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River Falls, 54022

River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

All it took was a dumb TV show, cold beer, my black pen.

Do you remember that old commercial with the young man looking at his first paycheck and bemoaning: "Who is FICA and why are they taking my money?"

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Well, that's how I felt last April after getting walloped with a tax-due shock.

I had to pay last year to be told I had to pay even more to the government. Talk about adding insult to injury.

I dutifully paid for the firm's expertise but vowed I'd try to fill out my own forms from then on.

After all, I'm not stupid. I should be able to do this. My life isn't complicated.

They say it's a matter of just filling out forms and using common sense. But math isn't my strength.

I've always had someone else do my taxes. After all, it is the government we're talking about here, and the last thing I want to do is irritate those big guys.

I struggled reading through W2s, tax forms -- 1040s, 1040ez, 1040ezt, and every other letter in the alphabet -- booklets, receipts, manuals, Web sites, e-filing and telefiling, and had the very devil of a time trying to figure it all out.

Deciding to jump in with all 10 fingers, I went to the IRS Web site, chose a site recommended by it, clicked on the appropriate form, entered information asked for, printed it out and it's ready to be mailed.

It was amazing! I owe again, but not so much this year -- and I'll send off a check on April 15 like a good little American taxpayer.

Good for me! One down, one more to go.

But those Wisconsin forms almost did me in.

I tried filling them out on the kitchen table. I tried filling them out curled up on the couch.

I tried filling them out at work on several Saturday mornings.

I don't know why I had such a hard time coordinating everything, but it had to do with not rounding out numbers, trying to use the wrong forms, wrong booklets, not understanding the questions, and probably that blue pen I grabbed by mistake.

I finally sat down one afternoon at my kitchen counter with a cold beer, silly television show playing quietly in the background, picked up the requisite black pen, and started to work.

With my feet propped on another stool, an old spiral notebook on my lap for a firm surface to write on, Wisconsin Form 1 ready to be filled out, 1040 form on the counter, W2s spread out, I was done in 20 minutes!

It was a one-beer task!

Somehow it all came together and made sense. It may seem simple to many of you, but to me it was a mountain to climb and it felt great to be done with it.

And while I was in the mood I decided to write up a "financial statement" to see exactly where I'm at, moneywise, this year.

I was on a roll and as long as everything was at hand I also made a list of "what if I died tomorrow" information for my family. Things like where to go and who to call for insurance information, how to pay the bills, etc.

I'll be sending this information to my son and daughter in Minnesota so they'll know what I would like them to do if ever needed. As I told them, they don't have to open the envelopes yet, it's enough that I know I've done what I can to ease their way.

I'm going to try to do an update for my family every year at tax time. Being accountable to myself and concern for them should help me stay on track. I like to stay organized.

I follow a carefully planned budget each month and have a list of annual and semi-annual expenses so nothing gets forgotten. While there have been good and not-so-good months, I'm pleased to see an upward trend in my goals column, and a downward trend in debt owed.

You can't imagine how much lighter I felt after getting so "fiscally" organized.

It's better than a diet!

It may all be recorded in a old spiral notebook, some even in the dreaded blue ink, and the numbers might not be as high as Donald Trump's, but it's there, written down and understandable to me.

I hope each of you, too, will find something positive on April 15.

Reach Pat Hunter at phunter@rivertowns.net or call 425-1561.

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