Where I Got Published Today: Lifehacker

A New Bill Would Make it Harder to Do Your Taxes for Free

Last week, the House of Representatives introduced H.R.1957, aka “the Taxpayer First Act of 2019.” This bill, which might more accurately be called “the Tax Software First Act of 2019,” prevents the IRS from creating an online tax filing system—which means we’ll only be able to e-file our taxes through a third-party program.

Don’t Pay Debit on Anything You Can’t Afford to Lose

Debit cards come with significantly fewer protections than credit cards—which means that although you can get your money back if you book a flight on a budget airline that goes out of business with no warning, it’s a lot harder than it would have been if you’d used credit.

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Where I Got Published Today: Lifehacker

Want to Build Your Career? Ask Your Boss These Questions

When I was in my late 20s, I spent four years working as an executive assistant at a think tank in Washington, DC. During that time, I did my best to ask for feedback, but after reading Zhuo’s list of questions I realize how unspecific my requests were.

Asking “is there anything I can do to improve,” for example, is too broad; my managers gave responses like “you’re doing fine” or “I’ll let you know,” both of which probably meant “I can’t think of anything off the top of my head.” Bosses are busy, and—unless you’re making repeated mistakes or significantly underperforming at your job—aren’t likely to have constructive criticism at the ready.

If You Can’t Afford an Unexpected Tax Bill, Try Paying in Installments

One of the worst things about paying taxes is that you often don’t know what your tax bill is going to be until right before the deadline.

Some years, you learn that you’ve paid more than enough taxes thanks to withholdings and estimated tax payments. You get a tax refund. Great!

Some years, you discover that you haven’t been withholding enough cash from your paychecks—which means you have a tax bill due on April 15. Less great, especially if you don’t have enough money in your bank account to cover the tax burden.

Where I Got Published Today: Lifehacker, Haven Life

Lifehacker: Before You Do Your Taxes, Understand the Difference Between a Hobby and a Side Hustle

Gross income is great, but the new tax laws have gotten a lot stricter on whether you can deduct those expenses you’re racking up as you pursue your side hustle. This means that if your side hustle isn’t hustling up a profit, you might have to classify it as a hobby—and lose out on potential tax savings.

Lifehacker: Want to Become a ‘Super Saver?’ Consider Your Housing Costs

What’s the one thing that separates the “super savers” from those of us who are simply trying to save whatever we can?

According to a new study, it’s all about housing costs.

Haven Life: This master list of 17 financial goals can help you pick yours

In late 2018, the global financial services firm Morningstar® created a master list of financial goals. They developed this list because they understood that most people, when asked about their financial goals, will respond with whatever’s most important to them at the time. (Next year’s vacation, for example.)

However, after reviewing the master list of financial goals, people begin considering financial goals they hadn’t previously thought of — and when they start working towards those goals, they can start making improvements in their financial lives.

On Storytelling and Perspective and Re-Watching Game of Thrones in Two Weeks

Last Wednesday, I made an extremely foolhardy decision: I was going to re-watch Game of Thrones, in its entirety, before the final season.

Here’s the background: in 2012, I dated this guy who was all “you haven’t seen Game of Thrones, let me fix that for you” and so I watched the first two seasons and read all of the books.

I continued watching Game of Thrones after that relationship ended, in part because I started dating another guy who was also a GoT fan, and after that relationship ended—and after going to a Game of Thrones Season 5 premiere party by myself and getting inadvertently alcohol poisoned*—I was all I am done with this show, it has only led to heartbreak and vomit.

But I’m a sucker for cultural phenomena—especially when it’s related to storytelling. I started showing up at Harry Potter midnight release parties not because I cared about Harry Potter (I enjoyed the series, but it didn’t shape my soul the way other stories did), but because I cared about experiencing this story simultaneously with the rest of the world.

So I decided I didn’t want to miss out on the pleasure of discovering how Game of Thrones ends at the same time as everyone else, which meant I needed to get myself caught up.

I have re-watched 30 episodes of Game of Thrones in the past five days. (Yes, I could have started with the first episode I hadn’t yet seen, but I figured that if I was going to do this, I wanted the emotional experience of the entire epic.) Turns out you can watch a lot of TV, without cutting back on any of your other commitments, if you just leave the TV on all the time. I’ve been making dinner while watching Game of Thrones, folding laundry while watching Game of Thrones, etc.

It has been surprisingly exhausting to pay 30 hours’ worth of attention to a story in such a short period of time—and I have 40 hours left to go before the Season 8 premiere on Sunday. (I suspect I won’t get fully caught up until the second episode of Season 8, which is fine by me. As long as I’m ready to watch the series finale with everyone else, I’ll be satisfied.)

But none of this is the point.

The point is that, a day into my rewatch, Maggie Stiefvater posted an analysis of contemporary storytelling that focused on our relatively recent shift from single-POV narratives to massively-multi-POV narratives.

The shift from Harry Potter to Game of Thrones, as it were.**

Now, I know that A Song of Ice and Fire was written before the Harry Potter books were published (though not by much; the first ASOIAF book published in 1996, and the first HP book published in 1997). But Harry Potter became a cultural phenomenon before Game of Thrones did, and in between 2007, when Deathly Hallows released in hardcover, and 2011, when Game of Thrones premiered on HBO, the type of stories our culture valued had changed.

To quote Maggie Stiefvater:

Readers and viewers no longer believed in the straightforward hero’s journey. No one was that simple. Batman got rebooted, James Bond got some consequences. Heroes got more and more morally gray. The world was getting more and more morally gray, too, after all, and narrative kept up. What was the price of privilege? What was the price of winning? Was this really a happy ending?

Narrative answered the question by glancing at the situation from other points of view, and those glances got longer and longer and longer. One POV became two. Became three. Became four.

One of the responses to Maggie’s blog post identified television as the impetus for this trend-shift:

The format of television shows almost REQUIRE several multi-character arcs, because the main goal of a show is usually to stretch the story into as many seasons as possible, and you can’t easily do that with just one protagonist. You need viewers to stay to watch every episode every season, and you need a lot of different types of stories to keep their interest. Of course, this leads to a big cast that grows as the show goes on, and viewers get more and more used to connecting with several different characters. Think of Friends, which started with Monica as an everygirl kind of protagonist with a group of eccentric friends, and then gradually morphed into a show that gave equal weight to every character in the main group, because that’s what the show needed to be to keep its viewership. 

If we’re citing television, of course, we have to go further back than Friends; this type of narrative has propelled soap operas, for example, for as long as they’ve existed.

I also wouldn’t be surprised if the internet, with its ability to provide us with thousands of points of view at once, has made us more interested in telling stories that feature a multiplicity of perspectives—and if authors don’t provide us with these perspectives (and even if they do), we write them ourselves, fanfic-style.

The other point of all of this is that I am currently writing a novel that is told entirely from a single character’s perspective. I have asked myself, more than once, if I should pop into someone else’s head for a bit, or if I should do the thing where I divide the book up into multiple sections and give each section to a different character.

But that doesn’t feel like the story I want to tell, even though that’s what the SF&F genre is all about these days. I want the readers to have the same experience my main character has: to be given the call to adventure, to have to choose whether to follow that call, and then SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER.

To write a chapter from the perspective of the character who asks my protagonist for help, for example, would feel like giving my reader more information than my protagonist has, which would make her emotional journey and her discoveries less compelling.

I’m not even jumping to the omniscient viewpoint; you only get to experience what the protag experiences, and her limitations are your limitations.

One of the reasons I made this choice was because I just finished writing two books from a multi-character perspective and wanted to try something new.

The other reason, I think, was because I wanted to cycle away from stories like Game of Thrones, where we follow multiple characters and multiple plots and ask the audience to choose where their alliance lies and create surveys that determine which house we belong to.

I wanted to explore humanity by focusing on one human, the same way other writers wanted to explore humanity by focusing on many different people.

We’ll see if I made the right choice. ❤️

*The party was at a bar, and every attendee got one free cocktail with their ticket. I was not aware that the cocktail, which was handed to me as I walked in the door, was nearly pure alcohol (think Long Island Iced Tea but with a Game of Thrones-inspired name). I knew something was very wrong about five minutes after finishing the drink. I generally vomit after three ounces of liquor, which is why I try not to drink more than two at any given time. That night, I puked so much I had to throw away everything I was wearing including my purse.

**Yes, I know there are these little blips in Harry Potter where we step outside of Harry’s POV, but the books are still Harry’s story.

Where I Got Published Today: Lifehacker

How to Predict Annual Earnings From a Freelance Gig or Side Hustle

“If you booked $10,000 of income in that first quarter, you are likely to make $40,000 this year from writing,” Tice explains. “If you billed $2,000 in the first three months, you’re probably not going to crack ten grand for the year. That only projects to $8,000.”

Using Carol Tice’s formula, I can anticipate earning $70,000 gross this year—that’s before taxes and business expenses. This is a little higher than what I’ve earned over the past two years, which is a good sign.

What to Do If Your Tax Preparer Can’t File Your Taxes by April 15

The first time I had to request a tax extension—because I was a new freelancer who tried to DIY my taxes and realized I was in over my head—I felt like a failure. How could I miss such an important deadline? Would the IRS be mad at me? Would I have to pay a bunch of penalties?

The answers to the last two questions, at least, are no and no. The IRS will not shame you for filing an extension (like, how would they even do that), and you don’t get charged a penalty for filing the extension request. All you have to do is file a simple form, pay any outstanding taxes you think you owe, and you’ll have an additional six months to complete your tax return.

Where I Got Published Today: Lifehacker

Start Saving Now, Even If You Don’t Have Any Long-Term Financial Goals

For those of us who are struggling with debt and student loans, and/or those of us who might have experienced repeated layoffs, low wages, stagnant salaries, or underemployment, the very concept of saving for a long-term financial goal might feel risky—or ridiculous. It’s hard to plan for the future when you’re trying to figure out how to pay for today.

Yes, You Can Challenge Expensive Medical Bills

Why is it so important to understand how your medical visit was coded? Because different codes come with different price tags, and if you can argue that your treatment should have fallen under a less expensive code, you can get your bill reduced.

Where I Got Published Today: Lifehacker

Use Money to Buy ‘Happier Time’

Would you spend $40 to save time?

According to Harvard Business School professor and behavioral scientist Ashley Whillans, it might be a good idea—especially if you’re using that money to buy time that will make you happy.

How Much Money Can You Save by Cutting Your Own Hair?

I haven’t paid for a haircut since January.

This doesn’t mean I haven’t cut my hair—I bought a couple of $3 Tinkle Razor Combs to shape my pixie cut and quickly upgraded to the professional-quality ConairPro Jilbere Professional Precision Cut Comb (for which I paid a grand total of $8.99 plus tax).

It just means I stopped getting $60 haircuts every four weeks.

Where I Got Published Today: Haven Life, Lifehacker

Haven Life: How to live a work-optional life with Tanja Hester

Tanja Hester and her husband Mark Bunge achieved an incredible financial goal: saving enough money to retire early. Hester and Bunge left their jobs in 2017 (at ages 38 and 41, respectively), and Hester has been chronicling their experience on her blog Our Next Life.

Hester’s new book, Work Optional: Retire Early the Non-Penny-Pinching Way, takes her blog one step further. This action-packed guide is designed to help everybody achieve a greater level of financial independence and build a life where work becomes optional — and maybe even follow Hester’s example and retire early.

I got the chance to talk to Hester about her book, why the financial independence movement is for everybody, the two budget line items that have the biggest impact on your savings, and why you should keep your life insurance policy even if you retire early.

Lifehacker: Will Moving Between States Raise or Lower Your Tax Burden?

Most of us don’t think about how moving to a new state might affect our taxes—but a new study from moving company HireAHelper shows that these kinds of moves can affect our tax bill by up to $7,700 in either direction.

Lifehacker: Pay Gap Between Men and Women Might Be Worse Than Previously Calculated

Today is Equal Pay Day, the day on which we acknowledge that a woman would have to work a full fifteen months to earn what a man in an equivalent role makes in a year. Since the wage gap is 80 cents to the dollar—that is, a woman earns 80 cents for every dollar a male peer earns—it takes women until April 2 to earn what men make between January and December. Many women of color have to work even longer to catch up to both their white male and their white female peers.

However, a recent study suggests that we might have to push Equal Pay Day a few more months down the road.

Where I Got Published Today: Bankrate, Lifehacker

Bankrate: How to Do a Capital One Balance Transfer

If you want to do a Capital One balance transfer online, start by logging into your Capital One credit card dashboard. Locate the credit card you want to use for the balance transfer and click “View Account.” Then look for the menu option “I Want To,” which should be located in the middle right of your screen next to a gear icon.

Lifehacker: Last-Minute Tax Tips for Freelancers

This isn’t going to be the typical “last-minute tax tips” post. I’m not going to advise you to try to remember any business expenses you forgot about, or remind you that filing electronically could get you a faster refund. Instead, I’ve got two huge pieces of advice for freelancers and solopreneurs filing 2018 taxes—both of which could save you a lot of money.

Lifehacker: How Changes to the ACA Might Affect Your Insurance Premiums

If you haven’t been following the latest Affordable Care Act news, I don’t blame you. This morning, The Washington Post ran a story titled The White House does or doesn’t have a health-care plan that is or isn’t better than Obamacare—and that isn’t even an April Fools headline.