Money Matters

Do you think you occupation is boring and there are no cool coffee cups to celebrate your calling? Think again! 

“Where’s my refund?” cried a client last March. We heard this refrain so many times during the 2019 tax season that the phrase begged to be set to music.

How do tax professionals define a tax refund? It’s the result of an interest-free loan to the government – from you!

Many people are accustomed to “saving” by having far too much withheld from paychecks, resulting in large tax refunds in February. These refunds are frequently used to pay off large credit card bills. And then the cycle repeats. When the withholding tables are changed and the refunds shrink, it’s time to cue the panic music.

I majored in business administration (accounting, specifically), so I am trained to look for the source of a business problem, identify the problem and propose a solution. A not-so-deep dive tells me that the source of the problem is overspending on holiday gifts. And my proposed solution: JUST. STOP.

After years in the gift giving and receiving game, I’ve realized that the best gifts are not the most expensive gifts. Amazing gift-givers have the eagle eye to capture gifts in unlikely places to score unique gifts that are a perfect fit for the recipient. What is the key to top-tier giver status? Watch, listen and learn. Familiarity with the recipient is helpful but not completely necessary.

The internet opened a new world to the gift champions. A child is obsessed with the presidents? Presidential portrait placemats and president playing cards are less than $5. Did a guest break a plate of heirloom wedding china at Thanksgiving? A quick search found five new dinner plates of the circa-1963 pattern for $15 with free delivery. And they were in mint condition!

The champion of all frugal gift givers will go unnamed to keep his Facebook friends list under 500. A world traveler and expert couch surfer, this guy scours thrift stores wherever he travels. While he doesn’t live in Bakersfield, he visits often and claims that the Bakersfield thrift stores are the best for variety and price. But his mother lode of amazing things? The lost-and-found store at the Stockholm subway headquarters.

Examples of his incredibly unique gifts are a high-quality polo shirt embroidered with the insignia of the Stockholm Cemetery maintenance crew. Adopted a dog? Expect a CD collection of dog-vocal music such as “howl-o-ween tunes.” A T-shirt from your now-shuttered junior high makes an amazing conversation starter. A notepad from your elementary school reminds you of the wonderful memory of taking notes for the first time. His sweetest present was made to a 95-year-old. She grew up on Bunker Hill in Los Angeles. Her gift was a watercolor of Angels Flight, found at a garage sale in Monterey.

Do you think your occupation is boring and there are no cool coffee cups to celebrate your calling? Take a look at the cup in the photo. That’s a 50-cent find from a St. Vincent de Paul store.

Champion gift-giving requires attention to detail and continuous searching. Never limit a search. Don’t just look at your own size; look through the racks for your family and friends.

Love to wrap presents and wake up to a big pile under the tree? Here’s a suggestion: When your family leaves something at your house, wrap it up and put it under the tree. Nothing says Christmas like: “I was looking for that sock!” But don’t take this suggestion too far. Medication, hearing aids and cell phones are off-limits.

So, this shopping season, think personal, think funny and think frugal. Then that paltry tax refund won’t seem so painful. Happy shopping and happy giving! 

Rudy Valdivia is a senior accountant with Brown Armstrong Accountancy Corp. He can be reached at 661-324-4971. The views expressed are his own.

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