Friday, January 19, 2018

Running in the Rain

Here in Portland it's the rainy seas... oh, wait, that's all year round! We're in one of the rainy seasons. You can't avoid running it, but you can make the best of it!

Wear a hat. This is particularly crucial if you have glasses, but regardless I think just keeping the rain off your eyes can do wonders to make it less annoying.

Be visible. Even if technically during "daylight", the rain makes things dark and gloomy. Wear bright colors and make sure cars can see you!

Christmas lights on the stroller makes it safer and more festive!

Consider trail shoes. Particularly in the fall, I like to wear trail shoes so I have a bit of extra traction over the wet leaves and avoid slipping.

Protect your stuff. Put your phone in a bag if you think it'll get soaked; have a cover for your stroller. I debated buying a weather shield for the stroller, but I can't even imagine not having it now - I can take N with me through rain, wind, or cold!

Enjoy it! If I'm looking forward to a run, it doesn't matter too much; but if I'm on the fence the rain definitely isn't encouraging. But it can't be avoided, so you might as well enjoy stomping in some puddles!

Linking up today with Fairytales and Fitness and Running on Happy for Friday Five 2.0

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Toastmasters: A Taxing Change

This project from the Speeches by Management was about communicating a change to a group - and, essentially, persuading them to accept the change. Considering the depth into which I'm currently looking into the tax reform bill, it seemed like the perfect top! 

The guidance for developing the speech was to:
  • Provide a convincing need for the change - be honest, direct, sincere.
  • Explain the nature and scope of the change.
  • Customize a description of changes in terms that clarify benefits to your audience
  • Be empathetic and acknowledge any resistance as legitimate, but emphasize benefits.

Given the nature of the project, though, my goal was not just to inform the group of what the changes are, but to demonstrate why they should accept and will benefit from the changes. Admittedly - not an easy task given my personal feelings on the matter. As a thought exercise, as well as for practice in speaking to clients, though, my goal when presenting this speech was to avoid making clear my personal thoughts on the bill. I've annotated here to make it clear. 

A Taxing Change

Why did the accountant cross the road? 
Because she looked in the file and that’s what they did last year. 

Well, this time next year we won’t be able to rely on our good friend SALY - same as last year, SALY - quite as much. There are frequent changes to our income tax system, but the last time we had a major overhaul to the tax code was 1986. The Tax Reform Act of 1986, had goals simplifying the Internal Revenue Code of 1954, broadening the base while lowering the rate, and shutting down loopholes and tax shelters that had arose over the years. It set limitations on many types of deductions, and left us with the Internal Revenue Code of 1986. 

Now, we’re another 30-odd years down the road, and one could definitely say we’re in need of yet another overhaul. The current tax code is about 2,600 pages long. In addition, there are regulations and court cases, that comprise a great deal more of guidance that must be understood and incorporated into the application of the actual law itself. 

That many rules and regulations make it hard to follow the tax law and file your own return, with data from 2014 showing that over half - 56% - of individual tax returns are done through a paid payer, plus another third - 34% - rely on tax preparation software. That’s a far cry from the much-lauded concept of filing on a postcard. 

This past year, with stated goals of simplifying the tax code, benefiting the middle class and families, and growing the economy, the Republican party set out to make significant changes to the tax code. This long-awaited bill, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, was passed by Congress and signed into law in December, mostly taking effect beginning with the 2018 tax year. Is it everything we’d hoped for? Depends on who you talk to! 1  

First of all, sorry to break it to you, but you won’t be filing your 2018 tax return on a postcard. Particularly for businesses, but even for individuals, so long as there are any exclusions or deductions, it won’t fit on a postcard. There are reasons - economic or social and cultural - for not simply taxing gross accession to wealth with no deductions. For example, deducting medical expenses or excluding certain types of forgiven debt, are arguably rules that make the system more fair. An equitable tax systems inherently precludes total simplicity. No tax reform will totally eliminate those types of considerations. 2

Many of the biggest, as well as - I’d say - least simple, provisions of the tax reform act, apply to businesses, both corporate and taxed at the individual level (sole proprietor or passthrough). These do address many areas of potential abuse, as well as reducing tax. In addition, there was an effort made to try to equalize the taxation of businesses held in different legal forms. The law reduced the rate on “C corps” from 35% to 21%. In contrast, “passthrough businesses”, continue to be taxed on their owners 1040s, but now get a 20% deduction - reducing the effective tax rate to under 30%, and putting C corps and passthroughs on a more level playing field. 3

Whether this tax cut to business owners actually does trickle down and help grow the economy, as asserted, is yet to be seen 4, this tax cut will be felt by pretty much all types of businesses, and show a benefit to small, family businesses who operate as passthrough companies. 5

On the individual tax side, as will more directly impact all of you, the temporary individual tax changes follow a similar concept as in 1986 - eliminate some deductions to broaden the tax base, but lower the rates. 

Personal exemptions and dependent exemptions have been eliminated, and instead essentially rolled into the new standard deduction. This standard deduction is almost doubled from last year. For example, if you’re married filing jointly, no kids, and took the standard deduction, under the old law it would total deductions of $21,300. By comparison, the new higher standard deduction for 2018 for married filing jointly is $24,000 - so you actually get to reduce more of your taxable income. 

The obvious pitfall is that the new standard deduction is based on filing status, regardless of dependents. Even with just one kid and a dependent exemption, under old law you would have added another exemption and now total $25,450 - it looks like you lose out compared to the flat $24,000 standard deduction. Fortunately, the child tax credits have been expanded to compensate. Instead of a $1,000 mostly nonrefundable credit for that one qualifying child, you now have a $2,000 credit, $1,400 of which is refundable. In addition, there’s a $500 (nonrefundable) credit for other dependents who don’t qualify for the child credit. 6

If you’ve ever itemized deductions, you know that the benefit is when your allowable items - mortgage interest, taxes, charitable contributions - exceed the standard deduction. With the exemptions rolled into the higher standard deductions - that threshold to benefit is higher. While there is definitely a segment of taxpayers who will lose out on itemizing, the trade-off here is clear simplification. 7

Itemized deductions is often seen as preferable, but it also requires gathering and maintaining records of your deductions, compared to just getting the standard deduction “for free”. I can’t tell you how many people, clients and not, who meticulously try to save records throughout the year - and yet aren’t anywhere close to actually benefiting from the deductions. Only about a third of taxpayers actually itemized under the prior system, so this will reduce the burden of doing so even further, and ultimately not change anything for the majority of taxpayers. 

For the taxpayers who continue to itemized deductions, there are some modifications and eliminations of what qualifies. A cap on deducting state and local income and property taxes at $10,000 was big news at year end, while some rushed to make payments to deduct in 2017. There is a modification to the limits for deducting mortgage interest. There is also an elimination of the “2% itemized deductions”. These include investment fees and unreimbursed employee expenses. 8

While there are definitely taxpayers who greatly benefited from being able to deduct large amounts of expenses in these categories, for the most part these expenses represent not the economic reality of earning money - in which case it makes sense to deduct and offset the income - but an encouragement of social norms. For example, deducting mortgage interest encourages home ownership. The ability to deduct employee expenses, such as salespeople often do, makes employees willing to accept expenditures that might more appropriate be paid by their employers. Modifications to the tax benefits of incurring expenses might alter people’s behavior - some might say good, some might say bad - but ultimately this might result in a more accurate reflection of economic reality. 9

While we are still awaiting IRS guidance on some of the more nuanced changes, there are definitely opportunities to plan for the 2018 tax year and considerations to keep in mind for making decisions, such as structuring a business decision or whether to incur a mortgage for a new house. While not every taxpayer will see a reduced tax burden, many will. 

Please speak to a tax professional about your individual tax situation if you have any questions, but I hope this has provided a helpful overview of the new tax law and the provisions that are likely to directly impact your tax returns going forward.

1 If you're talking to me? No, it is not what I'd hoped for. But considering how it was created, basically what I'd expected. 

2 Nor should it. While many complexities do not help create equity, you cannot have equity without complexities. The simplest tax (e.g., flat tax on all gross income) would be incredibly regressive. 

3 There's still double taxation, since the remaining 79% of income in the corp, to be distributed to the owner, is either compensation (at higher individual rates) or dividends (up to 20% cap gains rate + 3.8% net investment income tax). Assuming you distribute all of the remaining corp income, it's still a higher total tax, but only by a couple percent.

4 Yet to be seen, but highly unlikely.

5 It will also show a benefit to many not-small businesses owned by very wealthy families, that happen to operate as passthrough companies.

6 The actual benefit of a credit versus deduction depends on your tax rate, as well as where you are in relation to phase outs (but most phase outs are much higher now). If you get the child tax credit, I think most people will come out ahead; if you have other dependents, you'll probably lose out.

7 While I do think there's an upside to it being more obvious how hard it is to meet the bar to be worth itemizing, I think marketing the whole thing as "we've doubled the standard deduction!" without equal emphasis on it actually being a replacement for exemptions was incredibly [intentionally] misleading. It's really just consolidating renaming the same thing and they were just betting (likely correctly) that most taxpayers won't quite comprehend that.

8 The real losers are very high W-2 earners - they won't get any benefit from business stuff, but if you're paying 9.9% to Oregon on a $1 million salary, losing that state income tax deduction is a big tax hike.

9 I'd be fine with limiting social incentives via the tax code, but that's not what the law does overall. It just incentivizes what the party in power values, e.g., business ownership and privilege. And plays with incentives just to make the math work. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Week of January 8 - 14

Work started getting a bit crazy already, and I'm trying to figure out how to handle busy season with kid that isn't just total survival mode like last year (granted busy season is always a bit of just surviving, but one tries to find ways to make it more than just that!). Yoga was the first thing that got dropped - nothing until Sunday evening. 

For many reasons, it's important to me to prioritize fitting in workouts - but the reality is that during this time of year that means fitting in a 20-30 minute workout more days than not. Doing multiple workouts in a day, to get in shape for a tri next summer or even just for weight loss, is something that has to be subject to other constraints and might not always happen when I want to.


Monday: Tap dance class (60 min) + swim 600 yards

Tuesday: Family/tempo run 2.05 miles (12:01 pace, 46* and drizzly, late afternoon)

Wednesday: Rest day

Thursday: Run 1.95 miles (15:50 pace, 50*, late afternoon) + JM weights (20 min)

Friday: Stroller run 1.55 miles (15:39 pace, 52*, late afternoon)

Saturday: Stairmaster 100 flights (17:43) + JM weights (20 min)

I was able to handle a much faster level this time on the stairmaster! Which might because I was getting over colds the last two weekends so those were slower than I realized, but I also used a different machine (there are two at the rec center), so we'll see when I get back on the other one how consistent they might actually be (in terms, e.g., level 10 = x floors/minute).

Sunday: Long stroller run 3.0 miles (15:28 pace, 55* and windy, mid-morning) + restorative yoga (10 min)

Total swimming: 600 yards
Total running: 8.55 miles

I managed to get get in the pool! I don't want a repeat of 2017 when I realized I only swam once the entire year.

Stair climbing: 155 flights
Average daily steps: 12,209
Weight: -36 (no change)

Friday, January 12, 2018

Fitness Apps for the Currently-Not-a-Runner

I'm starting to ramp back up with running (finally!) (and I've got to keep it up - our team leader for Hood to Coast Pacific City just sent us an email today! That's coming up in May.), but it's been a slow journey, and I've got to take it carefully from here. In the meantime, I've been trying other things to keep up fitness and mental stability, and, like the rest of life, it's all based in my phone. These are apps I've been using and recommend.

Down Dog yoga - This is photo-based, with algorithmic videos put together. I think the audio cueing is really exceptional for an app - transitions are very smooth. Each workout is similar enough to know what to expect, but varies enough to be interesting. I was using the free version for a while, and it's pretty adequate, though I splurged on an annual subscription for $30 for new year's.

Jillian Michaels - The free options on this one are very limited, but I like Jillian Michaels so I subscribed ($10/month) to do a program. I'm not following the schedule precisely, but it's similar format and intensity to any of her other videos I've done before.

UHC Motion/steps trackers - The app I use specifically is for a step tracker via my health insurance, but I've found any step tracker (previously used a FitBit) is great for motivating me to get more movement in! I'm on a 10,000-step streak since December 30, and it's kept me moving even when it's just been running circles around the living room.

Streaks (habit tracker) - I like quantifying things, so for both exercise and other healthy habits (e.g., taking vitamins), I've found this to be fun! (See also: 10,000-step streak above.) When I couldn't track mileage, at least I could track something

REI Hiking Project - Actually, to be honest I haven't done more with this app than just log in. I just found out about it a few days ago. But this fall when I was cutting back on running, I decided I wanted to prioritize going on hikes as a family. That's a bit on the backburner now that we're full-on in the rainy season, but I look forward to exploring with this app and doing more in the spring.

Linking up today with Fairytales and Fitness and Running on Happy for Friday Five 2.0

Monday, January 8, 2018

Week of January 1 - 7

I wanted to have done more running, as well as start fitting in a minimum of one swim and one bike ride this week! Unfortunately, I've been dragging with a bad cold (or overlapping colds? It started on my week off for Christmas, but whatever I have now seems like what's been going around at work). Over the weekend, in particular, I had to acknowledge that getting some additional rest was more important. 

On the success side, however, I've been diligent about getting in steps! I'm on a >10,000 step streak since December 30, and this week I hit all three goals (10,000 total; a 3,000-step walk in 30 minutes; 500 steps in 7 minutes, 6x in the day) more days than not. At home when it's time for one of the 500-step "frequencies" (that's the "frequency" goal in the official terminology of our step tracker) we call for a dance party and get N bouncing along with us. 


Monday am: Yoga (20 min)
Monday pm: JM cardio (20 min)

Tuesday am: Yoga (10 min)
Tuesday pm: Stroller run 1.9 miles (15:44 pace, 39*, early evening) + JM weights (20 min) 

Wednesday: Restorative yoga (15 min)

Thursday: Rest day

Friday am: Yoga (10 min)
Friday pm: Run 1.9 miles (15:41 pace, 45* and sprinkling, evening)

Saturday: Stairmaster 65 flights (16:46) 

Sunday: JM cardio (20 min)

Total running: 3.8 miles
Stair climbing: 110 flights
Average daily steps: 11,892
Weight: -36 (-1 lb!)

Friday, January 5, 2018

2018 Goals: The Numbers

Yes, I just posted about how I'm considering the motivational risks inherent in numerical goals - and I am going to take that into account in value-driven/lifestyle goals, for example, instead of something like "try 12 new restaurants" I'm thinking about "try a new restaurant anytime we're picking a place in downtown Portland". 

And with my postpartum medical issues I do need to be ready to back off of whatever I have planned if necessary. But, I live for the numbers when it comes to training! I already got my 2018 spreadsheets all set up.

Here's what I'm currently thinking! (They can always be adjusted later in the year if the unexpected happens.)

Running: 750 miles

I'm still ramping up and it's been quite a while since I've even hit 10 miles in a week (much less in one run!) but ideally after tax season I can get going in a training plan that's at least 20 - 25 miles weekly.

Swimming: 30,000 yards

I'm aiming to go swimming at least once a week; hopefully more if I am able to sign up for a sprint tri, but I know life will get in the way sometimes. My minimum in the pool is virtually always at least 500, so this is totally doable even with some leeway.

Biking: 500 miles

Arbitrary number is arbitrary. But also planning to bike at least once a week, and 10 miles isn't unreasonable for a quick ride.

Steps: Average over 9,000 steps/day, and get over 10,000 steps on 60% of days.

This is based on stepping up - but still within reason - from 2017. My current step tracker is through my work's insurance company (we get paid for meeting goals as a reimbursement of our out of pocket costs!), and because of the program used there happens to be a chunk of time with some missing data, and of course some days where I had misplaced or otherwise not worn it. But of the days in 2017 with data, I averaged 8,423 steps, and was over 10,000 42% of the time. 

Weight lifting: 100 workouts

I intend to do weights/strength training 2 to 3 times a week, but I also take a week off here and there (both for scheduling, and just to give my body a break to recover from harder efforts). 

Linking up today with Fairytales and Fitness and Running on Happy for Friday Five 2.0

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Habit of Resolutions

My idea of a goal or resolution is, generally, to meet a numerical standard - to do something X times during the year/month/week, or even to do Y thing every single day

It's measurable, which is what a good goal should be, right? You measure your success! But you can also measure your failure. And you can sometimes spot that failure from a mile away. 

As a lazy perfectionist, that's the point at which I just give up. And it seems so easy to get to that point. It's pretty hard to just turn on the habit of, say, doing yoga before bed every single night, when you never have before! As soon as you skip a night - bam, you're done. The streak is ruined and you've failed the goal. Why continue doing yoga most nights after that, if you won't meet the measurable goal of doing it every night?

Instead, in thinking about my 2018 goals or interim goals I set during the year, I'm looking at the idea of the goal being the formation of a habit. For example, by the end of the year, I've formed the habit of doing yoga before bed every single night. 

But the goal is to get there, not to just do it. Then you can experiment. Figure out what style or video works best to motivate you. See what triggers best help you remember. You not only might succeed at your goal, but fully establish a habit to carry on beyond the year. 
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