We’re living through trying times, and as we all learn to navigate a “new normal” of a world during coronavirus, it’s important to look for life’s silver linings and prioritize self care whenever we can. This week, we were so happy to have the lovely and talented Tara Schuster on the HerMoney Podcast. Tara is an author, playwright, and accomplished entertainment executive who is the Vice President of Talent and Development at Comedy Central. Her impressive career includes roles on “Lights Out With David Spade,” “Key & Peele,” and “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.” Earlier this year she also released her first book, “Buy Yourself the F*cking Lilies And Other Rituals to Fix Your Life from Someone Who Has Been There.”
Tara and Jean talk about what it means to actually buy yourself those lilies and why small indulgences are such an important part of a self care routine. Tara says that when she finally decided she was worth those $7 lilies she would often covet at Trader Joe’s, it was an epiphany for her — small luxuries could actually make her life better. “We don’t grow stronger by denying ourselves and saying ‘I’m not worth it,’” Tara says. ‘We grow stronger when we treat ourselves well, and give ourselves the nurturing we need.”
Tara also breaks down how she learned to “re-parent” herself, and how she taught herself new values, new principles, and even a new (and healthier!) diet. She says that there’s an important distinction to be made between real self care versus a fancy vacation, or a day at the spa. “Self care is about an honest accounting of the emotional wounds you have that need healing, and then healing yourself through small practical daily rituals,” she says. Yes, one of those rituals could be something like buying fresh flowers, but it’s more about how you treat yourself daily, and that you take care of yourself fully.
The pair also discuss gratitude, specifically Tara’s philosophy to “fake gratitude until you feel gratitude,” — which manifested in her life initially as making a gratitude list of small things, even on days when she didn’t feel particularly thankful for anything. “My list would say things like, ‘I’m grateful for water, I’m grateful for clean sheets,’ but as soon as I started faking it, I realized that I am actually grateful for these things, and now I have a complete inventory of things I’m thankful for,” Tara says.
If you’re interested in starting a gratitude list but nothing is immediately coming to mind for you, Tara suggests making a list of things you’d like to be grateful for one day, and then slowly starting to make your list a daily ritual. Even small things can be included — something as simple as a walk outside. “I thought gratitude was ‘woo-woo’ and for the wildly privileged. I didn’t realize that gratitude was a lifeline for people to be able to reframe their internal dialogue,” she says.
Tara also discusses how to elevate others during this time, and be the kind of supportive, loving friend that we all wish we had. She walks us through how we can all reach out to our community so the people we love feel less alone (and we also feel less alone in turn!)
Tara walks us back through some of the financial shame and stress she endured when she was growing up, and how it shaped her. She says that in her household, if her parents had money, then things were “good,” and if they didn’t, then things were “bad.” She talks about the importance of acknowledging our past financial shame, and learning how to move past it and overcome it, rather than throwing additional shame and blame on top of it.
Lastly, Tara shares how we can find levity and humor in our lives, even times like these. It’s okay to find ways to enjoy each day, even during bad times. Something as simple as taking a bath, watching a movie, or a spritz of our favorite perfume can offer us moments of zen when we need them most.
In Mailbag, Jean and Kathryn tackle questions on home buying during the time of Coronavirus, funding a child’s college education with money from an IRA, and how the IRS will determine how much money everyone will receive as part of the stimulus check initiative. In Thrive, Jean dishes on all the specifics for a provision in the CARES Act that allows you to use the funds in your Health Savings Account (HSA) and Flexible Savings Account (FSA) to pay for period products. The specific products that are now considered medical expenses include tampons, pads, liners, cups, and sponges.
This podcast is proudly supported by Edelman Financial Engines. Let our modern wealth management advice raise your financial potential. Get the full story at EdelmanFinancialEngines.com. Sponsored by Edelman Financial Engines – Modern wealth planning. All advisory services offered through Financial Engines Advisors L.L.C. (FEA), a federally registered investment advisor. Results are not guaranteed. AM1969416
Tara Schuster: (00:00)
When we’re feeling depressed or sad or just stressed out, we feel alone in that stress. It’s a very me sort of activity, but when we reach out and remember, oh, there are other people all around me. I belong to the community. This burden is not just mine. Everybody can carry a little bit of the water. That’s when we remember we’re not alone.
Jean Chatzky: (00:25)
HerMoney is brought to you by Fidelity Investments. Fidelity is committed to helping clients through any market conditions with financial planning and advice when you need it most. Learn more at Fidelity.com. HerMoney comes to you through PRX.
Jean Chatzky: (00:47)
Hi everybody, it’s Jean Chatzky. Thank you so much for being here with us today and I just want to take a minute at the top of this show and just say that I and my entire team, all of us here at HerMoney, we are thinking about you right now. We know that it is tough out there. Some of you are hunkered down at home. Most of you are hunkered down at home and some of you may have had your lives altered in bigger ways, perhaps forever due to the coronavirus that is sweeping the country. We are here for you. We hope that our show can be a bright spot in your day and because we were looking for a bright spot, we are so thankful to have the lovely and talented Tara Schuster with us on the show today. Tara is an author, a playwright, and accomplished entertainment executive. She’s actually Vice President of Talent and Development at Comedy Central and her impressive career includes roles on Lights Out with David Spade, Key and Peele, The Daily Show. Earlier this year, she released her first book, which is called Buy Yourself the F*cking Lilies: And Other Rituals to Fix Your Life, from Someone Who’s Been There. It sounds like what we all need right about now. Tara, thanks so much for being here. We are thrilled to have you.
Tara Schuster: (02:16)
Oh, thank you for having me. I’m thrilled to be here.
Jean Chatzky: (02:20)
I wanna start by just talking about you. How did this career come about? As I was reading about you and learning a little bit more about you, I’m thinking this woman is Andy Cohen, just on a different network.
Tara Schuster: (02:37)
That’s the nicest thing you could ever say to me. I love Andy Cohen. I’m a huge Bravo fan. I didn’t set out to be a development executive at all. I just knew I wanted to do something in the entertainment world. That was always what I was drawn to. And Comedy Central was where I got my kick in the door. Where I got my first little break after an internship on The Daily Show with John Stewart. I always knew I wanted to be a part of telling stories and so everything in my career has sort of had that as a common theme. Even writing the book is all about sharing stories and bringing entertainment and hopefully making people feel a little less alone. That’s sort of, if I had to boil it down, it’s storytelling and making people feel less alone is what I’m after.
Jean Chatzky: (03:29)
I love that and I think that is exactly what the book does. Start with that title though. What does it mean to buy yourself the f-ing lilies and why should we all be doing it?
Tara Schuster: (03:40)
Yeah. Well I’m so glad you asked cause it was a huge moment in my life. So basically I grew up in a house where things came to die. The pets. The plants. Coco, the Himalayan cat was taken by coyotes under cover of night. It was chaos. And I came out of that house not really knowing how to be a person and I kind of was spiraling out of control emotionally even as I was able to hold it together on the outside. So I went to Brown. I had scholarships and loans and going to this fancy college, but a complete mess inside. Or I got this job at Comedy Central, but I was uncontrollably weeping on the subway on the way home. I didn’t know how to deal with all of my anxiety and depression until I hit rock bottom. When I drunk dialed my therapist on my 25th birthday asking for help and that next morning listening to her voicemails and how worried she was about me, I got really worried. I for the first time took it seriously that this is not a life I’m going to be able to lead. I’ve really got to change things. But I don’t even know how to change a vacuum cleaner filter. Like, I don’t know how to do any of the basic things much less change my life. And so I decided, you know, I’d always been a good student, always been good at work. What if I attack this like a school project? So I opened up my trusty Google document and I said this is going to be a Google document of re-parenting myself. What are values?
Jean Chatzky: (05:26)
Re-parent? That is a term that I don’t think I’ve ever heard before.
Tara Schuster: (05:31)
Yeah. So for me what it means and what it meant at the time, about 10 years ago, was I didn’t have parents. If I really want to nurture myself. And what I mean by I didn’t have parents is I didn’t have what you would traditionally call parents. You know, there was nobody assuring me that I’d be safe or giving me structure or unconditional love. So I decided it’s time I give those things to myself, because if I don’t, no one will, and I’m tired of being neglected. Like I’m not going to neglect myself. So the reason I said at the time re-parent, was because I also understood that I’d have to go back and look at some of my traumas – that I couldn’t just move past it because moving past it was reducing me to tears in the subway. Like that strategy just didn’t work of repressing, suppressing, that didn’t work for me. So it was going to be a re-parenting where I’d go back to those wounds and heal them with gentleness and kindness. But I didn’t know how, you know, I didn’t have some game plan and I didn’t have in mind that I would one day write a book about it. I just wanted to save my life. And so this is a very long way of getting to your question about the lilies, because in this Google doc, I was asking questions like, what are values? What are principles? What are vegetables? Genuinely, what are they, and which ones should I eat? What would be good? Still searching for some of those answers. But one of the main questions I had was, am I worth $7 lilies? Because I would go to Trader Joe’s to buy my budget microwaveable Indian dinners and I would see the lilies in their weird bucket of water. I would fantasize about how elegant they are and how when they bloom, they just let out this burst of perfume and they make any room more calming. And wouldn’t they make my studio apartment just sing like, wouldn’t they make my life better? But no, I’m not worth $7. I can’t spend that. They’re just going to die. I’m not worth it. That’s not worthwhile. I’m being ridiculous. And I would do this to myself weekly, you know? Meanwhile, I’m really working as hard as I can at my job. I’m working as hard as I can at my emotional health and yet I’m neglecting myself and not giving myself this small indulgence. And after a couple of years of being in this process, one day at Trader Joe’s, I just said, F this. I am worth $7 lilies. I am worth this small luxury that makes the rest of my life better. And so that’s one of the main messages in the book is that we don’t grow stronger by denying ourselves and saying I’m not worth it and tearing ourselves down. And for me that’s what self care is all about. We actually grow stronger when we treat ourselves well and give ourselves the nurturing we know we need. And I think it can be really easy to confuse self care with a vacation to Tulum, you know. I’ve got nothing against Tulum. Love it, great place. But going to Tulum is not self care. I love fancy facemask, a fancy facial. Also not self care. Self care is actually about an honest accounting of the emotional wounds you have that need healing and then bringing those things to your daily life through small practical rituals like getting yourself the $7 lillies. Like having a drawer full of socks without holes. Like treating yourself as well as you would a guest coming into your own home. There are all these daily rituals that that really take care of ourselves much more than any luxury. So that is where the title comes from.
Jean Chatzky: (09:38)
Some of the rituals that you chronicled in the book made a lot of sense to me. I mean I think the lilies aren’t necessarily where I go for self care, but the giving myself the half hour to exercise without checking my phone every five minutes – that I give myself. And I do that on a regular basis. I wanted to break down a few of these rituals though cause I think that our listeners, especially right now are going to find them helpful. We’re talking an awful lot about gratitude and I think it can be hard to find at times like this. You say fake gratitude until you actually feel gratitude. How do you do that?
Tara Schuster: (10:24)
Yeah, I’m so glad you brought that up because I was the biggest non-believer in gratitude ever. So when I started on this self care journey, I went to a friend’s house in Maine for a little vacation and I was so anxious about two men who didn’t like me. And the soundtrack of that whole trip was nobody likes me. I am not like, how do I get them to like me? Just a disc track on repeat in my brain. And my friend Isabel who invited me to Maine, her cousin Lindsay came to visit. And Lindsay’s one of these people who, she went to Harvard, became a professional ballerina and then just decided to become a lawyer. I’m like, you know, I’m like, that’s pretty annoying to be honest with you.
Jean Chatzky: (11:17)
Yeah, we hate her.
Tara Schuster: (11:18)
We hate her. She’s beautiful and kind and doesn’t have a mean bone in her body. I fully hate her. And she suggested, she said, well, have you tried a gratitude list. That might be a way to get out of your anxiety? And I thought, have you tried flinging yourself into the water? Because I think that’s appropriate right now. I completely resisted her. I thought, you are so privileged and entitled, you have nothing to teach me. But because I was at a point in my life on a good day, I was openly weeping on the subway, I wasn’t really in a position not to try. So I started out faking gratitude. So I’d write 10 things I was grateful for every day. And I just force it. Like I’m grateful for water. I’m grateful for this stupid trip. I’m grateful for espresso. I’m grateful for clean sheets. But as soon as I started faking it, I realized, wait, I am grateful for these things. And I actually do have a complete inventory of things that I’m grateful for. I had completely taken for granted my health, for example. The health of my family. There were so many things that I was not appreciating. And so, you know, nine years later I’ve been writing 10 things I’m grateful for every day and there’s nothing like 32,000 reminders of all the things you have to be grateful for that can really reframe your perspective. And so I thought gratitude lists were woo and stupid and for the wildly privileged. What I didn’t realize is they are a lifeline. And for anybody who wants to kind of reframe an experience to be something more positive and something that they can really take away from the experience with, I mean, even something like this horrible pandemic, there are a lot of things to be grateful for. You know, for me, I’m connecting with my high school friends and I haven’t talked to some of them in 5, 10 years. All of a sudden we have a Sunday night zoom where we all get together. I’m getting introduced to people who I never would have met just through Instagram, other thinkers in my space who were just trying to help people. So we’re kind of talking about how do we do this? There’s this great author, Jen Pastiloff. I was a huge fan of her work. We just started DMing, you know? Like how do we help people? What can we do now? If it hadn’t been for this, would she have crossed my path? I don’t know. So I think you know, right now if you’re thinking about how can I kind of reframe the situation, starting a gratitude list and not worrying about the gratitude list, not worrying am I going to be able to fill out 10 things. If you can’t, again, just lie. Lie about things you’d like to be grateful for one day. But get it, make it a habit, make it a ritual.
Jean Chatzky: (14:29)
I love that and I want to dive a little bit more deeply into some of the things that we can also do for other people during this time. But before we get there, let me just remind everyone that HerMoney is supported by Fidelity Investments. For more than 70 years, investors have relied on Fidelity to help plan for their financial futures. And as always, when the unexpected happens, Fidelity is there to help you work through it with financial planning, and advice for what you need today and tomorrow. Helping to make it all clear. To see how Fidelity can help you and your family on the path forward, visit Fidelity.com. I am talking with Tara Schuster, Vice President of Talent and Development at Comedy Central, author of the new book Buy Yourself the F*cking Lilies. So we want to do nice things for ourselves. We want to make sure that we are giving ourselves what we need, but I think right now we also need to be doing that for other people. What do you think the best ways are to elevate other people’s spirits?
Tara Schuster: (15:34)
Yeah, I think it’s an essential question, you know, that we have a responsibility to our communities, especially in a crisis. And I’d say, you know, first self care is good for you, but it’s also good for your community because it’s just like in those safety videos you watch on an airplane where the oxygen mask descends from the sky and the mom very, you know, I’m skeptical she’d be this calm, but calmly puts it on her face before she puts it on her child’s. We can’t help other people unless we ourselves are stable and present and feeling okay about ourselves. So the first thing about self care is that it is a benefit to your community. But then how do you more actively, be a benefit to your community? I think one of the number one things we need to do right now is reach out and especially reach out to the people we think might not want us to reach out. I’ve noticed people will say to me, something terrible happened in Ellen’s life, but I don’t want to reach out because I don’t want to offend her. I don’t want to be too pushy. That is so not real. Let Ellen decide. Let her tell you, I appreciate that you reached out, but I’m dealing with my own process right now. I think it’s actually more often than not, I’m kind of cowardly when we don’t reach out to someone who we suspect might need that. So I would say go through your life and who are the people who are particularly vulnerable right now who need to hear from you? We all have friends who suffer from anxiety and depression. We’ll hear anecdotally that a friend has been laid off. Reach out to that friend and see how you can be a help. So that would be the first thing is just reaching out to the people that you know.
Jean Chatzky: (17:30)
I think it’s so important. Like many families, my family had a zoom Seder last night, and my aunt called me after, and let me just say, with no offense to my aunt and uncle at all, but it took us a long time to just get them on the zoom Seder. It was a process of teaching and it was terrific. But she called me after and she said, it was so sad for her to set the table for Passover, for two people. And she was so happy to just see our ragtag family from all corners of the country get together for an hour to read the Haggadah and laugh a little bit. And it didn’t matter what the picture looked like, or who had adjusted their camera or who had actually made Passover food and who was eating a bowl of cereal. It was just all about the connection.
Tara Schuster: (18:27)
Yeah. Connection is the antidote to depression and isolation. Like when we’re feeling depressed or sad or just stressed out, we feel alone in that stress. It’s a very me sort of activity. But when we reach out and remember, oh, there are other people all around me, I belong to a community. This burden is not just mine. Everybody can carry a little bit of the water. That’s when we remember that there are people around us. A lot of us right now are going through this roller coaster of emotions, but we’re not alone. And so I think that’s the most essential part in this is to reach out to your community so that they feel less alone but you too will feel less alone because you’ll feel embraced by the community.
Jean Chatzky: (19:18)
You talk a little bit in the book about financial stress and there are a lot of people undergoing an awful lot of financial stress right now for a whole bunch of reasons. What’s your best advice for dealing with it?
Tara Schuster: (19:31)
Yeah. I’m so glad you asked this question. You know what I dealt with was a lot of financial shame. Shame and blame. I felt really ashamed of my parents’ finances. They were in boom and bust economies is my whole life. I felt tied to all their decisions and doomed. And it took me a long time to realize the role that money was playing in my life. It was like a silent main character. There, but never really discussed. And I think in this time, as people are dealing with financial stress, the absolute most important thing to do is to acknowledge it and not throw shame and blame onto it. You know, to remember that this is a once in a hundred years pandemic that you had no control over. None of us asked for a pandemic. This was not something that could be totally planned for. And even if you, maybe now you’re looking back and saying, I wish I had saved more. I wish, I wish, I wish. Guess what? You can’t wish your way out of this. So even that line of thinking is not useful. So I’d say forgive yourself. Tend to your emotional health. I always like to journal through things like this. Just writing out. If you don’t want to commit to a full journaling practice, write out how you feel about money right now. Any shame you’re feeling, any blame you’re feeling so that it’s on a piece of paper and not constantly swirling in your head. And I would actually recommend some positive self talk. Like this is not my fault. I am not to blame. I will be okay. Because we will all be okay. You know? For the most part, as long as we’re healthy, it’s going to right itself. And so the first thing is really tending to your emotional financial health. That would be my very first thing.
Jean Chatzky: (21:31)
How did you get to the point where you could acknowledge and then deal with your own money story?
Tara Schuster: (21:38)
I haven’t really considered that. I think money was the only value in my household growing up. If we had it, we were quote unquote good. And if we didn’t have it, we were shameful, bad. Everything is destroyed. I mean, the number of times I heard we are doomed growing up. Like my sister and I laugh about it now and I actually in college asked my friends, I said, do your parents ever tell you they’re doomed and that this is a financial crisis we’ll never recover from. And they all laughed. Like their reaction was just wait, what? And that made me realize, Oh wait, no, I’ve gone through a weird thing. I am the outlier. This wasn’t normal. I’ve got to deal with this. It actually might have been that. That I asked my friends, is this normal? And the answer was a resounding no, that is not normal. And I realized I didn’t want negative talk about money and money being the most important thing in my life to be my story. And so I decided to change it. But I think it was hearing from other people that really was the impetus.
Jean Chatzky: (22:47)
You mentioned your sister and you are now able to laugh about something that wasn’t really all that funny. And we’re living through a time that is not really all that funny. How do we find the levity and the humor in times like this?
Tara Schuster: (23:03)
I think there are two essential things. One is to find some fun memes and videos about this. Just to break the tension. You know, I actually have a friend who’s really – I’m not good at finding memes – so I texted a friend who always seems to be the guy who has it. And I said, hey, when you find something can you just send it to me please? So I reached out to a friend for comedy, even though I work in comedy. So I’d say like reach out to your group because we all know someone like that who’s always got the funny article. And usually I ignore it or delete it. But right now I really need it. And the second thing is to find one thing in your day to enjoy every single day. Because this actually is our life. Our life doesn’t get to hit pause just because we’re going through a crisis. Our life continues in the crisis. So if we can’t enjoy it every day, what a waste. I mean just genuinely what a waste of time.
Jean Chatzky: (24:04)
So what is that for you?
Tara Schuster: (24:06)
So, it can be really small. Yesterday I decided that I want to watch a lot of great quote unquote great classic movies. So instead of writing an essay, which I thought I absolutely should and I need to be so productive, even though there’s a pandemic. I said, I’m going to watch On the Waterfront and I am going to make myself a big bowl of popcorn. And that is going to be my enjoyable thing for today. And let me tell you, it was decadent. It was the afternoon. I was watching a movie. I felt so good, but there can be much smaller things. A bath, washing your hair, putting on makeup for literally no reason other than you wanted to do it. Somebody DMed me that they were spraying themselves with perfume. That their kids had taken over the house. They had no time to themselves, but they could take one moment to spritz their favorite perfume on their wrists.
Jean Chatzky: (25:07)
I love it. Tara Schuster. Thank you. I think you were the antidote that we all needed and this was my enjoyable thing for today. So I really appreciate you being,
Tara Schuster: (25:19)
Oh, thank you so much. It was such an honor to be here.
Jean Chatzky: (25:23)
The book is Buy Yourself the F*cking Lilies and we will be right back with Kathryn and your mailbag.
Jean Chatzky: (25:29)
And HerMoney’s Kathryn Tuggle has joined me. Hey Kathryn.
Kathryn Tuggle: (25:40)
Jean Chatzky: (25:40)
Thank you for teeing up that show. That was really, really terrific. I hope our listeners liked it as much as I do.
Kathryn Tuggle: (25:48)
Yeah, same. I follow her on Instagram. She’s a really good Instagram follow if you don’t already follow her. And I was inspired by the title of her book because I also would always forgo the flowers at Trader Joe’s because I just thought it was such a frivolous luxury and that $7 would be so much better spent elsewhere. And I think I was probably 35 before I started buying myself the f-ing, in my case, daisies. But same concept and I try to always have fresh flowers now and it still feels like a luxury, but it’s now become a luxury that I can embrace and that I feel worthy of. So when I saw her book title I was like, I need to hear from her.
Jean Chatzky: (26:31)
Yeah, no, she was terrific. I think the whole concept of self care, I mean I remember the first time I heard it. I don’t know how many of our listeners remember Hayden, but Hayden was very big on self care and she would talk a lot about self care and self talk and I had never heard the phrase before and then all of a sudden I started looking for it and I realized the New York Times had a whole column on it. And I do think it’s relatively new. But I liked the way that she described it, that it’s not the facial, it’s having a drawer full of socks that don’t have holes in them. Like that makes sense to me.
Kathryn Tuggle: (27:09)
Yeah, totally. Because vacations, I also liked the way she referenced Tulum. Because vacations are a completely different animal. Vacations are something that you do a few times a year. Self care is something that has to be done daily.
Jean Chatzky: (27:23)
Yeah, absolutely. And it’s recognizing what you need too, I think is really important. Recognizing what sets you on edge, recognizing when you’re the one beating yourself up.
Kathryn Tuggle: (27:38)
Jean Chatzky: (27:39)
I know we’ve got a bunch of questions from our listeners and I want to make sure we get to them, but I was wondering as I was talking to Tara, what’s your favorite form of self care? Do you have one?
Kathryn Tuggle: (27:49)
That’s such a good question. I would say yoga. I try to do a lot of yoga. Specifically, I like in person classes and during the quarantine I’ve obviously been doing a lot more at-home yoga as have millions of other people. And there’s something about the comradery of the classroom that cannot be replicated in your home. And I think that is my self care.
Jean Chatzky: (28:18)
Yeah. I think for me it’s the exercise. I mean I know that maybe that is, I don’t know a common one. But when I do it, I get through the day without being cranky. And when I don’t do it, I’m cranky by four o’clock in the afternoon. I think my brain needs to sweat. As strange as that sounds.
Kathryn Tuggle: (28:41)
I totally get that. Do you try to do it in the mornings?
Jean Chatzky: (28:44)
Yeah. If I don’t do it in the mornings it doesn’t happen. I have to get up and do it and usually my trick is that I put on the running clothes immediately when I wake up or the exercise clothes and then I don’t get out of them until I do it and I don’t really like hanging out in them for all that long. So usually by mid morning, it has happened.
Kathryn Tuggle: (29:05)
There you go. Good philosophy.
Jean Chatzky: (29:08)
Alright, let’s do mailbag.
Kathryn Tuggle: (29:10)
Our first note comes to us from Kathy. She writes, I have a question that I have not heard asked. I have filed my 2019 federal tax return, which I mailed three weeks ago. The IRS has not yet received my return and if they did not receive it before my stimulus check is to be issued. They’ll base the amount I receive on my 2018 return. While I remain hopeful that it will be received before the stimulus check is issued. The problem is that my adjusted income for 2018 is over $75,000 but my 2019 return reflects income that is quite a bit lower. I asked an IRS representative if I should e-file a duplicate copy of my 2019 returns so that it would be received immediately, but I was advised not to do this since it might be flagged as fraud. Is there anything I can do to be sure that my stimulus check is based on my 2019 return or will there be some sort of appeal process to adjust the amount that I would have received had my return been received sooner and processed faster. I’d love your guidance on this confusing situation that has caused me so much stress. Thank you.
Jean Chatzky: (30:12)
So Kathy, if you thought you were confused before, wait until I answer this question. And you asked a number of questions within your question. So let me just say, first of all, I’m going with the IRS representative. If they told you you should not file another return because it could be flagged as fraud, then do not file another return. I am a little confused as to why three weeks later they don’t have your return. This is one of those reasons why I think everybody should just e-file and elect direct deposit of any refund coming in your way. It’s so much quicker. There is a lot less room for error. But this stimulus payment of up to $1,200 for anybody who makes up to $75,000 in income is actually a fully refundable tax credit based on your 2020 income and I know that sounds like, whoa, you just threw another whole year in there, but that’s exactly what it is because we are in 2020 right now. The IRS is basing it on 2019 because that’s the last record they have and they’re basing it on 2018 if they don’t have 2019 because that’s the last record they have. But the deal is you are not going to have to do anything as far as filing extra paperwork for an adjustment. As long as your 2020 income is still in the range, you are going to get whatever you didn’t get of that $1,200. So the credit starts phasing out once you hit $75,000 in income. For every additional hundred dollars that you earn, it goes down by $5 until you get to $99,000 and then it’s gone completely. Whatever you didn’t get because they were looking at your 2018 income, as long as you’re 2020 income is in the range, you will get that when you file your 2020 return at the beginning of next year. And should your 2020 income be even higher, and put you further out of range, you are not going to have to pay that money back. So I don’t want you to be stressed out about that as well. Bottom line is don’t do anything right now. You’re going to get what you get based on whatever they have most recently and then you’ll adjust when you file your return for this year. Does that make sense Kathryn? Cause that was a lot of data.
Kathryn Tuggle: (33:01)
No, it really does. They’re going to base it on what they’ve got and then it’ll all come out in the wash at the end of the year.
Jean Chatzky: (33:08)
You put it a lot better than I did it. Okay, excellent. Next letter.
Kathryn Tuggle: (33:13)
Next letter. Our next note is from Mary Pat. She writes hi Jean. I’m a longtime subscriber and listener to HerMoney and know if there is anyone who can provide solid financial advice during these unusual times. It is you. My daughter is a 2020 high school graduate and has been accepted to her reach schools. So proud of her. The higher price tag comes with these prestigious universities and we do not qualify for any need-based contributions. We have $200,000 saved in her college fund, but now it looks like we’re going to need an additional 90,000 more over the course of the next four years. Of course she’s pursuing scholarships, but I’m wondering if we should take advantage of the 10% penalty being waived on IRA distributions and move some funds into her college account. My husband and I are 58 years old and have approximately 1.5 million in retirement assets. Would this be a better option than loans? Thanks so much for any advice,
Jean Chatzky: (34:07)
So I would do a couple of things. First, I would not go into your retirement assets even though under the CARES Act you have the ability to do that without penalty. I would instead look at loans. Both federal loans, which she’ll be eligible for, and private loans, if the federal ones are not enough. And I’d do that because interest rates are so low right now that those loans are going to be cheaper than they were before we went through this process and before the federal reserve cut interest rates to zero. The second thing that I would look at is your current cashflow. I know that you’ve put away a certain amount of money to pay for college, but I’d take a look at your budget and I’d see if there is any wiggle room where you could come out of pocket essentially to help supplement what she needs. And the final thing that I’d do is, and this is true for anybody whose situation has changed, based on what’s going on with coronavirus, call the school and talk to the financial aid office. If you’re receiving financial aid and you feel like based on current circumstances you need more, this is the time to call the schools and ask for it. They are ready for these calls. They know that the need is greater than it was. They know that the ratio of money coming through loans versus grants may have to be adjusted. They also know that some people will just need bigger aid packages. Don’t wait, get in line and make sure that you do that as soon as absolutely possible and congratulations on your daughter and being accepted to all of these great schools. I am thrilled for you and thrilled for her and so excited about her future.
Kathryn Tuggle: (36:08)
Truly. It’s such an accomplishment and you guys did such a great job saving for college already. I mean, the fact that you have as much as you have now is huge.
Jean Chatzky: (36:17)
Absolutely. We’ve got one more?
Kathryn Tuggle: (36:19)
One more. Last note comes from Kaitlin. She writes, hi Jean, thank you to you and Kathryn for producing guidance for us during this crazy time. I’m thankful to be in a really good situation right now, and I’d like some advice on how to deal with some cash. I’m 28 and rent a studio, which is all right for now, but I know I’ll want a real bedroom soon enough. I was considering buying due to relatively high rental prices in my area. I moved my down payment fund to cash prior to the March downturn, and I have $43,000 in cash and what is now $31,000 in a 50/50 stock fund bond fund account. My goal is to buy three to five years down the road. So what should I do with the cash in the interim? The money’s currently in a high yield savings account. If it’s helpful, I’ll give you a peek at the rest of my finances. I contribute almost 30% of my income to my retirement accounts. I overpay my car loan each month and have $12,000 remaining on that and I have built up a $20,000 emergency fund. Thank you so much.
Jean Chatzky: (37:20)
Sure. And you sound like you are in tremendously good shape. I think you got really lucky that you moved your down payment fund to cash prior to the March downturn. I don’t know where it was before, but if it was in stocks, you just saved yourself an awful lot of money. If you’re looking to buy anywhere in the three to five year timeframe, I would not put it anywhere other than that high yield savings account that it’s in. You don’t want to put it back in and then have the markets go down and lose some of your down payment fund. It’s far better to deal with the mediocre returns that you’re getting on that down payment fund in the high yield savings account. The one thing I would do is maybe think about shifting your timetable. Mortgage rates are incredibly low. We are headed into a buyer’s market for real estate. You are doing so well putting money away for your future. Maybe you get the bedroom now. You know, maybe if you think you’re going to be in the same geographic location, you think about buying a little bit earlier. I would start to run the numbers on what it would cost you to buy a place versus to continue to live in the place that you’re renting and I’d see what that looks like because it sounds like, at least to me, that you’ve got a real opportunity staring you in the face.
Kathryn Tuggle: (38:55)
That sounds like great advice. You’re totally right about the opportunity.
Jean Chatzky: (38:58)
Yeah, I mean I can’t tell exactly where she is. Sounds like a city, maybe New York, maybe somewhere else, but you know if it is enough for a down payment – it’s not enough typically for a down payment in New York – but it may be enough for a down payment in many, many communities and I would take a look at if it is.
Kathryn Tuggle: (39:16)
And I think in the months to come especially there may be some real deals to be had out there.
Jean Chatzky: (39:21)
No question. Thank you so much for your great questions. Kathryn. If they’ve got them, where should they send them?
Kathryn Tuggle: (39:30)
Jean Chatzky: (39:30)
Fantastic. And in today’s Thrive? Yes. Good news has been a little bit hard to come by lately, but we are very excited about something that came out of the CARES Act and it’s something that you haven’t heard about very likely. For the first time in history, a provision under this bill allows all of us to use the funds in our health savings accounts and flexible spending accounts to pay for period products. The specific products that are now considered medical expenses include tampons, pads, liners, cups and sponges. When you use the funds in your account to buy these items, not only are you spending pre-tax dollars, you’re paying without spending sales tax so you can save as much combined as 30 to 40% off the sticker price for these products. Other than this being great news for women, it also means now may be a really good time to add a little bit more money to your HSAs and FSAs to be sure you’ve got enough to cover the purchase of these products in addition to the other medicine and supplies you’ll need throughout the year. While the CARES Act isn’t permanent, its provisions are meant to help see us through this crisis. It certainly opens the door to have these essential products classified as medical expenses on a permanent basis. For now, we’ve got 15 years, so enjoy swiping that HSA debit card on your purchase of tampons and pads and all the other stuff and make sure to hang onto those receipts. Thank you so much for joining me today on HerMoney. Thanks to Tara Schuster for making us laugh and for inspiring us to create a life that we truly love. If you like what you hear, I hope you’ll subscribe to our show at Apple Podcasts. Leave us a review because we love hearing what you think. We want to thank our sponsor Fidelity. Ordinarily we record our podcast out of CDM Sound Studios, but today we’re using zoom and a Yeti mic from the comfort of our homes. Our music is provided by Video Helper and our show comes to you through PRX. Hope you’ll join us next week. We’ll be back with another great HerMoney guest. Thanks so much for being here and we’ll talk soon.