Taxes, ‘Modern Conveniences’
Chip Away at Parenting Time

I love TurboTax. I never used it before getting married, but as my taxes became increasingly complex, the program proved to be a huge timesaver.

But even as the program has improved, I’ve had to spend more and more time doing taxes. Itemizing deductions gets increasingly confusing each year. And now that my wife is freelancing more, I have the added complication of a home business.

At least taxes come around only once a year. Our supposedly super-efficient society keeps taking more and more time away from parenting. Here are some examples:

Health care – My PPO was sending me hundreds of Explanation of Benefits forms each year. I finally got this under control by creating a web account.

But when I look online, I have no idea what Blue Cross is doing. There are hundreds of bills in there, some paid, some not. I’m going to have to spend some quality time on hold somewhere in India to find out WTF they’re doing.

Flexible spending accounts – If you don’t know what these are, consider yourself lucky. Basically, these accounts withhold money from your paycheck so you pay less in income taxes.

You get the money back by faxing your health care or child care expenses to a vendor chosen by your workplace. (The accounts are separate.)

But you have to store tons of paperwork – those Explanation of Benefit forms mentioned above and receipts – to get your money back. We have piles of the junk in our office. Currently, I’m spending hours on the phone with the vendor that administers the program because they won’t send me my money.

At least this year my workplace went with a different vendor and a seemingly more efficient process.

Bills – I still do these the old-fashioned way, because as much as I love technology, it’s not safe. If you have any doubt, read this fantastic story on spyware in The Washington Post.

Considering some of my personal data was recently hacked from a company I didn’t even know existed, I’m sticking to paper and shredder for now.

Shopping – Americans buy more than ever. Sure, you can simplify your life to some degree, but we face choices our parents never did and the selections are much greater and more confusing. We also investigate our purchases via the Internet and Consumer Reports more carefully than previous generations.

Consider items, some mandatory, we have to buy today: Car seats, computers, routers, high-speed Internet access, digital cameras, iPods, cable service, cell phones, Voice Over IP phone service, automobiles and even yard service. For the records, we don’t have an iPod or Voice over IP. We also don’t get cable or yard service, because they’re too expensive.

Technology – Computers are my favorite tool, period. But let’s face it, they eat up a huge chunk of the day when you consider how much time we spend surfing or reading blogs. I try to do all my computer work at home when the kids are still asleep, but sometimes I’m less successful than others.

There are plenty other distractions, which seem to cut deeply into each day. What are some of your favorite modern time-wasters or annoyances? In the meantime, I need to get back to doing taxes.

19 thoughts on “Taxes, ‘Modern Conveniences’
Chip Away at Parenting Time

  1. Phil

    Definitely computers are a huge waste of time. However, they are also a huge time-saver, so it kind of cancels itself out.
    Here are ways the computer saves me time:
    I get all my news through email and websites, so no more newspaper or TV news.
    We do 90% of our Christmas and birthday shopping through places like Amazon. Huge time-saver. No more wandering through book or toy stores looking for that “perfect gift.” Mind you, I enjoy wandering through bookstores, but don’t have the time to do that these days. We also spend a lot less time at the post office by having Amazon ship directly to our family and friends.
    Sorting and organizing things like photos and music. Everything is available to me at the touch of a mouse button. I would get so frustrated in the past by not being able to find a CD that was boxed away, or a photo where I couldn’t remember which photo album it was in.
    The real time wasters are computer games, which I have little patience for (except maybe Scrabble). I consider time spent reading parenting blogs to be educational (most of the time) and thus not a waste.

  2. landismom

    Oh, I’m soooo developing carpal tunnel from the amount of time I spend blogging lately (not just writing my own blog, but reading other people’s). Must. Get. Up. From. Computer.

  3. chip

    FSAs are most definitely a scam, the first step in the current Republican plan to end health insurance.
    There was a great article in the New Yorker a few months ago on republican economists arguments that health insurance is a real problem because we who are insured don’t really bear the costs of health care so we use it recklessly.
    With FSAs we are spending our own money, and their goal is to end health insurance (or at the start at least tax deductions for corporations offering it), force us all into FSAs, and maybe have catastrophic health insurance.
    FSAs and the whole approach is of course ridiculous, because usually the largest health costs are unexpected things that there’s no way you can plan ahead for (my son breaking his fingers for example).
    As for computers, you know if we didn’t have computers we’d find some other way to waste our time away…

  4. Tiggermn

    Just a comment on the Blue Cross thing. Calling them shouldn’t be too bad. The majority of their Customer Service is based out here in Minnesota. I actually have a few relatives who work in their customer service department!
    Actually the Main Customer Service building is in a place called Wyoming Minnesota. An area pretty far up north in the “Ya, You Betcha” territory, so I guess you kinda are calling India.

  5. Nadine

    My vote for modern time-wasters:
    1. TV
    2. Ads of ANY type. This includes packages with bright graphics saying they’re ‘New & Improved’ etc.
    3. Junk snail mail.
    4. Junk email.
    5. Junk phone mail.
    6. Commuting.
    7. “Lifestyle” Media [magazine, shows, etc.] that make you think it’s no big deal to create the ‘perfect’ lifestyle.
    8. Noise on demand. Yes that includes iPods/Radio/TV/Cellphones… Sometimes the best thing in the world is quiet.

  6. brettdl

    Jon and Phil: Don’t get me wrong. I love computers. They are time-savers as long as nothing goes wrong.
    Ever lose an entire hard drive? I lost weeks of work while the computer maker retrieved the data off my disk and we waited for its return.
    I don’t play computer games either. Just not enough time in the day.
    Landismom: I found that swimming and back massages used to help me with hand problems. Of course, I never have time to swim anymore because I’m always on the computer.
    Chip: I think we’re talking about two different usages of flexible spending accounts. Mine is just to cover out-of-pocket costs such as co-pays.
    The type you’re talking about is for catastrophic health-care coverage. I agree with you the latter types are scary: they discourage people from going in for preventative care. They’re also being used by wealthier Americans as a huge tax loophole to hide assets.
    Tiggermn: I should explain that I am with Blue Cross of Illinois, even though I live in California. The last time I called the call center it was in Springfield, Illinois, but I was being sarcastic that it will probably be in India by the next time I call.
    Nadine: Ooo, I should have mentioned spam. How could I have skipped that one?
    Of course, I’ve done many posts about commuting. Blech.

  7. chip

    brett, no they are exactly the same thing. The FSA’s that we have now do cover things not covered by insurance, but they are a first step.
    And they are a scam because how can you possibly know what you’re going to spend on health care a year ahead of time? Also, they are only for people who work for corporations or other entities that offer them.
    Anyway, the FSA concept is Bush’s solution to health care costs, and the bottom line is, take your current FSA and imagine having to pay for all your health care from FSAs, and not having insurance available. That’s the GOP vision of the future.

  8. melissa

    I used to use TurboTax but a friend sent me a link to a free download of TaxCut. I was able to import my TurboTax data from previous years and was off to the races — also seems that my refund was higher than when I used TurboTax. Here’s the link she sent me:

  9. Kendra

    >>>>Bills – I still do these the old-fashioned way, because as much as I love technology, it’s not safe.<<<< AMEN!! and thank you for putting this in print. Some folks think I'm crazy to still be paying bills "the old fashioned way."

  10. Tiggermn

    Blue Cross is such a prominant fixture in Minnesota, that I keep forgetting they have other markets!
    But think of it this way, at least your lucky getting Illinois. Do you know how card it can be to try and translate Northern Minnesotan Accents? I live here and I still have a hard time!


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