Author Archives: femmefrugality

Separate Finances in Marriage vs Married Filing Separately on Your Taxes

Two women sitting with their backs to the camera working on something on the computer.

The other day I came across this situation. It went something like this:

A woman was a single mother and filed head of household on her taxes for years.

She got married, and while they had a joint bank account for some shared expenses, most of their finances were separate from each other.

She had information which made her believe she must file taxes as married filing separately because they kept some of their bank accounts separate, and that therefore there was a marriage penalty as the amount of tax they collectively owed went up when filing Married Filing Separately compared to if they were filing jointly.

It’s an interesting misunderstanding, and one that I’m sure must come up commonly with people who are deciding whether to merge or separate their finances in marriage. In The Feminist Financial Handbook, we talked about the importance of keeping at least some money separate, so I do want to address it.

Separate Finances vs Married Filing Separately

When you get married, you might decide to open all your bank accounts with both of your names on them. This strategy is ‘completely’ joint. It’s traditional, but I’m not a fan. With divorce rates hovering around 50% since the 1980s, it just seems ill-advised. We insure against things that are far less common than divorce. Some people love this method, though.

The other extreme is keeping all of your bank accounts, loans, etc. separate from each other. The other person doesn’t have permission to make withdrawals from deposit accounts, and their credit score isn’t impacted if you miss a payment on a loan that’s in your name only.

The final strategy is a mix of the two, with maybe a joint account for shared expenses, but each partner still maintains at least one separate account in their name only. This is probably the most realistic approach, and still provides you with a little self-insurance.

My colleague Choncé Maddox recently wrote an excellent piece breaking down different opinions on each strategy for Good Housekeeping.

Here’s the important part: Whether you have joint or separate banking practices within your marriage has no bearing on whether or not you file Married Filing Jointly or Married Filing Separately.

Married filing jointly is almost always better than married filing separately

There are advantages to filing your taxes under the Married Filing Jointly status rather than the Married Filing Separately status. Just because the standard deduction for Married Filing Separately is 50% of the standard deduction for Married Filing Jointly does not mean that all other numbers are split down the middle.

Here are some of the line items that negatively impact you if you choose to file Married Filing Separately:

  • Actual tax. Even before you start accounting for any specific tax credits, the actual amount of tax you’ll owe is often higher when you file Married Filing Separately. That means even if your taxable income is the same, you’re extremely likely to pay more than if you filed Married Filing Jointly. The difference is particularly pronounced when there’s a wide income split between both spouses. The degree of impact is much less if you both earn about the same amount of money, but it’s still usually cheaper to file Married Filing Jointly.
  • Child tax credits. When you file Married Filing Separately, only one of the parents can claim the children as dependents. This can significantly impact the Child Tax Credit and the Additional Child Tax Credit in a bad way, as you won’t be able to claim the full credit without both spouses on the same return.
  • Other tax credits. When you file Married Filing Separately, there’s an array of credits that are just plain off limits in most situations. They include the EIC, the Child and Dependent Care Credit, and the American Opportunity for Lifetime Learning credit. This is not an exhaustive list, and your individual financial situation may or may not make you ineligible. But in most cases, ineligibility is the default.

Again, this is not a comprehensive list, but you can see pretty quickly how Married Filing Separately comes with some big negatives.

When would I file separately?

For most people, Married Filing Jointly is the smarter financial decision. However, there are a few scenarios where Married Filing Separately can help you. They’re few and far between, but they do exist. They include:

  • Liability concerns. Whether or not you’re going through a divorce, if your spouse is doing something shady with their finances you may choose to file separately. It doesn’t necessarily remove all your liability depending on what’s going on, but it does provide at least some minor protection on the tax side of things.
  • You have federal student loans. If you’re on an income-based or income-contingent repayment plan for your federal student loans, filing separately discludes your spouse’s income from your repayment calculations. You may still end up paying more in taxes, but you may decide it’s worth it for the lower student loan payments depending on your numbers.
  • Significant medical expenses. If either you or your spouse have significant medical expenses, filing separately may make sense. That’s because you can deduct medical expenses if they’re  more than 7.5% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). We’re talking massive medical expenses here — the itemized deduction would have to be more than the standard deduction for this strategy to make sense.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but does cover some of the most common situations.

Are marriage penalties real?

Oh, absolutely. They’re just not real in this particular way.

You’re more likely to face a marriage penalty if you’re low-income. Households that are better off typically incur tax benefits after marriage, but it doesn’t work that way if you bring in less money.

‘Marriage penalties’ do not refer to the choice to file Jointly or Separately when you’re married. Instead, they refer to the penalty low-income or single-parent households face when they do get married versus filing as an unmarried head-of-household. It’s the act of marriage itself that inflicts the penalty — not the elective choice of filing status within the marriage.

How do I get help filing my taxes?

If you came in with any of these same preconceived notions, you’re going to want to sit down with a tax professional this tax season. You don’t want misconceptions to lead you to a higher tax bill (or an audit.) Plus, a tax professional can help you figure out if you truly are one of the exceptions that would merit a Married Filing Separately status.

There are ways to file your taxes for free using programs like VITA or Free File. (Most American households qualify for Free File.)

If you don’t qualify for those programs, be sure to sit down with someone with letters after their name like EA or CPA. That guy at H&R Block that wants you to pay him to file your taxes likely doesn’t have these letters after his name. He could just be a seasonal worker that received some seasonal training to handle the most common tax returns — but works at the local Walmart the rest of the year. He might not have the expertise to get the nuances of your individual situation 100% right.

 

Modernizing Traditional Business Practices for Better ROI

This post is brought to you and written by an outside writer.

Woman with brown hair in a pink dress smiling at the camera looking over her laptop. She is sitting in a modern office.

Run a business? Then you probably know that modernizing business practices can enhance ROI dramatically, allowing your company to gain access to new revenue streams and business models.

This guide outlines some approaches to modernize your business practices and drive your bottom line.

Deploy self-service portals

Setting up self-service digital technologies for business partners, employees, or both can double your chances of growing your returns. A company can establish trust in digital initiatives gradually, transforming traditional functions within its framework one by one. It doesn’t all have to happen overnight.

Use high-quality time clocks

Picking a time clock can seem like an afterthought when companies go through the process of selecting an attendance solution. They tend to go for the most affordable option, mistakenly believing low-end clocks work just as well as high-quality ones. High-end time clocks can increase your returns and reduce stress and headaches. They do this by automating attendance and time tracking, maximizing savings potential in the process.

Use VoIP to cut down on call time

You take a lot of calls as a business owner, so Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is worth exploring if you’re still using a traditional phone. This protocol is also known as an internet phone because it lets you make phone calls online. It’s very easy to use – simply download the software and make calls from anywhere with an internet connection. It makes a wired telephone connection unnecessary.

Market digitally based on real-time data  

Even small local businesses can benefit from digital marketing. All kinds of services and tools are available, from SEO to social media marketing. Digital marketing enables centralized data storage, collecting reliable data in real-time, and building tools to analyze data and gain insight to make the most informed business decisions.

Digital marketing tools can help your business capture and analyze data and transform it into revenue-generating insight. Building an online presence for your company is also a good idea. If your business doesn’t have a social media page, you need to build one now.

Automate customer service and support

Lack of customer support will drive even potential clients away, but hiring staff isn’t cheap. One possible solution involves setting up automated customer support bots. Once you have those, you need just one employee to answer emails and questions, as a fallback for those things the AI can’t handle.

Assess the returns on business modernization

Embarking on the journey to digitalization comes with the need to prove the effectiveness of your measures. How do you measure the results? First of all, you need to involve every team and department in the company. Consider your short-, medium-, and long-term vision. Transforming business practices means investing in the future. The benefits can be huge, but they could take some time to manifest.

To assess the returns on your digital transformation accurately, you must identify the immediate, mid-term, and long-term impacts. Your projections need to be as consistent as they can.

James Allen Black Friday Deals 2023: Engagement Rings & More

Man putting a ring on a woman's finger as he proposes on one knee. set against a backdrop of windows at night with lights reflected in the window.One of my favorite ways to save money on engagement rings is by making the purchase from an online jeweler. They don’t have overhead expenses like renting real estate and paying store employees, so they’re often able to charge a much lower price.

My favorite online jeweler is James Allen. Not only do they offer lower prices year round, but they let you customize most jewelry pieces — including engagement rings. They also give you a 360 viewer, so you can see what your ring would look like from any angle before making your purchase.

On top of already lower prices, they run some pretty great Black Friday sales during the holiday season. Right now, the Cyber Monday sale is already live through November 27. But there are savings throughout the shopping season — here are the details about all the Black Friday sales, past and present.

Early Black Friday: 30% off fine jewelry, 50% off engagement ring settings in October

You don’t have to wait until November to get in on the deals!

James Allen runs an Early Black Friday sale from mid- to late-October. This year, they changed things up and are gave us 30% off select fine jewelry and 50% off engagement ring settings through October 31, 2023.

The setting discount was massive — bigger percentage-wise than the 25% off engagement ring discount we saw last year. However, it doesn’t include the diamond (or other gemstone, if you fancy.) So depending on the rock and setting you choose, it may or may not end up being a better deal in terms of real dollars.

How long does it take to get a ring from James Allen? Typically, engagement rings ship within 7 to 21 days. But that timeline can vary depending on the production schedule of your ring.

Black Friday Sale Live NOW: 30% off fine jewelry, 50% off engagement ring settings in mid-November

The James Allen Black Friday Sale ran Nov. 15 — Nov. 24, 2023. The sales were the same as the early Black Friday deal that ran in October: 30% off fine jewelry and 50% off engagement ring settings.

Now, don’t dismiss the 30% off fine jewelry sale if you’re looking for an engagement ring. If your potential fiancee fully embraces being alternative, there’s some really great options in there for wedding bands with diamonds or engagement rings with gemstones rather than diamonds. And 30% off is a bigger discount than the 25% discount on traditional engagement rings that has run in years past.

If you order from this sale, you could have your ring in time to propose over the December holidays!

PRO TIP: Sales run in Eastern time. That means if you’re in California, technically the Black Friday sale will end at 9p on Black Friday.

James Allen Cyber Monday Sale 2023

Just like every other year, the James Allen Cyber Monday sale 2023 is identical to the Black Friday and Early Black Friday sales: 30% off fine jewelry/50% off engagement ring settings.

This sale is running through Nov. 27, 2023. Don’t wait to shop! Monday will be here and gone before you know it.

Happy savings, and I hope they say ‘yes!’

 

 

Sailor Moon Gift Guide (On A Budget)

This post is in collaboration with Etsy. Purple to pink faded background. Sailor moon holding a wad of cash and looking at it.

I’ve been living my best 90’s life lately, and that includes a renewed obsession with Sailor Moon. Today, we’re going to take a look at gifts for the Sailor Moon fanatic in your life. Because inflation is bonkers, we’re also gonna keep you on a budget. Check out these Sailor Moon gifts for under $30 on Etsy!

SPOILER ALERT: There’s even a budget binder for each of the Sailor Guardians! Where personal finance and fandom meet. Be sure to keep scrolling until you spot it!

Sailor Moon Nails

Whether you want decals or press ons, there’s not shortage of Sailor Moon nail options.

Sailor Moon Nail Decals

Sailor moon nail decals with Serena, Luna, Queen Serenity, etcPrice: $6.29
Get it from: Markynail

Bling Drill Sailor Moon Nails

Pink press on nails with sailor moon symbol charms attached.Price: $16.87
Get it from:
BamboNailsArt

 

Sailor Moon Wigs

Is your giftee big into cosplay? You can’t go wrong with a Sailor Moon wig. And they’re more affordable than you may initially think. Check out these options under $30.

Sailor Moon Cosplay Wig

Blonde wig for Tsukino Usagi cosplayPrice: $29.45
Get it from:
kckwanapparel

Rini/Chibiusa Wig

Pink wig rini style chibiusa stylePrice: $29.34
Get it from:
kckwanapparel

 

Sailor Moon Earrings

For cosplay or everyday use. Whether you’re fighting evil by moon light or joining up with the Spectre Sisters. Sailor Moon earrings for everybody — even if you’re on a budget!

Sailor Saturn Earrings

Sailor Saturn Earrings for Sailor Moon cosplay. Beautiful, prism like pennants.Price: $16.00
Get it from: StarBucketDesigns

Koan Earrings

Black earrings in the fashion of Koan from Sailor Moon (aka wicked lady aka black lady)

Price: $25.00
Get it from:
PearlsandPaperRoses

Tuxedo Mask Gifts Under $30

Oh, Darien! You seem way more problematic when I watch the old seasons in 2023, yet you remain iconic.

Tuxedo Mask Enamel Pins

Two tuxedo mask enamel pins held in the palm of a hand. One is normal colors, one is faded pastels. Price: $10.00
Get it from: MidnightMoonPins

Vintage Tuxedo Mask Doll

Tuxedo Mask clip-on figurine, in original box. Text reads: "Ages 4 & Up Sailor Moon Tuxedo Mask Collectible Clip-On IRWIN"

Price: $10.95
Get it from: WrenLane



Sailor Moon Eye Shadow

Move over Colourpop! This eye shadow is great for cosplay — and it’s affordable. TBH there’s a couple of these I’m tempted to try out for everyday use, too.

Colourpop Alternative. Glitterly cosplay Sailor Moon eye shadow for Sailor Mars, Sailor Mercury, Sailor Jupiter and Sailor Venus.

Price: $16.00
Get it from: Yinnabelle

 

Sailor Moon Nightlight

This night light is the absolute cutest. It does ship from Canada, so give yourself a lead time on your order of at least 10 days. (E.g., if you want it in time for Christmas, I’d scoop it up by December 14 at the absolute latest.)

Sailor Moon nightlightPrice: $26.66
Get it from:
kitschculturecanada

 

Sailor Mars Choker Necklace

The 90s kid in me would buy this for everyday use. But also, extra cosplay points for Rei.

red velvet sailor mars necklace with gold metallic star in the centerPrice: $15.00
Get it from: MamiMooni

 

Sailor Moon Cat Planter

Luna, Artemis, and Diana ALL make their appearance with these planters that double as pencil holders. Which Sailor Moon sidekick would you choose?

Sailor Moon mini cat planters. Diana is the only one actually being used as a planter. Artemis and Luna are being used as pencil holders.Price: $11.99
Get it from: HoneydabCo

 

 

Not LEGO Sailor Moon Minifigs

These technically aren’t LEGO minifigs, but they’re so close that you could’ve fooled me. You can choose from the following Sailor Moon minifigs from FigMasters — all of them are a mere $2.49/each:

  • Sailor Moon
  • Sailor Jupiter
  • Sailor Mercury
  • Sailor Venus
  • Sailor Neptune
  • Sailor Uranus

Image of Sailor Moon minfigs from an online shop. Top row L to R: Sailor Mercury, Sailor Moon, Sailor Mars, Sailor Venus. Second row L to R: Sailor Neptune, Sailor Jupiter, Sailor Mars, Sailor Moon. Last row L to R: Sailor Mercury, Sailor Jupiter.

Sailor Pluto Budget Binder

WUT?!?! It’s serendipitous but it’s true: There exists in this world a series of Sailor Moon budget binders. While I’m partial to Sailor Pluto, there’s one for each of the Sailor Guardians. Inclusion of the garnet rod FTW.

Red budget binder with black, glittery lettering that reads "Sailor Guaridan Pluto Est 1991" You can also see her garnet rod and the astrological glyphs for the 8 planets in our solar system other than Earth.Price: $27.00
Get it from: SirensTailCreation

 

5 Ways to DIY Custom T-Shirts with Style

This post is brought to you and written by an outside writer.

Woman sitting at a bar with her back to the camera. It's modern day, but she's wearing 80s style jeans with a white shirt tucked in. On the back of her shirt is blue and orange checkered text reading 'Choose Love'.

The days of summer are upon us, and it is time to break out your old t-shirts and add a shirt or two to the mix. According to Printful T-shirts, there are a few different ways to customize old shirts and create new ones. You can do this at home with a few things from a craft store or go online to create digital designs.

These five ideas can add style to your summer wardrobe without doing too much damage to your wallet.

1. Stamping Techniques

You can revitalize an old t-shirt by using a stamper to put a design on the shirt. Designers make these stampers out of material that they have lying around. You can use an eraser or even an old take-out box.

The steps are easy:

  1. Draw your design on the stamper material with a pencil.
  2. Cut around the design with an X-Acto knife. Now you have your stamper.
  3. Apply acrylic paint to your stamper.
  4. Press the stamper onto your shirt.
  5. Let the shirt dry for 72 hours.
  6. Iron the shirt on low heat.

A design made with a stamper won’t last forever, but it is a fun way to liven up your wardrobe.

2. Paint Directly on a Shirt

If you have a steady hand and plenty of artistic skill, you can always draw a design right onto your shirt with acrylic paint. Be sure to put your shirt on an ironing board. You may want to sketch out what you are drawing first. It is best to stick to a very simple design when you do things this way. You could also buy several cheap shirts in case you make a mistake.

Once you have painted the shirt, let it dry for at least 24 hours. Seal the paint with an iron on low heat. Keep the iron moving so it does not burn.

3. Use an On-Demand Printer

One of the best ways to custom-design your shirt is to use an online on-demand printer. All you have to do is visit the printer’s website and upload your original design. They will print it on the t-shirt of your choosing. They will send it out to you right away,

Although on-demand printing may cost a little more than paint, the shirts can save you from artistic failure and last a long time.

4. Embroider the Collar or Bottom of a Shirt

The very best on-demand printers will offer an embroidery option. They will have a state-of-the-art sewing machine that applies flawless stitches to the article of clothing of your choice. You can give a plain black t-shirt a major upgrade by adding flowers to the lapel, collar, or bottom of a shirt.

5. Make a Humorous Shirt

Some of the most popular t-shirts in history have been funny ones. Whether you use paint or print, funny shirts are always a big hit. You can use your favorite humorous movie quote or show the world your sharp wit on a shirt.

A few original shirts will add flare to any wardrobe. If enough people give you compliments, you may want to start selling your shirts. (<– Side hustle alert!)