Two Questions

Happy New Year! I am personally and professionally on an “improvement quest.” I’m trying day-by-day to get just a little bit better. I cannot make the grand gesture, implement the great plan, or adhere to a massive life overhaul. I just can’t manage that and “regular life.” Perhaps you feel the same way. So, let me just ask you two questions:

  1.  Is your financial life better today than it was yesterday?

If the answer is yes, then question 2 is: What are you going to do today to make it better for tomorrow?

If the answer is no, then question 2: is What are you going to do today to make it better for tomorrow?

What? That’s the same question, you say. By gosh, you are right. Whether yesterday was perfect or a disaster, what matters is what you are going to do today to allow yourself to answer question 1 with a resounding YES tomorrow!

We only have today. We only really have this moment to make a choice that will benefit ourselves tomorrow. Let’s all get just a little bit better and make the choice in this moment that propels our future self forward toward are deepest goals and desires. Let’s make a sacrifice in this moment so that tomorrow we can be proud that we took a step forward instead of a step backward. Let’s put away the massive overhaul and focus on the baby steps. Baby steps repeated moment by moment by moment are so much more powerful than a huge leap that leaves us on our backside, exhausted, and overwhelmed. Be there; done that so many times.

Really, then, there is only 1 question: What are you going to do today to make your financial life better for tomorrow?

To your financial success (moment-by-moment)!


‘Tis The Season!

‘Tis the season of magic with Santa and elves and flying reindeer. ‘Tis the season of wonderful smells with the freshly cut Christmas tree, the candles, and the holiday treats. ‘Tis the season of giving and receiving. What a delight! Not so delightfully, it is also the last month of the tax year – your last chance (kind of) to get some tax deductions tucked into 2017.

It is also the season of tax reform, tax proposals in both the House and the Senate, and a big push for Santa to put a shiny new tax package under the tree – talk about the magic of Christmas! Keep an eye out for actions between now and year-end. I can assure you that everyone and their dog will be writing about what, when, why, and how so stick to the reputable websites, understand the key provisions, and consider how it will impact your tax return.

There are a lot of things to think about with taxes and a lot is about the timing – do you want income or deductions in 2017 or 2018? It just depends on your tax situation at the moment.

  • If you had a big income year in 2017, you will likely want to find/create deductions in 2017. That probably means retirement plan contributions or charitable gifts. Those 2 items seem to be safe bets for staying in place regardless of tax reform.
  • If you had a llow-incomeyear but see brighter skies for 2018, you may want to shift those deductions into 2018. The beauty of retirement plan contributions (for the self-employed or for those who don’t have a work plan and instead make IRA contributions) is that you have until April 15th of the following year to deposit those contributions. For the self-employed, you may have until the due date of your extended tax return to make those. That gives you a lot more time for analysis and for saving.

First, perhaps a quick tour of the tax system would be helpful for those who don’t know much about the tax game that we are all playing. You may want to go to and pull up Form 1040 to view as we walk through the sections of the return – this will be fun!

Income – the US taxes your worldwide income on a cash basis. That means that if you earned income and received the cash in 2017, it is taxable in 2017. For those of you who own a business that uses the cash basis (you are a sole proprietor or LLC and file a Schedule C), you may have some control over the timing of cash receipts based on when you do your billing. Perhaps it makes sense to push income into 2018. Talk to your tax accountant or run a tax projection to see if that would be beneficial. (Note – simply putting the check into a drawer and holding it until January 1 is technically tax evasion so if you got it, deposit it, and include it in your income.)


  • One thing that is possible with respect to income reduction relates to capital gains and losses. If you have “capital” property, the most common of which is investments like stocks and bonds, you might have the opportunity to “tax loss harvest” if any of your investments have lost money.
    • You can take up to $3,000 in losses from Schedule D on your 1040. Losses above $3,000 are carried forward to next year. The markets have performed pretty well this year, but if you do have positions showing a loss (the market value is less than what you originally paid), you could sell those positions to take the loss.
    • As long as you don’t repurchase the same or “substantially the same” security within 30 days, you can take the loss. Note that transactions in tax favored accounts like IRAs and other retirement accounts don’t have a tax impact so you would have to look only to taxable accounts.
    • The losses would first offset any realized gains or capital gain distributions from mutual funds. A reduction of income is a reduction in income so talk to your financial advisor or tax professional to see if this might apply to you.
    • It doesn’t look like tax reform is going to impact investors much, but we obviously won’t know for sure until something becomes law.


Adjustments – these are subtractions from income. The more common items are:

  • Educator expenses – teachers of grades K through 12 can use up to $250 of paid expenses to reduce income. Planning to get some supplies for the classroom? Perhaps you want to do it in 2017, save your receipt and take up to $250 off your income. Hey, every little bit helps.
  • Health savings account – if you have a high deductible health insurance plan that qualifies for an HSA, you have until April 15th of 2018 to fully fund that account for 2017. Check all the rules but you want to do everything possible to fully fund the account. See IRS Publication 969 for all of the details.
  • IRA contribution – this is another one where you have until April 15, 2018 to make a contribution for 2017. There are income limits for the deductibility of your contribution, especially if you have a retirement plan through work, so do your research. is actually a really easy site to use and it is the ultimate source – search IRA and you will get all the information that you need.
  • Student loan interest – if you are paying on student loans, consider making your January payment in December so that you slide a bit more interest into 2017. This adjustment “phases out” at higher levels of income so check IRS Publication 970 for details. (This also applies to your home mortgage payment. That interest is a deduction on Schedule A but the same strategy applies: get more deductions into 2017.) Student loan interest is on the chopping block for tax reform so stay tuned. Mortgage interest is NOT. It is explicitly protected, at least today.
  • Others – there are some other adjustments so take a look at the Form 1040 under “Adjustments” and see if those apply to you. The big ones apply to the self-employed so if that’s you, make sure you maximize those items.


Deductions – these further reduce your taxable income. There are 2 ways these play:

  1. Standard deduction: you just claim it – no receipts, no fuss. The amount is based on your filing status (single, married filing jointly, etc.) The tax proposals look to dramatically increase the standard deduction. This goes into the “simplify” category.
  2. Itemized: you fill out Schedule A and keep receipts. The only “safe” items under the tax proposals are mortgage interest and charitable deductions. In terms of taking some actions this year to increase deductions here:
    1. Make your January mortgage payment in December.
    2. Make your charitable contributions by year-end. This includes both cash donations and your clothing and household goods donations. As you look at the latter, do make a list of every item you donate (12 men’s dress shirts, 4 men’s t-shirts, etc.), do use a value guide (Goodwill’s website has one) to value each item, do keep your actual receipt from the charity with the list and the calculated value, and do make sure to include it on your Schedule A if you itemize.
  1. If you give more than $500 of items to a single organization, you will have to fill out a separate tax form. If you have a high volume of items, consider splitting up your donations among several organizations to make this easier. Keep good records of exactly what you are giving to which charity.
    1. Pay your state income tax estimated payment in December. For the self-employed who make estimated tax payments, your 4th quarter estimate is due January 15th but if you pay it in December, it will go on the 2017 Schedule A. If you are in this situation, you should consider which year is best. However, under the tax proposals, the deduction for state income taxes is on the chopping block. Keep a close eye on the final package to see if this will be relevant or not.


Exemptions – these are fixed amounts that reduce your taxable income and are based on the number of dependents that you have. There is nothing to be done here but I do want to mention that these are on the chopping block under the tax proposals. (The tax rates are proposed to decrease and that in combination with other changes is not supposed to create higher taxes for most. We’ll see.)


Alternative minimum tax – this is a (hated) second way to calculate your tax to make sure that “high income” taxpayers pay their fair share. It may or may not apply to you (look at last year’s tax return), but it is definitely on the chopping block under tax reform, and everyone hopes it is finally, after decades of discussion, chopped! (Santa, all I want for Christmas is an end to AMT!)


Tax credits – these are dollar-for-dollar reductions in your tax. These are super valuable so check the list of items (page 2 of Form 1040) and make sure you claim any credits that you can. The most common are the child tax credit and the credit for child and dependent care. You either have kids or your don’t so nothing much to be done on these except to be aware of them and make sure you claim them if they are available to you. Two that could be relevant are:

  • Education credits (see publication 970 for details.) This is one where you may be able to pay tuition due for your child’s winter/spring semester in December if you have not already maxed out the amount of eligible tuition paid for you or your dependent. There are a lot of rules, income phase-outs, etc. with respect to these so take a look at the Publication. The IRS also has an Interactive Tax Assistant to help you determine if you are eligible. Tax reform could chop 2 of the 3 credits but the proposal keeps the more valuable one – The American Opportunity Credit – so stay tuned to see how it fares through the debate and compromise.
  • Residential energy credit – if you made (or make in December) certain home improvements that improve energy efficiency (wind, solar, geothermal heat pump) and qualify for the tax credit, you may get some help from Uncle Sam. Watch this closely as the House proposal and Senate proposal differ on these. Who knows what will happen in the final approved version.


So that is a not-so-quick overview of the tax items most likely to impact you. If you learned something new and are thinking, “rats, I could have done that on my 2016 return,” fear not! The IRS allows you to amend a prior year’s tax return for up to 3 years in order to correct errors or missed deductions. Talk to your tax return preparer (or get yourself one!) to see if this makes sense for your situation.


One last thought on taxes:  Taxes are confusing, contain a lot of rules, a lot of exceptions to the rules, and are just not fun. I get it. Unfortunately, we all have to play the tax game. It is really worth your time and energy to understand, at least at a high level, the rules of this game. It adds up to a lot of your money so it is worth it. Do a bit of research. Ask questions. Read the updates so you know what is happening. Look at last year’s tax return so you can see what may be changing for this year. If you are confused and unsure, the services of a qualified tax preparer could more than pay for the cost of the return so consider getting some help. May the magic of the season be with you whether or not Santa delivers a magical tax package.


Finish Strong!

2017 is flying by! Today as I write this, we enter the 4th quarter of 2017. How is it going? For me, each quarter is a transition point, a signpost to acknowledge that time is passing, and I need to pay attention. As I have written in the past, this has been a year of frenzy for me personally and professionally and seems to be a blur. I am consciously choosing to stop and be aware in this moment, to stop moving and reacting in a frantic way and to consciously choose how I experience the last quarter of this year. I very much want it to be different from the last 3!

I am looking closely at my spending (a lot) and saving (not enough). That, for me, is a symptom of living at too fast a pace – no time to plan or prepare or think ahead – let me just grab it, order it, drive through – frantic, frantic – no time for looking at my spending plan – just get it done. This is the time for me to stop and say “enough.” Settle down, take a breath, align with what is important. Here are some things that I am thinking about for this last quarter:

• What is truly important to me? Does my spending match up to that?
• Where is my money going? Is that supporting and enriching my life?
• Do I feel financially safe? How can I use my money to improve that?
• Have I done everything possible to minimize my tax bill this year?

o Keeping close track of charitable deductions
o Maximizing retirement savings plans
o Keeping my files organized so that tax prep is painless
o Keeping up with all of my business expenses
o Fully funding my health savings account

• Do I have a plan to manage the holidays without debt?

o How can I recognize my family and friends in a way that does not jeopardize my goals and my financial health?
o What will bring joy to my holidays rather than stress?
o What gifts can I give that will be the most meaningful? (Likely that has little to do with money.)

I hope you will join me in a quick time out to think, to plan, and to prepare for this last quarter of the year. Too, too soon I will be writing about 2018! Savor the moment. Seize the day. Finish the year strong and confident in your plans.
To your financial (and 4th quarter) success!


Lighten Your Load

“It’s difficult to clearly see what needs to be done when your environment is burdened with half-completed projects, unfinished to-do lists, old files, clothes that don’t fit, and equipment that no longer works or serves any purpose.”  Debbie Ford – excerpt from The Best Year of Your Life

I am coming through perhaps the busiest and “mentally heaviest” season of my life. I didn’t handle it especially well. Ok, I completely dropped the ball on “life management 101.” I didn’t stick to my solid, I-feel-great workout and healthy eating plan. I didn’t stick to my systems to touch once, clean out my email daily, and take time to stop and clear my thoughts. I didn’t rest enough, and I did run in chase-my-tail, fight or flight mode. I didn’t stick to my money goals. “No time to make my lunch; I’ll just buy it.” Yuck. It was awful and I don’t want to go there ever again.

I saw this “lighten your load” quote and felt that she was talking to me. It is mentally heavy to have a bunch of things partially done; stacks of papers, magazines, bills calling out to us. “Mental residue” is how Brian Johnson describes it from some author that he was quoting. Every glance at the stack is a taunt, a failure, and an energy drain, constantly weighing us down.

This also applies to your money. Do you have accounts scattered here and there? Do you have small balances on credit here and there? Do you have bills coming in through paper, email, or hanging from your front door?

We all need a solid, one system way to manage our work, our lives, and our money. Here are a few questions to get us all (4 fingers pointed at me!) moving in the right direction:

  • Where can we “lighten the load” and create a good system for staying on top of our money, our bills and our accounts?
  • Can we focus on the smallest dollar value credit card and just knock out that balance while making sure that we don’t add to it?
  • Can we give up the multiple store brand credit cards in favor of one all-purpose (high reward) credit card as one way of lightening the load?
  • Can we consolidate accounts, synchronize bill due dates, automate payments?
  • Can we automate savings so that it “just happens” and we don’t have to think about it?
  • Can we find a good tracking software (Quicken,, etc.) so that everything shows up in one place?
  • Can we list out every bill that we have monthly, quarterly, annually and list out how it comes to us, when it is due and the average amount payable?
  • Can we get in place a system that we document and follow and schedule so that your money management is not a bunch of “half-completed projects, unfinished to-do lists, old files” and haphazardness?
  • Can we create and follow a system to clear out old documents, scan and shred so that everything we need is at our fingertips?

I am trying to view my recent “quarter of chaos” as a chance to see how bad the “don’t” picture is and purposefully create a “do” picture that keeps me out of such a chaotic situation in the future. I am trying to use this experience to batten down the hatches, refocus on the systems that work, rework those that don’t, and clear out the partially completed “stuff” that is stressing me out. I am trying to reflect on what I learned by being in over-drive for the last several months so that I cling harder to structure and systems, say “no” and “good enough” a bit more, and insist on time to rejuvenate and regroup. I am trying to dig in, finish things, clean up the mess, put away, throw away, and eliminate one source of mental fatigue at a time.

Where can you lighten the financial load so that you are not feeling stressed and chaotic? Pick one little thing and do it today. You will feel so much more in control, powerful, and competent! Getting better every day….

To your financial success (and “lightness!”) ~ Tana

Spring Forward

I was honored to speak at Lori’s WOYN Breakfast Series on April 28 and so enjoyed my time at the Commerce Club with all of the ladies who were able to attend. (If you have not attended one, take a look at the upcoming schedule and see if you can get it on your calendar!)
While I don’t have the space to go through everything that I presented to them, I did want to share my approach for springing forward with your finances. Think about an area of your financial life that you are dissatisfied with. Take a moment and write it down. Now let’s SPRING forward to improve that situation:

See the situation – view the situation objectively. If emotions are coming up, explore the what, when, why, and how to become clear about why it is emotional for you. Then view it with your actual mind – get rid of the “always,” “never,” and “can’t” statements. List out the facts of the situation and how you would like it to change.
Plan a new approach – what specific action step could you take today to move you from where you are to where you want to be? Continue to list the actions necessary to take another small step.

o     Get the swirling thoughts and ideas out of your head and write it down;
o     Bullet points are best – 1, 2, 3, 4 – that objectifies it, breaks it into smaller pieces, and gives you a specific action step to focus on.
o      Nothing is more empowering than making a plan;
o      Nothing kills fear, guilt, and shame like a plan!

Recruit a positive emotion to feel the way you want to feel
o      Grab hold of the feeling that you want to embody:
o      Confident,
o      Capable,
o      Competent, (we often avoid when we feel incompetent!)
o       In control;
o       Use emotion to power you forward rather than drag you down!

Invest the time
o      This is not going to change overnight;
o       Let go of frustration;
o       Try, try again;
o       It’s a process.
Narrow your focus
o     Pick your biggest battle, the thing/area that is most important to you or is the source of the most frustration,
o     You can’t change everything at once,
o      It is a process,
o      Sometimes you fall a little backward before you spring forward.
Give yourself credit
o      Little victories are cause for big recognition and celebration;
o      You didn’t create the bad habits in a day and you won’t change them that quickly either.
o      Understand that under stress, it all falls apart; it’s ok – just pick yourself up and start anew.

Put some spring in your step by taking one issue that is weighing you down and springing forward to a better place. It may take some time but small steps can take you around the world if you just keep on stepping.

To your financial success,


The Tax Man Cometh

I like to pay taxes. With them, I buy civilization.”  ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

I can’t say that I like to pay taxes, but I hope his conclusion is accurate! Perhaps taxes do buy civilization but regardless, they do buy our freedom. Freedom from jail for tax evasion, that is! I guess they buy our freedom in the greater sense as well since they pay for our military. That part I can get behind and perhaps feel less horrible about the large dollars that go out of my house every year in taxes.

But this is not about how you feel about paying taxes. It is your reminder that it is almost April and April brings the tax deadline. Here are a few reminders for you:

This year, you actually have until April 18th to file and pay your taxes because of Emancipation Day falling on Monday and the 15th falling on Saturday. However, don’t wait around for the 18th to get your taxes going.

The April deadline also marks the deadline for making IRA contributions as well as Health Savings Account contributions for those who had a high deductible/HSA health insurance plan in 2016. Extending your tax return does not extend the deadline for making these contributions; however.

If you do file an extension, remember that filing the extension only extends the time to file the return; it does not extend the time to pay so you must make an estimate of your tax liability and pay in 100% of it or be subject to interest and possibly penalties.

If you cannot pay taxes due, don’t ignore it! You can request installment payments of the taxes due. Discuss your options with your tax accountant so that you can take action rather than face additional penalties. The IRS loves to impose penalties so make sure you are on top of your options to minimize the money you will have to pay in.

Make sure you gather up all of your charitable contribution receipts and include everything –$10 here and $20 there adds up. For your noncash donations, keep a list of all of the items donated and use a site like: to come up with the value per item. You should keep this list with your tax records.

I am often asked by clients how long to keep tax records. The answer, like answers to most financial questions, is “it depends.” Here is how the IRS responds to that question:

(Although the reference says small business, it is the same for employees.) It is a good practice to clean out your records each year after you file this year’s return. Go through the old records and be sure that you don’t need the record for some other purpose besides taxes. And definitely, make sure you shred all documents when it is time to get rid of them! If you don’t have a shredder, many organizations host shredding events (frequently for charities) around tax time so search for locations where you can shred.

Taxes are never fun but round up those records and get it done. You’ll feel better once you have tackled the task. And maybe you can be like Oliver and enjoy the fact that you are supporting civilization.

To your financial (and tax!) success,


What are you are passionate about?

Last week, I talked about a different definition of generosity which involved having a giving plan which is “premeditated, calculated and designated.” So, I am moving in the direction of premeditation as a first step to creating a formal giving plan.

Another question that Andy Stanley asked to help move people forward in their generosity plan was: “What are the organizations that you are most passionate about?” Good question and as really good questions will tend to be, this one was thought-provoking. As my kids launch into their own independent lives, the organizations that have received my passion (and my time, talent, and treasure) are no longer relevant – their schools, their activities, their passions. So what are mine? Where do I want to make an impact?

I certainly care about many things and there are certainly more problems to be solved in the world than I can tackle here, but creating a focus does take some consideration. One place to get the juices flowing is at This is a great place to browse by area and find your own areas of interest. You can find organizations that need volunteers (of course, they all need money) and get insights into what is being done locally, nationally, and internationally in your area of interest.

I like the idea of “hand up” versus “hand out” and helping to create opportunities for others. I’ve written about before so you can look back at old blogs on that if you are interested in finding out more. I want to keep that going with more consistent donations. If that is an interest for you, search for team Graduate’s Guide and start lending today. You can pick from a variety of regions and specialty groups. It is not giving per se (unless you donate to directly), but it is providing capital for those in need of it and I keep the funds flowing back out as repayments are made. See if that might be a good place for you to start (with as little as $25).

I also really like organizations like Heifer International and Habitat for Humanity as well, and perhaps I will look to find an organization in Atlanta with a similar mission. Anyway, you get the idea of finding what you are passionate about and making a commitment to consistently do more. Many people look to their church or synagogue and that is great if you feel that doing so meets your need for the “generosity challenge.” I have given to my church out of habit more than anything else, and I think I want to expand my charitable interests a bit further.

What about you? Does Andy Stanley’s challenge about generosity make you a little uncomfortable? Does it shake up your ideas about yourself and what you do to support the organizations that you are passionate about? I do know that we all get into habits and sometimes it is good to shake up those habits, especially our money habits, and make sure they are still right for us, especially as our lives go through different stages and priorities and interests change.

Give it some thought and see if you want to take the “generosity challenge” and if you do, what will that look like for you and your community?

To your financial (and community) success!




The Gift of Awareness

There is freedom that comes with awareness, because with it comes the opportunity to make a choice. Madisyn Taylor

Happy New Year! This is the fresh start, anything-is-possible time of year. Our hopes are high, and we see the potential for an amazing year. That’s why I loved the quote about awareness. For some reason, in the dawn of the new year, there is an awareness of possibility that I don’t feel as keenly at any other time of year. It is certainly available to me any time but the start of something new brings a heightened sense of awareness.

You are in the right place to make that amazing year possible for yourself. Working On Your Now is all about putting purpose and possibility into your life, regardless of the area of your life that you want to work on.

So take some time today to cultivate your own awareness of what is truly important for you in this new year. Look at the various areas of your life and describe exactly what you want from each of them. Paint the big, bright, beautiful picture of how your life will be one year from now and then start taking little steps in that direction.

For your financial life, pick just one thing to make your overarching focus this year. What is one thing that you can do to alleviate fear, dread, anxiety or stress in this area? Become aware of that one area that needs your attention and then take the opportunity to make a choice to improve it.

The dreams are in your head; the truth is in your heart; the power is in your hands. Be aware, make a choice, and take action.

To your financial (and 2017) success!

Are you in danger of the Five Buck Syndrome?

I have talked about the “5 buck syndrome” before, many times. I have written about it and yet, this week, I did a lot of “5 bucking.” From app purchases to the shopping cart at the grocery store to online shopping’s lure of “only $10 more dollars until you qualify for free shipping,” the pull to separate us from that 5 bucks is strong. And yes, I fall prey to it as much as anyone so I write this to remind myself as much as to remind my readers that the phrase “it’s only 5 bucks” is the financial equivalent of a leaky faucet in your bathroom; it doesn’t seem like that little drip can add up to much until you plug the sink and see how fast it fills! You can build up to a $1,000 credit card balance, 5 bucks at time. The cash you had in your wallet on Friday night? It probably drained out 5 or 10 bucks at a time. Think to yourself how often that phrase runs through your mind, “it’s only X bucks.”

Here is a tip for saving that 5 or 10 bucks instead of spending it: keep an envelope in your purse or wallet that says, “it’s only” on the front. For one week, every time the thought, “it’s only x bucks” runs through your mind in relation to spending, put the money in that envelope rather than spending it. If you had planned to “swipe” for it, write the amount on the back of the envelope. Next time you are at Target, Walmart, or the grocery store, count how many the times you think, “it’s only,” as you look at an item and throw it into your cart. This time, put it back and write down that amount on your envelope. Every time. You will be surprised at how many times you discount the spending because the cost is low. You will be surprised at the dollar amount that adds up to in a week!

At the end of the week, move all the money to your savings account. You just created savings for yourself, 5 bucks at a time! Become aware of all those “5 buck moments” and pay attention. Don’t buy something just because it is inexpensive. Try to avoid buying at all! Ask yourself, “do I really need this?” Also start training yourself to recognize that phrase and stop before you just throw it into the cart, swipe your card, or click the buy button. You can get rich 5 bucks at a time; you just need to save that 5 bucks time and time again.

At holiday time, it is especially tempting to add volume to our gift-giving. More presents for the kids to unwrap, more stocking stuffers, more food around the table, more treats to take to the office. This year, treat yourself to that 5 bucks and rest assured that the gifts you’ve picked are enough; the food around the table is enough; and nobody needs more treats at the office!

To your financial (and holiday) success!

Thankful Again, Still and Always

Another Thanksgiving is upon us. As you count all of your blessings this Thanksgiving, be sure to count your financial blessings as well. Even as we struggle to “do better” with our money, most of us have financial blessings far in excess of most of the rest of the world.

This week, simply give thanks for all that you have and enjoy the bounty of the holiday.

Happy Thanksgiving!

To your turkey success!


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