How To Buy Stuff

How To Buy Stuff: Pay Your Taxes

The Mitochondria is the Powerhouse of the Cell.

I read a lot of Reddit, for better or worse. One running joke is that High School didn’t teach people anything useful, like how to “pay bills or do taxes” (these are two common things people say they never learned), but they learned the above statement. It’s a meme. Reddit’s kinda dumb, now that I think about it.

But this idea always sticks with me, because, well, high school absolutely did teach you how to do those things. Maybe not directly, but reading directions and doing some basic math is a corollary concept of everything you did in High School. Taxes are, for 99% of people, a very simple task they have to complete once a year. Doing your taxes often results in a tax refund, as well, so it fits in with How To Buy Stuff.

But, since so many people complain about not understanding taxes, lets do this.

Lets Talk Tax Law!

The tax code itself is a ridiculously long book of rules and regulations. I think this is probably what people think of when they get overwhelmed and say they “don’t know how they do their taxes”. But you don’t really need to know what’s in most of that book.

There’s 3 parts to the tax code. Part 1 is basically one sentence:

Part 1: All Income is Taxable.

This is pretty straight forward. Any money you make during the year is subject to be taxed as income. Now, you’re going to say “but what about…”, and we’ll get to all those questions a little later, but for now, all the money you make is supposed to be reported and taxed. On to Part 2:

Part 2: Tax Brackets

The second section describes how much taxes you should be paying, and lays out the dreaded tax brackets that cause a ton of confusion. The actual numbers where the brackets start and end can change year over year, so I’m going to use general numbers to describe this, but the first misconception that we need to clear up: You Are Not In a Tax Bracket. The money you earn gets set in tax brackets, not yourself. What the hell does that mean?

So, lets set out 3 hypothetical tax brackets. We’ll name them Level 1, 2, and 3 (because I’m creative).

  • Level 1: $0-25,000 – 10%
  • Level 2: $25,001-$50,000 – 15%
  • Level 3: $50,000 and up – 20%

So lets say you make $55,000 per year, before taxes. You’re in level 3, so you might expect that you’d pay $11,000 in taxes (20% of $55,000), but that’s not right. Remember, you are not in a tax bracket, the dollars are. You’ll pay:

  1. Level 1 dollars: 10% of $25,000: $2,500
  2. Level 2 dollars: 15% of the next $25,000: $3,750
  3. Level 3 dollars: 20% of the remaining $5,000: $1000
  4. Total: $7,250
  5. Leaving you with: $47,750

So, the math is a little more complex, but this is definitely something you learned in high school. Why do we do this? Basically, it’s so you’ll never lose money by getting a raise. Go ahead and try it it out with whatever numbers you like, starting with more money will always leave you at step 5 with more money. If anyone ever tells you they don’t want a raise, because they’ll end up paying more taxes, point them to this.

Tax brackets are described for Income, Social Security, and Medicare taxes. Those are the 3 taxes that come out of your paycheck every week, if you work for a company (which is most of you). Your employer is also paying what are called Payroll taxes for you, basically doubling what you’re paying for Social Security and Medicare. If you happen to be self employed, you’re required to pay these yourself.

Part 3: Deductions and Credits

This is by far the largest part of the tax code, and can cause a lot of confusion. But, for most people, you’ll be able to ignore most of it. Part 3 is everything that counteracts part 1, basically telling us which of our income dollars are not going to be taxed.

First, what’s the difference between a deduction and a credit? They have similar results, but are different. a deduction is an expense (something you bought) that can be deducted from your total income. So, say you had to purchase a drum for $6,000 your new online drumming business, you can say “My income started from -$6,000, meaning I only made $49,000 dollars this year”. You can see how this shifts your tax burden.

A credit is taxes that the government says you already paid just by doing what you’ve done. This is different from a deduction in that it doesn’t change where the dollars are in the tax bracket, it instead essentially pays part of your burden.

There are deductions for all sorts of things, but most don’t matter to normal people; deductions and credits are how the federal government incentivizes people and businesses to do certain things and move into different markets. That sounds a bit nefarious, but it really isn’t. The government wants people to buy houses, so they give you a deduction for that. They want you people to move towards using solar energy, so you get credits for installing them.

The main deductions and credits you need to worry about if you’re reading this are home buyers credits, child tax credits, student loan interest deductions, and business expenses. The first 3 are really straight forward, they are straight numbers or percentages of what you bought. The forms will tell you what to do. Business expenses are a little more tricky, because they depend on subjective interpretations of what is needed for your business to run. These are the sorts of things that can get you into trouble with the IRS, so my honest opinion is, if it’s an honest business expense, you should absolutely deduct it, but trying to write off the new speakers you bought for your office is probably not something you want to try.

The Forms

A lot of different letters and numbers get thrown around, and that can be a bit confusing. Here’s what the most common ones mean:

  • W-4: This is a form you fill out when you first start working for an employer. It tells them how much money to deduct from your paycheck for taxes.
  • W-2: This is the form that the company sends you every year to tell you how much they paid in taxes for you. It is supposed to be in the mail (or delivered electronically) by January 31st. If you don’t receive this by the first week of February, your company can be in some tax trouble.
  • 1040EZ: This is what you fill out if you have no deductions and credits (besides the Earned Income Tax Credit). It is very quick and easy.
  • 1040A: If you don’t plan to itemize deductions. You claim credits, but not deductions
  • 1040: The full form
  • 1099: This is a form sent to you by a company who is claiming you as an income deduction, but did not pay taxes for you. Basically, if you were an independent contractor, a company will send you one of these if you cost over 600 dollars. You use this to report your income.

Are You Self Employed? 

When you work for a company, so long as you filled out your W-4 correctly, they will pay your taxes quarterly. If you’re self employed, you are required to do this, or else face penalty at the end of the year. You can read more about this here.

Use some software

So, you can do this all manually, and it’s really just some addition and subtraction, albeit a bit tedious. But the online software products really have made the whole thing take less than 20 minutes. TurboTax is the big name, but I’ve heard TaxAct and CreditKarma also have very good products. I’ve been using for TurboTax for years, and I’ve never had an issue.

 

How To Buy Stuff

How To Buy Stuff: Credit Cards

credit-card-1520400_1920I buy a lot of things online. I have a whole blog about it.

You’d think buying things online would be easy, that there’s little nuance involved. You’d be right, mostly. It’s not all that difficult, you’ve all definitely figured it out by now. But I think there are some rules that a lot of people don’t know to follow when making purchases. The first: always use a credit card.

This is a hard one to get past some people. There’s a large portion of the population who have been burned by using credit incorrectly, and never want to see a credit card again. There’s the Dave Ramsey envelope followers who are scared the card will ruin their budgets. There’s the conspiracy theorists that  don’t want the man following them around. And, in some sense, these people all have valid concerns. But, I’m hear to tell you that using a Credit Card correctly is safer and, more importantly, cheaper than any other purchasing method. But you have to be smart about it.

So first thing: what makes it safer? The danger it protects you from is identity theft, first and foremost. When you use a credit card, you’re protected by the card company’s fraud protection services. If you ever find a fraudulent charge on your account, you call the number on the back and the charge will be reversed while it is investigated. While a check card will offer similar services, sometimes the fraudulent amount is held by the bank until the investigation is resolved. If the fraud amount is high (which it will tend to be), this can have a serious impact on your ability to pay rent, or other payments that are due. The credit card has none of these drawbacks. I would never recommend using a check card directly for this reason. Even offline, card sniffers are easily concealed anywhere you’d normally use a swipe card. Chip and Pin makes this harder, but that is not available everywhere yet.

Second reason: it’s cheaper. Most cards have some sort of rewards program available. These can give you free airline miles, cashback, or points towards purchases. So long as you’re paying off your balances every month, these rewards can add up and make all your purchases cost a little less, or get you to that vacation you’ve been wanting. But to make this work out, you’ve got to follow the rules:

Rule 1: Always Pay Your Balances.

This one is pretty straight forward. Don’t buy things you couldn’t purchase in cash. Floating purchases[1] is okay, but at the end of the month, when that bill is due, you need to be able to pay all of it. No excuses. Why? Well, with most credit cards, you don’t start accruing interest until after the due date of the statement has passed. This means that, so long as you pay your balance every month before the due date, the card is essentially free to use[2]. Holding a balance is what all those naysayers I listed above worry about when credit cards come up. If you do happen to get yourself in trouble, or want to make a larger purchase, there are other methods which I will write a whole other post about.

Rule 2: Pick The Right Card For You

Everyone is different, and there are different cards for different spending habits and goals. Are you looking to save money? Or go on cheap trips? Do you spend more on groceries or at restaurants? Are you going to be able to earn enough rewards to offset a yearly fee, or should you make sure this thing is absolutely free? Do your research. I’ve found the recommendations from Mint to be pretty good at gauging your habits.

Rule 3: Never Pay With Points

Many Cash Back cards, like the Discover It or the Chase Freedom, calculate your rewards in points and then, if you ask for cash back, pay them out at 1 cent per point. They also give you the option of purchasing some items with points directly, usually showing you an online catalog to chose an item from, everything listed in points. The two I mentioned above actually go one step further, and have deals with Amazon.com to allow you to purchase anything off their site by using points instead of a charge on the card. This seems enticing, but it is almost never a good deal. The points pay out at 1 cent per point in cash back, but generally less than that when purchasing items with points. You’re better off purchasing the item with your card, and then immediately requesting the cash back with points. Furthermore, even if the cash back/point purchase are equal payouts, you’ll miss out on the extra points you’re getting by putting it on the card. Think about it: If you pay for a $100 item with points, you got $100 free. If you buy the item with your card, then ask for cash back, you get your $100 item free, plus another $1 worth of points (assuming 1% cash back) for the purchase you just made.

This rule does not hold with miles, however. If you’re interested in flights and hotels with those types of cards, it most often beneficial to purchase through the miles system. Just make sure to do your research, and your math, in order to make sure you’re making the best use out of your rewards.

There’s plenty of other ways to make the best out of online purchases with Credit Cards. I’d suggest checking out https://reddit.com/r/churning to get a hold on how some of the experts take advantage of these deals.

[1]: Floating a purchase is buying something you can’t pay for right now, but can easily afford by the end of the month.
[2]: Some cards have yearly fees so this is not always true, but the idea holds either way.
Reviews

Expenses

This hobby is time consuming and expensive.

I try to find products that I can review well. I don’t just buy anything. I want to be an actual consumer here: I want to buy things that I actually have a chance at liking. That requires a good amount of research before I even make a purchase. And then, once the purchase is made, I have to wait for shipping, use the product for some good amount of time, and then sit down and write. All this is a good time: everyone loves getting new things, and I’m enjoying the writing. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that it takes a lot of time between blog posts, and I wish I could update more often.

I could purchase more than one thing at a time, obviously. That is an option I’ve mulled. But again, at the end of the day, I’m a consumer. You don’t go on shopping sprees constantly, and neither do I. While I’d love to have some wealthy backer, the truth is it’s just me, some dude, buying stuff online and meandering around some point until I eventually get to a review on some socks or underwear. I don’t have unlimited money.

So, in order for you all to not forget I exist, I’m going to write about some other stuff as well. I’ll probably continue aiming at consumer-ish ideas.It’ll be fun. Come along for the ride.

Reviews

Habits – Mack Weldon

I haven’t been to the gym this week.

It used to be that I could truthfully say that every week, but ever since the new year rang in I’ve been trying to make it a habit to be more active and watch my diet. I think I’ve mentioned this before. This means that, on my Todoist every Monday Wednesday and Friday, it says “30 Minutes Cardio”, and as another New Year New Me goal, I try to empty out my Todoist, by either doing or rescheduling, every single day. I also use MyFitnessPal to track calories, and that works fairly well, until this past Monday.

They say it takes 6 weeks to make a habit stick. I don’t know who “they” are, but I made it to week 6, and I don’t feel any more habitual. On Monday I went to fill in my food for breakfast (a hearty 0 Calorie Energy Drink, if I recall that day), I found that I had apparently already filled it out the day before. I immediately realized that I had been working on Tomorrow’s food the day before, and now it was a big hassle. Filling out food for tomorrow probably shouldn’t be an easy thing to do, MyFitnessPal Developers, but my subconscious found no trouble at all.

So Monday, instead of fixing my mistake or using my 0 calorie previous day to fill in today’s calories, I decided “No, you’re not hassling me, yesterday’s mistake. I’m not filling this out”. And so it was done. Habit gone. I’m trying to force myself to fill this thing out as we speak, and I’m having a hard time remembering what I just ate. This failed habit, which was working well (18 lbs down), is going to take a mountain of effort to get back. And it pulled the gym with it. I haven’t been on an elliptical in like 10 days because of MyFitnessPal and also shear laziness.

Last week, however, I did go to the gym. I did it mostly to listen to my books on Audible, and try out a new pair of underwear from Mack Weldon.

As a whole, I prefer wearing boxers to any other sort of undergarment. I don’t want to be bound. I was born free, I want to live free. Murica. Boxers.

However, as I’ve found over the past 6 weeks, this creates a sort of, ahem, problem that I’ve never dealt with before when jostling about for 30-60 minutes. There is such a thing as too much freedom. Lawlessness is not an optimal situation. Regulations are needed in order to preserve the mobility of all society, if you get my metaphor.

If you don’t, I’m saying that my jibblies start bouncing and rubbing the wrong way and it hurts. Not just hurts. Chafes.

So after realizing this problem wasn’t going away with more freedom (I know, America was wrong all along), I coasted over to Mack Weldon, who had an interesting advertisement, telling me that their underwear had silver embedded in them. That’s intriguing, mostly because it sounds like something the super-rich would do to one up each other, but there’s actual science behind it. Turns out, silver is naturally antibacterial, and bacteria are what cause your nether-regions to stink. So these underwear do their best to regulate your BO. Not bad at all.

Mack Weldon’s check out process was really straight forward. They have lots of different products to look for, and so I bought a pair of boxer briefs and a normal set of boxers. These were pricey, I think I paid over 50 dollars for the pair. Another interesting thing is their deal set up: They don’t do coupon codes. Their process is simple: the prices are on the site, if you order over a certain amount all at once, you get 10, 15, 20% off. No sales, no gimmicks. I respect this business set up, even though I still habitually look for codes and offers before buying. There are none.

The shipping was great, they came USPS ground in a few days. And the packaging!

mackweldonsilver

They really want you to know that you’re buying premium stuff here.

So…here’s the thing. I’m not going to show you pictures of my underwear. You know what underwear look like, in the very vaguest sense. I don’t need to show you what underroos I’m wearing. I can tell you that these underwear are really comfortable, and they definitely helped with the chafe at the gym. I think the silver thing works too, though I’m not putting my sweaty boxer briefs up to my face to tell you definitively. I didn’t notice a smell after I was done. They seemed good. And look!

mackweldonfordailywear

Says it right there, you can wear these every day. Definitely recommending Mack Weldon.

Reviews

Big Buck Hunting: Papertrophy

Touch of Modern is a fickle mistress.

If you’ve never been, please check out that link above. They market lots of different products that have a “modern” appeal. Stuff like house decor, watches and other clothing are popular on the site. Sometimes they have a particularly adventurous dildo for sale. It’s really a mixed bag. The one thing you’ll notice is they have fantastic photographers. Every product looks like something that I absolutely must have. It’s a wonderful site to browse around and look for your newest addition.

The products themselves…well, I’ve had different experiences.

The first thing you should know is their shipping lead times are often extravagantly long. It might take 6 weeks for them to start shipping your product. It’s like we’re ordering off the sears catalog. The reason for this is Touch of Modern tends to feature crowdsourced or otherwise underfunded businesses: the company’s wait for ToMo’s deal to be over, and then start producing whatever number is needed. This reduces their upfront cost. But in the age of the internet, this can be a bit unnerving. I can happily say that I’ve never not received an item. But I’ve been disappointed in the quality before.

See, Touch of Modern is also not a bargain basement site. Many of their items are particularly expensive. I spent $90 dollars on some cityscape art, shown here:

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Only to receive 2 rolled up posters. It’s not that they didn’t describe what I was getting, it’s just that…the photographer really sold this thing to be more than it was. It looks like I could hang it without a frame. I still like the pictures, but I wanted more.

The most interesting experience with the website was buying some more interesting wall art. I found these through a Facebook ad some months back, and thought it would be perfect for my wall.

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Now, that’s a weird thing, but it’s super interesting for a wall decoration in my apartment. The fiance and I were in love from the moment we saw it. I’m going to quote the actual description from the sales page:

“Inspired by classic animal trophies but informed by Postmodern art and origami, PAPERTROPHY is easy, eco-friendly art perfect for the home or office. Using a complex polygon structure to create minimalistic, cubic renditions of animal busts and bodies, these easy-to-assemble pieces are made in the highest-quality, FSC-approved paper”.

We were in. FSC approved paper?!? That’s a big deal. (Please note, I’m not really sure what that means, but it sounds like it’s a good thing). So I spent something around $60 and ordered, and waited 4-6 weeks for them to ship. The anticipation was killing us. When I finally got the notice that the package was at the mailbox, I ran down right away.

As I think you probably know, It was not exactly as I expected.

First, I expected a box of pieces of deer-head to assemble. What I got was an envelope, inside was several pieces of construction paper, and a directions sheet with 4 steps. I was to take the pieces, and fold them in directions noted by the type of dotted line (In for just dashes, out for dots and dashes). Each edge on the deer was either a fold, or a tab + edge that I was to glue together. The edges were labeled with numbers: so the tab labeled 1 should glue to the edge labeled 1, 2 with 2, and so on. The directions said “you should start with 1 and keep going from there, but you don’t have to”. A casual glance at the numbers showed that they went well into the hundreds, so I was going to need a lot of glue. They didn’t mention what type of glue I should try to use. Elmer’s glue sticks didn’t hold at all, so I went with crazy glue applied with a brush, which worked well enough in the beginning.

So, I waited until the first Saturday I had available to piece this thing together. I spent 8-10 hours that first day, straight through, and only got about half of the thing finished. There were several rips and tears that day. I glued tabs to the wrong side a few times and had to rip and re-do, causing marks. I over-glued by accident causing stains to the paper. The next day I spent another 4 hours before I had to stop the insanity. “Easy To Assemble” means something different at Touch of Modern.

I kept the partially finished bust in my office for a few more weeks. It took a while for the sting of the sunk cost to fade enough for me to throw it away. It’s gone now, and I still consider ordering another one. It’s not a good idea at all, the thing was a huge waste of time, but I can’t get the challenge out of my head. I think papertrophy might be my Everest.

So, should you order a Papertrophy for yourself? Do you like being disappointed in yourself and the things you spend your money on?

However, I would recommend a cursory browse at Touch of Modern. Mostly because these are all affiliate links, and I’d love it if you found something there you really wanted after clicking one of them. But also because it’s a site that I enjoy browsing, even if some of the products are a bit lackluster. Those photographers really know how to do it.

Reviews

A Sock By Any Other Name: Bombas

I believe it was Lieutenant Daniel Taylor who first said “Two standing orders in this platoon. One, take good care of your feet. Two, try not to do anything stupid, like gettin’ yourself killed.” Wise words.

I’ve bought my shoes on Zappos.com for the past few years. I like it not only for the convenience, but the selection. As a twenty-something, I used to think sneakers were the only shoes I’d need. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown in taste. “Oh, chukka boots would be a great addition” is something I’ve said out loud. I probably buy new shoes every 2-3 months, not because I need them, but because it’s easy. I figure if I don’t like them, or they don’t fit, I can just snobbishly hand them to a FedEx driver and Zappos will happily send me another.

However, vanity is a hard vice to overcome. I choose to embrace it, instead.

I bought a pair of shoes through Zappos by the clothing company Ben Sherman early in 2016. Upon putting them on the first day and wearing them for an hour, it occurred to me that Mr. Sherman may have been born with less toes than I currently have (10). As unfortunate as that thought was, I kept on, as I was in an office and no one likes the guy that takes his shoes off at the office. In the next few hours, I’d discovered his ankles must also be a peculiar shape, as the skin on mine was being removed rather quickly. Getting home was a delight that night. I went online to start the return process…

ben_sherman_shoes

As I said: vanity is hard to overcome. These shoes look great. “These shoes will definitely wear in”, I said to myself.

I wore them for about a week before realized that, because those toes are made of hard rubber, there isn’t going to be any “wearing in”. I have to find another solution. “I’ll buy better socks”.

So, it’s about a year later. I, obviously still have Satan’s hooves up there, and I’ve tried a few different brands of socks I found in different parts of Amazon and Zappos. I try not to go for the socks you find in 12 packs at Target: I’m no sock plebe, and they’ve got to make these shoes wearable. I’ve found the problem with buying a nice pair of socks online is that they generally come in 2 sizes, Small, which must be for small children and leprechauns, and Large, which fit shoe sizes US 7-12. My size is US 13, so I generally have to really stretch out a 12 to make it fit. Those shoes up there kill my ankles, which makes that no good.

I found Bombas through a Facebook Ad.

logo

A dream come true. They have a few different options for sock purchases. The best part is their large is for US 9.5-13, which is rather compelling for a guy like me. I purchased a 6 pack of their assorted color ankle socks for $64.80, minus a first time purchasers discount, which put the total slightly under $50. 64,80 makes it over $10 per pair, which is definitely pricey for socks, but Lieutenant Dan has never steered me wrong. I waited a reasonable amount of time for ground shipping, there was a 2 day option but I opted out: I can wait on socks.

So they got here, and the next day I put them on. And for you, dear reader, I put these socks through the ringer, and wore those Ben Sherman’s all day to see how they held up. That’s something I haven’t attempted in months.

The short answer is: those shoes still kill my toes. However my heel still has all it’s skin. Achilles would love these.

The pictures on the website don’t really tell you the whole story about Bombas. They’ve built their socks with an ankle guard: a stuffed back ankle to shield your foot from rubbing shoes. They also have arch support with a beehive design, which feels nice and probably helps out people with flat arches, or shoes that don’t have that support built in. The cotton is high quality and very comfortable to wear. There is even extra toe protection as well, it felt like, but I’m not sure that anything could help those shoes. It was worth the challenge though. The socks fought valiantly, but evil won this day.

I wore the rest of the socks throughout the week in more normal shoes, and was very comfortable. In any reasonable shoes these will be fantastic. I’m very happy with my purchase. The only issue I’m a little worried about is their longevity. I put them through the laundry one time, and the bottoms started fraying a bit.

Fray after one wash
Do you have any idea how hard it is to take a reasonable picture of a used sock?

They are still perfectly wearable and comfortable, and hopefully they will hold up; only time will tell.

Another really great perk about buying from Bombas is, as you can see from the graphic above, they donate a pair of socks to the homeless for every pair of socks you buy. You might not know that for the homeless, socks are a precious commodity: they generally don’t have a way of washing clothes, so socks stay on their feet until they are completely worn out (a couple of weeks, tops), and then hopefully replaced. Obviously socks aren’t going to solve homelessness, but you can at least feel a little better that your purchase is going to a reasonable cause.

I highly recommend Bombas. Take Care Of Your Feet.

 

Reviews

The Emperor’s New Pants: Finale

I received the pants yesterday.

They’re (heavy sigh…) fantastic. They fit perfectly, they’re stretchy and comfortable, and they look great. They are fiancée approved.

I should let you know, dear reader, that I have lost around 15 lbs since I ordered the original pants. I’m mostly just gloating there, but also it may say a bit about the sizing. I’m not exactly the same size as I was when the original Raw Denim version arrived, and so comparing the sizes of the Rivington and Mosco jean my be a little skewed. However, I still wear my other pants, I haven’t dropped sizes otherwise, so I think the comparison still stands. The Rivington pants were cut VERY slim vs. the Mosco.

So after all that, I have new jeans. I would not wish this process on anyone, but the end result is great. Make sure you use the try-on option, even if you don’t think you need to! It’s probably the easiest way to get around this. Also, I’d spring for 2 day shipping. It’s way too long otherwise.

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