Independence Day! A day to commemorate victory over adversity, freedom and, if you are a personal finance blogger, financial independence. This past July 4th started off so great–then I got bitch-slapped by life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. Sometimes a good smack is what I need to face reality–even if it really frickin’ smarts.
The Lady’s Anti-Financial Independence Day
What So Proudly We Hailed
July 4, 2017 started like many other holiday vacation days. Lazy morning. Some coffee. A bit of TV with the kid.
As she and her father went off to lunch together, I took the opportunity to open some mail.
You see, I have been awaiting some news from the IRS on two fronts. First, I finally filed my 2011 taxes (only 6 years late) and am hoping for a huge correction in that year’s tax debt. Second, I had to re-submit my 2015 taxes through the mail due to a problem with my electronic filing. And now here in front of me, three letters from the IRS!
Letter #1. Bad news. They won’t honor “my claim for a refund” on my 2011 taxes as I filed over 3 years too late.
Letter #2. Good news. A recent statement indicated they accepted my 2011 filed return and my new tax balance was $11,533.06 less than the previous month!
Letter #3. They received my 2015 return but won’t file it until I pass some sort of security screen to prove my identity. Red tape BS.
Collectively, it was all such great news! A personal victory in my battle for financial independence! A real fireworks-boom-boom-boom-“America, Fuck Ya”-kind of moment. I was so thrilled I texted my ex-boyfriend/great love/professional tax collector (ironic, no?). His response was:
“Sounds like you’re doing what you need to get it straightened out. Can’t ask for more than that.”
My heart swelled with self-love and pride. I’m awesome.
The Rockets Red Glare
Then another text comes in. “While we’re on the subject, I may have asked you this already but you are making pre-payments from your current earnings, yes? If your employer isn’t withholding taxes you do need to make pre-payments yourself.”
Well….fuck. Fireworks fizzle. Ego instantly deflates. “I know but no, I’m not. Not yet,” I respond flatly.
“My advice, my very strong advice, is to start doing that ASAP. You don’t want to have to come up with the taxes due on whatever your whole income is all at once. Much easier to withhold the 30% or so as you earn it than to suddenly need thousands. But you know that.”
Well…shit. I do know that because I have yet to file 2016 taxes and know I owe a huge nut, that I haven’t saved (even though I tried.) Shit, damn, fuck.
I half-heartedly offer a half-ass excuse. I’ve been prioritizing and clearing out a huge non-tax debt….but he senses my mood shift–even through text. He apologizes for being a party pooper and drops the final truth bomb.
“It’s just habit to point out to people that they need to keep up with current taxes while catching up on old ones or they’ll never catch up all the way.”
Well…ouch. By now, I’m not just bummed, I’m kinda pissed off.
He burst my pride balloon. Stupid man. I hate boys. I’m going to become a nun. The Lord is down with poverty, right?
The Perilous Fight
As I throw the phone down, I tell myself it’s July 4th and it’s time for fireworks tonight. Brush it off for now and come up with a plan later. Good plan, Lady. A non-plan plan.
So I throw myself into prepping for the near chaos that is our city’s downtown firework festival. I weigh the option of driving myself against spending the money on a Lyft ride. I elected Lyft to avoid the traffic and parking hassles. I reasoned that is was well worth the $24 round-trip fare.
The ride downtown proved me right. It was an anxiety-producing clusterfuck of jay-walking, non-paying attention Americans. My daughter and I hopped out and hiked the short walk to the most primo firework viewing location EVER.
Back to being golden. I was even feeling a bit Super Mommy-ish as I had packed adequate blankets, snacks and activities to kill the 2-hour wait. We were early, sure, but Connect Four and Uno on the grass with a great view was a nice retreat after the soul-crushing day I’d had facing my inevitable and inescapable tax debt.
As night fell, the crowd hushed and the fireworks were gorgeous. I took the opportunity to explain the reason why we have fireworks on the Fourth of July to my 9-year old daughter and the reason why it’s called Independence Day. It was all somehow very inspiring. Overcoming adversity and oppression. A celebration of liberty and release. The promise of a new day, a new opportunity, a new debt-free existence. Yay me and yay America!
The Bombs Bursting In Air
My daughter and I waited out the bulk of the crowd (despite it being way past bedtime) and made our way back to a well-lit commercial location that would be easy for a Lyft rider to find. One swipe of my phone and I ordered up a ride. Twenty minute wait? What? Well, it’s a busy night. It’s OK. Then 10 minutes, then 20 minutes, then 30 minutes. My kid is getting overly tired and my phone is running out of charge–quickly.
Long story longer. The car never showed. My phone died. And my kid is asleep on a bench in front of a restaurant. What to do? I beg the hostess to order me a cab. Hour later. The cab never comes.Two painful hours of feeling powerless, vulnerable, and friendless. It was God-awful to feel that out of control.
Minutes after I finally wake my child and explain we need to walk a fair distance away to a nearby hotel, a cab finally appears in front of us. Finally! We jump in and head home. All is well, right? Not quite. My anxiety is ratcheted up so high that I panic. I might not have enough cash on me to pay for the cab. I had my debit card with me but somehow my anxious mind developed some irrational fear that I wouldn’t have enough to pay him. I spent the ride imagining stealing from my daughter’s allowance cup to pay for the cab.
I was a broke, bad mother with crushing debt and self-sabotaging tendencies.
The Flag Was Still There
There was little to do after successfully paying the cab but to pass out, after tucking in the kid and slamming a beer.
This morning I try to pull myself together and get our routines back on track. I text my guy to explain that yes, I was pissed but he was 100% right and was a good friend. I went to work and busted out more productivity that a Tesla coil in a lightning storm. I apologized to my car for not picking her to drive us last night. I picked up my kid from camp on time and drove her to art class (that I still need to pay the tuition for) and I wrote this blog from their backroom.
I’m calming down now. A bit. I survived the most recent battle for financial freedom and was still standing.
For The Land of the Free, And The Home of the Brave
The fight for financial independence can be brutal and bloody. It certainly is for me. I’ve definitely suffered my fair share of battles but I refuse to quit the war. Yes, I definitely have some shit to do and I need to recommit. I see lots of phone calls to the IRS in my future and a bit of mea culpa to do with HR Block to get last year’s return filed. I also humbly accepted my guy’s offer to help prioritize all these tax issues.
It’s a process–and honestly, I am trying.
Wars aren’t won overnight, or in a month, or in a year. Financial independence doesn’t come the minute you decide you want it. Healthy financial habits don’t just happen. There are plenty of forward marches and some pretty rough backslides.
But God damn it, I’m smart, pretty and brave. I shall prevail!
One final thought. Another blogger recently asked what I’d do the moment I became debt-free. At the time, I didn’t know the answer to that question–but I do now. I think I’ll drive myself to big party I throw for myself, complete with Connect Four, Uno and some frickin’ kick-ass fireworks.