Targeted consumption: Buy Black

Monday’s post gave some resources for investing your self-directed retirement funds in your community. Being mindful of where you spend your consumer dollars is another, more common, and easier way to support your community and align your money with your values.

Covid-19 was the prompt that first redirected my attention to supporting local economies, and even before the police murder of George Floyd sparked a human rights war (in the words of Nenna Joiner, founder of Feelmore Adult in Oakland and Berkeley), the effects on small businesses were racially inflected.

I know when these types of things happen, it tends to hit us, black people, the hardest, but it also hits our black-owned businesses the hardest, because we don’t have access to as many funding opportunities as other businesses do. So this is the time to really step up and support your small black-owned businesses.

—Tomara Watkins, founder of Loza Tam

Here are some resources to help you target your consumer dollars to Black communities and Black-owned businesses.

Continue reading “Targeted consumption: Buy Black”

The CARES Act and access to your retirement funds

Monday’s post, about investing your retirement savings in your community rather than Wall Street, mentioned the ability to borrow from your 401(k), 403(b), SEP, SIMPLE, ESOP, or other qualified retirement plan.

I’d like to clarify that you can take such a loan even if you have not taken the plunge into the self-directed retirement pool.

On March 27, the CARES Act temporarily increased the amount you are able to borrow. Ordinarily, you may borrow the lesser of $50,000 or 50% of the vested account balance. The CARES Act increases those limits to $100,000 or 100% of the vested, until September 23, 2020.

You may need the funds for yourself, and it is also possible to lend your wealth to others who need it. Next month, The Next Egg is hosting a webinar on borrowing from your existing qualified plan for community investment. Tuesday, July 17, 12-12:30 EDT.

The CARES Act also waives the ordinary 20% tax withholding imposed on such disbursements. Your plan may also offer a year’s deferral on repayments. Check with your employer or plan administrator for details—employers and administrators may choose not to offer these benefits.

The CARES Act also offers some relief if you need to take a distribution from a plan (for instance, IRAs do not allow borrowing). Any early distribution you make in 2020 will be exempt from the 10% penalty for early withdrawal.

Further, you have options for handling the regular taxation of these disbursements from your traditional IRA. You may choose to allocate the income for taxation across three tax years (and this options is available even if you are not taking early withdrawals). Additionally, you may choose to repay the disbursement within the same timeframe (so, by the end of 2022). Continue reading “The CARES Act and access to your retirement funds”

Thinking of the Balance Sheet as a Wallet

Non-bookkeepers tend to focus on income and expenses and ignore the Balance Sheet accounts (assets, liabilities, and equity). This can lead to all sorts of problems, like overdrawn bank accounts, unpaid bills, duplicated transactions, understated income, understated expenses, and more.

I find that it can be helpful to think of your Balance Sheet accounts as different pockets within the same wallet. This video walks you through the concept.


Illustration of an analog numeric typewriter, superimposed on a paper chart of printed numbers.

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Accounting for Taste: On Bureaucracy, Batman, Battles Royales, and Black Cultural Production

David Graeber’s The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy is not exactly a feel-good read for a bookkeeper. For me, as a money minder who has found learning to code her way out of data management problems to be an unanticipated creative outlet in her work, this hits close to home: “In the few areas in which free, imaginative creativity actually is fostered, … it is ultimately marshaled in order to create even more, and even more effective, platforms for the filling out of forms.” Ouch.

Worse still for one who enjoys fantasy worlds and role-playing games is Graeber’s observation that, while those may feel may feel imaginative and subversive, with their elves and dwarves and orcs, if they follow the path laid down by Dungeons & Dragons of quantifying character attributes, they “ultimately reinforce the sense that we live in a universe where accounting procedures define the very fabric of reality.” Sigh. Continue reading “Accounting for Taste: On Bureaucracy, Batman, Battles Royales, and Black Cultural Production”

Visualizing American Segregation in Time

Readers of this blog probably have a general notion that residential segregation in the United States is a result of deliberate policies (if that’s surprising to you, Ira Katznelson’s When Affirmative Action Was White is my favorite book on the topic).

You probably also know that employment is also segregated, along lines of both race and gender. And you may not have any real idea whether segregation is increasing or decreasing in either domain—which is understandable, because the answers are complicated. In brief, the separation of some occupations, like janitorial service, into their own establishments (think Aramark) has contributed to a worsening of workplace segregation in the United States.

Vox’s Alvin Chang’s short video illustrates the situation. Continue reading “Visualizing American Segregation in Time”

Adam Savage Models How to Handle Failure

In the course of my career, I’ve helped lots of people learn at least the basics of bookkeeping and of accounting principles. I know that the best learners are those who keep an open mind and don’t give up at their first failure—or beat themselves up about their failures. Instead, they learn from them.

As much as I enjoyed my crash course in French-language bookkeeping earlier this month—and glad as I am that I performed the task well—the truth is that even people who seem like masters of their trades sometimes mess up.

That’s why I love this clip of Myth Busters alumn Adam Savage forgetting to put a lid on the magazine of the leaf-blower ping-pong gun he’s building. He lets his disappointment with himself wash through him, then puts his beginner’s mind back on and finishes the job. A true master. Continue reading “Adam Savage Models How to Handle Failure”

Antoinette Tuff

You should know the name Antoinette Tuff. She is, to date, the only person ever to have deterred an armed man from opening fire on a US school.

In August 2013, Tuff was the bookkeeper at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy outside of Atlanta. A parent who was leaving the school held the door for a young man to enter, not knowing that the man was armed with an AK-47 and over 500 rounds of ammunition. Tuff called 911, then spent 25 minutes talking the gunman down. He surrendered to police, and no one was injured.

Unsurprisingly, Tuff does not credit her success to the cool head of a bookkeeper, but rather to her faith in God and her own radical courage in displaying compassion and emotional vulnerability to the would-be shooter. Read her story here.

Illustration of an analog numeric typewriter, superimposed on a paper chart of printed numbers.

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Taking Payroll Literally

The word payroll first appears in the English language around 1765, according to Webster’s. While I’m pretty sure the “roll” part comes from the concept of “roll call” or “muster roll” (which probably itself came from such things being recorded on rolled-up scrolls), I like the way this Dey Time Register time clock at the San Francisco Cable Car Museum brings the word full circle.

Employee Time Clock ca. 1900. The device is rather straight forward, even though it looks intimidating. The main difference to today’s time clocks is that, rather than having individual time cards for each employee, all times were recorded together on a roll of paper inside the clock. Each employee had a number, located on one of the buttons on the front of the clock. By moving the arm to the number location and pressing the arm into the hole next to the number, the print head inside the clock would stamp the time and the employee number on the (pay-) roll. (Apologies to Paulie and Jessamin for sharing their appropriately delighted reflections.)

Continue reading “Taking Payroll Literally”

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