doing my own taxes

One thing about living in the US, especially if you've lived in India all your life until then, is there's a lot of DIY (Do It Yourself). The first time I saw Home Depot, for example, I couldn't understand it. This gargantuan store where people picked up plywood and what-not and went off to build a porch! IKEA is another example (while not American) where you put your own furniture together by following simple instructions.

In India, you get other people to do this kinda stuff.

The first time I had to do my own taxes, I discovered a nifty piece of software that allowed me to do it while lounging on my couch, with my own laptop. I had to enter whatever information it asked for and voila - taxes were done and filed and all that. Even though I had very little idea of what was going on, the software took care of it.

This was a win-win for me as I didn't have to go and interact with anyone to do my taxes. Meeting a tax consultant meant paying more money. And interacting with people. And answering questions that I didn't want to answer - about savings, about financial planning, and about questions, I didn't know existed.

ignorance is not bliss

I was happy to hide in my own ignorance. And then I got married. This forced me to contemplate the fact that I was an adult, of sorts. Plus, it made taxes a bit more complex. So, I did what I usually do. Procrastinate. Push things to the last minute.

And so, I found myself one year, hanging out with my wife's family and not having done my taxes and with them being due rather soon. I was told to quit faffing around and hire an expert and that there were NRIs who specialised in taxes for other NRIs. Me being me found the nearest person, fixed up an appointment and went over there.

Tax season
Photo by Olga DeLawrence / Unsplash

I had done a draft of my taxes on TurboTax. So, I kinda knew how much of a refund I could expect. And then, over the course of 30 minutes, the expert did their job and saved me about $4000.

I was stunned. No gimmick here. If memory serves me right, TurboTax costs $40 and the expert cost me $200. Both took about 30 minutes. One made me $4000 more even though it cost 5 times.

A happy coincidence was my new tax consultant went to the same high school as I did in Madras, and was my senior by a couple of years. Over the next 2-3 years, I continued seeing them for 30 minutes every year and saving more money than I would've done.

know when to defer to an expert

Having figured out my own health and fitness, I saw around me the tools to do that for everything, including taxes. What I failed to understand was that it was not my cup of tea. I wanted it to be done with. I was not treating my finances or my taxes the same way I was treating my fitness. I was in love with figuring out my fitness issues. I was obsessed with it. I was geeking out and experimenting and taking notes and figuring out new things and learning all the time.

With my taxes, it was something I just wanted to get done. A necessary but uninteresting part of growing up and having a job. Today, I realise even if I had developed an interest in taxes, I could've brainstormed with an expert to come up with even more of an optimal solution.

The same way I did with my fitness and health. The more I learned, the more I conversed and exchanged notes with Raj on it. The more I found out, the more I realised I didn't know, and so the more books I read. The more questions I asked my coaches. Not less!

Do This!

Sometimes, we go to an expert to get a set of instructions. Do This they say and off you go and do. But in many instances, that is not enough.

And in all instances, there's one common factor - the actual doing. The figuring out of how to navigate the questions, the logistics of it, the hardships, the ups and downs - you are the driver. Always.

The expert can help you. The expert can guide you. The expert can call you out and tell you to shut up when you need to be told to shut up. The expert has their experience and the experience of working with 100s of people.

solving it by yourself

You can figure things out by yourself. You have to. You cannot learn from other people's wisdom and do a copy-paste. It is unfortunately more contextual and experiential than that.

But by no means do you have to shun away an expert. In the realm of fitness and nutrition (back to my area of expertise), your coach will ensure you don't do anything stupid and get your effort to be focused on the right things. Because it is so easy to put effort into the wrong things. It just is.

Life is complex. Unless you have utmost clarity, frequent checks and bounds, it is hard to figure out if you are going in the right direction. Fitness is a lot easier than that.

Photo by Bit Cloud / Unsplash

You can let an expert coach guide you. Or you can have an expert coach tell you to "Do This!" and just follow (of course, they should be able to show you clear progress and reasoning. Not blind faith). What you will save might not be as instantaneous as $4000 but tons more than that.

It could be money. It could be time. It could be freedom. It could be a peace of mind.

Actually, it will be that and more.

Actually, it will be that and more.

Are you not hiring an expert for your fitness and nutrition because you do not want to confront your own ignorance? Past failures? Because you actually do not want a solution? Because you do not want to get out of your comfort zone?

Because it cannot be financial. You are privileged enough to read this on a device. You can afford a book that will cost less than Rs 500 that can change your life - you don't have to pay 1000s every month.

Think about it. Don't rationalise your decision yet. Think about it. Go a bit deeper. It will be uncomfortable. But interesting things happen.

One of the worst parts about not seeing results is when you put in effort but it is the wrong effort, going the wrong direction. Finding an expert is not as easy as it should be - on the right wavelength, the chemistry, the quality of the expert - but it is worth so much more. You could end up finding a guide for something larger.

Remember, it is not either/or. You can (and I argue that you must) hire an expert. But you have to do it yourself. You have to do the hard work. No one can do it for you. Don’t make it harder by thinking you are alone and have to figure out what’s already solved. Instead, focus on the doing and contextualisation.