The only thing certain in life …..

Thankfully, I am done with this chore for the year – but I know a lot of you might not be, so when I was given this list of tax-time-tips, I had to pass it on.  And remember, you have a couple of extra days this year – taxes aren’t due until April 18, instead of the usual 15th.  (Some people see this as a “gift” from the IRS.  I see it as just dragging out the agony!!)

Top 5 Tax Time Mistakes

It’s here again. Tax time. Comes around pretty fast, don’t you think? If tax time left you scrambling last year, come prepared this time around. Know the top five mistakes tax filers make and avoid them.

Mistake #1: Filing a Paper Return

Forget the pencil and paper. File online. Anthony Burke, a spokesperson at the IRS, says that not e-filing is the biggest mistake that taxpayers make. When you e-file, you can get your refund in half the time it takes a paper return. And you are less likely to make mistakes.

Last year, Burke said that of the 20 million paper returns the IRS had received, about a million had mistakes. Meanwhile, of the 44 million returns received electronically by that day, only about 30,000 had errors. That’s doesn’t sound great, but it sure does cut your risk that you will be among those with an error.

All taxpayers can e-file their taxes for free. Check out the IRS’s Free File program at www.IRS.gov/efile. You can also go to that Web site for a list of Web sites, software and tax professionals that offer e-file.

Mistake #2: Being careless

Among the most common mistakes that people make on their returns is filling in the wrong social security number and not signing the return. Other mistakes include incorrectly calculating the earned income tax credit, capital gains or losses or the taxable portion of social security benefits.

All of these are either an input error or a calculation mistake. Both of which, Burke says can be prevented by e-filing. If you enter the wrong social security number, the system rejects the filing. And since e-filing automatically crunches the numbers for you, your calculations will be on target.

These types of careless mistakes will definitely slow your refund.

Mistake #3: Underpaying

If you’re going to make a mistake, make it by overpaying what you owe the government. If you under estimate or miscalculate what you owe, the IRS will bill you for that amount plus a minimal penalty of 0.5 percent per month, plus interest. If you substantially understate your income tax, you could pay up to a 20 percent penalty.

If you find that you shorted Uncle Sam, don’t wait for the bill — file an amended return. Check out Form 1040-X on the IRS Web site.

Mistake #4: Skipping direct deposit

If you take the direct deposition option, you are likely to get your refund a full week earlier than if you have a check mailed to you, even if you file an electronic return.

Mistake #5: Fudging the truth

File an honest return. The IRS has an uncanny sense about these things and they are reluctant to say what on a return can trigger an audit. Suffice it to say, that if you’re honest about your facts and figures, you have nothing to fear from an audit. In fact, it can be a good thing.

Many times the IRS discovers deductions that were missed, resulting in an even bigger refund.

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I like the way this woman thinks …

 

A whole new way to use up my piles of Post-Its!

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Small but mighty!

“It consists of forming same of a spring material, such as a piece of wire, that is bent to a rectangular, triangular, or otherwise shaped hoop, the end parts of which wire piece form members or tongues lying side by side in contrary directions.”

This was the official description used by Norwegian Johan Vaaler when applying for a patent in 1901.  Do you know what he invented?

 

At left is the diagram he attached to his application.  At right is how we see it today.

And not only is it now one of the most-used office supply in the world, it also has some other claims to fame which make me proud to be a paperclip owner and user!

During World War II, the small but mighty paperclip became a symbol of resistance for the Norwegian people.  Started by students at the University of Oslo, wearing a paperclip on your lapel showed solidarity amongst the residents in Nazi-occupied Norway – showing that the people were still “bound together.”  Eventually the Nazis caught on, and showing a paperclip in public became illegal and grounds for arrest.

In more recent years, a single red paperclip is the star of a book explaining the true journey of a Canadian man who bartered, over the course of nearly one year, one red paperclip for increasingly bigger and more valuable items until he was the owner of a house!  His journey started with a blog, eventually became a book, and has brought him international attention.

Paperclips.  Not just for paper anymore.

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Does it really matter?

This year marks the 41st observance and celebration of Earth Day.  It’s coming up on April 22, and (I know, I’m aging myself) I remember the very first one.  Back then no one knew it would still be around 41 years later, but more on that later.

You may find yourself thinking, though, as many are wont to do, “is it really worth it?” when considering what just one person, or one office, or one company, can do.  I mean, truly, can my buying recycled paper help keep the polar bear babies safe?

Well, according to Environmental Paper Network, every little bit helps.  If one consumer uses 30% recycled paper for a year, on average that would save 7 full-grown trees, 2000 gallons of water, 1200 kilowatts of electricity, and 2 pounds of air pollution. [note – who knew air pollution is measured in pounds?  Not bits per cubic inch or something more scientific, but pounds?]

And that’s just one mid-sized consumer – and just 30% recycled.  If it’s a bigger company or a higher percentage of recycled materials, it goes up.  And that all adds up.

And if the person who makes the purchasing decisions in your company doesn’t care about baby polar bears, well, then you can take an alternate tactic.  Studies show that clients and customers do notice when the literature and letters they get from you carry a “recycled” symbol.    They think more favorably of you, which could just be the tipping point when they are choosing which proposal to accept or supplier to buy from.

And then your company will get bigger and you will get a huge raise, and you can donate money to save the baby polar bears.  And they all lived happily ever after.

See?  It’s a win-win!

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Going Green: Output

March is a good time to look at your green habits (hopefully you have some to look at!)  And if you don’t, there’s no time like the present.  When you look at being green, there are two parts of the equation … the input and the output.  Input is what you buy – what your products are made of, how much packaging is used, how far away they are shipped from, what resources are used in the production.  Output is what you do with things when you are done with them.  It’s having recycling receptacles for various types of trash, it’s reusing when possible, and it’s giving away what you no longer need in hopes that someone else can use your cast-offs.

It’s been my experience that a lot of companies are deliberate (or try to be) in their purchasing, and are diligent in dividing up their trash, but not always as efficient in giving away as they might be.  Take me, and the company I currently work at, for example.  We have recycling containers for cans, plastic bottles, and used paper.  But other things like plastic stackable inboxes, or bookshelves, or 3-ring binders … well, we tend to just hang on to them in hopes that maybe some day we will use them again.  And maybe we will.  But in the meantime they clutter up our office area, which is already very short on storage space.  This is particularly ironic given that the nonprofit I work at is very big on the concept of “make room for future success by moving out unnecessary remnants of your past.”

But what can you do?  Well, there are always other organizations that could use your extra items.  Other nonprofits.  Schools.  Churches.  Daycares.  There are internet “swap meets” like Freecycle, or the “Free” category on Craigslist, and there are new organizations popping up all over which facilitate accepting donations from companies and distributing them to schools or other worthy causes – like Excess Access in California, Companies to Classrooms in Minnesota, or Gifts In Kind which works all over the world!

From where you are sitting in your office, do a 360 look around you.  What could you recycle, repurpose, or give away for someone else to benefit from?  Many of us de-clutter at our homes.  Take some time to do it at the office, too.  It feels green, and green is good.

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I’m not the only one!

You may recall that my very first post on this blog was singing the praises of the PaperPro one-finger stapler.  At that time, I said it was going “on my wish list.”

Well, I am proud and pleased to tell you that I am now the owner of my very own PaperPro, and I still love it.  So much so that I staple things that really don’t need stapling.  So much so that I call over my children and my friends and I invite them to staple things that really don’t need stapling.  And then we fold the things that didn’t need stapling in half, and we staple them again.

Using one finger.

And we giggle – both at the beauty of the product, and at the craziness that has us stapling things that really don’t need stapling.  Over and over again.

And you know what?  I am not alone in the world of stapler-worship.   Office Supply Geek loves it, too.   A local radio show that does a segment called “Ab Fab” highlighted the PaperPro on March 11 (you will have to search for it, there isn’t a direct link.)  A blog which focuses on reviewing heavy-techy computer stuff (see how easily this techno-jargon flies off my typing fingers?) loved it, too.  And finally, a delightful blog called the “Angry Chicken” calls this stapler magical.

And I totally, completely, 100% agree.

Want one of your own?  Buy one here, or leave me a comment convincing me I should send you one for free.  You might just get lucky!

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My mother, who was born a Kelly, always had this blessing in her sewing room as I was growing up.  It’s what I think of every St. Patrick’s Day!

May those that love us, love us.
And those that don’t love us,
May God turn their hearts.
And if He doesn’t turn their hearts,
May He turn their ankles
So we will know them by their limping.


~Irish Blessing

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Buy some paper, plant a tree

Who here doesn’t love the amazing and ubiquitous Post-It Note?  I remember fondly the days when yellow was the only color choice and 3″ x 3″ was the only size option.  Now?  Too many wonderfully practical and creative varieties to possibly be aware of, much less count!  And now, in honor of Earth Day, the makers of Post-It are planting trees.

3M (a company I hold near & dear to my heart, seeing as they, like me, are Minnesotan) has committed to planting a tree for every registered purchase of any of their qualifying products during the month of April.

“What’s a qualifying product?” you ask?  Well, let me tell you!  It’s anything from their specially-selected array of recycled products – labels, easel charts, and Post-Its.  Now, to be totally forthcoming, it does appear you have to purchase the jumbo-pack of Post-Its, not just a single pad.  But still.  They’re planting a whole tree.  For every purchase.  They are partnering with American Forests, a group which focuses on reforestation and the environment.

* * *  FREE SAMPLE ALERT * * *

So – tell you what.  To get you in the  mood a couple weeks early, I have some FREE SAMPLES of Post-It Recycled Notes that I will send the first 5 commenters.  (I’ll contact you privately to get your info.)  Tell me your favorite Post-It story.  Or not; just say something clever.  Or nice.  Or spelled right.  (and if you’re commenter #6, or #9, or even #14 … you just never know, there might be a surprise for you, too …)

Oh, and if you are ever in Two Harbors, Minnesota – a charmingly quaint town on the north shore of Lake Superior (and quite close to where my parents live; stop by and say “hi”) – visit the 3M Museum: The First 100 Years.  Then go see the Edna G, and stop at Sweet Peas.  Make a day of it!

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I have to catch up on my filing …

I am the office manager of a medium-sized nonprofit.  I started this job a year and a half ago, and within my first week I knew I had to address the lateral files that sit behind my desk.

And now, just 78 weeks later, I think I am about to do it.    I like to think that it’s taken me this long to “know the job” enough to be able to make prudent decisions about what to keep and what to purge, as well as how best to organize the truly important papers.   Couldn’t be that I was simply postponing what I view as unpleasant and time-consuming.

To start, I do what all good workers do.  I Googled “filing.”  Since everyone does it, there must be some secret, PERFECT system out there, right?  After spending quite a bit of time watching YouTube videos about filing, I have come away with three points:

1.  Use color.  It really does make it easier to find what you need quickly, and just makes the drawers look better – even if you haven’t finished going through all the papers, you can convince yourself you’re making good progress, which is half the battle!

2.  80% of what you file, you never look at again.  Several sites and videos quote this  statistic.  I don’t know if that’s true or not (or what it’s based on) but honestly?  It sounds plausible to me.  Before I took this job, there were several people who filled in temporarily, and I think they all shared the thought that it’s better to save everything – and preferably multiple copies of everything – just to “be safe.”  And I guess if I look at the alternative (saving nothing), this is better.  But if I could purge 80% of what’s in there, my job sure would be easier.

And 3.  There’s no secret, perfect system. It’s mostly common sense, and a commitment to consistency.  But all seem to agree that if you take the time to set it up well, it will save you a lot of time later.

And if you really want to waste invest the time to see the pros, here are some selections you might enjoy:

“Most viewed” video on filing tips that I could find:

Nice music:

And finally, possibly the best idea I found (though I doubt my boss would agree):

Supplies to get you started

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*** FREE SAMPLE ALERT ***

The plan is to make this happen frequently … you will see the post title

*** FREE SAMPLE ALERT ***

and you will be able to get something for nothing!

Today the focus is on your health.  Kids in school pass colds around amongst one another like there’s no tomorrow.  Well, is your office similarly germ-ridden?  As spring is (finally for those of us in the midwest [and I hope I am not jinxing it by writing this]) coming, no one wants to be stuck feeling stuffed up and icky.

I happen to be one of those annoying people who rarely if ever gets a cold (and now my fingers are really crossed, and I’m closing my eyes, tapping my heels together and repeating “I don’t believe in jinxes.  I don’t believe in jinxes.  I don’t believe in jinxes.”) but I know lots of people who are very susceptible to whatever is going around.   And, as our mothers always told us, the best defense is to get enough sleep, drink lots of water, and take vitamin C.

Well, here’s a fun – and tasty – way to get your vitamin C and your water, all at the same time.  You’re on your own for the sleep. And, the best part – try it for free!  Just print out the following and fax or email it (or just email the info it asks for) and you’ll get your sample.  Quick and easy.  Promise!

Stay well!

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