What? I know, you read "Paying Taxes with Gratitude" and said, "Who is this woman, and what has she been smoking?" Well, let me explain.
For years now, I have been preparing the annual income tax return for myself and my husband by using TurboTax on my computer. It is usually an arduous two-day process, during which I cover the dining room table with the spilled contents of "The Tax Folder". That's the file in which big and little pieces of paper are jammed in no order throughout the year that may come in handy for itemizing our spendable lives. I could organize it better on a daily basis, but apparently, I take perverse satisfaction from being able to bitch about the chaos and the entire process of doing, and paying, taxes on an annual basis. I could pay someone else to do it for me, but since it is a mess I (we) have created, I claim ownership of it. It makes me feel IN CHARGE of my life.....or not.
So, the annual complaint-fest that emerges from my dining room began on Sunday afternoon. I had heard rumblings about the changes in the tax laws that would be harming charitable organizations but had not thought they would affect me....a middle-class taxpayer. So, I optimistically fired up my laptop, loaded the Turbotax program, and began plugging in our 1099R info. We are both retired, so not much changes in our income or expenses. Or so I thought. But wait! This was the tax year in which I received a full year of Social Security benefits. For the uninformed, this means that if you've worked your entire life at a decent job, you have paid social security taxes. I stress the word PAID. It would make sense that since what I now receive is called a BENEFIT, it should be some sort of gift, right? Oh no, folks. This income is taxable!!! My income increased by a fairly substantial amount this past year. At the same time as that was happening, the tax laws wiped out all of the deductible power of my charitable giving. The money I gave to the Church, the child I sponsored forever in the Dominican Republic, the material goods I donate to the Salvation Army, Big Brother/Big Sisters, the Food Bank, and on and on.....now count for NOTHING on my income tax. Also, my medical expenses, although meeting the test for being more than 7.5% of my adjusted gross income, still don't add up to enough to count. My property and school taxes? Likewise not worth a damn.
So, I spent most of yesterday entering it all again. Surely I had done something wrong, right? This has never, ever happened. Maybe it's a glitch in the program! Nope. According to the new tax laws, we're better off taking the Standard Deduction, which means we now owe more than I expected. What????? I entered it all again, asking for the itemized deduction option. After all, I'm quite the Charitable Giver! I pay taxes! I have medical expenses! I give lots of money away to people I can't even claim anywhere! Isn't The Patron Saint of Charities watching over me? Well, after refusing the Standard Deduction, it now says I owe over 20% more. Yikes!!! Back to being Standard, I guess.
I stepped away from my computer, talked it over with my husband who couldn't believe it either, and then after calming myself for a few minutes a miracle happened. Guess what??? I became strangely and surprisingly GRATEFUL!!! Yep! Here is what I realized: (1) I can probably prevent this next year by altering what taxes I have withheld on my Social Security; (2) Although I would rather not have to pay those taxes, I am able to without hardship. I have the money, and it will not significantly harm my budget; (3) I made sufficient money all of my life to put me in this position of privilege; (4) I gave away many things and much money last year for no benefit to myself, but also to no real detriment, and it helped other people. There were no strings attached, no public accolades, and no ego-feeding involved. Those were just righteous, good intentions and actions. I don't require, nor deserve rewards for doing that!; and lastly, (5) most importantly, I am living a life which encourages me to examine and celebrate the blessings in my life on a daily, moment-by-moment basis. An alternate me would have stomped and moaned, protested and cussed, and ruined at the very least the rest of my day with grousing about taxes, the government, and the general unfairness of life. Today, I am blessed with gratitude for all that I have, which includes the material wealth that allows me to type this missive on the very same laptop that tells me I owe money for the privilege of living in my warm, safe home, in my great country, with my supportive husband and my sweet, sweet puppies. I'm retired from a great job that I loved for all 35 years of it, and am sitting here on a snowy morning, still in my jammies, and celebrating my life.
So....I am GRATEFUL for the opportunity of Paying Taxes with Gratitude, and to wish all who read it a wonderful, miracle-filled day.