Health

Planning for Joy

Posted on Jan 7, 2019 in Community, Health, Simplicity

Yes, losing 10 pounds might bring you joy when it happens. Giving up red meat and quitting smoking will help improve your health over time. Saving more money will result in meeting financial goals sooner, or with greater confidence, and you know I’m going to encourage this, but it won’t happen overnight.

I cannot object to any of these resolutions. They are all laudable. They also require change, and change is hard. It takes at least three weeks to change a habit, and often longer. By all means, get started on those resolutions (or re-start them), but also plan for greater joy.

In addition to my New Year’s Resolutions, here’s what I’m planning to add more joy to my life:

1. Play
My dog has a good life. On her worse days, she suffers from the boredom of watching me work. Since I have to work to keep a doghouse over her head, she’s going to have to learn to deal with it. And yet, that doesn’t mean I can’t learn a thing or two from her, too.

Often when I’m downstairs in the office, she is upstairs in her corner perch, watching the neighborhood scene. I’ll hear her pad down the stairs and come around the corner into the office. Every time she does this, I greet her with my happiest dog-voice, and take a break in what I’m doing for a pet and a little play. I say I do this for her, to have good associations with my office so she’ll hang out here. In truth, I find it is good for me, as well. I am terrible at taking breaks, and the dog is a natural.

I could just set a timer and tell myself to take a break. How much more fun it is, though, to unleash the joy of seeing my dog prance around the office with her little paws in the air, her play-bow, and her goofy look, when I take a breath before I start a new project.

2. Organize My Desk
I know this sounds like work. I am a planner by nature, and I like order in my universe. Maybe it’s a coping mechanism, but it also helps me to focus and relax into whatever I’m doing when I’m in a clutter-free zone. My new house is slowly getting organized, but not yet up to my standards of order, and it’s stressing me out. As a business owner, there is no end to things to do for the job. A clear desk is an accomplishment, too. My plan for the New Year at work is to close out each day putting my desk in order, filing papers, and scheduling the next day.

Earlier in the business I sublet office space from a large engineering firm. The sliding glass doors to each office had no locks. For practical purposes, I ended each work day putting all my projects away, under lock and key. Starting the next day was bliss! Taking joy in sitting down and intentionally beginning a new project, rather than staring down a pile of ongoing work, is my goal for 2019. I’ve done it before, and I know I can do it again!

If you’re inclined to try a bit of rearranging to de-clutter your space but need a little nudge, here are a couple of resources. I was a huge fan of Peter Walsh and his Clean Sweep program on HGTV. The program is 10 years old, but his approach is timeless. His philosophy towards organizing your home and office is the same as mine towards personal finance: arrange your environment (or money) to live a richer, fuller life with less stress. And you can sign up for his #31DaysToGetOrganized daily reminders to help you one day at a time. If Marie Condo’s Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is more your speed, you can read her book or go straight to her new series on Netflix to learn how to “KonMari” your spaces.

Kondo talks specifically about joy in organizing your things, and Walsh used his master’s degree in educational psychology to help people let go of the associations they have with things that no longer serve them and to refocus on what really mattered. Both focus special attention on items of sentimental value, and the meaning they add to our lives. Here’s to more joy and greater meaning in your spaces (and at my desk) in 2019!

For more on Peter Walsh: Peter Walsh on YouTube
For Marie Condo on Netflix: Marie Kondo on Netflix

3. Re-invigorate My Hibernation
Even though we are past the Solstice and our days are getting longer, Winter has barely begun and we will have many cold, gloomy days to come. “Hiberation” is from the Latin meaning “to pass the winter” and for many that means hunkering down and doing as little as possible until the warmth and sun call us out into the world again. But therein lies a missed opportunity.

For nine years after my mother’s stroke, I split my weekends into two periods: Saturdays were for life maintenance, running errands, stocking the fridge, doing laundry. Getting the house in order for a new week. Sundays were spent with my mom. Doing her laundry, checking on supplies for her apartment, getting her place in order for the next week, watching a movie or going to a show, and having dinner before going home. I loved the time with my mom, but I was exhausted by the end of the weekend. After she died, I had a hard time figuring out my Sundays. Then one Sunday I had brunch with friends. I remembered the luxury of sleeping in, meeting for eggs and biscuits, and lingering over that final cup of coffee.

Lately I’d been feeling blue again on Sundays. The luxury of a “free” day seemed to be amplifying the freedom single people have: I could do anything. And so sometimes I did nothing, only to feel let down by frittering away my time. I started to plan outings for my Sunday afternoons. A movie, a play, a museum. All the things I loved, things easy to do on my own, and things that would get me out of my own head and return me home refreshed. That was a successful Sunday, a joy.

Winter weekends can be perfect for binge-worthy TV on a comfy sofa with a warm beverage and snacks. They can also be opportunities to explore your neighborhood or city, enjoy a hobby or expand your connection to others. And even if you’ve fallen off the resolution wagon already, get right back on, and as you work on changes for an Improved You, consider a few tweaks for a more joyful You as well.

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Tax ALERT – What to Know For Year-End Planning

Posted on Dec 24, 2017 in Divorce, Health, Taxes

As holiday lights twinkle around me and passersby bundle up against the cold, Congress was hard at work pushing their tax reform bill through the legislature. Their stated goal was to simplify the tax system, stimulate the economy and create jobs.

There’s no simplification here, and economic stimulus is dubious, but there are a few things you need to know now if you want to do some 11th hour planning, especially if you have been itemizing your deductions:

Mortgage interest – Interest on mortgages taken out on 12/15/17 or later is deductible only up to $750,000, down from the current $1,000,000 of mortgage debt
Second Homes – This mortgage interest deduction is available for a personal residence and one other home
Home equity loans – The deduction for home equity loans and lines of credit is repealed; interest on up to $100,000 of this debt was deductible
State and Local Taxes (SALT) – Deductions for these taxes (including sales taxes in states with no income tax) combined with property taxes are capped at $10,000
PLANNING NOTE: You can pre-pay property taxes in jurisdictions where this is allowed. You can check here to see if you can accelerate a property tax payment in King County, WA and the San Francisco Bay Area:
King County, WA: https://www.seattletimes.com/business/real-estate/king-county-dont-prepay-your-property-taxes-now-to-avoid-tax-hit-next-year/

SF Bay Area:  http://www.sfchronicle.com/business/article/Faced-with-loss-of-deduction-more-Bay-Area-12448244.php
You expressly cannot prepay 2018 state and local income tax.
Medical Expenses – The threshold for this deduction is 7.5% retroactive to 2017 through 2019 – then it goes back to 10%.
Charitable Contributions – You now need substantiation for ALL charitable contributions, but the limit on what you can deduct has been increased from 50% of Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) to 60%.
Miscellaneous Itemized Deductions – These deductions are currently subject to a 2%-of-AGI threshold, but are eliminated entirely after 2017:

  • Moving expenses (except for the Armed Forces)
  • Moving expense exclusion (for expenses paid by employer)
  • Unreimbursed employer expenses (you file a Form 2106 for these)
  • Qualified bicycle commuting ($20/month)
  • Personal casualty losses (EXCEPT if in a disaster zone)
  • Safe deposit box fees
  • Tax preparer fees
  • Investment advisory expenses
    PLANNING NOTE: You may want to ask your tax preparer if you would benefit from paying their fee before 12/31/17, while you can still take a deduction for it. Likewise, for your investment advisor. Here is a quick chart to give you an idea of the total of these miscellaneous expenses you must have before even have a deduction:

AGI = $50,000, 2% = $1,000

AGI = $100,000, 2% = $2,000

AGI = $250,000, 2% = $5,000

AGI = $400,000, 2% = $8,000

Note: Any of you with AGI over $313,800 (Married Filing Jointly) / $261,500 (Single) will start to see your Itemized Deductions also reduced by the Pease limitation.

Alimony – Marital support paid to an ex-spouse has been deductible by the payee and includible on the return of the recipient. For new divorce settlements, alimony is no longer deductible after 2018. Note: this change is a revenue raiser: Almost always the person paying alimony is in higher bracket than the recipient.

Obamacare – Despite what the President has stated about repeal, technically the Affordable Care Act (ACA, aka “Obamacare”) is still on the books, as is the individual mandate. The individual mandate has NOT been repealed, but penalty for not having coverage equals 0% after 2017

In my view, the Trump Tax Plan is bad, though not as bad as it could have been based on earlier proposals. Some workers may see a little relief for a couple of years, but the big wins go to public companies and the wealthiest Americans.

It is also unlikely the President will sign the bill into law before the end of the year. By waiting to sign until 2018, cuts to Medicare and Social Security that are part of this package won’t impact voters until after the 2018 mid-term elections.

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Three Easy Resolutions for 2016

Posted on Jan 3, 2016 in Health, Planning, Relationship

I love making resolutions. I make them at New Year’s, at mid-year, and in the Fall when we’re headed into the end of the year.  Even if you’re not the type to make resolutions, here are three I hope you’ll consider:

  1. Move – Whether you hit the gym, run in the neighborhood, walk in the park or dance around the house, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you move. You can sit on your backside for 23-1/2 hours a day, but for at least 30 minutes, get up and shake up your system. In addition to helping any “lose 10 pounds” resolution you may have, this one also helps your other bottom line:  one of the big contributors to disability is stress, and one of the biggest unexpected costs in retirement is medical expenses.  Exercise improves your health (and its associated costs) in many ways, and boosts your mood.
  2. Love – It takes 20 seconds for a hug to change your body chemistry for the better. According to the University of North Carolina study, after 20 seconds you get the oxytocin release that reduces cortisol (the stress hormone) and supports the bond you have with that person. If you’re looking to build meaningful relationships, one easy way to do that is to hug a little longer. Your longer hugs can benefit your heart and blood pressure, too.
  3. Save – You might guess this resolution would be on my list, but it’s not what you think. Often we’re pulled in multiple directions by the different threads of our lives, and at the end of the day we can end up feeling, well, frayed. This year, make a resolution to save a part of your day or week just for you. It won’t make you a bad parent, a weak employee, or a selfish spouse. It may just help you do all those other things better. We each need something that’s just ours. A mediation practice, learning a musical instrument, cultivating a sport. It might seem frivolous, but those 15 or 30 minutes of focus on this thing that’s yours can take you out of whatever the rest of life may be throwing at you, and give you not only a break, but also something you can never lose.

These three goals can leave you with amped endorphins, oxytocin, and joy. And who knows what other resolutions you could tackle after these? Imagine what your life could be like – working towards all those other goals we all set – with an energetic, relaxed, and joyful countenance?  If your financial planning goals are intended to ultimately lead you to a happy and fulfilled life, aren’t you making a good start towards meeting those goals with these three?

Mantras

In the last few years, I’ve also added a “mantra” for the New Year, a phrase or saying that will encourage me in certain ways. The first year I did it, I had realized that I had become way too attached to certain outcomes, a sure path to unhappiness. My mantra that year was “Just Say Yes.”  Yes to the movie the friend suggested, yes to speaking at an event I wasn’t sure about, yes to going with the flow (and “no” to trying to control everything).  Shonda Rhimes, one of my heroes, did a “Just Say Yes” year recently and loved the way it opened up her life so much she took time away from writing her television juggernaut to write a book about it: http://variety.com/2015/tv/news/shonda-rhimes-year-of-yes-tgit-1201632148/)

Like many people, I also have a weight loss goal for the New Year. And I want to push myself professionally by sharing more personally, a sometimes intimidating act. So for 2016, I have two mantras: “I’d rather be slender and sexy” (for when I really want a cheeseburger and a glass of wine) and “Don’t be afraid” (for the many times when my left brain wants to thwart my right brain and stop me from moving forward with a new idea). We all have scripts that run in our heads, and changing them up from time to time can help push you to do something you might not do otherwise.  Think about what your best friend might tell you when you’re stretching to meet a goal, and put that good voice in your head.

So for 2016, in addition to hitting the gym regularly, hugging my friends longer, and taking French lessons to regain my language skills, I’ll also be watching my diet and pushing myself a little further in the office.  I’m betting the first three will help me stick to the last two.

No one ever said resolutions have to be tough. You’re just setting your intention to do something. Walk, hug, cultivate something you love.  It’s your life, you get one shot.  You have 365 days to do your best to make this year the one you want it to be.

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