Bet you thought that since it's the second week of January, you'd escaped that old chestnut, New Year's Resolutions. Well, think again.
I'm a traditionalist. I like the comfort of rituals and nothing is as ritualized as the annual pledges we make to do or become better at something. The process is so stylized, it's almost Kabuki-like.
New Year's Resolutions: You make 'em, you break 'em.
Admit it. That's you. It's me, too. And my husband. And my extended family. And my friends. And ... .
But we go through the process, year after year, just the same. It's somehow comforting to think that this might actually be the year that we follow through. Unfortunately, the words of Paul Buchman usually ring true: "Never gonna happen, my friend."
Still, the page flips to Jan. 1 and we silly, silly, hopeful humans persist. I've basically got it down to just one resolution a year. My thinking is if I just have one thing to do, I can do it, maybe not well, but at least do it. Uh oh, I hear Paul's voice again.
Two years ago, the resolution was to stay on top of my periodical reading. Read the daily newspaper on the day it arrives, read each magazine before the next issue shows up in the mailbox. Lasted most of January.
Last year I got real. Since we were in the process of selling our Florida home, quitting jobs, packing and moving to Texas, I didn't even bother. I must admit, though, that I felt guilty not even trying.
I guess I could go back and pull up a perennial resolution favorite, lose weight, and count it as my 2005 resolution because I actually did drop a few pounds last year. The trick: the new moving diet! A surefire but not painless way to shed excess you. Don't eat, don't sleep, worry and pack! The love handles will melt away.
Of course, you'll go slightly (or more, if you believe my husband's take on it!) crazy in the process, but it's worth it to find that the few clothes you did move halfway across the country are a bit looser.
So what about 2006? I'm still working on it, but I have at least narrowed it down to a move-related task.
Should I resolve to be completely unpacked by the end of the year? How about getting our artwork hung on all the empty walls of our new house? That seems to be a priority of our family and friends who've been over.
Or I could go practical and resolve to make all the house's minor repairs before they evolve into bigger, more-expensive fixes. Nah, that's probably a resolution to pass on to hubby dear.
Jeff Bogue, a financial planner and blogger on MaineToday.com, offers another approach. He suggests in this column a resolution-per-month approach to achieving your 2006 goals.
You also could use tax breaks to financially quantify your resolutions. When money's involved, we all tend to take things a bit more seriously. And yes, the IRS can help underwrite some of your goals as long as you structure them according to tax rules.
Take losing weight. If you don't want to use my moving diet, you might be able to write off another weight loss program -- as long as it's medically necessary to drop the pounds. In these cases, the costs of fighting flab can be claimed as a medical deduction. Weight loss prescription drugs count, too.
Remember, though, that in addition to being recommended by your doctor, your medical deductions must exceed 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income (AGI) before you can count them.
Maybe you're into total self-improvement and have decided to quit smoking, too. There's no question here about the medical/health connection, so the IRS says you can count any smoking cessation program costs toward your deductible medical expenses. The nicotine-aversion treatment just might help you meet the deduction threshold.
How about improving your mind along with your body? Several education tax breaks are available if you take college courses: the Hope and Lifetime Learning credits, exclusion of interest on savings bonds used to pay higher education costs, the student loan interest deduction. Heck, Congress might even get its act together and continue the tuition and fees deduction through 2006.
If your educational efforts help upgrade skills you need at your current job, you can count those training costs toward miscellaneous itemized deductions. You do have to have enough of such costs to exceed 2 percent of your AGI, but you might be able to reach that number if you also count other work-related, but unreimbursed, expenses such as trade publication subscriptions and dues to professional organizations.
Then there's always the resolution to be a better person. Part of that effort might include doing more good deeds, such as contributing to charities. You don't have to just give cash to get a tax break. Donate some securities that no longer fit your investing strategy, deliver Meals on Wheels and write off the mileage or clean out your closet and give household items you no long want or need to your favorite charity.
Donations of goods also could help you better organize your life, another worthy resolution. If your organizational goal also relates to your tax life, such as hiring a pro to do your returns this year, that fee can be deducted as part of the miscellaneous category noted in connection with employee expenses.
Even if you can't write off the costs, getting your tax life in better order should eventually pay off. It'll help you learn what you can and can't deduct, discover credits for which you might be eligible and develop strategies to maximize all available tax benefits.
Some of those credits and deductions are tied to your filing status, which is the topic of TODAY'S TAX TIP featured in Bankrate.com's Tax Guide. In fact, your filing status alone could cut your bill.
Are you a single parent? Think that word single means that's how you should file? Wrong. You might be able to claim head of household status, which immediately gives you a larger standard deduction amount.
So take some time to check out the tip for all the details and benefits of your filing status options.
And get to work on those resolutions!