Four Tips for Tax Season

4 Tips for Tax Season

Ah, tax season. We meet again. This is my third year filing my own taxes, and let’s just say, my first two experiences were bumpy. (Multiple W-2s! Even more W-9s! Missing receipts! Moving from one state to another!) But this winter, I decided to approach my taxes like a grown-up (note the white button-up). In partnership with H&R Block, the tax preparation service that’s been around for more than 60 years, here’s how I tackled my April 18th deadline…

4 Tips for Tax Season

I decided to go with H&R Block’s new online filing option More Zero. It’s ideal for anyone with a relatively simple tax situation, and would work well should I decide to itemize my deductions. It’s also surprisingly quick and easy — you can even take a picture of your W-2 on your phone and then import its data directly into the program. Most important, H&R Block guarantees everyone their maximum refund. Bonus: It’s free!

It took me only 30 minutes to do my taxes, and I got a refund.

Overall, in life, I’ve been trying get more financially savvy, too. I’m happy to report it has been years since I raided my parents’ house and “borrowed” sleeves of Ritz crackers and string cheeses (sorry, Mom), but I want to figure out how to make the most of my earnings. In addition to H&R Block, here’s a three-step plan I’ve started that helped make my taxes easier…

Get Organized
I have a dedicated drawer at home where I keep all my tax forms, bank statements and other important papers. Now there’s no more debating whether an important document is scrunched in the back of my closet or in that one random folder under my bed (oops); if I ever need a document, I know exactly where to find it. Also, did you know that itemized deductions — like work expenses and charitable donations — can reduce your taxable income? I save all those receipts, too. (Here’s a list of common deductions; and if you’re not sure whether or not you should itemize, H&R Block‘s interview questions will help you figure it out.)

Make a Budget
Have you heard of the 50-20-30 rule? It’s a classic budgeting guideline I’m trying to use. It suggests that 50 percent of your paycheck should be reserved for fixed costs (think: rent, utilities, subway pass), 20 percent for financial goals (think: savings, investments) and 30 percent for flexible spending (think: clothes, impromptu Target trips). And in case I owe money to the IRS again, I won’t be unprepared.

Adjust When Necessary
When saving for a vacation or large purchase, I re-organize my budget accordingly. I figure out when I will need the money and make weekly savings goals until that time comes. Small things — like bringing my lunch (a fig jam and almond butter sandwich beats a deli salad anyway) or inviting friends over instead of going out — really add up. This year, I’m also using my refund for savings — the glory of growing up! Did you know about two thirds of taxpayers get a refund and the average amount has been about $3,000 for the past several years? I’d love to try to save my refund every year. (Check out this free calculator to estimate your refund.)

I still have a long way to go (retirement fund, I’m looking at you), but it feels good to be more proactive about how I handle money.

4 Tips for Tax Season

How do you manage your taxes? Do you have any tips for staying on top of your budget and finances?

P.S. Stella’s beauty uniform, and how to ask for a raise.

(Photos by Ana Gambuto for Cup of Jo. This post is sponsored by H&R Block, which makes filing taxes a breeze. This post is for information only; everyone’s taxes are different. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Cup of Jo.)

  1. Victoria Renée says...

    So I haven’t read each comment here, but I’m surprised that no one is talking about how huge refunds *aren’t* great; it just means that you are giving the government an interest-free loan because a refund isn’t the government’s money, it’s yours! So it’s actually better to keep your money as much as you can throughout the year – and make good use of it by paying down any debts, saving, or investing – and have as close to a zero refund as possible!

    Think of all the things that you could do with that money throughout the course of the year (pay off your student loans! invest it for a higher return than the 0% you’re getting by loaning it to the government! buy that gorgeous bag you’ve been coveting!) instead of losing it each month because you’re not claiming enough deductions.

    • Lindsey says...

      This makes a lot of sense! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Great tips! I’ve been such a little procrastinator this year, though. The best thing you can do with a tax refund is to turn it around and make it work for you! Put it into a savings for a down payment on a house or put it into a mutual fund or index fund.

    xo, Sofia
    http://www.thecozie.co

  3. Andrea says...

    I remember going to the library with my mom as a kid, where she would make photocopies of the tax forms she needed from that year’s IRS form books that the library kept. We’ve come a long way, haha!

  4. Charissa says...

    Great post! Also, great outfit! Where’s the slouchy shirt and awesome shoes from pls?

  5. KC says...

    Just a note that the pdf linked to with the text “common deductions” is several years out of date – the ability to deduct real estate tax without itemizing expired again (that deal was only in place for two years, apparently!). According to irs.gov, you can deduct real estate tax, but *only* if you itemize. (I was briefly very excited. Sigh.) Anyway, not sure what other info in there is “stale” for this tax year, so be cautious accordingly.

  6. Great information and helpful. Congrats on completing your taxes yourself. I am an accountant myself however pay to have a CPA do my taxes. Everything for me is kept in my accounting software (business & personal). Each year, I create folders for personal & business related items to ensure I am ready to go for tax season.

  7. Kush says...

    Loved the post and also the comments and since you have opened up this avenue, I have to request you urgently regarding the following topic.
    — Saving for our now 4 years old’s future college fund (considering we will be saving a lot on his education through Public school, provided Ms. Besty Devos don’t coz Havoc!!!! *eye roll* ).

    • Kush says...

      you can strike out ‘urgently’ !! sorry no pressure! :D

  8. Aneeqa says...

    Love your outfit, specially the shoes Stella!

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Aw, thank you so much, Aneeqa! :)

      Stella

  9. Ann says...

    There is an old fashioned budgeting technique that works really well when you are starting out. You put cash for the month in an envelope, dividing it into sections for groceries, metro, fun, whatever applies to your situation. If you overspend on fun and have to borrow from metro, you know you’ll be walking a lot until the month is over. If you overspend on fun, you either have to find free stuff to do, or eat lots of beans and rice that month. A year or two of this discipline, and you will become a master of money. I think the reason it works so well is that you can immediately see the impact of casual or careless spending on the rest of your budget.

    You can also carry an empty envelope in which to put all receipts as you move through the month, starting a new envelope every month. If you need a receipt, you’ll know it’s in the March or April envelope (which you’ve tossed into a designated drawer or basket). You might even write a brief note on the receipt before you put it in the envelope, saying what it’s for, who you were with, etc., if it’s business-related.

    • Bonnie says...

      Kudos, Ann! I’m with you on this option. My mom taught me this method as well … I had long-term envelopes (insurance, vets) where every month I put 1/12 of what my insurance bills would total – renter’s and car … the same for the pets’ vet bills – I could guesstimate what I’d spend on the annual visits and then add in another $100-$200 to that to help fund any issue down the line, and put 1/12 of that away each month in that envelope. That lasted for years, moving to that method in bank accounts. You can’t spend what you don’t have and the unnecessary spending on things that that aren’t needs just don’t happen when you’re really aware of where the money is going. The money you work for stays with your priorities. I might be on the lower-income side of folks here, though, and more interested now in retiring early through financial independence, but every small amount saved seems to help.

  10. Laura says...

    This post made me so happy! My mom works at H&R Block and the company has been good to/for her. English is her second language and her being bilingual has also helped other Spanish-speaking clients (& helps me with my taxes too!).

  11. MK says...

    For budgeting and adulting purposes, we use LearnVest. It was started by a woman whose goal was to make financial planning more accessible. We love it! We have our own financial planner, and he has given us action items, like making sure we both have wills and upping our contributions to 401k, and setting up a college fund for our son. Plus we have other financial goals that we contribute to, like saving for a house.
    The up front cost is not cheap, but the monthly cost to keep it as long as you want is more than manageable.

    • Rachel says...

      I use it too! Such a great tool for long term (and short term savings like our wedding). Well worth the costs for me!

  12. Sarah S says...

    CPA here and wanted to second the HR Block recommendation. I could do my own taxes, but software makes it much easier plus you usually get your refund faster.

    I change software every year depending on who offers the best price for itemized 1040A + state return. HR Block was 100% free this year. Super easy and accurate.

  13. Elizabeth says...

    This is my first time filing as a freelancer and I have 2 W-2s and 5 1099s, so I’m also using HR block! I also started using an app called Qapital which allows you to have multiple savings accounts and set up goals and rules to help you save. I religiously put aside 30% every time I get paid (and usually round up) and now I have extra money put away (after paying what I owe for taxes). I also have a travel fund and emergency fund and it’s so nice to have the money set aside for something specific and out of my checking/primary savings account.

  14. Naomi says...

    Financial posts are great, and this one is obviously timely.

    p.s. Your headline says four tips and the post lists three. What am I missing?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      thanks, naomi! the fourth tip was H&R Block :)

  15. Rachel says...

    This year I used TurboTax’s free online program (similar to the H&R Block one you mentioned, I imagine). A few thoughts:

    1) I know everyone wishes for a refund (I got a $2000 one this yea! Woohoo!), but really you should adjust your withholding with the aim of having $0 refund. A refund just means you lent the government money for a year that you could have invested!
    2) I track my investments in Personal Capital (free)–it’s the best program I have found for that–and my spending in YNAB ($50/yr). YNAB is hard work because you have to put in every expense (think a very sophisticated, digital check register), but man does it work! It’s the only way I’ve ever found to effectively keep to your budget.
    3) I would encourage more than 20% in savings, especially for couples. Most can manage at least 30%. We’ve done as much as 55% when working to pay off undergrad student loans and save for graduate school. (We were only making $70,000 at this time so before anyone says this is a pipe dream–it is totally possible!)

    • YNAB is a game changer/life saver. I sing its praises all the time. Been using it for years and has taken so much money management pressure/stress off of myself and my husband.

  16. Bravo for the financial post! I feel proud of myself for finally looking into a 529 plan for my daughter. I learned you can transfer the money to anyone in the family (hey, I may want to go back to school one day), and that it can be used for student housing too, even if the student lives off campus. Doing this made me feel so responsible and organized!

  17. Allison says...

    Ditto to everyone wanting more financial/money posts. I have a really hard time planning out a budget and monitoring monthly spending (especially with a growing family and a new house) and i would love to hear from others how you track monthly spending. I don’t have a lot of time to sit in front of my computer and input data, so if anyone has any user-friendly programs or tips i’m all ears!

    • Hillary says...

      Have you tried using mint.com? It involves a few hours of setup time, but once you input all your info it completely tracks and categorizes every purchase you make. I’m not great about tracking my spending in general, but I found that mint makes it super easy for me to see how much i’ve spent on groceries vs coffee shops vs restaurants, etc. You can set up budgets and goals, too, and mint will alert you if you’re getting close to going over your budget. (I don’t work for them haha, I just really really love the product.)

    • katie says...

      we love mint, too! my husband and i use it to budget and track our spending. also, would be very interested in posts about investing and money management! i work with college students and it’s scary how many students take out copious amounts of loan debt for low paying careers with no plan on how they will one day pay them back. thanks for featuring this post!

  18. love these I live by the 50,20,30 rule!

  19. Cazmina says...

    I love the financial posts :)
    What I find useful for budgeting is to have a separate account (only accessible via online transfer, not with my card) connected to my everyday account. I set up automatic payments that happen every pay day, so my rent comes straight out, and my budgeted amount for bills and savings goes straight into the other account. All that’s left in the account I can access instantly is my designated “fun” money. When bills come in, I transfer the exact amount from my savings and pay the bill. This eliminates the temptation to see your balance and think “well, I’ve got plenty in there, what’s the harm in buying this (insert unnecessary item here)”
    Also, if you are saving for something specific, it helps to visualise unnecessary purchases as part of what you are saving for (e.g. “Well this top is only $30, but that is one dinner on my holiday.”)

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Great idea, Cazmina! Thank you so much for sharing.

      Stella xx

  20. Talia says...

    I love this post and would welcome more financial posts from Cup of Jo! I am forwarding this to my daughters. Knowledge is power and it’s never too early/late to become financially savvy! Great job, Stella!

    ps: your shoes are amazing! :)

  21. Kate says...

    One trick that I do with my finances is withdraw a certain amount of cash on the first of the month. The amount can differ depending on what your income is but this money is for happy hours, girls nights out, buying lunch if I don’t feel like eating what I packed, etc. The amount should be modest but enough to not make you feel like you can’t ever enjoy a latte on a Friday morning. You may have to plan around with the amount the first few months until you settle on the right amount. The idea is to get you to plan ahead and make smart choices. The first couple months I did it I made it halfway through the month and ran out of money! I had plans to meet a girlfriend later in the month so we ended up going hiking together instead of grabbing a drink. Since then, I’ve learned how to adapt and stretch my dollar and it’s encouraged me to come up with fun and cheap ‘date’ ideas.

    You could certainly just set a monthly amount for yourself and use your debit card instead but I find that by physically withdrawing the cash from the ATM and watching my cash dwindle in my wallet over the month, I’m more aware of where my money is going and how much I have left. Plus, whatever money you don’t use you can tuck into a drawer and save it for something special – a massage, that ridiculously expensive mascara you’ve been eyeing at Sephora, etc. I’m by NO MEANS perfect with my finances. It’s taken me years to learn how to manage my money but posts like this help create a platform for women to get together and discuss topics that we may not feel proficient in. So, kudos CoJ team for another slam dunk! :)

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      This is tip is so helpful, Kate! Thank you for sharing!

      Stella xx

  22. keri says...

    I used H&R block last year to do my taxes and felt that I would have been better off using an accountant who was familiar with my industry and relevant deductibles. But I like your tips for getting organised and budgeting!

  23. Lesley says...

    I’ve used TaxAct for the last few years. It’s significantly cheaper than TurboTax or similar. I haven’t used TurboTax but my impression is it may be more user friendly. In any case, TaxAct is great if you have some awareness of tax deductions, credits, etc.

    Save, save, save. Put as much money as you can stomach in your 401k and open a Roth IRA. Oh, and save,

    If you want to do the math on retirement, here’s a great tool: https://networthify.com/calculator/earlyretirement?income=50000&initialBalance=0&expenses=20000&annualPct=5&withdrawalRate=4

  24. We already filed our taxes & we use H&R every year. This year one of my goals is to become a money master. I agree with everyone about more financial posts! I’d love to hear more about the 529 plan for our kids college fund, everyday realistic budgeting tips and investing.

    Lendy
    http://www.twoplusluna.com

  25. Lisa says...

    For someone who doesn’t even live in the US, this post doesn’t really help me, but – I LOVE what the Cup of Jo team is doing here. Helping/teaching/informing women about finances empowers them, and in times like these we all need to step up and empower each other. Thank you for all the hard work you are doing, for making a difference and for not backing down on women’s rights and empowerment. I love this blog more and more for each post. No shaming, just information and love comes out of it. Thank you!!

    • Nuriya says...

      couldn’t agree more! i love this blog with every new post.

  26. Sara says...

    Every Cup of Jo reader should read Financially Fearless. Alexa makes saving and paying off debt easy to understand.

    • Kat says...

      A thousand times yes. Why didn’t I read this as a college kid?? (Well it wasn’t out.. haha) but seriously its the only thing that got through to me and I tried everything.

  27. Emma Bee says...

    My financial tips:
    1. Whether you have a 401k, Roth IRA, etc, through work or individually, invest in index funds that track the overall stock market. They are passively managed and have very low fees (high fees can eat into your savings). All major brokerage firms (Vanguard, Fidelity, T. Rowe) have them.
    2. Check your portfolio once or twice a year, adjust investments as necessary and then FORGET ABOUT IT.
    3. If you get a % increase in salary, immediately adjust your % contribution to your savings/retirement. I’m effectively living on my salary from 5 years ago and my retirement savings has increased quite a bit.
    4. Don’t be afraid of getting smart about finances – it takes a little effort at first but having control over your money is powerful!

    • Great tips Emma! Especially the one about the increase in salary–I’m gonna pass it along to my husband.

      Lendy

  28. Meghan says...

    thank you for posting! this team of ladies is the best! thankful for y’all!

  29. Sofia says...

    For a retirement account for someone young (like Stella and me) I’d highly recommend s ROTH IRA. You can set it and forget it using Betterment or Wealthfront or Ellevest. Easy. You can automatically contribute too.

    Worth checking out! A great way to find your ROTH is…your tax return :)

    • Sofia says...

      *fund (not find, whoops!)

    • Emma Bee says...

      Yes, Roth IRA are great – when you retire and start drawing from it, it’s tax free!

      There are also special IRA for those who are freelance or self-employed, called SEP-IRA. I think contributions to these are pre-tax, similar to a traditional 401k.

  30. Elle says...

    We use TurboTax and itemize our deductions and we may have a slightly more complicated situation than most people have, but nothing crazy. Every year, the software asks us questions that completely baffle us — and my husband is a Harvard professor and we both agree that I’m smarter than he is! For this reason, we always make sure there’s really good cake in the house when we do our taxes. We sit and stare at the screen, and munch, and try not to yell at each other. If we simply can’t figure it out, we just hit NO and move on.

    • Joss says...

      Made me laugh out LOUD!! Thanks!!

    • Julie. says...

      ha! My husband is an econ prof. and turbo tax makes him crazy sometimes too. Some of the questions *are* nuts. Another gripe: ONE time he got some tiny payment from a different university for doing a book review or some such thing. It was a one.time.thing. BUT every year since, turbotax asks him “did you get any $ from blah blah this year?”. Ugh! NO! Will try the cake idea this year :)

    • Heather says...

      We often use the H&R Block “Best of Both” option because our returns have never been simple, for various reasons. The Best of Both option allows you to fill out your tax return using H&R Block’s online service and then have it reviewed by a real-life tax professional. This allows us to ask questions on those form items that stumped us and has often resulted in an additional deduction. It costs a little more than just using the online software but it also comes with some added protections and guarantees from H&R Block if there are any errors found or the IRS decides to audit. It is nice to have that piece of mind.

  31. JANELLE says...

    this is the first year i filled out the IRS paper form (albeit through a free online form), after having used HR block and turbo tax in the past. Recently it seemed like it required more fees to complete my forms and do the state taxes too through these services. Since I didn’t want to surrender almost 50% of my refund (paying for a wedding, need all that cash), I decided to go for it. Yes, it took about 3 hours on a sunday googling and watching you tube to figure out the different forms, I feel pretty confident I got the right result, actually MORE INFORMED how this whole taxes thing works, and weirdly proud of myself.

    • Alyce says...

      Go you! I also think the tax software costs are exorbitant and do my family’s taxes directly. That said, I do also input the info in a software system to double check my numbers (because, at least in the past, you weren’t charged until you have to submit the return) . The added 30 minutes is worth my piece of mind.

  32. Cynthia says...

    I have been using TurboTax on line for 10 years. It is very thorough, and easy to use. After taxes, I try to put a 1/3 of my paycheck in savings. I’m a teacher, so I’m paid once a month. You need a rainy day fund to cover unexpected expenses. I’m very thrifty and a saver. No material things can take the place of money in the bank. My husband and I also have investments through Scottrade. We invest in the stock market for the long haul, because savings accounts, even money market accounts aren’t going to give you those rates. Young people (I’m 62) need to save for retirement because who knows what could happen to your pensions and Social Security will probably be broke unless it gets fixed.

  33. Tammy says...

    Great tips and I love the 50-20-30 plan…I definitely have to do that!

  34. Hannah says...

    This is so great! I’m about to do my taxes for the second time in my life, and last year I’m pretty sure I just called my mom and had her give me all the answers haha.

    I think it’d be really interesting if you guys did a post about investments. That seems like a whole other world to me–like stock markets and men with briefcases. I’d love to know more about how I can invest in stuff too!

    • Rebecca says...

      +1!

    • +1 more!

    • Ashley says...

      Check out “The Financial Diet” YouTube channel. They have great practical explanations!

  35. Sandra says...

    As always, you guys do a great job with sponsored posts.

    And it is very timely, as I just had our taxes done at H&R Block today! I used to do them myself, but they got complicated since I freelance and we also have a rental property in addition to owning our home. Unfortunately it now costs us $471.00 just to have our federal return done (!) since we have a lot of forms, but I really don’t think I could do them as well as our H&R Block guy does.

    I would LOVE to see more money posts. My parents are so financially responsible (my mom wouldn’t even buy milk at McDonald’s the rare times we went there as kids because she thought it was too pricey), but they didn’t really pass along a lot of financial advice or know-how to me. And my husband knows even less than I do. I handle all of our family’s finances, and I feel like I am constantly learning. I would also love to see some Motherhood Monday posts about raising financially responsible kids.

    • Angela says...

      Ditto, I would love this as well!

    • Courtney says...

      You’re paying $471 at H&R Block? Have you considered seeking out an active CPA who specializes in tax? The staff at H&R Block do not have the level of legal onerous that a CPA has – countrywide. To become a CPA, in most states, you must (1) have an applicable college education; (2) pass a rigorous exam; and (3) meet some of the most rigorous continuing education requirements among any licensed professionals. Those who work at H&R Block – don’t have these requirements. While there are certainly areas where an individual can prepare his/her own taxes (the level of expertise isn’t necessary), it sounds like you might truly benefit from someone who has a higher level of experience and expertise.

      Don’t know where to start? Google your state’s “CPA Society” … they might be able to help!

    • Anu says...

      I recommend the book “The Opposite of Spoiled” by Ron Lieber. The main idea of the book is that allowance should not be tied to chores (associate other rewards such as screen time to chores). Allowance is a powerful tool to teach kids how to manage money. He recommends teaching kids to divide their allowance into Save, Spend and Give categories and has lots of tips on how to scale this into teaching kids about investing as they grow older. We have already started implementing this with our 7 year old and can see how it will help her in the long run. She saved diligently for a trip to the American Girl doll store even putting any birthday money that she got into her save jar. One of her gifts this past Christmas was the Smart Piggy Trio Bank which she uses now instead of the plastic jars we were using before. It’s a must read for all parents. Heck, it taught me a lot about how I should be managing my money too.

    • Meredith says...

      After paying almost $500 to H&R Block a few years ago, I started doing TurboTax and never looked back. In addition to my husbands and my regular jobs, I also run a small shop on Etsy and have to do all that tax work (similar to your freelance stuff). It was kind of hard the first year but a breeze after that. The turbotax package that includes the Schedule C software runs me about $110 every year, plus it is deductible on the next year’s tax form.

  36. Michelle says...

    I love the post on finance! Keep them coming. I’ve been putting off my own taxes but will definitely check out H&R Block upon your recommendation.

  37. Ashley says...

    Even though it’s sponsored, hear hear to financial posts! I was glad to see in a previous comment that you are thinking about doing more – I wanted to add another voice to let you know there is interest.

    I was appalled to read last year in The Atlantic that the average American would have a hard time scraping up $400 in an emergency (!!!!). This is something that we don’t often talk about much or in a digestible way, but it is so important. I can’t do the 50-20-30 rule right now (thank you student loans), but I would love to get there!

    • Em says...

      I read that stat in the Atlantic, too, and was equally flabbergasted! I’m a little bit confused about the “even though it’s sponsored” comment, though. I think the CoJ team does an AMAZING job with sponsored content, and I’m so glad they’re able to combine awesome information and an engaging post with an income source! No “evens” needed :)

  38. Brianna says...

    This is super helpful. My parents’ accountant very kindly does my taxes for me for $50. To me, it’s worth not having to stress it. I do need to increase my saving and decrease my spending, though. It’s good to know about H&R Block should the need ever arise.

  39. Elizabeth says...

    It’s great to start thinking about your financial health and future in your twenties. I work in a very rarefied field, I’ve never made more than $69,000 annually (and in my twenties I was *really* strapped), but I’ve always saved. I’m in my late fifties and our house is paid for, I’ll get a decent pension, and I’ve saved almost a million dollars. Live below your means, invest in a low-cost index fund, and for retirement start with a Roth IRA. Even if you don’t earn a lot, if you do things like bring your lunch to work, ditch cable, look for low-cost entertainment, cook at home, the effort will pay off and your savings will grow. Money doesn’t have to be intimidating: keep it simple!

    • Ashley says...

      Hear, hear!

    • Kate says...

      Elizabeth this is awesome!! Way to go :)

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Love your insight, Elizabeth! Thank you!!

  40. Thanks for the timely post! Since I just left the legal world and ventured into my own business, it’s so tricky figuring out how to manage/keep track of items properly. Thanks for sharing!

  41. Amy says...

    I would love more of these financial posts! I’ve been feeling embarrassed lately at how little financial literacy I have! It’s an area I would love some empowerment in.

    • Ashley says...

      Check out “The Financial Diet” YouTube channel. They have great, practical advice and explanations!

    • Rach in Oz says...

      I SO agree Amy. I’m in my early 30s, so I feel like I’ve got the basics under control, but I’d love to be more financially savvy (beyond just trying to save regularly).

  42. Sarah Kang says...

    you’re a cutie, stella, that’s for sure! i think it’s so important that women know the family finances. i have a few friends who have NO idea what is going on with their savings, where their money is, etc. — their husbands handle it all. those are important conversations and decisions, and knowledge is power! i have always made it a point to know about my money, be involved in decision making, keep some money separate (for a rainy day, or should anything happen to my marriage, KNOCK ON WOOD). thanks for this great post!

    • Alyce says...

      I don’t think it’s a gendered issue. Every adult should be involved in their finances. I stuggle to get my husband to pay attention to our finances, which I handle exclusively, and I think he has all of the same disadvantages of a women who hands her finances over to her partner. Perhaps women may be more vulnerable if they make significantly less money than their partners, or if they stay home with kids instead of working. But the risks associated with being uninformed about your finances apply regardless of gender.

  43. shannon says...

    I’m not sure about the 50-20-30 guideline. 20% seems really low to me savings-wise. It is recommended that you put 15% of your income into retirement savings, so this leaves only 5% for other investments, which is not very much. I like the general idea of using % guidelines for budget categories, but this particular breakdown sounds quite spendy!

    • Sarah Kang says...

      i do think that breakdown is a good rule of thumb — and also seems to depend on each person’s salary. for example, if you’re making $20K, you may need most/all of that money for rent and food and healthcare and necessary expenses. if you’re making $500K, you could invest a substantial part of that.

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      This is such a great point, Shannon! I definitely want to increase my savings percentage over the next couple of years. I’m still looking into investments and a retirement savings plan.

    • Catie says...

      I don’t think that most young people can afford to put more than 20% away in savings. Between our crazy health insurance market, “entry level” jobs (with entry level salaries) asking for years of experience, the flood of millennials back into cities and the higher rents that follow – we should all aspire to save as much as we can, but it’s just not possible for a lot of us.

    • shannon says...

      Chiming back in – I am a millennial in an entry-level job with an entry-level salary. On the one hand, YES it is hard to save, especially with a lower salary. On the other hand, our expectations and how we talk about savings need a shift. When we are always hearing about how hard it is to save, and how it is normal to spend 30% of our income on discretionary items, that is not helpful in changing our savings habits. We can aim higher!!

      For example, take half of those discretionary funds in the 50/30/20 ratio and put them toward savings. Your savings rate increases to 35%, you haven’t missed out on anything essential for living, and you still have 15% of your income for fun stuff. The money you save from not buying the trendy pants, going to the park with friends instead of out to a boozy dinner, and skipping the extra goodies at Target adds up. If you make enough of a lifestyle shift while you’re young, you can save/invest enough to equate to hundreds more dollars per *month* of income down the road.

    • Elle says...

      Ideally, your retirement savings is deducted BEFORE you get your paycheck. Payroll deduction makes it automatic if your company has a plan. But then you should still save a percentage of what you actually bring home (or deposit in checking) after that.

    • Em says...

      LOVE what you said so much, Shannon, about shifting our expectations and aiming higher!! “On the other hand, our expectations and how we talk about savings need a shift. When we are always hearing about how hard it is to save, and how it is normal to spend 30% of our income on discretionary items, that is not helpful in changing our savings habits. ” YES!

  44. I feel so lucky to have found a husband who loves budgets… he handles all that stuff and I haven’t worried about money since! We meet monthly to review our finances. He loves this stuff so much he started a business called Dr. Budgets… he’s like a personal trainer for your money :)

    • Leah says...

      Humble advice from a 50 year old whose own mother found herself divorced at age 36 with 3 young kids. Learn about finances, even if your husband does everything. You might find yourself unexpectedly on your own one day (widowed, divorced) and you will be in shock if you don’t know have at least a working knowledge of how to do taxes, keep your bank account balanced, etc.

  45. I live abroad and filing taxes as an expat is not as simple. Compound it with the fact that I am married to a non US citizen in my country, and never changed my married status in the US.

    I can honestly say that I have thought about giving up my citizenship over the whole tax issue. I am taxed by my current country (where I am a citizen) and the US since I am a freelancer.

    • RBC says...

      Amen! Just FYI if you do renounce, I’ve heard that you can NOT say it’s for tax reasons or you’ll get put on the no-fly list. Is it true? I don’t know. But I wouldn’t chance it!

  46. Allegra says...

    Very nice to see you include financial topics! Even if it’s a sponsored post, because people should be more educated on these. (And even though two out of three of the comments and questions from readers so far are still only about Stella’s looks and clothes.)

  47. Personally, I really love the experience of going to a CPA at H&R Block or Liberty Tax so that they make sure I don’t forget deductions. They also make sure we don’t get penalized for things. Last year I was worried that because I didn’t have insurance in 2015, I would have to pay the fee, but the CPA I was working with found a document from my husband’s employer that said I was covered the entire time, they just never told us! (Which, UGH. Thank god he doesn’t work there anymore.) That’s a $1000 mistake I would have made if I had tried to do it on my own. They also made sure I remembered to include all of the student loan interest deductions, which I didn’t realize was a thing! A free tool is great, but if you’re worried that you might owe money to the IRS and aren’t sure what you can do to minimize that debt, a CPA helps!

    P.S., I’d LOVE to see more content about smart money habits on here for women in all phases of life/backgrounds! After not being financially literate for most of my 20’s and having A LOT of anxiety/shame about it, I’m finally starting to get on track and it feels amazing. Always looking for advice/tips. :)

    • Kelsey says...

      I agree! More about smart women and smart money!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      thank you so much, we would LOVE to do more finance posts! please stay tuned :)

    • Ashley says...

      I highly recommend “The Financial Diet” channel on YouTube. They have great tips, especially for people in their twenties!

    • Alyce says...

      You may also like The Billfold, which has a series where people talk about how they do money. I would love to see similar posts here, as I suspect they’d be oriented a little differently than a financial website. Because the struggle between savings and shoes is real.

  48. Olivia says...

    I find it funny you call it a button-up and I call it a button-down. Is that a regional difference, perhaps?? I’d love an unofficial survey! (I’m from Connecticut.)

    • shannon says...

      There is an actual difference!! The shirts with buttons on the collar tips are “button downs” (because you button the collar down). No button on the collar means it’s a “button up.”

      Learned this from Erin at Reading my Tea Leaves :)

    • I call it a button-down too. Never heard of a button-up shirt. Was raised on Mass so maybe it is a New England thing.

    • Oh, that is so interesting. I just realized I use the terms interchangeably.
      (Thank you for the finance posts! My parents are reeeeaallly wise with money, and although they tried to pass that down to us, I’m inspired to ask them to give some more pointed advice to my husband and I.)

    • Jennifer O. says...

      That’s funny, I’ve never heard of “button up.” It’s either button-down or dress shirt. (I’m from Georgia and now live in DC.)

  49. Hi, I love posts about finances since I think its so important that we start thinking about this now. Im always totally lost when it comes to “investing” and doing something smart with my money, I’d love it if you guys did a post about how to make the most of your money and smart ways for ladies to start investing and growing it, thanks in advance!

  50. Abby says...

    Where are your shoes from? Love! (and from a fellow millennial, good job on the taxes)

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Thank you so much, Abby! They are Madewell’s Ella Pump: http://bit.ly/2liYWdn!

      Stella xoxo

    • Amber J says...

      You stole the question out from under my fingers and I need an answer, too! xoxo

    • I love the shoes too!!

  51. I’ve used Turbo Tax for years. It works for me. Its fast and easy. I do put all my tax docs into a certain folder, and I keep that for 7 years…

    • Elizabeth says...

      I echo TurboTax. And they’re amazing for more complex filing situations too. I think people assume that you can’t DIY your taxes yourself when you are self-employed or own rental property–not true! You just need the right software.

  52. We’ve never done our own taxes and as we get older our finances get more complicated, so we’re destined to pay someone to do our taxes every year for the rest of our lives (woohoo). I’m hoping this’ll be THE YEAR we don’t wait until the last minute to file, ha.

  53. Ashley says...

    Stella, congrats on doing your taxes early. I’ll follow suit and use my refund for a pair of those shoes you’re wearing. Are they from A Détacher?

  54. clare says...

    Love content on smart money managing. It is something should be taught in school but isn’t and I’ve always felt like I’m “catching up” in terms of financial knowledge & goals.

    • Me too! I hadn’t heard about the 50-20-30 rule until this article. Life gets so crazy. I think it’s always great to check in with “mindful” spending.

  55. LBintheBK says...

    How are those eyebrows treating you?? Dying for a close-up update.

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Hahaha! In need of an appointment, but doing well :)

  56. Wonderful! As a freelancer, I dread taxes every year. But 30 min to do taxes!? That sounds amazing!

  57. Carrie says...

    I was also going to ask about the shoes… and where’d you get the white button up? It’s perfect!

    • Shelby says...

      I’ve been looking for a white button up just like that and would also love to know where you got it :) Thanks Stella!

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Hi Carrie! Blushing hardcore over here. Thank you! It’s Everlane The Japanese Oxford: http://bit.ly/2ll0nYm. It’s thicker and heavier than it looks, fyi!

      Stella xx

  58. Liz says...

    You look beautiful, Stella!

  59. Deanne says...

    Thanks for this article…
    On another note, could you share where you got your shoes? They’re great!

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Ah, thank you so much, Deanne! They are Madewell’s Ella Pump: http://bit.ly/2liYWdn, and they are seriously so comfortable. Not great for slushy NYC streets, though.

      Stella xoxo

    • MK says...

      I was going to ask the same thing! Love them. And re: being snow friendly, I usually wear my boots on my commute and change into cute shoes when I get to work. Maybe a lot of changing shoes in one day, but it makes me feel a lot more put together and less dreary about long winter days.