“…but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” ― Benjamin Franklin,

Being married to a tax accountant, my life revolves around taxes, and has done so since before children. Mike started back to night school for an MBA (emphasis on tax) a month before our first child was born. Since 1987, I “single parented” 2, then 3, eventually 4 children through tax season (January 1 to April 15th) and mini-tax season (August to October 15th). You didn’t even know about that one, did you? Trust me, it’s real! All those returns you extended? They have to be filed, eventually! I’m reasonably sure our children said “tax season” before they said “mom” and distinctly remember hearing an older child reassuring a younger sibling that, “It’s Busy Season, but Dad will be home by bedtime.” He is a morning person and prefers to go in early, so was home by 8PM, with rare (and unhappy) exceptions.

However, long before I ever knew my husband, taxes were in my life. As a small business owner, my dad had plenty of taxes to pay, so it was a topic that regularly came up at dinner.

Dad had taken typing and bookkeeping classes in high school, and graduated at 17. The Depression was still going on, and no one hired you if you were under 18. College was not an option, but he enrolled in comptometer school. After completing the course, he went to work for the Grand Trunk Railway offices in Chicago. Pearl Harbor rocked everyone’s world, he enlisted in the Navy, and served until the end of WWII.

At that point, every other military man was also looking for a job. He had married and had a baby on the way. He found a job with a rug cleaner, learned the trade quickly, and even thought of buying a ServiceMaster franchise. His boss discouraged him from doing that, so Dad started his own company with his brother, George. Unfortunately, business was slow, and there wasn’t enough income for 2 families. Dad bought out Uncle George’s half and carried on, usually with just one other employee, but not a partner.

Dad did all his own bookkeeping and tax work, including the estimated payments, withholding, FICA, etc. He didn’t have spare money to pay for an accountant, and figured getting the information together for someone else was a huge chunk of the work. Why do all that and then pay someone else for the easier task? He also reasoned that he had more of a vested interest in his money than someone else. So each year, after work and on weekends, he tackled the tax return with its Schedule C and all the depreciation calculations.

Recognizing that Social Security benefits would NOT fully fund retirement, he educated himself about his retirement account options long before personal IRAs, Roth IRAs, or 401k plans. I grew up hearing about HR-10 Keogh plans and reading Kiplinger Magazine back when it was on non-glossy paper. I managed to avoid their Tax Letters, but I saw them lying on end tables around the house, too.

At 16, when I finally got a job that generated a W-2, my dad handed me the tax instruction book, the form, my W-2 and the 1099s for Capital Shares and Putnam Growth mutual funds (my college nest egg). He told me to read the instructions, fill out the form, and ask him if I had questions. And to double-check my math. I did that for the next 6 years! I’m sure he checked over the form before we mailed it in (and granted, they were much simpler than they are now!), but he wanted me to understand what was going on by making me do it myself.

When I was in high school, he commented once on how some rug cleaners he knew–oh, how to say this delicately?–under reported their income. Cash payments they received sometimes didn’t actually make it into their business checking account–or onto their tax returns. They had different names for it: “martini money” or “vacation fund” are a couple I remember. Dad never did that, and frankly he preferred checks, so he didn’t have cash laying around the house. Aside from security–and the fact that not reporting was wrong–he had several reasons:

  • it might save taxes now, but it would cost him in Social Security benefits later
  • he had to look himself in the face every morning while shaving
  • he didn’t want to worry about being caught

Did he like paying taxes? No. He wasn’t an idiot. But he knew the government needed funds to do what it needed to do, and he needed to pay his fair share. Did he feel generous and throw a couple hundred extra dollars in with his payment? Get real! While he wouldn’t cheat them, he worked hard for a living, and had no intention of being cheated himself.

He retired in 1984, simplifying his tax return considerably. So what did he do? He volunteered for the Tax-Aide program, going to retirement homes, or the library, helping seniors with their tax returns. I was married and no longer in his house, but he always had some amazing stories each year of the disarray some of the paperwork people brought in. It frustrated him greatly, but he *usually* was able to straighten them out, giving him a lot of satisfaction. I don’t recall how long he volunteered, but it was probably a decade or more. He really seemed to enjoy it.

You are probably thinking, “She’s married to a tax accountant . . . She hasn’t had to look at a return at least since 1987.” Excuse my laughter . . .  No such luck. Every year, a stack appears on the dining room, with the instruction to check them over. Ours. Our four children (until they left the house). Now my mom’s. No escape.

So, yeah, I guess old Ben was right . . .


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