U.S. Citizens living in Canada… you’ve got some filing to do

U.S. Citizens living in Canada… you’ve got some filing to do

In my spare time these days, I’ve been sitting in the back yard and reading about cross border taxation issues, specifically between Canada and the U.S.

Don’t I sound cool?

So many of the people that I know and work with have lives that stretch beyond the Canadian border. And as soon as you put a toe across, things with your finances get a bit more complicated.

This is never more true than when looking at U.S. citizens living in Canada (yes, that includes all you dual citizens out there).

If you’re a U.S. citizen living in Canada and you aren’t filing U.S. taxes… you should get yourself to an accountant post haste. It doesn’t matter if you’re making money in the U.S. or not, you NEED TO BE FILING A U.S. TAX RETURN EVERY YEAR.

You also may have to file a bunch of other forms based on what kind of assets you have kicking around.

The most famous non-tax-return IRS filing is called the FBAR.

If the sum total of the highest balances in your accounts is more than $10,000, you have to file this form. If you think that’s you and you have more questions, feel free to shoot me (or your accountant) an email.

The FBAR is filed electronically, and isn’t all that hard to file yourself. But if you don’t file it, there can be penalties of as much as $10,000 per account not filed. So… better to get on it.

U.S. Citizens living in Canada… you’ve got some filing to do

Weeds are just plants you didn’t choose

As I pulled the tiny weeds surrounding my beet plants I was reminded… I had no idea what I was pulling. Maybe they were something better than beets… such things are not impossible to imagine.

In this garden that is new to me, many things have sprung up this year that I can’t identify. Some I’ve let grow, some I’ve pulled. But what’s become increasingly clear as I thin my radish and kale rows is that I have to choose.

It’s a fairly decent metaphor for money use. Too much emphasis is put on the cutting of expenses. I think it’s better to view your spending through a gardening lens.

What are you growing? What are you not growing?

The things you pull are not cosmically less valuable. They are merely the things you aren’t choosing right now. And no, you won’t always know what they are. There will be missed opportunities that, if you let them, may haunt you. That’s got to be okay.

And maybe instead of the first question of finance being: what did you pull up? Maybe we should frame it as … what did you leave in.

Because pruning expenses is not about less. It’s about more for the things that you care about.

U.S. Citizens living in Canada… you’ve got some filing to do

Found: Well designed plans that don’t work for actual people

The bathroom in our new house looks quite nice. It’s not our style, but on our first walk around we saw it clearly had been the subject of lots of work. There’s a big bath tub with stone surrounding it, double sinks, and lots of storage. It looks exactly like a bathroom should.

But it doesn’t really function properly… the stone around the bathtub is way too wide to easily step in. You can’t lean over the sinks because the mirror comes off the wall too far (many heads have been hit … well, two heads, many times).

It looks good, but it doesn’t really work.

This is how I feel about financial planning a lot of the time. A lot of care is put into making sure that projections and plans look great. They are made with an eye to the regulators and the industry. They are made with the thought that … if someone looks at this, I better have all my t’s crossed and i’s dotted.

And that’s good in some ways. Regulations matter and they’re there to make sure people don’t do poor quality work, but they need to be balanced with actual function.

When I was in the Design Museum in London last year I saw this cycle described – Designers – Makers – Users.. and I’ve been thinking of it ever since.

Designers dream up the idea. Makers create it in the world. Users use it and figure out if it actually works. Then their feedback goes back to the designers to make things better and the cycle continues.

Here’s another place where the finance industry could learn from the creative world. It doesn’t matter if you designed the coolest thing… Can it be made? Can it be used?

How can we better engage in this cycle, both in the Making (which I see as the implementation of a plan in the world, rather than just dumping the perfect projections in front of someone) and listening for feedback from Users.

There is no pedestal for designers. Their ideas are not right until they are tried and tested at every level. And if we really want to be great designers… we need to be better listeners of the users of our designs.

U.S. Citizens living in Canada… you’ve got some filing to do

Budgeting doesn’t mean spending less on things

This is an ongoing pet peeve. Whenever people talk about budgeting, they start flashing up images of things they’ve done more cheaply.

“I got this on sale”, “I spent way less on clothes by doing __________”, “I buy in bulk”.

For me, who is not a great deal shopper or max efficiency person… none of this rings true.

Budgeting is about doing money on purpose.

You know what things come to mind when I think about budgeting…?

The thousands of dollars we spent on our wedding. There were areas we spent more and where we spent less, but having a written ever evolving plan helped us spend on purpose and not feel guilty about it.

It makes me think of the Toms shoes I’m about to buy. I don’t need to buy a name brand shoe. I probably should try and find a cheaper option (or at least there’s a voice in my head telling me that). But I have money put aside specifically for that purpose and I want to buy them. My budget isn’t screaming SPEND LESS. My budget is giving me the permission to spend on the things that I want to spend on.

It’s also helping me understand when there isn’t money for things OR how moving money from things I don’t care about as much can help create more money for the things that I do.

I think that’s what other budget people are trying to say. They’re trying to say… I spent less on this so I could have more of something else.

But they’re not adding the second part, and I really wish they would.

U.S. Citizens living in Canada… you’ve got some filing to do

Making a home

My wife and I moved into our new house at the end of March. It’s an … odd … time to move. From the outside, it’s great – what a lovely project to be able to work on during quarantine.

But a combination of lack of energy and the unplannable future for those of us linked to the performing arts has brought some frustrating days.

One of the questions we’re asked most often is … “is it starting to feel like home yet?”

And up until recently the answer, for me, was “no”. Not because it’s bad, not because it won’t, but because, somehow it wasn’t.

What makes a home?

I like this question. Home is a word I gravitate towards. It’s a word I like to use in connection to people’s finance.

I want you to feel at home in your money.

What that means will be different for everyone, but there are two things that have come up in my own quest to claim this new space as a home.

The first has to do with touching everything. Getting my fingers on every inch of this house and yard. The more I have explored, the more it feels connected. When we moved here, every corner held a mystery, and on the poor days those mysteries all had terrifying endings. But now, I have opened that drier vent, I have run my fingers (and a paint roller) on some of the walls from corner to corner. I have dug in the dirt and peeked beneath the siding.

For many years I ignored everything connected to my financial life. I didn’t know my bank balance or what I spent on my cell phone. My hope was it would continue to work out. It didn’t.

It helped to start to explore every corner. The tricky thing in finance is it’s hard to know what’s worth looking at and what’s useless financial garble talk.

HERE’S A BASIC OUTLINE OF THINGS TO START LOOKING FOR:

  1. Accounts:
    • balance
    • interest
    • bank fees
    • any other fees
  1. Debts
    • amounts
    • interest rate
    • mortgage – amortization, next time renegotiated, variable VS fixed
  1. My Canada Account
    • RRSP room
    • TFSA room
    • Uncashed cheques
    • Just click on some stuff
  1. Credit Report
    • Score (not that interesting)
    • Report – what’s reporting on it? Does it all look okay
  1. Spending
  1. Investments
    • How much?
    • What’s it in? – browse the holdings
    • How much do you put in every year?
    • Who are the beneficiaries on your accounts?
  1. Insurance
    • How much coverage do you have?
    • Who does it go to?
    • Until when does your coverage last?
    • Disability – do you have it?

This list is overwhelming.

This house is overwhelming.

Home doesn’t happen in a second. It’s a slow exploration. It’s a slow running of fingers, fixing of problems, discovering of hidden benefits.

Let this be slow as well, but start.

The second thing that makes a home for me is the presence of my important people. We haven’t been able to do this as much these days, but I can’t wait for friends and family to fill the corners with their laughter and stories.

Home is not a structure, it’s a place where important things happen.

This is true in finance and in life. Making a home in your money will probably mean inviting people into it. My money is not an island, it is connected to my wife, to my family, and to my community in different measures.

Conversation helps.

U.S. Citizens living in Canada… you’ve got some filing to do

On the last day of my father’s life we talked about buying a piano

My wife and I sat at the end of his bed, not knowing it was the last time we would do this, and as he slept, we looked online for pianos.

We have a piano now. We do not have him.

We had to wait, though. The pandemic hit and it wasn’t really a good time to go to people’s house, to run our fingers down the keys and guess how many years it had been since it had last been played.

On the day it was delivered, the guys insisted on only taking cash… “you know, because of taxes”. He didn’t mind that we had to go to a bank around the corner to get it.

Just before leaving he mentioned how nice it must be to be out of Toronto ‘and away from those immigrants’.

Now, as I sit and look at our piano there is a lot going on in my mind. I think of my dad (he thought we should buy the baby grand… we opted for a freebie upright). I think of COVID and all our musician friends who don’t know if they’ll work again… whether we’ll work again. I think of that delivery man, about how I should really have insisted on a receipt and, much more importantly, how even in this quiet corner of the world the same racism that killed George Floyd lives.

When people, eventually, come into our house, all they’ll see is a piano. That’s what happens whenever we step into someone’s world. We might guess at a few of the things that are going on underneath the surface, but there’s a lot more going on.

It’s a good reminder of how to treat each other these days. Yes, there is a collective experience, but no… that doesn’t mean we know everything that is happening. I think this is especially true for those of us othering financial care and advice to people weathering the storm.

We are all in the same storm, but riding in very different boats.

It is more important than ever to listen to those who are suffering. We can’t just see the piano, it’s not just a piano.

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