Monthly Update · Taxes

February 2021 Update

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Tax Season – In Progress

I finished filing the tax returns for both of my oldest two children. Both made well under $30k for the year. I laughed at how simple they were and also the sheer number of dark patterns that Turbotax employed to trick us into paying for what should have been a free return. Lot’s of preying on fears of the IRS and that dreaded “audit”. Intuit rises to the top of my list of companies I despise, constantly lobbying Congress to keep the IRS from producing its own tax filing system.

Both had rejected returns. My oldest daughter’s return was rejected because the last year’s AGI didn’t match. Huh. I don’t know what’s going on here since I put in the correct AGI from last year’s return. Next step is to request her transcript from the IRS to see if they changed it (which is kinda strange), or just snail mail it in. Probably going to take the latter route.

My second oldest daughter’s return was accepted at the federal level but rejected at the state level. I might just let this slide, mostly because she didn’t even need to file a state return.

This year I’ll be owing the IRS a little, mostly to make up for some of the capital gains from selling covered calls, interest from bank bonuses, and cashing in some I Bonds last January in the hopes of simplifying my financial landscape. For that reason alone, I’ll put off filing my taxes at the last minute. But also, because my AGI was higher in 2020 than 2019, I will also hold off filing until as late as possible to ensure I get the biggest chunk of any third stimulus payment. I might even choose to file an extension, dragging out the filing season as long as possible. Lesson learned from 2020/2019.

Life-hack side note: Usually I store digital tax-related documents in an encrypted file stored on Dropbox. It’s pretty manual and I worry about my survivors getting access should a “continuity” event happen. This tax season, I decided to start storing the documents in our family 1Password vault. This way I can share the documents with my wife and not worry about her being able to open them without my help. Instead of uploading each document separately and ending up with a ton of document nodes, I concatenated the PDFs on my computer and uploaded them as one “supporting tax documentation” document. The return PDF is a separate document. I even went back and retroactively compiled and uploaded previous years at the same time. And it was pretty slick to securely share tax documents with my oldest daughter who is hundreds of miles away.

Furnace Filter Replacements

Our furnace died at the end of January 2020. The new furnace install included a new filter cabinet and we went with a media filter. The sales drone told us that we’d save money because we’d only be replacing the filter once a year instead of four times a year. I pretty much ignored what he said, sure that his $100/filter quote wasn’t going to beat the $21/filter I was currently paying.

Earlier this month, it was time to replace the filter. The filter cabinet listed a website where you could buy the replacement filters. When I looked it up, my jaw dropped: $199/filter, but on sale for $176! What!?! True, it’s a Merv 13 instead of Merv 11 like the one I had been using, but that markup is simply outrageous.  After doing a little research on the type and brand of filter I needed, I found the exact same filter for $40/filter (or $70 for a 2-pack), sold by Aprilaire on Amazon.com.

As a side note, when we got the furnace replaced, we went through Costco’s concierge service to get a bid. We also got a bid from a HVAC contractor we’ve used in the past. My experience with Costco was “meh”. They partnered with a very expensive HVAC contractor, and after all the discounts were applied, I found I hadn’t saved anything. And much of the “savings” was tied up in Costco cash cards. We ended up using the Costco contractor, but I didn’t save anything in the long run.

From the Bookshelf

I usually have four books going at a time. This month I finished the following:

  • Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to the Real World by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall. This book spoke to me, debunking some of the common myths about employee engagement. It could have been called “Nine Truths”, but it probably wouldn’t have attracted nearly as many readers. Buckingham was also involved in First, Break All The Rules, another book I found that shaped my management worldview. Probably my favorite lie/truth is that “people have potential” when a better way of viewing them is having momentum. Solid book.
  • The Fated Sky: A Lady Astronaut Novel by Mary Robinette Kowal is a fictional sequel to The Calculating Stars, this time with our protagonist being part of mankind’s first visit to Mars in 1961. I’m amazed by the weaving in of what is, to me, believable aerospace jargon. I’m not surprised that Kowal had actual astronauts helping her write the book. I’ve just started the last book in the trilogy, The Relentless Moon.
  • The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell. This book vies with Nine Lies for my favorite read this month. While Orwell does a fabulous job detailing the brutal lives of coal miners and the abject poverty they lived in, I found most of my money quotes in the section on socialism. Here’s are just a couple of my favorites:

Race-hatred, religious hatred, differences of education, of temperament, of intellect, even differences of moral code, can be got over; but physical repulsion cannot. You can have an affection for a murderer or a sodomite, but you cannot have an affection for a man whose breath stinks—habitually stinks, I mean. However well you may wish him, however much you may admire his mind and character, if his breath stinks he is horrible and in your heart of hearts you will hate him. It may not greatly matter if the average middle-class person is brought up to believe that the working classes are ignorant, lazy, drunken, boorish, and dishonest; it is when he is brought up to believe that they are dirty that the harm is done.

and

But I was in the police, which is to say that I was part of the actual machinery of despotism. Moreover, in the police you see the dirty work of Empire at close quarters, and there is an appreciable difference between doing dirty work and merely profiting by it. Most people approve of capital punishment, but most people wouldn’t do the hangman’s job. … The American watched it, and then turning to me said thoughtfully, ‘I wouldn’t care to have your job.’ It made me horribly ashamed. So that was the kind of job I had!

Okay, just one more:

Question a person of this type, and you will often get the semi-frivolous answer: ‘I don’t object to Socialism, but I do object to Socialists.’ Logically it is a poor argument, but it carries weight with many people. As with the Christian religion, the worst advertisement for Socialism is its adherents.

  • Fahrenheit 451: A Novel by Ray Bradbury. I think I first read this book in eighth grade. I remember enjoying it at the time. But this time I suspect youthful self didn’t comprehend all the beautiful metaphors and prose that Bradbury brings to bear in telling this dystopian yarn. I loved it even more. One great quote from the book:

The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.

  • Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace. I began reading to out-loud in the evenings when my children were small, following the pattern my mom set for me growing up. From simple stories (think Little House on the Prairie) to complex (Tale of Two Cities), I’ve read to them a lot. I try to pick books that can interest everyone, including myself. It was painfully obvious when we followed “Ben Hur” by watching the 1959 film version starring Charlton Heston, that my nearly eight year-old hadn’t been paying any attention. Huge important elements of the story were complete news to her. The rest of the kids appreciated it, even if they got a little confused at times.

Odds And Ends

  • 592 Contribution Front-loading: I settled on spreading my 529 contributions during the first four months of the year, hopefully dollar cost averaging past any market swings during the first part of the year. 
  • Solid advice from Scott Galloway: The algebra of wealth is “focus X stoicism X time X diversification”. And that applies to life in general, not just money.

Conclusion

How was your February? Read anything interesting this month? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Hasta luego!

They lowered the level of the lake near our house for repairs.

4 thoughts on “February 2021 Update

  1. I loathe TurboTax as well.

    I’m not a fan of Costco’s “services” either. We had a similar experience to you with a recent HVAC system replacement.

    I don’t encrypt stuff on Dropbox. I probably should.

    You’re front-loading 529 contributions! I thought you had a policy of not doing so? Welcome to the club!!!!!

      1. I may even go so far as to file for an extension, depending on how things go in the next month or two. I don’t really need to, but why not. We’ll see.

    1. I use a TrueCrypt (now VeraCrypt) drive that stores my financial documents. But more recently, I’ve been putting most of my financial spreadsheets into Google and now with the tax documents in 1Password, I’m not sure how much longer I’ll need the TrueCrypt option.

      I can’t recall stating a policy for it. I really only recently got the 529 religion once I realized I should be passing every penny for school through it. And when I say front-loading, I really mean bunching up my contributions in the first part of the year. I do the same with my 401(k) contributions and will have those tapped out in just a couple more pay periods.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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