For Better or Worse: Tax season is easy if you consider IRS rules as 'suggestions'

April 15 has been the deadline for filing income tax returns since Roman times. I'm not sure why they chose that particular date, but I'm guessing it was because the Ides of March was already taken for another tragedy.

My tax-preparation method is easy:

1. I add up my income and subtract my expenses.

2. I give that information to Doug.

3. He does the rest.

I keep my receipts (except the ones I've lost, accidentally thrown away, or used as coasters) in a manila envelope. By year's end the envelope contains a magnitude of paper scraps roughly equal to the first three volumes of the complete works of Shakespeare, or the pulp of 1 1/2 giant redwood trees. It might also contain — but is not limited to — a Snickers wrapper, the retainer I lost in the sixth grade and Jimmy Hoffa.

After dumping the contents of the envelope on the floor, I gather other supplies needed to tackle the job: legal pad; one-pound bag of Peanut M&Ms; calculator; two sharpened pencils (one to jot down figures, the other to ram into my eye when those figures come out different four times in a row); and a package of Oreo Double Stuff cookies.

Also, I'll need the half-empty bottle of wine we opened for dinner the previous night — even if it's cooking wine. (Desperate times call for desperate measures.)

My math skills are not the best. OK, they're downright pathetic. But after a slug of cooking wine, I dive in anyway.

The only sure things in life are death and taxes. And if you don't file your taxes, they'll hunt you down and then you'll wish you were dead.

Doug always double-checks my figures and cross-references them with my receipts to make sure everything's accurate.

"Here's a receipt from a restaurant for $8.99," Doug said Doug, holding up the slip in question, "but I don't see it listed under work-related expenditures."

"It's right there," I replied, pointing to the entry. "At lunch, Janet always asks how the writing's going, and I tell her. So, we've discussed work. Hence the meal is a business expense."

Doug looked where I'd pointed. "But that says $20," he said. "The receipt's for $8.99."

"I rounded up," I confessed.

"Disallowed," declared Doug, "even if you include the tip. Moving on, here's a dry-cleaner's bill listed under office supplies."

"Remember when I changed the toner cartridge in my printer and dropped the old one and it broke and got toner all over my white blouse?"

"What part of 'work-related' don't you get?" Doug demanded. He picked up another receipt and studied it. "Chocolate milk?" he burst out. "Chocolate milk?"

"Research for an article on dairy products," I explained. "You have to give me that one. And by the way, I do not care for your tone."

"Let me understand this," said Doug, seeming exasperated. (I can always tell, because a vein in his neck bulges.) "You want to deduct the cost of a pair of shoes. Are they special writing shoes?"

"That's for the heels I wore when I interviewed the veterinarian in his cow barn; I had to burn them. Ergo, work related," I concluded. "Special writer's shoes, by the way, are called bedroom slippers," I added.

Doug glared at me over his half-glasses. "Just let me work on this alone," he pleaded. "OK? You can sign the forms when I'm done."

See how easy my tax-preparation system is? I'm thinking of patenting it.

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