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Tips for dealing with your family (& taxes) this Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving meal via Satya Murthy

Happy Thanksgiving. This annual gathering of family and friends is supposed to be a happy time of reconnecting.

Nowadays, though, that takes some work.

So to help you enjoy this Turkey Day instead of dread it or worse, here are some tips. Some are even tax-related.

Acknowledge your differences: Clashes between family members have been going on since humans appeared on this planet.

Unfortunately, over-sized expectations during holidays tend to make them worse. Old arguments — be they political, emotional or otherwise — often resurface.

Recognize this and be ready. You aren't going to change your relatives or the issues that cause problems between you on this one already stress-filled day, but accepting these patterns will help you recognize them before they spin out of control.

Politely disengage from tense conversations by stepping outside for a breath of fresh air, or playing a game with the youngsters or helping out in the kitchen, especially if you planned ahead and got your hands on some calming cannabis infused turkey gravy.  

The bottom line is that nobody's family is perfect. We've all got relatives that drive us crazy. We probably do the same to others. If you're not willing to put up with this fact, then you should have kept driving or stayed at home. Since you didn't, be ready to deal with it.

And remember, you don't have to stay in a tense situation. When it's time for you to go, go.

Change the subject: If conversations start to get too heated, take the lead in steering the talk to a less volatile topic. Yeah, it's avoidance, but for a once-a-year gathering sometimes it's best to just step away.

Talk about less divisive things. One good topic is the reason why y'all are all together on this final Thursday in November. Impress your relatives with your knowledge of how and why Thanksgiving came to be.

Ted Widmer, distinguished lecturer at the Macaulay Honors College of the City University of New York, also has details on the original Thanksgiving proclamation in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln and his Secretary of State William H. Seward.

You also could debunk some turkey myths, like the one about Ben Franklin wanting the fan-tailed fowl, not the bald eagle, to be our national bird.

Or share the story of Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. It's been a Big Apple tradition on this day since 1924. More than 3 million people crowd the Manhattan streets that make up the 2.65-mile route, with another 50 million+ watching each year on television.

Look for alternatives: In addition to short-term time outs from your annoying family, look for ways to divert everyone.

There always are games that are good for family members of all ages. Or sporting events that are televised.

A quick warning about the sports. Fan allegiances can be more polarizing that politics!

You also can check out a movie, either one at a theater or on DVD or streaming. This list has a wide variety of options for all cinematic tastes. I personally recommend "Pieces of April". The April in this Thanksgiving-themed film is a young Katie Holmes in arguably what may be her best performance.

I'm also a fan of "Home for the Holidays," Jodie Foster's directorial debut that's helped by fine performances from stars Holly Hunter, Anne Bancroft, Charles Durning, Dylan McDermott and Robert Downey, Jr.

For classic movie fans, there's "Miracle on 34th Street." Yes, it involves the trial of Kris Kringle, but it starts on Thanksgiving. A very young Natalie Wood as Santa skeptic Susan gets things started by questioning a Macy's store Santa.


Spoiler alert: St. Nick wins over Susan and a lot of other doubters in this perennial holiday favorite.

Money movies: If you prefer flicks with a financial theme or tax connections, some non-holiday suggestions include:

  • "On the Basis of Sex," the movie based on a real-life gender discrimination case involving caregiver tax deductions claimed by a man. He is represented by a young and future Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her tax litigator husband Martin Ginsburg.
  • Steve Carell and Tina Fey team up for a tax lawyer's "Date Night."
  • Another comedy icon, Will Ferrell, takes on a dramatic role as an IRS auditor in "Stranger Than Fiction." His life is turned around by a mysterious voice narrating his life. It's coming from author Kay Eiffel (yep, the character's name plus taxes sealed the deal for me) played by Emma Thompson.
  • And, of course, there's always "The Shawshank Redemption," with its specific estate tax scene and Tim Robbins' Andy Dufresne's creative accounting. It's got to be on cable somewhere.

Maybe the best thing about movies with or without a tax hook is that they could keep the rest of your family from bothering you for a couple of hours!

Help others: Lots of folks take the giving part of Thanksgiving to heart. They volunteer on this holiday.

Options range from food related, such as delivering meals to shut-ins or helping out at your local soup kitchen or homeless shelter, to participating in a Turkey Trot run with proceeds going to a good cause to simply dropping off canned goods and other nonperishables at your local food bank.

If you're a Central Texas reader of the ol' blog, check out these ways to give back to the Austin area this holiday season.

You also can visit sites like VolunteerMatch for hands-on giving opportunities near you. The mobile app GiveGab also can help you find ways to get involved based upon your interests.

Donations (and tax breaks) also accepted: Yeah, I know it's a bit late to get in on some of these do-and-feel-good activities now. Sorry. I'll plan by blogging better next November.

But you still can donate to your favorite charity. Most nonprofits accept gifts online, so you can take a break from any Turkey Day stress — or any time during this holiday season — to make a financial gift.

Here's where I have to remind you that if you're thinking about deducting your donations, that's still an option if you itemize.

But the increased standard deductions under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) now make itemizing less appealing to most taxpayers. Most is the key word here; wealthy donors can give even more under the tax reform law.

Plus, if you're giving of your time today or any day, the value of your volunteered hours helping out at a charity is not tax deductible.

Of course, I know that most folks give because they want to help, not for tax breaks. Thank you for that attitude this Thanksgiving and whenever during the year you donate.

Now take a deep breath and get back to your Thanksgiving gathering!

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