Saturday, March 15, 2008

Beware the Ides of March

Yes, it’s that time of year again. The time when people finally face up to the unpleasant fact that there is exactly one more month before their Federal income tax return is due. And usually, some money with it. After all, if you’d expected a refund, you would have filed for it in February.

Spring is on its way, flowers are popping up, and the temperature is rising. But so are our anxieties. We still have those lingering Christmas bills to pay off, plus all the bills from those mood-altering purchases we made in January and February. We’re wishing we could escape the last gasp of winter by fleeing to some sunny clime like Florida. We’re possibly angsting about how to pay for new Easter clothing, feasting, and treats for the kids. Not to mention all those skiing vacations during spring break.

And those taxes just won’t go away. Plus, this year our government saw fit to promise people a stimulus rebate, a payment of cash that is meant to be spent immediately, to bolster our economy. (Which whether the president will admit it or not, is in a recession.) But to get the stimulus payment, we must file a tax return. Yes, even the 23 million elderly people on Social Security, including those who haven’t filed a tax return in decades, must somehow figure out how to file a 1040A form. Otherwise, they don’t get the stimulus payment. And you don’t either, unless you file.

I’ll bet you’re already mentally spending the money the government will send in May, even though you haven’t quite figured out how to pay the money you owe the government in April. March is a good month for dreams. The weather is so changeable that actually getting out and doing things is often impossible. But sitting at home planning to spend money is always easy. Okay, so here’s why I say to beware the ides of March. You can dream all you want, but you’re only allowed to spend the stimulus rebate once. That’s right. If you receive a $300 check from the US government, you’re not supposed to go out and buy a $600 anything. Maybe the only way we can have a prosperous economy is for every single one of us to be stuck in massive credit card debt, but I doubt it. Your personal first responsibility is to your own financial situation.

And you have all those bills hanging over you from the last few months to consider. If you’re forced to divert some current cash to pay the IRS on April 15th, then things may be even tougher for a bit. So when you’re putting together your St. Patrick’s Day party or getting supplies for Easter egg dyeing, remember that March is a treacherous month, sunny and soft one day, icy and miserable the next. Do not give in to the impulses that urge you to spend money you do not have yet. Or money you owe to someone (like a creditor or the IRS), or money you simply will never receive.

When you get a chunk of money, put it to the use that will give you the most peace of mind, both now and in the future. Because you have a future. And I guarantee you that the best use of your money is not in overextending yourself. As all those elderly people now limping into tax offices across the country to file their 1040As know, every little bit of money you save now will make the future much more financially secure. We don’t have to worry about Brutus and a conspiracy of senators out to assassinate us on the ides of March. We have to conquer our own self-destructive financial impulses and habits instead.

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