Tuesday, November 21, 2006

High taxes may be the least of your problems

The politicians here in New Jersey are at it again--trying to figure out a way to lower the highest state taxes in the country. Few Jersey residents believe they'll make much headway, as this Philadelphia Inquirer article points out, and I, too, will believe it when I see it.

But if you think that lower taxes will make a big difference in your personal finances, think again. If you're complaining that taxes are too high and are a big reason you don't have enough money to live, you just might be looking at the wrong side of the equation.

It's not the taxes that are killing you
I was struck by this quote at the end of the Inquirer article linked to above:

"I just spent $200 on beauty products and makeup and had to pay $14 in sales tax," said Elisa, a woman shopping in Atlantic County. "I think that's ridiculous. They better start giving us something back or people are going to start moving to states where they have to pay out less money in taxes."

Now I'm trying hard not to rush to judgment. I've been with my wife M when she's bought makeup and I know it can cost a pretty penny (even at our local drugstore). Plus, I know that M wears makeup to look nice, mostly for me, and so I can be held responsible for the lipsticks and eyeliners in her purse. Guilty as charged. (Though she looks beautiful naturally, too--seriously.)

But $200? For makeup? And then complaining about $14 from a 7% state sales tax?

I can't make that kind of logic add up.

Taxes are a good, not great, deal
No one likes a big tax bill. And I've done my share of griping about the big chunk of our family income that goes to our federal and state governments.

But taxes are a fact of life. They pay for things our country and states couldn't do without, like roads, schools, and the protection of our homes and families. In the big scheme of things they might not be a bargain, but they could be considered a pretty good deal.

Being money-wise is less taxing
I don't know if Elisa is rich or poor. I don't know if that $200 in makeup will last her a year or a month. I don't know if she carefully included the expense in her monthly spending plan.

But if she's in a financial mess, I know one thing: Paying $14 less in taxes--or moving to another state with no sales or income tax--isn't going to get her out. Her best chance at financial redemption is to change how she thinks about her money, and how she behaves in regards to it. Save more, spend less, know where every dollar goes. That's taking a wise approach to managing your money.

It's good advice for every person to follow. And come to think of it, for every legislator too.

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