The great deduction debate.

I came across a person the other day, who suggested that anyone who lists charitable gifts on their taxes is not donating out of the goodness of their heart, but for the selfish benefit of receiving a tax deduction. Upon hearing those words I had a facepalm moment…

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I guess they have a point, the deduction benefits probably do encourage charitable giving. I mean when was the last time you gave more than $500 to a business or organization that didn’t qualify for a deduction?

If you’re like me the answer is almost never.

Sure I give $20 here and there to a homeless person, or I might give $100 to a friend for a missions trip, but I honestly don’t think I’ve ever just walked down to my local coffee shop and been like; “Hey you guys do awesome work and I want to support the business, here’s $500.”

So yes, I guess most of us probably do only give substantial financial gifts to charities that allow us to deduct that gift from our tax obligation, but ultimately I have to disagree with the sentiment.

I might be wrong, but I’d bet most people who make charitable contributions do so because they want to help someone or something out, not because they’ll get a deduction.

It just doesn’t make financial sense.

If I’m in the 25% tax bracket and I give $10,000 to charity over the course of the year, my maximum benefit for making that contribution would be $2,500. Why the heck would I give someone $10,000, so I can save $2,500? It clearly would be to my benefit to never make the contribution, write Uncle Sam a check for an extra $2,500, and keep the remaining $7,500.

And that is exactly the point I want to make today.

Why do people get so pumped on tax deductions like they are best thing ever? I mean people were telling me to keep my student loans because I could deduct some of the interest on the loan.

They literally were trying to convince me to keep paying $2,000 a year in interest to Sallie Mae, so I didn’t have to send the government $500.

I bet some of you with mortgages have probably had similar garbage preached to you, “Don’t pay off the mortgage, you’ll lose the deduction.”

Don’t get me wrong. I love me some deductions. If you are eligible, take ’em. Just don’t do something stupid and give Person A $5,000 so you can avoid giving Person B $1,000… Unless of course you have so much freakin’ money you like wasting it, then by all means waste to your heart’s content.

Have you been told to keep a debt around longer than you wanted because of the tax deduction? Do you regularly give significant financial gifts to non-qualified businesses or organizations? Have you ever given a gift, purely for the tax benefit?

Some free things aren’t free when you have money.

Girl Ninja and I were hanging out with a bunch of high school kids the other night at Young Life, when I started talking with one of the Junior guys about some of his photography shots I’ve seen him share on social media.

As we talked about our mutual love for nice lenses and photography, he said something to the effect of “I would love to take pictures of Baby Ninja and your family to help build my portfolio”.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. 

Say what? 

– You are offering to take free pictures of my family. 

– With your $3,000 camera and $1,500 lens? 

– And this will finally keep Girl Ninja from nagging me about getting family photos? 

– And you are actually good at photography? 

HECK to the YES I’m interested.

So last Monday, this high school kid came to our adorable little city on the Puget Sound and took a bunch of pics for us. Here are a few of those shots.

 

Baby Ninja is always so stoic…

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Except for when he is not…

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He’s got crawling down…

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And standing…

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But he’s still a little cautious of shoulder rides…

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But he’s definitely not scared of Nova…

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And just for kicks, here is an action shot of Nova…

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He gave us about 50 shots in all and we couldn’t be more thrilled, but we do feel a little bad.

In his mind we helped him out by giving him some shots to add to his portfolio which is cool and all. But it doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to figure out why he wants to build his portfolio.

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So he can start charging people to take pictures of them.

Isn’t that exactly what he did for us? Why shouldn’t WE pay him then?

Can you imagine how excited he will be to get a nice “Thank You” card containing two crisp $50 bills?

I can’t wait to see him at Young Life this next Monday and surprise him.

It’s things like this that make me SOOOOOO thankful we have our financial crap together. Without thinking twice, Girl Ninja and I can give what seems like a relatively insignificant amount to us, $100, to a high school kid and he is going to be so pumped he just got paid ONE HUNDRED FREAKING DOLLARS for doing something he loves. How is that not a win-win situation?

Moral of the story: Get your financial crap together so you can joyfully give people some of your money. 

Can people please stop getting married and graduating

polygamy ninja

Not only did I commit my life to Girl Ninja on August 8th 2010, but I apparently committed it to about 20 of her best friends and a bunch of high school students too. I seriously can’t believe how many parties we have on our calendar. It seems like every week there is a birthday, wedding, or graduation party to attend. Three parties, back-to-back-to-back, yesterday.

To help ease my “party overload anxiety” I made, what I thought was, a reasonable proposal. I ever so politely asked Girl Ninja to reduce the number of friends she has. I thought we could make this reduction process fun by inviting all of her friends over to the Ninja house and host some type of NFL style friend draft. Just imagine, “…and in the first round of this years NFL (Ninja’s Friends List) Draft, Mr and Mrs. Ninja would like to befriend…enter dramatic pause here… Will and Whitney!”

I think it is a stellar idea, unfortunately, I couldn’t get Girl Ninja to go for it. This means we will probably be attending 436 different functions over the next year.

Being that I like to make things as simple as possible, I’ve thrown out the idea of a a “one size fits most” (yes, I stole the idea from the tag on my fruit of the loom underwear) gift giving policy.

Essentially we would operate on a cash or no gift policy for all parties we attend. Weddings and birthdays get cash, high school graduations get a “Congrats” card.

I’d love to say we’d give each of our high school students $20.14 (their graduation year) with the card we give, but that’s just not practical when you are attending a dozen of so grad parties in a two week time span. Hence the reason I vote “no cash” for graduation.

For weddings, obviously there is not much thought behind a $50 cash gift. But who doesn’t love getting cash? I can’t speak for Girl Ninja, but my favorite wedding gifts weren’t the kitchen gadgets, it was the cards with green pieces of paper inside them 😉

spatula gift

Now obviously if we have a specific gift in mind for someone, we would get it for them. The cash option simply takes the burden off our shoulders when no one present seems any better than another. ex: Should we get them two C&B plates or two C&B bowls.

Something tells me Girl Ninja will be resistant to this system as she is all about the sentiment and creativity when giving a gift, and let’s face it, cash isn’t creative. We’ll see if I can force her convince her to come to my side.

Do any of you operate under a similar system? Do you have a set dollar amount you give for friends’ weddings, birthdays, etc? For weddings, do you typically get things off the registry or stick to cash/gift cards?

That lady needed a dollar

I was out and about in Seattle yesterday when lunch time came. I decided to treat myself to Dick’s Drive In (the Seattle equivalent of In-N-Out). In true mom-and-pop fashion, Dick’s is a cash only joint.

As I was waiting in line to order my standard Deluxe cheeseburger, fry, and strawberry shake, I overheard the old lady in front of me ask the cashier if she was able purchase two Deluxe burgers for $6.

The cashier gave her devastating news and informed her that the after-tax the total would be $6.60.

Gramma was about to be denied double deluxes. 

This made me very sad for her.

I mean how cute that a 70-year-old woman was out for lunch by herself and wanted to indulge in two of the best burgers in town. How depressing that $0.60 was keeping her from living her Monday afternoon dream.

Ninja to the rescue. 

As she was looking at the menu trying to contemplate a new order, I intervened and gave her a light tap on the shoulder and said,

“Ma’am, I would love help you along on your burger journey by giving you this dollar.” 

Homegirl must have really wanted those two burgers ’cause she didn’t even bat an eye as she gladly accepted my donation. She gave me the $0.40 change that was tendered, thanked me, and went on her merry little way.

I like to think that I am responsible for two things in this situation…

1) A random act of kindness.

2) Helping raise her cholesterol level to dangerous amounts.

 Moral of the story: You don’t have to be wealthy to lend a helping hand. All it took in this situation was a $0.60 to help brighten someone’s day.

Have you brightened someone’s day lately, or had your day brightened by someone?

Christmas in a BIG family

Get excited for a post from GIRL NINJA!!!!!!….

santa christmas

It’s the most, wonderful time, of the year (except for the summertime).  I LOVE Christmas.   The smells, the music, the decorations, the lights, the joy, the greatest gift of all time…I just love it all.  I get it from my mom.  She is obsessed- I’m not kidding.  Our whole house was transformed top to bottom with everything Christmas during the month of December when I was growing up.  Along with that, we have traditions upon traditions that are celebrated.  One of them….spoiler alert…is that we would open gifts on Christmas Eve.

Almost all of them.

This really gets to Ninja.  He doesn’t get it, doesn’t understand it, and doesn’t care for it. But, he loves me, and he follows our tradition for the sake of tradition.

Now that we’re all grown up, things have started to change.  Within the last 3 years, 3 out of the 4 of us girls (yes, I grew up with 3 sisters, no brothers) have gotten married, and my oldest sister recently had a baby.

The more the merrier, right?

WELL…that is until we make our Christmas shopping list. Now before some of you commenters get all Scrugey on me, we love to give gifts in our family, especially these types of giftsThere is more joy in the giving, than in the receiving for our family. This is especially true now that we are all older, and a little less selfish.

That said, a big family, a big GROWING family, means a big BIG GROWING list of gifts to purchase each year.  It can become quite overwhelming.  All in all, there are 10 people in my immediate family.  Then, we have Ninja’s side of the family (another four),  close friends, and volunteer gifts for those that work in my classroom.

I WANT TO GIVE EVERYONE GIFTS!!!!

Unfortunately, that’s not really practical. I’ve talked with my sisters and instead of getting each of them gifts this year, we are drawing names and will only be assigned one person.  It’s new, it’s different, it’s not tradition…but if it goes well enough, it might be!

Instead of buying 10 gifts, I’ll buy one gift, and Ninja will buy one gift. We have a larger budget for our gift recipient, which will really broaden my gift giving horizons. So fun!  Not to mention, I think Ninja will be happier as this new plan saves everyone money and there is no more insane hunt for that perfect gift for each of our family members.

How do you (would you) handle Christmas in a big family?  Are we the only family that still gives gifts pretty religiously?How do you tame your Xmas budget?

We’re getting a human!!!

You all know in mid December Girl Ninja and I will be adding a puppy to the household, but we just found out last Thursday we will also be adding a human to the mix!!! No, no. Not a baby.

A roommate.

We were at a Young Life meeting (a high school outreach we are a part of) last week and one of our fellow adult friends mentioned she was moving out of her current apartment. I jokingly said, “Want to live with us?”.

To which she responded something like “Wait, are you serious?”.

I looked at Girl Ninja, and we did that thing married couples do where we have a whole conversation with our eyes without saying any words, and responded “Yeah, why not!” 

She came over last Friday and looked at the place and she’s all for it. She’ll be joining the family Mid October. Seeing that we want to be the coolest landlords to have ever existed, Girl Ninja and I made a “list of demands” that our new roommate must meet if she wants to stay in our home. Those demands are as follows…

  1. She has to live WITH us. She can’t be all awkward and isolate herself from us. She isn’t renting a room in our house, she’s renting the whole thing. She has just as much of a right to the living room, piano, bathroom, and kitchen as we do. She can come and go as she pleases, and she doesn’t need to check in with us if she wants to have people over.
  2. She can’t sign a lease. We aren’t just renting a room in our house to a random person, we’ve served in ministry with this girl for over a year now and want to keep things friendly. She’ll move in Mid October and she can move out a week, a month, or a year later for all we care. She told us she was thinking she’d crash for about six months.
  3. We will collect rent. We are thinking probably $400/month -all utilities included- would be a good “friend deal”. She is currently paying about $700/month, and while we could definitely charge close to that for our place, we don’t need to. She’s pumped because she gets to save $300 a month. We’re pumped because we get to help a friend save some money. Oh, and we told her that we plan to use her “rent” money for the good of the house. We’ll be reinvesting all of her payments directly back in to making our living space more comfortable. Maybe that means upgrading the dishwasher, adding in some canned lighting, or changing out carpet.

The best part about this whole thing is that she is moving in Mid October, and if you recall, I am leaving for The Netherlands, for six weeks, starting November 1st. That means, Girl Ninja wont have to be home alone while I’m gone! Instead she’ll be making orange mocha frappuccinos, painting her nails, and listening to Celine Dion with one of her good friends. That is what girls do in their free time right? 

So yeah, we are getting a human. We’ve always flirted with the idea of “communal” living and talked about which of our friends we would be cool living with. Now we get to give it a shot.

Would you ever rent a room in your house out? 

A few pieces of pizza go a long way.

Girl Ninja and I do our grocery shopping on Sundays after church. Why we pick this day and time is beyond me. I often forget we are in a Trader Joe’s, because on Sundays it might as well be a zoo. The place is packed.

Since we were feeling pretty lazy after running our errands, we decided to pick up a Costco pizza for lunch/dinner. As we pulled out of the Costco parking lot and were stopped at a red-light, I noticed a 20-something homeless kid at the intersection. He was holding a sign that read, “Homeless and hungry, anything helps.”

We’ve all been in situations like this before, where you pull up to an intersection and someone is begging for money a foot from your window. If you’re like me, you look straight ahead and avoid all contact. Typically my heart start beating a little fast and my brain is screaming “DON’T MAKE EYE CONTACT!” It’s like I’m trying to convince myself that, if I don’t look at him, he can’t see me.

There was something different about this kid. He was sitting on the ground, legs crossed, holding his sign. When we made eye contact, I could tell he was humiliated. As though he was frustrated by his circumstance. By his need to beg.

It broke my heart.

I asked Girl Ninja to roll her window down. As she did, this kid perked up and slow-jogged towards our window. I asked him if he was hungry. He said yes. We opened up our pizza box and let him take a few slices. It was a 5-second interaction at most.

But here I am, nearly twelve hours later, still thinking about it. Humbled. It really puts things in perspective. I mean, I here I am complaining about a Seattle housing bubble, but this kid is on a street corner wondering how he is going to get dinner. There was no question of what needed to happen. We had fresh pizza, and this kid was hungry. We needed to feed him.

It reminds me of a famous Stephen Colbert quote:
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This was my “welcome back to reality” pimp slap across the face this week. Have you had one recently?