By Cass Grange, Senior Advisor Associate and Director of Business Development
Can I just say that I find all these organizing tips for the New Year discouraging? Why? Because I start out with good intentions, just like we all do, and then life gets in the way.
Life is messy. It is even for the ultra organized. Remember Martha Stewart? She has a perfect life on Pinterest and in her magazine, but she did go to prison. That little fact always helps keep things in perspective.
The fact is we all get behind and we all get thrown all sorts of problems. We get sick. We get tired. We get overwhelmed. We think others are so much better than we are, and we get embarrassed that we’re not perfect.
So Cass, where is the good news and the warm wishes for 2015 here? The good news is that in our office, as flawed human beings, we can relate to all the same dilemmas you have with life and money – because we all struggle too. I tell you this not to make you unsure of us, but hopefully to deliver you and others from that well of shame and guilt that keeps us all from getting help to solve the problems we have. I also point it out to highlight some of the real value I believe we provide our clients.
When faced with something unexpected or intimidating it is easy to panic. Let me offer my own messy life as an example. Last year on a Friday night I opened a letter from the IRS saying we owed $13,942 plus interest and penalties on our 2012 tax return. It said we had a week to respond. Suddenly, my lizard brain took over. All I could feel was fear and shame. “Why would anyone hire me to help them with their money if I can’t even manage my own finances?” “How can I tell my husband?” “Where will I get the money?” “What about tax year 2013?” “Will I owe penalties and interest on that too?” It suddenly felt like a crisis!
After a sleepless night, I called my CPA. He didn’t answer, because it was a Saturday. Plus, my copy of my 2012 tax return was locked in my desk at work, so I couldn’t look at it right away. I reminded myself that I had helped many clients with letters from the IRS, by working with them and their CPAs. In every case it had turned out far better than they’d initially feared. But this time felt different. This time was personal, and suddenly all kinds of knee-jerk reactions were running wildly through my head.
So I called my advisor and mentor, Thomas Twombly. He did answer the phone, even though it was a Saturday. He listened to my anxieties in a non-judgmental, caring way. He could tell I was upset, and he offered to meet me at work and to go over the tax return with me. He reminded me that the reason we hire good CPAs is to help us, and my CPA would certainly do that for me on Monday. He assured me that we would figure this out; that it was probably just an oversight, and he would help me. I took a deep breath – crisis averted.
He was right. My CPA called me Monday morning. He assured me that my 2012 return was indeed correct, and that the IRS just needed some clarification. He wrote an explanation letter and it all got resolved. We didn’t owe anything.
In looking back on that weekend, in the heat of the moment, in the mess and shame of it all, it would have been easy to make “the big mistake.” I thought about how tempted I had been suddenly to liquidate $16,000 of long-term investment assets to pay for this. I thought about how tempted I had been to ignore the letter and hope it would go away. That experience gave me a new appreciation for the value of a trusted advisor.
Our jobs are to help people. We help them prepare, and we also help them respond. That is one of the reasons why we have real people answer our phones. There is nothing worse than having to call a toll free number when you have a sense of urgency and being put on hold.
Some of the calls we get have included unexpected requests for money: for bail, for flying kids home from foreign countries, for emergency medical bills. Folks call us when their parents die, when their spouses die, and when their pets die. People have also called in panic with good news. They are having twins! The daughter got into an Ivy League school. The son got accepted to medical school. Now what?!
The messy times in life are the times we can really help. Sometimes responding to a particular challenge seems pretty simple and obvious to us, because that is our business and our profession. And, because we are a bit removed, we can help you slow down and see things more clearly.
But once in awhile, when I am the one in feeling unsure and vulnerable, I am reminded of how valuable having a caring group of advisors to call really is. And, what I really like about my colleagues is that they understand me in a caring, non-judgmental way. And that is why I would never ever work with a company where I don’t get that type of help and support. And, neither should you. So call us. We’d love to help you.
Oh, and Happy 2015!
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