Tax Time

It is tax season!  I utilized my Celebrate Fort Collins winnings this week and had Jason Speciner at Long Green Planning prepare my taxes.

Awkward photo courtesy of Jason Speciner

Awkward photo courtesy of Jason Speciner

That is an invoice for $0, and there is literally nothing better than that, except for the GIANT REFUND he got me!

Ok, ok, it’s not that giant, but it was way more than I wanted to be loaning the government interest-free over the course of last year and I will be glad to have it back.  When it hits my account, I plan to put half in my emergency fund, a quarter in my travel/yoga teacher training/tattoo fund (I have a lot of goals for this money), and a quarter toward my credit card (currently at 0% interest so I’m not stressing too much, but I am annoyed that I had a few months of not paying it off completely).

Jason also reviewed my return from last year and found money that I had missed doing my taxes by myself.  Lesson learned: there are reasons why people utilize tax professionals and if anything is even slightly complicated, you’re probably better off having one of them do your taxes for you.  It might be cheaper to do it yourself, but you may not actually be saving yourself any money.

Since I had such a great experience, I highly recommend Jason Speciner, CFP for tax prep (opinions are my own and I’m not receiving compensation).  Also, he is a CSU graduate, has a Shaq jersey on his wall, and evidently has a dog named Cosmo Kramer (according to his website), so there are many reasons why he is awesome.

Since this is a blog on living fabulously on the cheap in FoCo, new tax prep clients get $25 off their first year prep fees (tell him I sent you so we both get the discount).

 

Giving Tuesday

Today is Giving Tuesday, so I thought I’d share some worthy causes in Fort Collins.

Rams Against Hunger

Rams Against Hunger is a fund to help provide meals to food-insecure students at Colorado State University.  More than 2800 students at CSU are food-insecure, meaning they aren’t able to afford food or they don’t know where their next meal will come from.  A gift of $130 could feed a student for a month.  Even a small gift of $6.50 will provide an all-you-can-eat (and hopefully slyly take some for later) meal in one of the dining halls.  That is less than a burrito at Chipotle.  You can sacrifice one burrito to help someone who doesn’t even have the option of going to Chipotle.

I’ve mentioned them before, but the Murphy Center for Hope is doing amazing things to help the homeless population in Fort Collins.  From their website (linked above):

Services available at the center include:

  • Employment resources
  • Housing assistance
  • Financial counseling
  • Transportation assistance
  • Job training and educational opportunities
  • Mental health and substance abuse counseling
  • Phone and computer access for employment contacts
  • Medical and dental health assistance
  • Washer/dryer, kitchen, showers, and storage facilities
  • Play areas for children

Your gift helps the Murphy Center provide these resources to help these people get out of the cycle of homelessness.

Animal House Rescue and Grooming is another cause near and dear to my heart because they rescued this weirdo from a high-kill shelter:

Banjo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Banjo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

He was slated to be put down after being found as a stray when he was nine months old.  Two women from Animal House drove to Kansas to rescue him the day before he was supposed to be put down.  Because he is so cute (until he sticks his tongue in your mouth, which he will), they recognized him at Bark and Bluegrass and told me that story and how much they loved him.  He was clearly well taken care of up and trained up until he ended up in the high-kill shelter, so we aren’t sure what happened, but I’m very grateful to Animal House for saving his life so he could drive me crazy and lick me to death later.  You can donate through their ColoradoGives page.  If you can’t donate, considering fostering so they can rescue more animals.

What are some other great causes in Fort Collins?  Share the love in the comments.

Update on selling my body to science

I quit the study.  First of all, staying at a Best Western when you are in the town you live in and having a free night at a Hilton are wildly different things so the night started out pretty meh.  The room won points because it had a flat screen TV and a mini fridge, and then lost so many points because they didn’t work and no one was answering the phone at the front desk.

Second of all, I got up at 5:30 am, headed out at 6 am, and never made it to work until 10 am.  I feel like the amount of time it would eat into my day was grossly misrepresented.

The bike ride was great (except for almost being hit in the bike lane by a lady who just wasn’t paying any attention and swerved into my lane 3 feet in front of me.  Then she refused to look at me so I pulled up next to her window and stared at the light) and it got me back on my bike, but all of the health tests and the ride TOOK SO LONG.  Then I had to go back after 5 pm and wasn’t home until after 6 pm.  That part I knew about so I’m not complaining too much.

Also, if you’re going to draw my blood three times in a day, be able to do it from my elbow veins.  First blood draw, no sweat because I said, “You’ll need to draw from my right arm–my left arm is impossible and will leave us both feeling terrible.”  Second blood draw after the bike ride–Oh. Dear. Lord.  My one good vein collapsed because they were drawing an hour after the first draw, which the phlebotomist said wasn’t going to work.  Then the post-doc supervising the health tests wanted her to DRAW FROM MY HAND.  NO THANKS, LADY.  I didn’t sign up to look like a heroin addict with track marks and bruises around everything that could be a vein.  Thankfully, the phlebotomist said she wouldn’t draw from anywhere but crook of the elbow if it wasn’t absolutely medically necessary.  The third blood draw took some digging around in the same sad vein at the end of the day, but she finally got enough blood to fill the tube.

After all of the tests, wearing a backpack that mysteriously gained about 10 lbs for the actual commute day from the day before, and then having the longest day ever after the worst hotel stay, I decided I was too exhausted and it took up too much of my time to be worth the $80 each day.  I took my money for the first day and ran.  If I wasn’t in the middle of conference planning chaos, I probably would have stuck it out, but right now getting quality sleep and maximizing my hours at work are top of the priority list.

Selling my body to science

As I write this, I am wearing a heart rate monitor and a backpack that is measuring the different types of pollution that I face during a day, including air and noise pollution.  I will stay in a free hotel room tonight with the backpack by my head.  Then tomorrow morning, I will undergo some health tests, ride my back on a set route through Fort Collins’s trail system, go to work, and do another set of health tests at the end of the day.  I stand to make around $80 for this.  If I complete four sets of these days and show up on time to everything, I will have nearly $500 more in my pocket.  That is very nearly a washing machine, people!

We are lucky that we have a top-tier research university here because research means getting paid to participate in studies.  I started participating in any study I could qualify for in my undergrad at the University of Wyoming.  Over the last decade (uh, wut? ), I have taken a math test, taste tested potatoes, rated milk cartons for how healthful they’ve appeared, participated in a “candy bar auction,” and other strange activities in the name of science and extra cash.

The social scientist in me wants to help out my fellow scientists who know the pain of finding subjects.  The cheapo in me wants extra money.  Participating in studies is a win/win.  Most studies are funded by grants that enable the researchers to pay subjects for their involvement so I am providing a service that is critical to the research, not costing the actual researcher anything, and sometimes helping them graduate or publish.  Most pay a pretty nominal amount, like the $10 I made from taking a 15 minute math test on a computer.  This was a psychology experiment and I honestly don’t even know or care what they were actually researching.  I made $30 for the potato study, which was awesome for 2 hours on a Saturday morning.  I have also done So. Many. Focus. Groups., and some of them were only for pizza (I was a student and entirely pizza-motivated), but others were for $50 Visa gift cards or cash.  This current study requires more of a commitment, is more intrusive on my life, and requires blood draws, so that’s why it pays substantially more.

To find out about studies that are recruiting, mostly I just read.  I read the student paper classifieds, the email bulletin the university sends out each morning, signs in hallways and on bulletin boards, and every email that comes my way.  Then I respond QUICKLY.  You never know when a study will fill up.  I email or call as soon as I figure out if I qualify.  Lots of studies don’t even have any qualifications other than you want to participate and you are an adult.  I also answer truthfully.  I have been turned down from participating in studies quite a bit.  One time, I fit all the qualifications but part of the reward was new workout clothes that you had to wear during the study and they only had size L.

I do have an advantage because I am already located on campus and am exposed to more recruiting messages, but for those who aren’t in a university community, if you live in a town with a university, like CSU in Fort Collins, read the student newspaper and check out the university’s website.  Ask friends who are involved with the university to keep an eye out for you.  The opportunities are endless, you’ll probably get some cash or something free, and the experience is often a pretty good story to tell your friends.  And you’ll probably get some cash to help build an emergency fund, pay off some debt, or help you buy a beer or pizza.

Giving

It might surprise you that I believe that giving is critically important to frugal living and gaining wealth, and that I’m not alone in this belief because giving is promoted by many personal finance experts.  Giving looks different to everyone, but is always a reminder of what we have that others don’t.  When I get in a cycle of “oh em gee, I’m so broke,” sometimes I need a reality check to realize that no, if I were actually broke,  I would be choosing between necessities and truly struggling.  Not being able to go out for lunch or a beer does not equal broke.  I have a house.  I have a reliable car.  I have more stuff than I care to admit.  I have two totally spoiled dogs.  I find ways to give because I can and that makes me want to.  By giving, I can use my resources to help someone else become successful, and remind myself that, while I do work really hard for what I have, a lot of the reasons I’m able to be successful and have more than enough are through the lottery of birth and my societal privilege as a middle-class white woman in the United States.  Let’s be real: not everyone can blog about things like yoga and kombucha, or finding the best deal on a CSA (that’s a post you can look forward to), or getting rid of all the stuff I wanted and then decided I didn’t want anymore.  My blog is how to be hipster as shit without breaking the bank.  I am fully aware of how ridiculous that is, and I give because I am grateful that I am able to realize this and I want to give back.

What giving looks like in my world

  • I currently give to Serve 6.8 because of the work that the Murphy Center does to advocate for the homeless and those in poverty in Fort Collins.  Sister Mary Alice Murphy is basically a Fort Collins celebrity because of her commitment to helping those in need in Larimer County.  The amount of resources that they offer to help people get out of or avoid homelessness is incredible.
  • I used to work in the Division of Advancement at Colorado State University and now work in Academic Affairs.  For the last four years, I have seen every day how donations to all areas of the university help our students succeed in their degree programs and as graduates.  As a student at the University of Wyoming, I benefited from donor-funded scholarships.  Giving to public land-grant universities will always be one of my top causes.
  • I believe in the power of social entrepreneurship.  I would rather support a for-profit company that gives to people in need or provides a living wage to the people producing the products, than spend a little less (or sometimes more…barf) and have all that money go straight into the pockets of the company bigwigs, while the people doing the bulk of the work are struggling to get by.  TOMS (provides shoes and eye care to those in need throughout the world) and Pura Vida Bracelets (provides full-time jobs for the artisans producing their bracelets in Costa Rica) are a couple of examples of for-profit companies that are doing great things.  I do always look for a coupon or discount, though.  If my TOMS only cost $30 and a kid in Africa still gets a pair of shoes to protect his or her feet from flesh-eating parasites or enables him or her to attend school, then awesome.
  • I also believe in the power of microloans.  Organizations like the Grameen Bank and Kiva provide loans to those who would normally not have access to credit, working to end the cycle of poverty by enabling the recipient to start or build up a business.
  • Sometimes people just deserve to have their day made and I try to pay it forward as best I can, without regard to who is on the receiving end.
  • We are currently fostering a dog through A Soft Place to Land because we believe in helping rescue animals.  Banjo andPrexy are both rescues and we can’t imagine them not being loved.  Banjo was on the kill list at a shelter in Kansas after being found as a stray and he is probably one of the greatest dogs that has ever lived (this is just science).  The difference between two dogs and three is minimal, especially when they are all under 15 lbs.  If we can take in a foster to help a rescue save another dog, and ourcuddles and dog treats are going to make Petal happy until she finds her forever home, then we’ll gladly have another puppy around.

    Banjo!  You cannot adopt this dog.

    Banjo! You cannot adopt this dog.

Full Metal Petal.  You can adopt this dog.  I will cry though.

Full Metal Petal. You can adopt this dog. I will cry though.

Do you give?  What causes are important to you?