatively large amount of work, and a relatively small amount of stuff–and I’ve been lucky enough to get opportunities to do the work and get the stuff I want. While I do enjoy material possessions, I don’t need very many or very nice ones to feel happy–my pink $30 skirt from Target thrills me every time I put it on. If you gave me a nicer skirt, I would probably wear and like that too, but I wouldn’t go looking/shopping for it.

What all of the above adds up to is I’m pretty generally happy. It’s nice, but the side effect is my being a bit spoiled, in that I’m relatively unused to the feeling of wanting something material that I can’t have. I want few enough things things, and I earn enough money that when I do want something–trip to visit friends, out of season fruit, pink skirt–I can usually afford it. I haven’t been dissatisfied in the standard capitalistic way in a long time.

But I do not have a house and, judging from current trends, I won’t be getting one. I understand that this is not a tragedy; many people are unhoused in a more literal sense while I am lucky enough to have a relatively large and nice apartment where the kitties run free all day.

But it is not a house. It has no front door into the street, and no backyard in which to plant things. I can’t go “up to bed” or “come down to breakfast” rights of daily passage that I always expected to have as an adult. I have no basement in which to store holiday decoration, out of season clothes, and other things that i do not wish to be reminded every day that I own. I’m not making an investment in my future/the city of Toronto/”the market” either. I don’t know where my husband and I will live when we are old, let alone the cats. All this makes me sad.

I love that I live in a thriving vibrant city with vast and various neighbourhoods, a bajillion parks, tonnes of cultural institutions and a relatively healthy job market. But the price I pay for it is a literal one–almost every time I see a listing on a real-estate websites for a house in our price range, it is listed as a “teardown” or only slightly better, a “handyman’s dream.”

Tiny Rebecca assumed that adulthood would include stairs, a basement, and a yard, because that’s what her parents have. But adulthood is doing your best with the circumstances–emotional and physical–that you find yourself in, not enjoying a set of generic perks that everyone gets upon reaching a certain age (would that it were). I’m sure my husband and I actually could buy a house, if we were willing to take on a terrifying level of debt that would cancel most of our fun in life (even pink-skirt buying) or move out of this city that we love. But we won’t because doing those things would make us sadder than buying a house would make us happy (I think the cats would be happier in the house and they wouldn’t have to pay the mortgage/sacrifice the skirts, but they don’t get a vote).

Not having a house is not a tragedy, it’s not even something worth getting upset about–it’s just an expectation adjustment. But I *am* sad, because past conceptions of the future are hard to let go of. This post has no real larger message than that: I’m sad, but I shouldn’t be. I’ll try to stop.

February 15th, 2013

Various Nice Things

It’s a bit vain, but every now again I look myself up in various places–embarrassing, but I often discover information worth knowing, so I keep doing it.

Anyway, yesterday I was ordering some books from the library and I search my name in their database. I was happy to find a bunch of my books and even a few holds, but was extra-delighted to see 9 copies of *Road Trips*. That was my 2010 chapbook with Frog Hollow–something I was proud of but I think very few people saw. It was pricey and available only by mail-order. The price has gone down now, if you’re interested in ordering it, and anyway I think it was worth every penny of the original price, as Frog Hollow does some of the most gorgeous printing and binding I’ve seen. Nevertheless, I know it just wasn’t realistic for many budgets.

But 9 copies in TPL–that means your hold would come in pretty fast! So if you were curious about *Road Trips*, this could be your chance…

Other nice things I found out about recently include Deanna McFadden’s lovely blog review of *The Big Dream*, and my contributor’s copy of Freefall Magazine. And then there are my Valentine’s gifts, the traditional perfume, candies, and George Saunders collection. And it’s Public Lending Right in the mail day today.

So basically, in summation, yay!

May 25th, 2012

Writing and Money, Part 2

Here’s the second installment of my writing and money post. Here, I’ll try to get into details about what’s realistic for writers to earn on journal publications (in Canada only–who knows what they do in other countries). I’m not the be-all of knowledge on this stuff, and I’m not going to be able to comment on some things (poetry) so please chime in if you know more than I do! It turns out I have so much to say on the topic of finances that I’ll have to keep extending the series. Tune in next time for reading fees and travel expenses–yay!!

Publishing a short story. Among established journals with some grant money, a longish story often earns around $200-250. Younger journals and/or those with less steady funding often pay less, while some of the big-deal journals pay more. I’ve been paid everything from $50 to (only a couple times, and I’m not holding my breath for the next one) more than $500.

When is it ok to publish a story for free? Often–I do it regularly, if one ore more of the following conditions are met: (1) it gives you a chance to work with an editor your respect and who you think can help you improve; (2) it gives you a chance to expose your work to a section of the reading world you haven’t previously had access to, and you think they would like it; (3) a friend has asked you to do it as a favour and you want to do this for your friend. All of these are rewarding in their own various ways, often much more than a cheque you won’t even remember spending.

When is it not ok to publish a story for free? (1) If it’s a print journal or anthology that does not offer contributors copies. EVERY print journal/anthology should give EVERY contributor at least one free copy for their personal archives, even if no other payment is offered. A second copy (aka, the parents’ copy) is a nice touch, but not necessary. There is no reason you should publish and have no evidence that it even happened. Some of these are scams–they publish as many folks as possible and then sell mainly to them. Some are just woefully ignorant of what’s acceptable–they’ll learn, and you can submit to them later. Of course, none of this applies to online journals, as the internet is free for us all.

When else is it a bad idea to publish for nothing? When you don’t know the editors, the readership, or anything else about the journal and are just doing it “for the credit”–don’t do that. A list–long or short–of unknown literary publications after your name is just not impressive enough to warrant parting with your precious work when you have no other reason to do so. Money, while not in itself ALL that important, is often a sign that a journal is established, organized, and respectful of its writers. You shouldn’t necessarily take payment as a sign that the payer is legit, but…it’s promising, anyway. Many great literary enterprises are just some guy and his friends in the basement, but it’s hard to discern those from the fly-by-nighters if you have no other info.

This article is somewhat lame because I don’t know much about the markets for poetry, literary non-fiction, etc. Any thoughts?

May 24th, 2012

Writing and Money

Something cool happened in April, something that usually happens to me a few times a year but never loses its thrill: in the course of the month, I earned from writing endeavours slightly more than I pay in rent. That’s always exciting, even though it’s far from a sign that I could earn my living as a full-time writer: aside from it only happening a few times a year, rent does not a living make. If writing had been my only source of income in April, I could’ve sat in my paid-up apartment and slowly starved to death. But the idea that I’m even close, even occasionally, is neat-o.

I included this fun factoid in a presentation I was making to high-schoolers, who were quite aghast that that’s *all* I make. But then I told a fellow writer, and he was aghast in a good way, and congratulated me. The expectations for a writing life, monetarily speaking, are so various–and the more you know the less you expect.

I worry about both sides of the spectrum. On the one hand, I think there is a crazy rumour floating around that writing a publishable book equals a lifetime of generous income. That’s hilarious, but I encountered yet another aspiring writer recently who had decided–knowing little of the publishing world–that it would be worthwhile to quit her job in order to write a novel. I quiver in fear for her. But on the other side, I worry about getting too anti-materialist, too hippy-dippy, “I have to write to be happy, payment or not!” I once got a rather stern talking-to from a fellow writer when I said that I would write my book whether or not my grant application was successful; the grant would just make that writing a lot easier and more pleasant. She said not putting monetary worth on my work *causes* it to be under-valued. I say putting a pricetag on work sets me up for disappointment (and not working) if no one wants to pay…but I take her point: artistic creation is hard and it matters, and in our society, the way we appreciate what matters is with money.

So…I try to care about money, but not too much; to treat writing as something that brings me personal fulfillment but also has a market value; to know what is disrespect and what is budgetary constraint. If you say you’re going to pay me and then don’t, I will politely nag you over the horizon; but there’s also situations where I’m more than happy to work for free. It’s complicated.

A further complication is that folks don’t talk about this stuf enough, because money is weird and awkward (unless you’re that girl who yelled at me). Novice writers–or writers doing it for money for the first time–don’t know what to expect and thus feel disappointed when they’re actually being treated generously, or else don’t speak up when they’re actually being treated poorly. So I’m going to do a post on what writers can and do (and don’t) earn. It was actually going to be a part of this post originally, but it’s getting really long, so I’ll see you back here in a few days.

March 19th, 2011

My first kill fee

Nope, I haven’t become an assassin (I have a cough that can be heard through cement walls, so I’m not sneaking up on anyone these days). In the world of writing, a kill fee is the money you are paid when a magazine or journal accepts your writing for publication and then, for whatever reason, can’t or won’t follow through. This happens more with journalistic pieces that are topical and have a “horizon of interest” beyond which you can’t really sell them. If a periodical locks down your time, energy and research on a story of the day/week/month, then declines to publish it, you probably won’t have time to sell it elsewhere before the news gets stale. So they are obligated (usually contractually; always morally) to pay you for your time and trouble. This prevents caprice in editorial decisions of this nature, and also protects writers against acts of God (I’m imagining the folks who maybe were writing long thoughtful pieces about trade or educational policies the day of the earthquake in Japan, say).

The kill fee does not often come up in the literary world, so untopical are most poems, short stories, even reviews–typically if something goes wrong or the journal runs out of space, you can just scoot things to a later issue and everyone can enjoy it July instead of March. That has certainly happened to my work in the pass and while a little frustrating (I get so *excited* about seeing stuff in print), it’s not a big deal.

When a publication declines to publish something they’ve already accepted, it’s usually a sign of a bigger problem–say, the decision never to publish anything ever again. Thus, by the time word gets to the writers, the editors may not be in a position to take the writers’ emotions or finances into consideration (cough). On the other hand, sometimes the editors are completely on the ball and conscientious, just dealing with circumstances beyond their control, and they send you a thoughtful letter explaining things, and also a kill-fee cheque.

That latter situation is what happened to me this week, and you know what? I still feel sad. I’ve been published without being paid lots of times, and it’s still pretty fun–you get your contributor’s copy or go to the website and then there’s your very own words, formatted and in a novel font, smack up against other people’s words, and you read all the other stuff and then your own “in context,” and then you go around very casually mentioning that other people could read it too, if, like, they want. Which is exactly what I do with paid publications, except without the headache of having to go to the bank.

Getting paid without getting published was no fun at all–I just went to the bank and then it was over. Boo! I’m sure it’s no one fault, absolutely, but I’m still sad. If you offered me money or glory, I’d take glory any day.

Do you have any kill-fee thoughts or experiences to share? Maybe you can cheer me up!

July 13th, 2010

Charitable Failure

I think I am way too affected by telemarketers, because this is my second post in recent memory about one, but whatever–this incident freaked me out. If you have experience with charities or for some other reason can explain it to me, I’d be grateful.

So! About a month ago I got lured into chatting with one of those street canvassers for a charitable organization. I already knew of it and it sounded like a good group to me, so I offered to give the guy what was in my wallet, but he wanted to sign me up for a monthly donation plan with automatic withdrawals from my credit card. I said I was not going to give out my card # on the street, and he said he could take my phone number and we’d talk about it at a time I could pick, after I’d done some research and thought it over. I said ok.

They called last night. After a bit of chatter about the organization, I said I’d like to give them $100 (which is actually a lot of money to me). The very sweet, earnest young woman on the phone said they prefer to have monthly donations via direct withdrawal because processing costs are so much lower and also then they have a steady income to fund long-term projects. I didn’t see how the first worked–why would it be easier to process 12 little donations instead of 1 big one–but there is much I don’t know. Hesitantly (because I hate direct withdrawal and been screwed by it in the past), I said perhaps I could give $10 a month, and then in a year that would be just a bit more than my planned $100.

The volunteer (I asked her; that’s what she was) said that their minimum donation was $20/month and I said, “oh, I’m not going to do that.” I am worried this makes me sound cheap, but whatever, it wasn’t what I had budgeted. She suggested I just sign up for the monthly withdrawal and after 5 months I could quit. I said that didn’t sound like it would be very good for their long-term projects and she didn’t really answer, and then I said, “Let’s just go with the $100.”

This got me the spiel about spiralling processing and administrative costs again, and when I remained unmoved, a thanks for my time and honesty. “You won’t take the $100?” No, she wouldn’t, but I could always go to the website and figure it out for myself how to send the money. Politely, but firmly, she ended the conversation.

WTF? Are legit charities really discouraging modest donations these days? Was it some sort of scam operating under the name of a legit organization? Even so, it wasn’t a very good scam, since I offered my credit card number and she turned it down. Or is the entire organization (which has a *lot* of visibility in the media, to the point where even a media-loser like myself sees it) somehow less legit than I thought? Or am I just too cheap/afraid of scamsters to do the right thing?

Also, what should I do with that $100 I have now decided I want to give to a good cause? I could of course figure it out from the website–it’s not that difficult. But I am somewhat alarmed about those admin costs–what if it really *is* a waste of half the money? Also, well, my little feelings are hurt! I was feeling really good about being able to do something nice, and now I feel awful about the whole thing. I will end up giving it elsewhere–certainly, there’s no shortage of good causes. But I would still really like to know what went wrong with my sad failure to be generous.

All insights appreciated.

February 20th, 2010

PSA on the PLR

Yesterday I received my first statement and cheque from the Public Lending Rights Commission. I was very excited, and not just because money had come in the mail–I love evidence that *Once* is out there in the world, doing it’s thing (getting read) totally independent from me. In this case, the PLR statement tells me that *Once* is in some libraries.

What the Public Lending Rights Commission does is survey a sampling of libraries and give writers whose books are found in that sample get a little payment for the use their work is getting. It’s a bit of a numbers game–even a semi-popular book might happen not to be in the several of the libraries sampled–but it’s the best way anyone’s found to pay authors for library usage, short of auditing all the libraries in the whole country.

Most published (with an ISBN) creative works and general-interest nonfiction is eligible for the survey, and thus for payment–if the author registers. If you go to that link above, it’ll start you on your way to completing the registration–you’ve got until May to do it this year.

The money’s not astronomical, but it’s always nice for it to just show up like that. Even better, though, I like the acknowledgement of myself as a writer and *Once* as a book. I don’t know about most writers (though I have my suspicions) but I myself am very insecure and prone to authorial existentialism–“Who am I fooling, calling myself a writer?” and so forth. Not that the PLR or any kind of money in the mail proves anything at all; I know plenty of talented writers who don’t have a book (yet). But I do like these professional forms to fill out with “Rebecca Rosenblum, author.” and I grab all that I can get, even if there’s no fame or fortune to be had. In this regard (and this regard only) I even like rejection letters: they address me as an writer, in some form or another.

So yeah, what I’m saying is, register for the PLR if you are eligible–it’s a good service for book-writers and a nice acknowledgment of your writerliness. And sometimes money comes in the mail.

RR

So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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