I haven’t been to smart with my days off these days. Last Tuesday, I crammed so much into it that I didn’t even feel like I got a day off and today, I made the mistake of scheduling my tax appointment. It’s a necessary evil. Gone are the days when I can do my own taxes at a card table in the living room. Heidi’s successful career as an author pretty much put an end to that. But this, as I always say, is the very definition of a first world problem. But no matter how many times you tell yourself that, it’s always a small consolation when you have to pay in for the first time in 14 years.
The last time we had to pay in was in 2000. We were young and stupid and didn’t know that by both claiming each other on our W4s, we were painfully underwithholding. The small consolation in that scenario was that we got a refund on our state return, but we owed more than our state refund to federal. After that, we changed our W4s and maxed out our withholding from each check. By God, we were never going to have to pay in again. To many, this is foolishness because I am basically giving the government an interest free loan until I file my taxes and they have to cough it back up. But I always liked getting a nice sum of money back in the spring and it was worth the peace of mind that I wouldn’t have to come up with money in a hurry like that again.
We were fine all those years that I brought in the lion’s share of the income. Most of the time, the income that Heidi brought in was hardly enough to be taxable. I always joked about how she had some miniscule percentage of a contribution to the household finances. But what she lacked in monetary contribution, she always made up for in other ways. You can’t determine the value of everything in dollars, after all.
The last couple years have seen her turn a nice little sum of money from her books – nothing that is remotely a livable wage – but nice supplemental income. We had anticipated a steady climb in her income and, thanks to our tax lady, had a good idea of at which point her income and its complete lack of withholding would outstrip my withholding. This year, without even really noticing, we blew past it. Once we realized this, we started holding back a chunk of each of her checks. But as they usually do, Things Happened™ and we ended up short of what we thought we might need. I did a quick and dirty assessment of what I thought we might need and figured it wouldn’t be hard to recoup the deficit.
Boy, was I wrong.
We ended up owing a lot more than I expected. I won’t go into exact specifics, but it’s a lot. Needless to say, we’ll be doing estimated tax payments this year. And for all the talk of penalties for underpayment of taxes, we only got an $8 penalty from the state.
It was hard for me to process. Things like this bump up against my need to feel safe in all situations and that much uncertainty rocks my core. It’s easy for me to beat myself up and berate myself until the cows come home. When it comes to finances, it’s very difficult for me to remember that feelings really aren’t facts – they’re real but not true. It seems like I’ve been getting my shit together for most of my adult life and maybe I’ll die not having my shit together when it comes to things like this. Maybe I’ve gone to one too many concerts. Maybe I shouldn’t have bought that coffee at work yesterday. Maybe I should just sit in the corner and die. It’s easy for me to jump right to that point.
Ultimately, this is a speed bump in my life. It’s a pretty sizable speed bump, but it’s just a bump. In the worst case scenario, we take a while to pay it. But pay it we will. I can see why people get irritated with taxes – it’s hard to see the government get so much of what I work hard for. But it’s the tradeoff we have to have for not having to hire a private security guard to guard my house and a guy with a hose to stand in the yard in case my house catches on fire. Our government may not be the most efficient thing in the world, but it’s what we have.
We’ve got a plan for paying it and a plan for avoiding it next year. Not sure if I’ll be able to put off paying in at tax time again for another 14 years, but we’ll sure try. Life is a learning curve and sometimes, it’s steeper than hell. Today, it most definitely was.