Create Semi-Stable Financials

Personal finances is always tricky, and for a lot of us right now, it’s in trouble. I am not about to tell you how to pay off debt in 30 days. I haven’t done that. I feel like I fit in with a majority of millennials (no, we are not still going on Spring Break. We’re like 25-30 years old right now. Stop confusing us with Gen Z just to make headlines flashier): a lot of student debt, high cost of living. But I am also lucky to be married to a man with a pretty good job and we were able to save up to buy a house. This post is for those wanting a starting point in personal finance as I am just going to talk about the things I do.

The biggest thing is having and tracking a budget. If you can stick to it, then kudos, cause that’s where I struggle (especially in the grocery department). I use an excel document on One Drive online so I can update it on my phone if I need to. I have multiple tabs in this excel: Bank Account (used as a transaction register so I know how much cash I have and need for bills), House Budget (bills, food, income, etc), Personal Budget (any extra spending on things that do not fit into the House Budget categories. This includes books, clothing, hobby things, movies, all the fun stuff), Savings (keep track of the three savings accounts I have), Master Budget updated every 6 months, Vacation planning as needed, Loans to keep track of balances, and Christmas budget to keep track of how much I am spending on who. I try to keep this excel as up to date as possible to see where we need to work on. It’s helpful to see what you are using your money on to highlight patterns that may be problematic.

To help keep track of transactions, I use the Mint app by Intuit. You link your accounts to the app, and it will update and list all transactions. There is a budget aspect built into the app, but I found that it was not too user friendly as a lot of things are auto-categorized incorrectly. But, that may just be me. I mainly use this as a transaction checklist when updating my budget. It’s also nice to see all your balances in one place if you link everything.

I mentioned earlier I have three savings accounts. This is a personal choice, but I do recommend having more than one. We have an account for the following three areas: emergency, house, and vacation. I regularly contribute to the emergency and vacation funds, but when we decide on projects or moving, I will restart monthly contributions to the house account as well. Having separate accounts for each area may not be necessary, but I like having designated things for the money there, especially the vacation fund.

Most recently, my husband and I have started investing in stocks. If you have some extra disposable income, but not enough for most broker companies ($1K seems to be the most popular initial investment), use RobinHood. There is not a minimum investment, the app is user friendly, and you get a free stock when you sign up. And, if you can, right now is great to start as most companies are “discounted”. Even if it’s not much, it’s a start. Just don’t check it every day- things are roller coaster-y right now.

If you have any tips or tricks to create better personal finances, let me know in the comments!

Tips to Surviving Tax Season

Being in the thrall of extended deadline season aka “mini tax season” has gotten me thinking about the coming tax season. I know this is something no one wants to think about. But, I also know there are going to be a lot of new accountants out there where this is going to be a big adjustment. Most of us will be working 60+ hours a week, and you will need all the help you can get to survive January- April 15, especially with the new tax laws to learn and navigate. Let me give you a few tricks of the trade that I have learned in my four tax seasons as a public accountant:

  1. The crock pot is your best friend. Make a list of recipes you love and schedule them out so you can have leftovers on the days in between. It makes life a little easier and your home will smell really good at the end of the day. Some of my favorites are:
    1. Three ingredient tacos (chicken breasts, a jar of salsa, and fajita seasoning)
    2. Taco soup (I like it best with hot ground sausage)
    3. Chili
    4. Chicken Alfredo (I tend to do this one in steps, so it will be a “make it Sunday and eat it all week” thing)
    5. Gumbo (okay, I know most of these are turning out to be like soup, but soup is easy. Gumbo has a lot of parts and meat, so I tend to do this one only once during the season)
    6. Chicken tortilla soup or chicken enchilada soup (just chop all the peppers and onions ahead of time then throw everything in the pot before you head to the office)
    7. Pinterest has a lot of other good ones. Or just throw random things in there and see what happens.
  2. Get used to not sleeping. It’s just not going to happen, and when it does, you will dream about taxes. I’m sorry.
  3. If you’re like me, you have families that like to get together every weekend. I struggle with this, but it is okay to turn them down. You only get so much time for yourself. Be selfish. Take it.
  4. You won’t have time to clean the house. Which means you may be spending your one day off to clean for fifteen weeks straight. Just stick to the essentials. It will be fine.
  5. Stock up on snacks and caffeine. I like Crystal Light and teas when I don’t want coffee. Good snacks are nuts and fruits and chocolate. Lots of chocolate.
  6. Stay organized, if you can. Keep track of what you are working on and for whom. It will make it easier when the partner is searching for a certain client you probably have somewhere in the mess that is your desk.
  7. Take breaks. Walk around the office or just look away from the computer for a few minutes. Your brain will thank you.
  8. Be prepared for everyone you ever knew to ask you tax related questions. Even if you are not a tax person (audit exists during tax season, and they are just as busy as we are), you will get asked if something is deductible.
  9. I meal prep. I make a week’s worth of lunches on Sunday and I make the egg white muffins I posted about a while ago. This makes rushing out in the morning easier.
  10. It’s fifteen weeks of hell. You can do it. Just breathe and apologize to your loved ones in advance. We are all suffering together.

Bonus: Have an awesome playlist to get you through the long days. I always do a complete listen through of Welcome to Night Vale, but I also throw in some boy bands and “Duel of the Fates” to keep me motivated.

Are you ready for tax season? Let me know your tips to survival as we dread the new year.

The C.P.A. Exam Truth

The Certified Public Accounting certification exam is four sections long: Regulation (REG), Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), and Business Environment and Concepts (BEC). As of last year, each section is four hours long with multiple choice questions, simulations, and BEC has a writing portion. Once you pass the first section, you have eighteen months to pass the other three. That’s right- passing is timed and conditional. You have to get a 75 to pass, and that is not a %. The questions are weighted, and then your score is weighted against the other people taking the test. There is a reason why the exam has a less than 50% pass rate. It’s not a walk in the park.

Everyone has a different idea of which is the easiest section. It really depends on the individual. If you are a tax person, REG is going to be easier. If you are an auditor, AUD is going to be your strength. It all just depends on where you are in the accounting field. For me, REG and BEC was the easiest. I work in a tax department, so I live by those rules. I am also good at writing, which made BEC less intimidating.

When I first starting my now three year long journey of taking this exam, everyone told me to use the Becker study materials. Becker is one of the most widely known CPA exam prep guides, and they do work for a lot of people. Not me. I failed all but REG my first time around. It took me a little while to figure out the best way for me to study, and Becker’s videos and books were not it for me.

Now, a lot of my coworkers used Becker and passed. Some of them did the same self study path while a couple did the whole “I’m going to sit in an eight hour long class every Saturday and do multiple choice questions at home during the week” thing. I was working full time and going to Georgia State for my master’s. I did not take that route.

Also, do not overload yourself like I did. Between work and my classes, I did not give myself time to study for the exam. That hurt. A lot.

I had to teach myself how to study. I never really had to in high school, and college required a lesser amount of studying than what you really need for the CPA exam. I am talking about locking yourself in your room, ignoring everyone and everything for a few hours a day. Become a hermit. Your friends and family will eventually forgive you after you pass the exam.

Do some research on the different study programs that are available. There is no such thing as a “One size fits all” when it comes to this stuff. A friend used Wiley and liked it. I am using the NINJA program from Another71.com and that really works for me. But it is a personal choice. You know how you study. Some people I know use more than one. NINJA was actually set up to be a supplemental to the other programs. I just found that the materials they have work for my learning style.

Misery loves company. If you have friends or coworkers also taking the exam, study together. Share your notes. Two heads are better than one, and someone may be better at creating ways to remember stuff. I am sure there is a song about governmental fund types out there somewhere. I should probably go find it, because that is one of my weakest areas. FAR is terrible. They’re all terrible, but FAR is all the random stuff that did not fit into the other three sections. Someone please make a FAR album with catchy tunes to memorize.

I am a week away from finding out a score, and two months from taking FAR. If all goes well, I will be a CPA by the end of September. Just know, you are not alone. There are hundreds of us suffering through this exam. We got this. We are accountants.