Big girl stuff

What You Should Know About Car Care

Think about the worst car you ever drove.

Maybe it was so ugly that it made babies cry. Or perhaps, like mine, it was so mechanically unsound that you couldn’t even trust it out on the roads. You gripped the steering wheel so hard that your knuckles turned white and your teeth clenched until you practically had lockjaw.

Whether you drive a brand-new car or have one that is at the end of your life span, it is important to know the basics of car maintenance. As single women, we must stand on our own two feet and not be taken in by dishonest mechanics.

I’m not saying you have to know how to fix everything in a car, but I have compiled a list of basic things you should be able to do yourself. That way, if your car starts acting up, you can make very basic repairs yourself, or at least be able to identify the source of the problem:

  1. Using your carjack. I didn’t learn how to do this until I was about 28. And by then, I learned the jack that came with my repair kit was woefully inadequate. It was a hard lesson learned, but I know better now!
  1. Changing a tire. I actually learned how to change a tire in high school, but that skill wasn’t helpful at 28 because my terrible carjack didn’t work!
  1. Changing an interior light bulb or headlight. This one is a little trickier, but important to learn how to do, because the last thing you want is getting pulled over for a non-functioning headlight!
  1. Changing oil. I did this – once – many moons ago, but I would not be able to do it now. You could save hundreds of dollars over the course of your car’s life if you learn how to do this yourself!
  1. Charging a battery. Again, I had to learn how to do this the hard way in college. And grad school. And after grad school. A good pair of jumper cables in your trunk is worth its weight in gold.
  1. Changing the battery. You have to be careful when you do this one, because you want to make sure you have the right connections on the right terminal!
  1. Checking your fluids. Checking your oil is something I learned back in high school, and very important if you have a leak anywhere or you aren’t sure when you need an oil change. Learning how to check coolants as well as windshield wiper, brake, power steering, and transmission fluids.
  1. Checking your tire pressure. When I was strapped for cash and had a very slow leak in my tires, it was very important to monitor tire pressure. You can buy a gauge at a hardware or auto parts store for less than five bucks. Money well spent.
  1. Knowing the location of important car parts. If you know where the shocks, struts, alternator, and starter are, you will have a much better chance of identifying where weird sounds come from when things start to go south.
  1. Knowing the signs of when various parts are going out. Speaking of things going south, keeping an ear out for weird sounds, vibrations that shouldn’t be there, noticing a difference in how the car handles, or identifying why your car won’t start (alternator vs. battery, for example) are all great skills to cultivate. Pay attention to your car. If you notice something is off, chances are your intuition is right. 

That’s all well and good, but how am I supposed to know all this stuff if I don’t have anyone to teach me?

Glad you asked. A lot of this stuff I learned from my dad. A mechanically-inclined girlfriend taught me a lot of other points. Feel out your network to see if anyone is willing to teach you how to do this, maybe in exchange for babysitting services, pizza, or another way of bartering.

Some vocational schools will offer classes on basic car care. A really good, patient mechanic may also take time out of his day to teach you. And YouTube is full of video tutorials.

Hopefully you already know how to do at least two or three items on the list, and this will give you an idea what you need to do for basic car care. Knowledge is power, and learning how to do this will give you more independence.

Is there anything I should have added but didn’t? Comment below!

6 Reasons to Hire Someone to Do Your Taxes

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Who doesn’t love saving money!? Heck, I consider it a compliment when my sister calls me “cheap!” But after filing my own taxes for years, I finally sucked it up in 2015 and hired a CPA because I had a new business and I knew I was in over my head. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.

In 2015, 34 million American households had an accountant or tax professional file tax returns for them.1 Is hiring someone to do your taxes a good idea? Here are 6 reasons why hiring a tax professional is a smart idea:

  1. Convenience factor. The most obvious reason to hire a tax professional is for simplicity’s sake. If you don’t have hours to wade through 1099s, 1040 forms, and W-2s—or you just don’t want to—why would you drive yourself crazy?
  1. Cost-effective. As I mentioned last week, you can expect to pay between $100 to over $400 for a quality tax preparer. They are worth that price for the hours of headaches they will save you doing your own taxes. I also know my CPA got me hundreds of dollars’ worth of deductions I would have ignored or simply never read about.
  1. A good professional will understand your situation. Unlike tax software, you are dealing with an actual human you who can answer your questions. They will know the latest tax codes for complicated situations such as:
  • Healthcare costs
  • Small businesses
  • Retirement contributions
  • Student loan interest
  • Mortgage interest and real estate taxes
  • Inheritances
  1. Finding one can be easy. I had no idea how easy it was to find a tax professional—word-of-mouth. My father highly recommended his tax preparer to me, and I have been so happy to work with her. Other ways to find good referrals:
  • Ask friends, co-workers, and other acquaintances
  • Crowdsource suggestions on social media
  • The IRS even has a directory
  1. You have a lot of choices! There are over 1 million taxes professionals in the United States. Do not hire the first person recommended to you. Don’t be afraid to interview two or three people who were recommended to you. Do you click with the person? Are you comfortable working with them? Do they readily answer questions that directly pertain to your tax situation? If they don’t, that’s OK—just move to the next person on your list.
  1. Support local businesses. I never even considered a storefront tax preparation service. As a small business owner myself, I am passionate about supporting other local entrepreneurs when I can. I like to keep my money in my city’s economy, and my tax preparation fee helps support my friend Lisa and her small business.

Because it will save your time and hassle and especially because you are supporting a local entrepreneur, I feel strongly about hiring a tax professional to do my taxes. If any of these points resonated with you or you are just feeling too overwhelmed this year, consider adding a tax preparer as a valued member of your financial team. There is nothing with reaching out to ask for help, and so many good professionals want to help you!

Have you hired someone to do your taxes? Comment below and tell me about your experience!

1 https://www.irs.gov/uac/Newsroom/More-Taxpayers-Filing-from-Home-Computers-in-2014–Many-Taxpayers-Eligible-to-Use-Free-File.

5 Reasons You Should Totally Do Your Own Taxes

even-taxes-can-bring-down-Jerry-MaguireApril 15 is lurking around the corner. Like an extra serving of beets or an unwanted guest. You know it’s there. You know you have to deal with it, but you just don’t want to.

If you are like 27 million American households, you may decide to do your taxes yourself and file with the IRS.1 But how will you know if it’s right for you? In the first of this two-part series, I will cover if you should file taxes yourself—either on paper or with tax software. Next week, we will cover if you should hire a professional to handle it.

While it may seem daunting when you first think about it, here are reasons you should consider doing your own taxes:

  1. It is less expensive. The cost of hiring someone to do your own taxes varies greatly, but it can be as little as $100 to over $400, according to the National Society of Accountants.2 If you file your own taxes on IRS.gov, it costs you nothing. TurboTax, America’s number one tax preparation software, is $35 to file federal taxes (depending on the package you choose), and $37 per state you file in. That can add up to some pretty serious savings while you wait for your tax return!
  1. The 1040EZ really IS easy! If you have an uncomplicated financial situation, the 1040EZ is totally the way to go. I have finished it by hand in about two hours. The 1040EZ form is for anyone who:
  • Is without dependents
  • Earns less than $100,000
  • Has no student loan interest deductions
  • Is under age 65

The regular 1040 form takes a little more time, but I can knock it out in an afternoon or evening. Another advantage of online software is that it makes it even easier to file because they ask “Yes/No” questions and walk you through the process step by step. There is a reason I used TurboTax for nearly 10 years—convenience and ease of use!

  1. It is an excellent way to take stock of your financial picture. For many years, I never balanced a checkbook or was sure how much I had in retirement. But every late winter/early spring, I would get my documents out to assess my finances. It is an excellent reminder time to stop and take stock of where you are and where you want to be with your money. Are you saving enough for retirement? Are you making your money work for you instead for working for your money? Those hours you spend doing your taxes are time well spent because you can set new goals and reaffirm your commitment to being financially savvy!

 

  1. It’s like riding a bicycle. The first time I filed my taxes in my 20s was a bit of a challenge—especially the state forms (which I personally think are a lot more complicated than federal forms) and I had no one to help me. But the good news is that it got a little easier every year because I learned a little more with every return I filed. By the time I filed my last return on my own in 2014, I filed with TurboTax in about an hour.
  1. Lots of help is available. If the thought of doing your own taxes still sends chills down your spine, take heart. There are so many free resources available to help you do it! If you make less than $54,000, you may qualify for the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA). These are IRS-certified volunteers who can walk you through the process. I promise it isn’t nearly as scary to have someone explain it to you!

There are also a myriad of resources online, from IRS.gov to blogs and search engine results. You are not alone in this process! Is there a friend or family member you can enlist to help you out? Or have a tax-filing party where you sit down with your forms (maybe a bottle of wine), and help each other out? The more the merrier!

From the low cost to the self-reflection it generates, doing your own taxes makes a lot of sense. I think doing your own taxes is the mark of a strong, confident, and independent Plus One Woman. You have the dignity of taking control of your financial destiny and have learned something about yourself in the process.

Have you ever filed your own taxes? Comment below and let me know how it went!

1 https://www.irs.gov/uac/Newsroom/More-Taxpayers-Filing-from-Home-Computers-in-2014–Many-Taxpayers-Eligible-to-Use-Free-File.

2 http://www.cbsnews.com/news/how-much-do-you-pay-for-tax-prep/.