Friday, January 27, 2017

Thinking Deeper....and its tax season!

Happy Friday everyone!
I hope you had an opportunity to really think about last weeks post. I intentionally did not go as deep as I would have liked simply because...that's what I'm going to do today. ;)

I left off with some questions to think about.  Did any new questions pop up?  Were there any other questions that you didn't quite understand or know how to answer?  Its okay. There are no right or wrong answers. The questions main agenda was to stir up some realizations for you. Sometimes we find ourselves living in a cycle, year after year, wondering where did our money go?  Whether we have a "good" job or not, we face difficulties paying debt, bills, and balancing that with enjoying our lives. Its a never ending cycle (as it seems) that we are constantly worried about money. Now that we are in January, we are getting our taxes prepared A.S.A.P. (if you live in the U.S. you would definitely experience this).

Tax Season is Here!!!!

Many of us will be expecting big refunds. With landlords, debt collectors, bills, etc., breathing down our backs, doesn't it feel good to know that your current "problems" will be answered soon?  The landlord will be paid. The phone line will be turned on again. Perhaps, you'll feel relieved for at least the next two months. This was a common scenario that I witnessed when I worked at a franchised tax office in lower Manhattan for 4 years. Men and women would flock to our tiny office to get their taxes done in anticipation of receiving a big refund. Many of those men and women were so anxious that the first question the second after we finalized the return, was "when can I expect my refund?"  The general rule in the office was to inform our clients that the refund wait time began the day the IRS and State accepted the return. Most of the time we were able to receive an answer that same day, which meant the wait time would be somewhere between 14 to 21 business days. ****Please check with the IRS and your state government websites for current and accurate e-filed refund wait times*****

For an unlucky handful of clients, the returns would be either rejected due to mismatched information in the system or even worse, the return was accepted but the IRS or state were "holding" the return pending further information needed from the client. Unless we (the tax office) had a power of attorney on behalf of the client, we would not know what the hold up was. If we, at the tax office, could fix the issue at that very moment, then we would. We've had clients stop in every day to check the status of their refunds. When their refund checks or deposits have not been made, there would be a bit of contention. As a supervisor, at the time, I made sure to instruct my staff to work with the clients whenever this happened. We would go over the next steps to figuring out the issue with the client. We instruct them to visit the IRS website and state website to check out the "where's my refund" options. We made sure they were given all the information needed. Unfortunately, some of them did not get their refunds due to student loans, child support, etc.; or worse, they were victims of identity theft. This happened more often than you think (currently, it is still a huge concern). It is unfortunate and sad...especially when I worked with the client myself and I've watched their hopeful mood turn somber or angry. They blame the tax office, myself, the government, etc. They were looking forward to that money because it was the answer to their problems. They had already spent the money in their minds. Now what were they going to do?  

For the other clients who received their refunds, I'd see their happiness and relief in getting those refunds. Debts were paid, landlord was paid, etc.  All is right with the world when they had money. I would see these clients the following tax year. They were experiencing the same anxiety from the past year. They needed that money and they needed it now. Year after year, it was the same scenario with many of the same clients. A few of them would come back to the office near the end of the same tax season to ask if we could re-examine their returns for any tax credits we might have missed that would generate extra money. You might have laughed or chuckled at that, but it happened. You could see the desperation in their eyes. Unfortunately, we were too good at our job that we made sure their tax returns were prepared correctly the first time.  We knew we would see them again in the next tax season, but we hoped their situation would be better.

Why did I share the scenario above?  Because its the never ending cycle I talked about in the beginning. Some of these folks where getting tax refunds upwards of $15,000 - IRS and state combined. Wow, right? I was preparing tax returns that had huge refunds and thinking in my head what I would do with that type of money. I would have paid some debt off and saved the rest. In fact, that is exactly the response I'd get when I'd casually asked the client what would they do with their refund. However, when I saw them the following year, they'd explain that the money was spent fast - especially when they did not have an actual bank account. They would have the check cashed for cash or deposited into (untrustworthy) debit card. I'm not going to mention them by name, but if you go to a franchise tax office, you would be offered one of those cards or you might have even seen the advertisements for cards you can have your paycheck direct deposited into. The fees would absolutely be hidden, accumulative and will cost you more than a free checking account. (Did you catch that?)  I witnessed this first hand and I wished (at the time) that we could offer more services to our community. More services geared at helping people learn about being financially stable and responsible. However, my wishful thinking had no place in an overcharging tax industry. More on that another time.

Anyway, so where do you find yourself this tax season?  Can't wait to get "paid"?  Looking forward to catching up on your bills?  Those do sound good. How about planning a vacation?  Maybe it'll be your very first one ever or in a very long time.  Whatever it is that you're looking forward to, I want you to really think about your expectations for this money. How would it make your life easier? What is going to happen when its gone?  How would you feel if you're tax return has held up? Lets be realistic about it because thats the only way we'll truly be able to get a handle on this issue. 

Feel free to let me know below in the comment section what your thoughts are on today's post. 
See you next week!


Friday, January 20, 2017

Processing Our Emotions about Money

Happy Friday!!!!

Today is the first day of our series that will help us take control of our finances from today on. We are going to evaluate how we've been relating to money as we think about it and how it makes us feel. Consider the following two questions:
  • What comes to mind when you think about money?  
  • How do you feel about money?
Whenever I presented these two questions to participants, the most common response would be the same answer for both questions. Heres the truth: These are not trick questions and they both deserve different answers.


Allow me to explain:  The first question requires that you process your thought pattern about money. For instance, when I think about money, I think about freedom...freedom from stress and worry.  My thoughts about money haven't made it to my emotions yet because I'm filtering those thoughts for whatever circumstance I'm in. Another example: I don't think about my financial situation when I have no bills due or any debt to be concerned with. When the bills roll in or I'm behind in paying something, my thoughts change. The second question asked relates to what happens after I start thinking of my financial situation. Adding to the example I gave above: I feel anxious and desperate when I'm uncertain about paying those bills, sometimes I panic especially when I don't know when my next paycheck will come in.

Do you get what I'm saying? If not, please leave a comment below so I could explain further.

The title for this post, "Processing Our Emotions about Money," can be simply translated to "thinking of our feelings about money." Processing is a brain function. We process data and information in our brain. Therefore, whatever we think, we are inclined to feel. For example, this statement, "I think I'm sad" pretty much states that if I tell myself I'm sad, I'm going to end up feeling sad about whatever I think is making me sad.

How does this relate to money or my situation?

Glad you asked. Whenever we think about money as it pertains to our individual situations, we tend to have a positive attitude, a negative attitude or an indifferent/neutral attitude. These attitudes manifest physically in our daily interactions. If we are expecting money, we feel happy and we act happy. If we lost money, we can get upset and behave that way (depends on the situation).  If we have an indifferent /neutral attitude, we tend to not have much of a reaction to it or even use the following phrase on occasion, "if I have it, then I have it. If I don't, then I don't."

Alot of our notions about money came from our upbringing and somehow stayed with us as we entered adulthood. Here's a bit about me:

Growing up, I learned that my family "never" had enough money. We lived in public housing in NYC and were living off of welfare on top of receiving hand me down shoes and clothing from relatives. Fast forward into my adulthood, I joined the military and served for eight years straight. I was single, no children and many of the places I lived, I had no rent to pay because housing, gym memberships, medical and dental were all provided - not to mention, so were my meals. My paychecks were consistent at every two weeks. I was able to afford anything I wanted, so I did.

Amazing, right?  So what happened?

I bought anything I wanted and many times fell behind on my bills. I opened numerous store cards and had one bank credit card. I remember having my cell phone cut off almost every other month. I applied for loans to help catch up on payments, but sometimes had trouble repaying those loans. As my paychecks got bigger, so did my financial woes. I attempted to do so many budgeting methods, savings techniques, etc., but continued to get into trouble. My mindset was that I didn't have enough money (does that sound familiar?). The problem wasn't the money, it was me. I certainly living above my means and had a bad spending habit. I had no framework on how to take care of my finances and I suffered for it.

This was truly one of the hardest lessons to learn. I couldn't talk to anyone in my family about it and I didn't know who I could go to. I was very prideful as well. I didn't want anyone in my inner circle to know I was struggling with money. This attitude went on for several years, even after I got out of the military.

I eventually was able to get my spending under control and knock out my debts one at a time, but that recovery take about 5 years and my credit suffered heavily. I can say I am in a better place, but I had to undergo years of trial and error and even to this day I am continually working towards managing my financial health.

Okay, so what does this have to do with me?

Well, as I've shared above, our background can definitely play a role in how we think and feel about money. I don't blame my mother because it was evident that she didn't have much of a foundation herself and winged it. However, I did remember witnessing how her emotions changed whenever money was involved and I can now see how I, too, was wrapped in anger, sadness, depression, etc. whenever I had issues with money. Anger impacted my relationships. Depression isolated me from enjoying my young life. Desperation engaged me into taking out unnecessary loans. I was in a constant cycle of thinking money to be the only thing I needed to survive. Its obvious I was so wrong.

We can definitely make a change in our current situation. I had to develop a new ideal regarding money's position in my life. Unfortunately, we can't forget about it because it is essential to our living - we've got to pay for our rent/mortgage, we got to eat (so does our family), we need gas or a metrocard to get work, etc. There is no way around it, so its best we begin to address it head on.

How do we do that?

Lets start by revising our thoughts about money and recognizing our emotions about it. Money is an object that we use to get what we need and what we want. Money should not determine who are or who we want to be. It is a means for us to get by. Each of us have a unique memory and that memory shaped our thought process in how we engage with or relate to money. Here's how we'll do this:

  • What is your earliest memory of money in your life? 
  • Was it a positive or a negative memory?  
  • Can you make the connection from that memory to your present day life?  
  • Do you recognize a pattern in how you handled money?  
  • What was your earliest feelings about money in your life?
  • How does money make you feel when you have it?
  • How does it feel when you don't have money?

The questions above are meant to get you on the road of realization you can have a healthier relationship with money. If you feel there are deeper personal issues that need to be addressed, please feel free to contact a trained therapist or counselor in your area. 

Once you have acknowledged your thoughts and emotions, lets begin to turn some of that around. Here some suggestions/ideas:

  • Whenever you begin to feel a particular negative emotion bubble up inside you, try to remember that you are going to okay and the situation will be handled one step at a time. By allowing that negative emotion to set in, you unconsciously close yourself off to potential good advice or assistance. The emotion felt, usually does not help your situation, especially if it is anger. 
  • Whenever you share your financial issue with someone, think of a new way to describe your situation. 
I'm sure there are many other suggestions and ideas, but those above are what I came up with that would be most practical. I hope this information is helpful to you. Feel free to leave any questions or comments below.  

Please make sure to read my post on my disclaimer, as well. Thanks!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year Everyone! I might be a few days too late for the greeting, but who cares? It doesn't take away from the fact that it is a new year and we should be happy to be bring it in. :)  So, to clear the elephant in the room, yes, I did leave this blog hanging at the end of the summer of 2016. Since this is a new year, I am going to take us into a slightly different path and then come back to my original content. I have found that I really care about the individual and in order to suggest a solution to a nation wide problem, I need to start small.

A new year represents a new beginning for many (if not all) people - perfect opportunity to put to practice the changes we believe we need and want to see. We have created financial goals and resolutions to end the year better than we ended 2016 with the hope we can keep up with this new lifestyle. With that in mind, I'd like to introduce a series of topics that I believe could get you on your way to being financially satisfied for years to come. There is a wealth of information circulating the world about personal finance techniques, methods, etc. that you could choose from. However, there is very little info about your mental health and money (I searched) and that is what I honestly believe needs to be addressed. I am not an authority on this topic, but I've done some extensive research (in my absence) and will continue to do so because it is extremely important. I have also been blessed with an opportunity to facilitate financial literacy to many adults since 2014 at a non-profit organization in NYC that has a program for eviction prevention. Through this experience (and its ongoing), I've seen lightbulbs turn on in these men and women's mindsets about truly taking care of their financial health. 

This series of topics are meant to be taken as a journey, and not a quick fix for your money woes.They aren't an exact science so you can feel free to take what you want and leave what you don't want. By the way, we are taking this journey together. I don't have it all together, but I have definitely come a (very) long way and thank God that I can be relaxed about my financial well being. I will also be sharing my story in future posts. There is still room to grow. 

I pray that during these next couple of weeks, what I share can help someone out there start and maintain a healthy financial future. You can expect these posts to pop up every Friday starting next Friday, January 20, 2017.  

All right, everyone...lets get ready to make changes!



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Friday, July 29, 2016

So it begins...

Hello! Welcome to my blog! This is my very first blog post and I'm excited!!!!!  My main reason for creating a blog is to talk about what no one seems to be talking about....finances/money....specifically Financial Literacy and Income Taxes for low income families.  Why?  Because I am passionate in both topics and have struggled to find information that is geared towards the less fortunate. I'll share my background in another post to give perspective on my mindset.

Now, about financial literacy - there are plenty of organizations that provide information regarding financial literacy, but it seems like its not getting to the people who have the most to gain from that knowledge. How? Why? What? you may ask...well, I am a volunteer at a non-profit organization that provides eviction prevention to the residents of New York City.  I've been active in facilitating the Financial Literacy Workshops since April 2014 and have had the privilege to meet countless people who were fighting to keep the roof over their heads. Every one of these individuals represented a culture, a ethnicity, a generation, a working class, etc. and they were sitting in a room with me for one reason - Eviction. It's a sad occurrence that is unfortunately too common these days. Those of us who can afford to pay the rent or have someone else pay our rent, make excuses on behalf of the suffering - their lazy, they spent all their rent money on booze and drugs, they don't have the proper training, etc.  Oh, how ignorant are those excuses!!!!  These men and women who seek help from the non profit I am with and others like it are at their wits end. The threat of losing everything you own and the security of shelter is a real and very raw experience. These men and women have had experienced unexpected medical issues, lay-offs at work, discrimination in the workplace, care-taking of elderly parents, fraudulent landlords, etc. Not everyone that attends these classes could be called lazy and squanders of their money. Many of them have had numerous years in the workforce from public school teachers to psychology technicians at a reputable hospital to working with Time Magazine, etc.  Many of them have even shared that they saved as much as they could for emergencies and retirement. However, when those hospital bills came in, or their once secured job laid them off, or when they got the call that their elderly parent can no longer care for themselves, etc., they used their savings for these events, not knowing that some of these events were going to wipe them clean. 

What I'm hoping to accomplish with this blog, is a two-fold- share the need for financial literacy and teach on different financial literacy topics, including income taxes - all in the hopes of raising enough awareness so we can do something about it within our communities, nationwide and world wide. Sounds ambitious, doesn't it?