Tips & Tricks

Don’t Delay Any Longer: Get Started on Your Taxes Today

Hear that tap-tap-tapping noise? It’s the sound of calculators and keyboards, as Americans are working on filing their taxes this spring! The deadline to file your 2018 taxes is midnight on April 15, 2019. That’s just around the corner. Don’t hold off any longer—the time to file is now. According to the IRS, 20-25% of Americans wait until the final two weeks before the deadline to prepare their documents and file. The sooner you file, the less likely you will need to file an extension or pay a fine.

Here are seven reasons to get started on your taxes today:

  1. By the end of February most financial institutions have mailed out their respective tax documents. You should have all your documents gathered and organized. If you think you are still missing something (e.g., a document, form, or receipt), call the appropriate person to get that item sent to you right away. Tip: an email with the attached file is much quicker than the U.S. Mail.
  2. This is the first tax cut year under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which overhauled the code that doubled the standard deduction. Give yourself some time to make sure you file accordingly, because this new code may affect your exemptions and deductions, and thus, your refund. CNBC outlines these changes.
  3. Tax preparation professionals are now smack in the middle of the tax-filing season. As soon as you have all your documents, submit them to your tax professional. Don’t procrastinate on this; even CPAs have to get extensions if they can’t file your taxes in time.
  4. There is a penalty for not filing your taxes by the deadline. This penalty is harsher and different from the penalty for failure to pay what you owe by the deadline. You should file taxes on time even if you are unable to pay all the taxes you owe by the due date.
  5. Get ahead of the fraudsters! The IRS advises filing as early as possible, to keep identity thieves from using your information to file a return in your name, and then claim your refund.
  6. Don’t forget that tax refunds are your money! Why wait any longer than necessary to claim it? You’ll feel much better knowing it’s in your bank account, and not the government’s coffers.
  7. Filing your tax return now and checking that off your to-do list is one more way to lighten your load. No more thinking about taxes for at least another 9 months!
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What to Save and What to Shred: Paper Retention Guidelines

Even with many day-to-day tasks moving online, there will still–and always be–paper. The average American receives almost 50,000 pieces of mail in their lifetime, and 30% of it is junk. No wonder so many of us have piles of paper items that can quickly accumulate if not taken care of. You want to tackle the stacks of paper on your desk, but you’re not quite sure how to start? Our guidelines will help you know what to save, what to recycle, and what to shred.

The Simplify Experts Paper Retention Schedule:

  1. All tax returns are to be kept; receipts need to be kept for the last 7 years of returns only.
  2. Bank statements only have to be kept for 3 years unless a key component in your 7 years of tax receipts.
  3. Financial Brokerage accounts – keep the current year statements. At the end of year, save only year-end and tax related forms. Trade confirmations need to be kept to prove the original price of the stock when purchased until sold. Keep trade confirmations in a labeled manila folder with your tax receipts.
  4. Keep all medical billing statements and prescription receipts for the year should you incur large medical expenses for that year and have enough to claim a tax deduction. If you did not meet the medical claim amount for your income, than shred all medical billing at year-end.
  5. You only need a couple months worth of utilities unless you run a business out of your home and are writing off a portion of those expenses to your business.
  6. If you believe you will be doing a wealth of improvements to your home for the life of your home, keep all home improvement receipts for capital gains tax when you sell the home.
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Lighten Your Load by Cleaning Out Your Purse

Me, handing my purse to my husband: “Honey, could you hold my purse for a sec?”

Husband, taking it: “Whoa! What’s in here, bricks?!”

Sound familiar?

Whether your purse of choice is a cool designer number or a small canvas tote, we all tend to use it as a place to stash everything we “need” on the go. The problem is it’s too easy to forget all the items we’ve been putting in there. Then when it comes time to find your keys, a pen, or “that coupon I’m going to use one of these days,” it’s like digging elbow-deep into a mystery grab bag.

Here is our guide to cleaning out your purse—and then keeping it organized.

First, Clean It Out

  1. Take out everything and lay the items out on a table. Make sure to check every single compartment and pocket, inside and outside—even ones you rarely use.
  2. Get rid of all garbage—wrappers, lists, receipts you don’t need, pens that don’t work, dried-up lip balm, a broken and non-repairable bracelet, old kids’ items, etc.
  3. Group together multiples. Do you really need more than one pen, or more than one pair of sunglasses? Likely not. Keep one of each essential item, then put the rest away (but don’t throw it in your junk drawer, natch).
  4. Do you have containers in your purse, such as a cosmetic bag or first-aid kit? Clean those out as well. Throw out that old cracked compact, or the Disney Princess band-aids your now-teenager does not need.
  5. Get rid of seasonal items. Do you really need an umbrella or a wool hat in there when it’s July? Or your seasonal allergy medications when it’s the off-season? How about the heavy set of keys to your in-laws’ cabin that you only visit in November?
  6. Now start returning items to your purse, while evaluating how often you truly use each item. Things like your wallet, keys, phone—of course. But items like a flashlight, hand cream, a granola bar—maybe not? In other words, get rid of the “just in case” items.

 

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Stress-Free Guide: Planning and Surviving Your Major House Renovation

If you’re planning to give your home a major facelift, you’re in for a very interesting time in your life. Renovations can be super fun, but also more than stressful, especially when they involve a big part of your home and last for a long time. However, renovations do not have to end in tears and nervous breakdowns! Here’s how to pull off a smooth and breezy reno.

Collect as many tips as you can

Make sure to do your homework before doing any renovation work. Talk to your homeowner friends and family, consult with neighbors and surf the internet for tips. You’re guaranteed to collect a good number of tips that will come in handy during your reno. These tips and information can greatly affect your renovation and even your end product. It’s always good to know what works and what doesn’t pay off.

Plan your budget

One of the first things to do before you grab a sledgehammer and start tearing down walls is coming up with a good budgeting plan. Check the internet for material prices, ask quotes from your contractors and see whether you need to pay for permits. Also, don’t forget the price of hotels in case you need to get away from the noise of renovation. Once you come up with a good budget, add 10% for emergency situations and you’re good to go. No matter how hard you try to make everything perfect, there are situations that you simply can’t predict. When you’re set on a budget, stick to it like crazy. It’s easy to get carried away with renovations and end up blowing your entire life savings.

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Cleaning the Cleaning Appliances

What’s not to love about your cleaning appliances? They don’t need payment, they don’t need to be fed, they don’t complain, and they do their job when it’s convenient for you. The least we can do is give them a bit of love. Besides, keeping these guys clean helps them run better and last longer, and even save energy.

Dishwasher

For a quick degreasing and odor removal, place a cup of white vinegar in a dishwasher-safe container on the upper rack of your empty dishwasher. Run the machine using the hottest water cycle available. If it still smells musty after this, sprinkle a cup of baking soda over the bottom of the dishwasher, then run for a second cycle. If you’d prefer to use a dishwasher cleaner, Good Housekeeping has a list of recommended ones that handle food and grease, as well as hard water minerals.

Washing Machine

Using a similar method as above, set your empty washing machine at its hottest temperature cycle, and run it with 1-2 cups of white vinegar. This helps to descale and remove mineral deposits, especially if you do this once a month as part of a maintenance schedule. For a store-bought solution, many brands such as Affresh and OxiClean offer washing machine cleaners in tablet or liquid form.

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Questions to Ask Yourself for 2019

We’ve all done the New Year’s Resolutions thing umpteen times. We’ve made lists with ambitious goals, hopeful ideas, and grand declarations. Everything from getting fit to managing finances better to organizing your home to hiking more with your kids. Raise your hand if you’ve gotten to March, with that list long forgotten, or with very few items checked off. (Raises hand.) I have found that lists of lofty goals can sometimes make me feel worse if I have not come close to achieving everything in due time.

For the past few years, instead of making a list of resolutions, I’ve made a list of questions. Seriously, questions! Questions that may help me prioritize factors in my life, that make me think twice about some things, and yes, that lead me to question what I have taken for granted. But of course, you don’t want a brain explosion! It doesn’t have to be all so deep, life-changing, and philosophical—it just needs to help you give more thought to what’s already in your world, and what you’d like to add or improve.

To help you get started, I’ve categorized the questions. These are just ideas to kickstart your own question-making process.

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Keep Your Home Safe When Leaving for the Holidays

If you are heading out of town for the holidays, for a long weekend or for a week, it’s a prudent idea to have a checklist of To-Do’s to ensure your home’s safety. Unfortunately this most wonderful time of year also brings about a rise in theft and burglaries. According to CNN Money burglaries peak during December because would-be thieves know people are on vacation, or are out shopping or visiting all day. Here’s our thorough guide to keeping your home safe and looking “occupied”.

Use these sectioned checklists:

Electronic

  • Put timers on several lights around the house, including your holiday lights and front/back porch lights. Have the timers go on and off at varying times, so an obviously unoccupied, dark home doesn’t suddenly all light up at 4:30pm. Winter hours mean dark mornings–set timers to also turn on 6:00-9:00am.
  • Double-check indoor/outdoor holiday lights and wiring. Don’t leave any fire hazards.
  • Unplug your automatic garage door opener so thieves can’t open it with a universal remote.
  • If you’ve got a security system, a video doorbell, or motion detector lights, check to make sure it’s working properly.

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Winter Driving: Preparing Yourself for the Cold Weather

Winter is a difficult time of year in a number of northern areas in the world, as freezing temperatures cause a variety of problems in occupants’ daily lives. Weather conditions such as freezing rain, sleet, and snow can be especially dangerous and threaten your safety when driving.

Roughly 76,000 people experience a car accident in the snow every year. This statistic underscores the need for safety precautions in order to keep you and your family protected from these risks. Beyond knowing what to do after a car accident, there are several ways to prepare for unexpected weather conditions. Here are some tips to have your car ready to go no matter the situation.

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5 Steps to Make Your Guest Bedroom Ready for Holiday Guests

A guest bedroom

The winter holidays are just around the corner, and I am C-A-L-M. We are getting ready early this year. We know who is coming over for dinner, and who will be staying with us. I know what the menu will be and who is bringing what dish. I’ve even made a shopping list. Bring it on! I admit it, I was feeling in control. Then, last night, one of the kiddos was feeling congested and he wanted the humidifier in his room. Piece of cake, I knew exactly where to look!

A few minutes later, as I am digging around in the guest bedroom closet, unsuccessfully trying to locate the humidifier, a terrible thought occurred to me. Guests will need to sleep in this very room and it looks like a tornado swept through here long ago! My smug holiday mood evaporated pretty quickly.

The door to the guest room is always closed, and for good reason! The bed hasn’t had sheets on it since the last guests stayed here (over the summer). On top of the bed, there are boxes and bags with various purchases needing to be returned to various stores. The Halloween bin is on the floor, empty.

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Get Help for the Holidays: Outsource, Delegate, Simplify!

Holidays

You survived Halloween and Thanksgiving, which means the winter holidays are just around the corner! The next few weeks will be a whirlwind of shopping, planning, hosting, traveling, and celebrating, all on top of your already frenetic life. This should be a joyful time of year, but with all that is on your to-do list, it feels overwhelming. Instead of hiding under your covers until January, tackle the holidays with this three-prong strategy: Outsource, Delegate and Simplify.

You deserve help – who says you need to tackle the entire holiday season by yourself?

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