Author: Richard Singleton
It’s April and other than the promise of May flowers, you know what’s coming — April 15th, tax day, financial Armageddon! Now that your palms are a little sweaty, realizing that you haven’t finished your taxes or maybe even worse, that you have finished them, I’m going to roll the dice and guess that you’ve never envisioned tax day as an opportunity to spend quality family time with your teen.
In fact, when it comes to teens and taxes, you’re likely just wondering why you can’t claim his or her herd of friends as write-offs. After all, they eat warehouses of your food, they cool the great outdoors with your A/C and they use your car to test Einstein’s theory of relativity — the one about the speed of light equaling an empty gas tank and an outstretched hand.
Okay, so what’s all this business about tax day and teen angst teaming up for something interesting and rewarding? Well, I’ve got a suggestion. It’s wacky, but hey, it’s tax time; we’re all a little wacky right now. Might as well use it as an opportunity for something productive.
Step 1: Get going. Buy an entry level copy of Turbo Tax or something like it and install it on your computer. The cost should only be around $30, or even free in some cases (I promise I’m not a shill for the folks down at Intuit — unless they have an opening…JUST KIDDING!). For those who complete your own taxes, you probably already have a copy installed and wouldn’t need to buy one (an old copy that’s already on your computer would work just fine, too).
Step 2: Get creative. If your kids are like mine, they live in a financial fantasy land. Usually this is maddening. For this experiment, however, it’s perfect. The more fantastical the better! Let’s transform that wispy fantasy into a stark reality. Have your kiddos envision their dream job, their dream home, their dream car, their dream vacation, etc. Have them put the facts and figures down on paper. Force them to be precise. Let their minds run wild. And, then, the big reveal. TAX DAY!
Step 3: Get real. Walk your kids through a basic level of doing taxes. Enter hypothetical tax data into your tax program (hopefully, you don’t have a lot of experience with hypothetical tax data by the way — cue second round of sweaty palms). Focus on the really important teachable moments as you work through the maze of taxes together. Help them see that their salary isn’t the amount of money that they actually bring home. Show them that being smart about investments, charitable donations, home ownership, and so forth can help lower taxes and provide security for the future. And, reaffirm for them that organization is not just a mythical word you made up to force them to clean their cave, it has real life applications, as do strange things like math and business classes.
I know. I know. You’re thinking “It won’t work. You don’t know my kid. This is a joke.” Just try it. Take a risk. For some kids, the light bulb will begin to flicker. At the very least they learn that you’re interested in spending time with them and helping them learn the sometimes scary adult world.
Step 4: Get practical.
Once the dust settles from your in-home tax seminar/iron cage grudge match, sit down as a family and talk about what you learned. You don’t have to be a business guru, tax aficionado, or even a math whiz to do this. Really, the exercise here is to get you and your kids together to share in a great learning opportunity. It’s the 21st century version of the timeless “money doesn’t grow on trees” lecture. But, please no lecturing, no finger-pointing, only laughing and learning as your teen shows you how to use Windows 7 or Snow Leopard and you show your teen that there wouldn’t be a PC or Mac in his lap without the difficult journey of managing money!
So, there you go. It’s your double taxation without representation mission if you choose to embrace it. If so, I suggest waiting until the real taxes are done — you don’t need another excuse for putting it off any longer. And, for all those parents out there who are preparing to finally see their senior walk the aisle next month, congratulations. You’ve worked hard. What a grand goal your family has completed! What better way for preparing your kids financially for the next leg of their journey than to teach them a little bit about dollars and sense.
This might actually be the best time you’ve ever spent doing taxes. It certainly will have the chance of paying the highest dividends!