It's April 15th (maybe the 16th by the time you are reading this). It's no secret that this date is loaded with all sorts of feelings for people around the country.
This year I had my first experience of being audited. The woman at the Internal Revenue Service told me, "You didn't do anything wrong. It's just that Uncle Sam wants a small piece of the pie." She said this as she drew me a yummy looking pie with her black ballpoint pen.
Taxes were very easy back in the day when I had one job at one company. Add to this, I had unlimited access to a financial advisor on the job (thank you National Geographic Society). This very nice woman taught me about 403bs (the non-profit's version of a 401k), and she taught me the basics of investing and the great benefits of saving.
I felt so happy and responsible -- like a big lady out in the world making money, saving, investing, and putting away for my retirement. The perfect money manager.
Things changed a bit later on when I left my job and headed out into the world in a different way -- this time as a backpack traveler, yogi, and student of Buddhism. My entire view of money and how to manage money CHANGED.
Heck, if all life is always changing and we could die at any moment, what's the use in socking away the money for the future if there might not be a future?
DANGER. DANGER. Don't go on a Buddhist meditation retreat if you want to keep your savings. (Slightly joking.)
Look at how happy these families are in Vietnam, Thailand, and India living on so little!
Boy was I naive.
Well, not completely. But I did certainly have some of the picture skewed.
I returned to the US full-time a few years later with the idea that sustainable living was best. This meant that I needed just the basics -- clean, safe apartment, healthy foods, yoga classes, good friends and family. Moderate living, you know?
The problem with this is that my idea of moderate living was having an apartment on the Upper West Side in New York a couple of blocks from Central Park, taking $3000 yoga teacher trainings (multiple ones I will confess), and food shopping at Fairway and Citarella. Add to this, I still loved to travel to faraway places like India and South America.
In order to live my "moderate" life on my teacher's salary, and the fact that I now had the idea that saving for the future was just a trap in the rat race, I wasn't saving, investing, or putting anything into my retirement anymore.
Fast forward seven years to starting a business. How do I do the books? Oh, it will just work out. It always has in the past.
Let's just say that learning the ropes of managing the money for a business was a big task for me. I insisted on doing it mostly on my own. Yes, I took classes at the Small Business Development Center in Santa Monica. Yes, I hired the occasional bookkeeper. And yes, I had an accountant at tax time. But it always seemed like there was more to learn.
As strange as it might sound, the audit experience has become a teachable moment for me. Instead of fearing the IRS, I actually feel quite supported by them because I am learning. The woman who is doing my audit is teaching me about what they look for, what raises red flags, what counts, what doesn't, etc. In other words, I am getting front line training.
Wouldn't it be great if we could all get front line training, but not wait for the IRS to call us in to get it? Financial training from an early age is a very useful thing -- so why don't we get this in school?
I've written recently to promote the implementation of healthy lunches in schools. Now I would like to propose the implementation of healthy money training in schools. If more people knew their way around the books by the time they were adults, it seems that we wouldn't have so many people in tremendous debt.
I'm advocating for early childhood training in money management (making it fun of course), but who should the teachers be? How do we start fresh and not re-build a broken system?
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