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Tax Time: Diary of a...

Tax Time: Diary of a Cheapskate

Should anyone ask, this column wasn’t written on my fairly new laptop.

Instead, it was composed on a piece of “equipment or machinery” acquired as a “capital expense, the payment of which is expected to last more than one year.”

And should anyone ask, that wasn’t my TV room where I wrote it, lolling in a big comfy armchair while Law & Order reruns played on the flatscreen.

Instead, I worked in the “part of [my] home that is used exclusively and regularly for trade or business.”

I am not making this jabberwocky up. It’s all in print in the various IRS publications I’ve been poring over for weeks, hunting for things to deduct or depreciate on my 2007 return. Yes, I know, I could hire a trained killer from H&R Block, Jackson Hewitt, or Someone Your Aunt Edith Knows Who’s Good and Out of Jail to try to get me a bigger refund.

But I’d have to pay the guy.

Er, I mean, I totally love a challenge. If it can somehow be demonstrated that my condo in Atlanta is partially in Alaska (where apparently just about any meal qualifies as a “business expense”), I really want to be the one who figures out how to do it.

Plus, I really don’t want to have to pay the guy.

These days, it doesn’t even have to be an actual guy (or gal) who’ll happily take your money to advise you on all the ways the government has to take your money. There are CD-Roms and interactive Web sites that do the same thing, although there’s only so far they can go to help some folks. The other day, I met someone who’d actually spent $49.95 to download the “Premium” version of Turbo Tax’s return preparation service—and she still files the 1040EZ!

You’re familiar with 1040EZ, right? It asks about eight questions, the toughest being “Who are you?” (no fair cheating and looking at the name printed on the address label). I had a ninth question I was dying to ask this chick, but we were at a charity event and somehow “Are you too stupid to live?” felt inappropriate.

My purpose here is not to discourage people from paying their taxes. My God, that’s all I need is for some enraged IRS agent to stumble across this column online and throw me in a special prison run by government accountants who serve nothing but bread and water at mealtime—and make you save all the receipts.

Of course, I could point out that if certain IRS agents didn’t spend so much time surfing the web instead of actually working, the government might not need so much of our money.

Ha, ha. Just kidding. How fortunate that the IRS is renowned for its sense of humor.

No, my purpose is simply to appeal to people’s common sense about hiring tax preparation specialists—or not. Oh, sure, it might seem to simplify a very complicated, labor-intensive process. Although by the time you’ve gathered up all the records and receipts from the various fast food bags and bathrobe pockets where they’ve been, uh, filed, you’ve done about 90 percent of the pro’s work for him.

Meanwhile, unless you’re Donald Trump trying to avoid paying capital gains taxes on the sale of “Trump: The Glacier,” how much money are we really talking about “saving” here? Can I afford to spend several hundred more dollars so some “expert” who can tell me that yes, my $27 OK! magazine subscription is deductible, and no, he doesn’t validate?

Finally, isn’t self-reliance what this great country was built on?

When the Founding Fathers felt overtaxed, did they hire someone else to toss that tea into Boston Harbor? No! When the 1919 Black Sox felt underpaid, did they hire someone else to throw the World Series? No! When we’d rather go to the mall or play golf, do we hire someone else to clean our houses or mow our lawns? N— ... um, I think I’ve made my point. It’s downright un-American to have somebody else do your taxes.

It was my Founding Father, the paternal pennypincher par excellence, who opened my eyes to this. Every year I’d watch in silent awe as David (a.k.a “Dad”) took on the government Goliath alone.

For weeks leading up to April 15th, he’d paw through documents spread across our big dining room table and rake his hair in a signature, “I need Schedule What?” move. He only ever stopped calculating and swearing to refill his coffee thermos or pad down to his basement workshop. There, he’d jam pencils into the wall-mounted sharpener and grin like each was a weasly IRS agent being force fed into his mad scientist’s torture chamber.

Once, I innocently inquired why he didn’t “just hire a tax person” like everybody else. His pained yelp suggested disbelief either that I was his child or that I’d required so much non-deductible “cosmetic” dental work that year. Only now do I truly appreciate his deeper message, the thing that keeps me going during these trying times when my coffee thermos is running low and my subconscious sometimes wonders if a pro could help me figure out how to claim my moldy vegetable crisper as a “working farm”:

There is no greater “return” than that which comes from doing for yourself.

Plus, I’d have to pay the guy.

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