Why I love doing my taxes

This was just a hair too long for twitter…

I really like doing my taxes because I like looking back at the year and seeing what I earned and where it went. I was just reviewing 2014, looking to see if I want to throw some extra money into my 401k for the tax break for the end of the year. I searched my Mint.com account for charitable contributions to see what my total was going to be there, and I scrolled down through everything for the past few years and had to pause when I saw a donation to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence from 2012 on the day of the theater shooting. Oof.

I made a note at the time, but I’m chronically trying and failing to get better at journaling, at blogging, at documenting my own life just for my own sake. And I really like how our financials do a bit of that work for us. A charge from a restaurant reminds me of a birthday, a charge from a clothing store reminds me of the dress I bought to wear to a fun wedding, plane tickets of a vacation.

That’s all. I tried to make this into a 140 character quip but “Reviewing charitable contributions for tax purposes, saw one to an anti-gun violence org from day of 2012 theater shooting. Finances are unintentional journals.” was still 20 characters over.



I have oft read about to 50/30/20 rule, that 50% of your income after taxes should go towards needs, 30% towards wants, and 20% into savings or debt reduction. I generally feel like I have a really good hold on our finances, so this afternoon I decided to see if our spending fits in this model.

It doesn’t.

The bad news is that we’re only putting 16% of our income into savings. That includes what we’re putting into retirement, emergency savings, our “general” savings, and our extra payment on our mortgage. This seems a little unfair to me, though. Aside from our mortgage, we don’t have any debt. (We were both super lucky on the student loan front. We occasionally used to let our credit cards balloon to a few thousand dollars and then pay them down, but since I started using mint, we got off that train. The car’s paid for. Knock on wood, debt free for the moment.)

The good news is that we’re also well under 50% for needs. Including auto insurance, home insurance, gas and electric, gas for the car, our alarm system, groceries, pet food, and our portion of medical insurance, we’re sitting at about 36%.

When I add up the wants that happen every month, I end up with about 21%. (So, going out to dinner, buying lunch, booze, mobile phones, internet, occasional parking, car2go and uber, beauty stuff (I usually get alternate months getting a pedicure or my brows done), my yoga classes, hulu, clothes, coffee shops, and housecleaning.)

If you’re a math wizard, that leaves 27% for random stuff that is hard to budget on a monthly basis because it’s not monthly. Once a year stuff, like my eye doctor appointment and contacts, vacation, vet bills, race entry fees, christmas gifts, hair cuts, funeral travel, replacing our busted wireless router, parking tickets, concert tickets, getting Chris’s tux dry cleaned, car repairs, bike repairs, fabric to make curtains for my office…it’s not like we have a big chunk leftover every month. It’s always going somewhere.

Anyhow. All just to say that budgeting is hard because categorizing is hard and there’s always something random that comes up that doesn’t fit neatly into a bucket.


On feeling stupid (or not)

I cringed when I watched this Jimmy Kimmel video, a series of “man on the street” interviews asking people if they preferred the “Affordable Care Act” or “Obamacare.” And I hoped they had to interview 20 or 30 people before finding a handful that didn’t know they were the same thing.

I like to think I do a fairly good job of not looking stupid by not being afraid to sound a little stupid and just admit when I’m not fully up to speed. There are a lot of moving parts at my job, and I probably find myself saying “Can you refresh me on the details of how that works?” at least once a week.

The other day someone asked me point blank what I thought of the situation in Syria, and I had to just sigh. “I definitely wish I knew more about what was going on, but I’m afraid I haven’t been keeping up.” The person I was talking to proceeded to give me his opinion, which is what I think he was really getting at anyways. Win-win.

This week over dinner the topic of a North Carolina school board that banned Invisible Man. And my friend was talking about how crazy it was for this book to be banned especially since it was such a classic, and I said, “Wait, sorry.What’s it about? I mean, I know it’s about a man who can turn invisible…”

Whomp whommmp. (In my defense,  I bounced around a lot of different schools, so my required reading was all messed up. I never had to read Catcher in the Rye or Great Gatsby but I had to read Beowulf like four times.)

Nope. I’m a dummy. Maybe not as silly as the woman talking about how much better the ACA is than Obamacare, but I was pretty embarrassed.

I suppose my point was that at least I didn’t mind admitting that I didn’t know something rather than trying to bluff my way through it. I could have nodded and sipped my wine and googled the book later. But pretending like you know something you really don’t is pretty stupid.

Pretending to be young

It’s kind of a running joke in our house that Chris and I tend to be the youngest people wherever we go. Our favorite restaurants tend not to be the places where the young and trendy go, but rather hotspots for retirees. The two shows we saw at Red Rocks this summer were Lyle Lovett and Prairie Home Companion. (When the performers are 55 and 70, the audience tends to skew that way as well.) We tailgated with friends who have kids almost our age.

So we sort of marveled this weekend when we ended up being very out of place at two shows filled with Very Young People.

Friday night we saw He’s My Brother She’s My Sister play in Boulder at the Fox theater. So, first of all, this show didn’t even start until 9 and there were two openers. We made dinner reservations for 9 at Brasserie Ten Ten. (I literally don’t think I’ve ever made dinner reservations for 9 pm ever in my life before.) (By the way that place was amazing!) (Also I know I overuse parentheses.)

Even doing our darndest to not be crazy early, we made it into the theater in time to see most of the second opener, The Outfit (with special guest Neyla Pekarek on one song, love her). I had forgotten it was an all ages show, and there were kiddos with black Xs on their hands.

The theater was maybe…two thirds full? We could have made our way down to the front, but instead Chris and I decided the (completely empty) area behind the sound booth was our own private VIP area so we enjoyed singing loudly and dancing our faces off with plenty of room and no worries about accidentally elbowing a teenager.

Now, He’s My Brother, Shes My Sister is one of my favorites lately. I’m not really a music buff. Chris plays DJ in our house and I alternate between sometimes tapping my foot and sometimes making a face, “What is this?” but most of the time it’s just background. So for me to know all the words to every song on the album and shlep up to Boulder for a show so late is kind of a big deal for me.

They’re a perfect ensemble cast, and I just find Rachel Kolar mesmerizing. She’s gorgeous, she has a killer voice, and she jumps around the stage like a jack rabbit.

I’m meandering. What I wanted to say was that while they are one of my favorites, they’re not super well known (yet!) and so as Chris and I stood in the back and I sang along loudly sometimes…I could hear myself. And the sound guys could hear me and gave us some funny looks. Hey, giant fan girl, go rock out in the front where you don’t look like a weirdo. Definitely during this song:

I love this song. It’s such an anthem. It just sounds like the kind of classic rock song that everyone knows the words to.

I had three drinks (a glass of wine with dinner and two whiskey and cokes at the theater. We got home close to 1 am, and I woke up at 6 am and spent all day with a headache and a tummy ache. #oldladyproblems

So anyways. The next night we went to see Danielle Ate The Sandwich at The Walnut Room. Not quite such a young crowd, but we ended up chatting up two girls hanging out in the front with us. They were both 21 and just…they were just so 21. An actual exchange:

21 year old: So, what do you do?

Me: I work for a software company.

21 year old: Oh, cool! My brother is technical, too. He’s studying computers in school.

Me: Oh, that’s his…major?

21 year old: No, in high school.

Me: Right. Okay.

They talked about going camping and doing mushrooms and the tragedy of a new love moving to a different city. So excited to meet the band there were nearly tears. I wanted to scratch them behind the ears, they were like earnest little puppies.

And once again the band we were there to see didn’t start until 10. (Maxwell Hughes opened. He is very, very talented, really a pleasure to watch, and has, truly, the most awkward stage banter I have ever witnessed.)

Determined to catch up on sleep, I came home and set myself up for a successful sleep in. I pulled all our blinds closed tight, put in earplugs, tied a bandana around my eyes to block out the light, and turned off all our alarms. You guys, I slept for eleven hours.

Back to more age appropriate activities today. Grocery shopping, cooking for the week, and hopefully early to bed after catching up on work emails in front of the tv. (well, the old iMac playing torrented downloads, same thing).

Dear Future Mel

One thing I’d really like to do is to make time to jot down some notes here and there about what’s going on in my life. In the moment, the days rarely feel like they’re worth documenting, but when I go back and re-read my own blog posts or journal entries or what have you, I take such delight in remembering how my bike wheels turned colors when I rode over a lot of sidewalk chalk or the conversation I had with a stranger at the dog park about a documentary we’d both seen.

I struggle with how much to share online, and work life is always a conundrum. It’s a huge part of my life. I work hard, and I work a lot. But since I work for a small company (and since I have a unique last name…) and since the internet is written in ink, I generally shy away from sharing anything work related at all.

But about two months ago my company went through what we’re calling a “reorganization.” And as part of the reorganization, I went from being a manager on our Customer Experience team (our reactive customer service and our proactive outreach to increase utilization of our software, a team of roughly 12 folks) to being the Director of (and only member of) our Empowerment team. Meaning I am responsible for creating and maintaining our epic company culture (a huge responsibility), meaning I now report directly to our CEO (who I obviously knew but had not worked with directly) and it means that recruiting and “HR” (benefits, on boarding new employees and exiting people when they leave, stuff like that) is on my plate.

And it’s been so great. It’s been the best kind of challenging. I have learned a ton, and had just enough moments where I thought I might drown to make the times when I figure something out really satisfying. I have always been lucky to work for companies I liked and have jobs I was passionate about, but it’s like that honeymoon phase when you start a new job without actually having to start all the way over.

So, Future Mel. When you’ve been in this role a few years and you’re feeling a little…less excited. I hope you will remember how pumped Past Mel was for this opportunity.

That was awful

I just came so close to getting hit by a car that I’m considering giving up bicycle commuting.

I am one of the safest cyclists I know. I wear bright colors. I ride with traffic. I signal. I always have my lights on. I wear a helmet. I respect traffic lights and signs. Even my commute is pretty safe, residential and then downtown. Lots of stop signs and stop lights, no stretches where anyone can really pick up much speed.

On my way home, just now, just 15 minutes ago, I approached an intersection with a two way stop. I had a stop sign, the driver across from me had a stop sign, and cross traffic didn’t have to stop. I checked for oncoming traffic from either direction, then proceeded to cross.

The driver, in a silver honda, looked left, looked right, and pulled out a little into the intersection. I stared into the windshield trying to make eye contact to make sure I was seen.

I watched the driver look left and right and left again, inching out the way you do in these residential neighborhoods when it’s a little hard to see past parked cars. But while looking right and left, the driver never looked straight ahead to see me, not fifteen feet from the front bumper.

I saw that moment of decision, that instance when you go from creeping out into the intersection to when you decide you’re clear to go, and I watched the bumper get closer to me, wondering in that instant if I’d be completely broadsided or if the car would just hit my back wheel. Calculating our speed, I thought to myself this is probably going to hurt a lot, but it’s very unlikely you will actually die.

My finger fumbled for my bell–it’s pretty loud–and in the meantime I let out the shrillest, loudest, longest scream of my life. I shrieked with every effort, I screeched like I was in a horror movie, hoping the driver would hear me and it would trigger a reflex to hit the brakes.

I veered to the right, and finally made eye contact with the driver, who seemed a little startled, and looked quizzically at me, but, having missed hitting me by just a few feet, continued down the road.

I vibrated with adrenaline and my legs felt noodley. I considered walking the few blocks home, but even though my legs were shaky, they still seemed to be able to pedal.

I got home and promptly poured myself a whiskey. Chris isn’t home to tell my story to, so I’m writing a blog post. My throat still hurts from screaming.

That was awful.

I have previously expressed my opinions on this matter a bit more elegantly

Blah blah blah. I think Daylight Saving Time is dumb. Primarily because I’m tired of listening to people say the same thing over an over about it. Oh you’re tired? Because you ‘lost’ an hour? But you like that it’s light later? Your phone updated itself? Do tell.

And consider this fair warning that if you tell me something is happening at 7 pm Mountain Standard Time this summer I’m going to squint at you real hard and ask if you live in Arizona.

Whoa. Sorry. I’m really grumpy right now. Possibly because after not going since January, I went to yoga yesterday and today and now it feels like my shoulders are going to fall off.