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avatar You are viewing an archive of articles by Sasha. Along with her partner, Sasha owns and manage six residential rental units. Sasha endeavors to support the causes and organizations she believes in through more conscientious spending practices.

Sasha


This is an article written by Sasha, former Consumerism Commentary staff writer. In 2007, Sasha shared her experiences with purchasing and managing residential rental properties and the lessons learned. The articles were published in a series of ten. I’ve re-edited the pieces and consolidated the great advice into one article.

Looking to diversify your investments and take advantage of the current dip in real estate prices? While by no means a passive investment, if you’re up to the challenge, residential rental property ownership can provide not just additional short- and long-term income, but tax benefits as well.

But the trick’s in the buying. An error at this critical stage is one you’ll pay for again and again over the life of the property, so it’s important to be a well-informed and cautious buyer, taking the time to do the necessary research.

My own experience with six rental properties has taught me a few things worth sharing.

1. Buy at the right price

A bargain now will help you to better withstand fluctuations in property value over time so you can profit if and when you eventually sell. Whether working with a realtor or solo, you need to develop a deep understanding of what constitutes a “value” price in the neighborhood(s) you’re looking at. As an investor, you can keep making low-ball offers and wait for the deal you want, but great bargains generally get snapped up, so you need to be able to act quickly once your target’s in sight.

You also need to benchmark rental prices for comparable units in the area, getting a feel for demand. The local classifieds are a great starting point for this, and a few hours of research should give you a good basis for determining what you can charge. Just make sure to factor in for utilities (electric, gas, oil, water, sewer, cable, etc.) if they’re included.

Depending on your personal goals, there may not be enough of a spread between what you will pay out monthly in mortgage, taxes, and utilities and what you can charge. Figure out what your spread needs to be, and analyze every house you consider against this amount. My rule of thumb, since I’m looking to make a yearly profit without much additional out-of-pocket investment beyond the down payment, is that there needs to be at least a $500 difference per month between income and costs.

Of course, a bigger spread is preferable, as it means more profit. If you’ve got a few good options to consider, the spread can aid in your decision-making.

2. Find the right neighborhood

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We’ve talked about tax deductions related to your reception site, but there are a few other nice opportunities for wedding-related deductions that shouldn’t be missed, both for during and after your wedding.

The I Do Foundation has a number of creative ways to incorporate giving into the wedding itself, which you can do through them or replicate yourself. I will be doing a number of these for my own wedding next year.

  • Give on guests’ behalf. Give to your favorite charity on behalf of each guest, then provide a favor related to that gift, whether a printed card or something more specific. Then, deduct the full amount as a charitable donation. We’re thinking of donating to our favorite avian charity, then attaching announcements printed on plantable hearts filled with seeds (we plan to make these ourselves) to these cute dove bottle openers. (We’re trying to find a source for the doves without the packaging, however.) The favors themselves, of course, are not deductible, but they make a nice presentation. The Knot has some more stories of fun ways couples incorporated tax-deductible giving into their weddings.
  • Build a registry of charities. Create a registry of the charities you wish to support, then let guests make their own selections when giving. JustGive and Changing the Present are two more great charitable gift registry sites which makes it easy to set up a registry of the organizations you want to support. You can add explanations for why these are meaningful to you as a couple and how they support your shared beliefs. Then all of your guests get to claim a deduction and they’ll have you to thank when filing their 1040s.

And this one’s not a deduction, but I’m listing it anyway because it’s a good idea: have your gift registry give back. You can create a gift registry with one of the I Do Foundation’s partner stores and have up to 10% of the purchases given to a charity of your choice.

Next time, I’ll share some donations you can write off after the wedding festivities.

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We’re entering the peak wedding season, it seems.

Ever since I got engaged earlier this year, I’ve been bombarded by sales pitches from every angle. They’re certainly tricky. They come disguised in several colors of tulle, bearing elegantly inscribed messages to remind me that I only live once and want my special day to be perfect.

Perfect, of course, translates to premium, as in every upgrade on the already mile-high price list. If you’re a frugal sort, it’s almost enough to make you fall out of love with the idea completely.

For my fiance and myself, our special day will only be perfect if we can have all our family and friends join us without incurring additional debt. The perfect wedding should be the start of our perfect life together, where we can actually afford our bills and monthly expenses. So I’ve been searching relentlessly for information to plan an affordable event to remember which still reflects our beliefs and way of life as ethical consumers.

Luckily, my search has revealed that there’s a great way to save on money while still supporting causes we believe in: finding tax-deductible wedding expenses.

The Venue
I’ve learned that the reception is typically the most costly part of the wedding, comprising about half of the total cost, according to theknot.com. This estimate includes the cost of the venue, catering food and service, alcohol and beverages, wedding cake and parking.

If you choose to have your reception at a site owned by an approved nonprofit organization, your site fees may be tax-deductible, as the cost can be considered a donation to support the upkeep of the facility. This applies to a number of historic landmarks and homes, museums, even nature centers.

I’ll share a few local spots I discovered:

Prallsville Mill, a rustic, historic mill in Stockton, NJ, holds up to 150 guests.
Tax-Deductible Facility Fee: $1,850

Honey Hollow Barn, the nature center for the Bucks County Audubon Society, is a lovely stone barn with exposed beams in desirable New Hope, PA and holds up to 75 guests.
Tax-Deductible Facility Fee: $2,500 for a Saturday wedding

Things to Know
You must obtain a statement from the nonprofit organization which states the amount of your contribution. Goods and services recieved must be deducted from this, if applicable.

For church rentals, although only your accountant can tell you about any other applicable rentals, any amount beyond what is considered to be the fair market value of the rental is tax-deductible. You may be able to deduct gifts paid to clergy as well.

In order to claim these deductions, you will need to itemize them using Schedule A.

Know of any more great, tax-deductible spots for a wedding reception? Post them in the comments!

My next entry will feature more tax-deductible wedding savings ideas.

Image Credit: babasteve

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As I shared with you a few weeks ago, I choose to pay more for my electricity. And in 2007, 71 percent of my total grocery budget went to support local agriculture and small businesses.

Each year, I buy a harvest share at a local community supported agriculture farm. I promise to start waxing poetic about my fabulous fruits and veggies once they start pouring in around mid-May. But for now, my topic of discussion is the act of deliberately choosing certain sources and providers for my purchases.

Sometimes I spend more, sometimes less, but I always try to spend consciously. And this concept is at the very root of ethical consumerism.

Wikipedia defines ethical consumerism as:

…buying things that are made ethically. Generally, this means without harm to or exploitation of humans, animals or the natural environment.

I find this to be a somewhat narrow definition, really, as ethics are a highly personal matter. While I may believe in supporting local agriculture and channeling my grocery budget away from factory and agribusiness farms, someone else may want the Coca-Cola company to take over the market and choose to channel all his spending towards their products.

I prefer to look at it instead as conscious spending. Whatever my interests, when I look over my budget and spending, I want it to reflect my personal moral criteria. There are two main ways to accomplish this goal: paying for products and services you believe in, and avoiding those you don’t.

Positive Buying – This is the term used for what I call “voting with your dollars,” channeling your spending towards recycled or fair trade goods, local organic farms, woman- or minority-owned businesses, cruelty-free products, etcetera. Essentially, you are investing your monies in a business you believe in, helping to ensure its success.

The United Kingdom has a relatively active ethical consumist movement, and even a magazine dedicated to the topic, Ethical Consumer. The publication rates companies according to an “ethiscore” which is meant to assess the environmental, human/animal rights, and political impact of each company, the idea being that consumers can then choose to support companies with the lowest negative impact.

Moral Boycott – The other side of this is the avoidance of companies whose practices you do not support. Ethical Consumer has a large list of these as well, including:

  • Adidas, for its use of kangaroo skin in footwear
  • ChevronTexaco, for dumping toxic waste in the Amazon
  • Starbucks, for failing to support fair trade practices

If you watched Blood Diamond and then decided never to purchase diamond jewelry, you are practicing moral boycott.

Why Bother? – Well, sometimes it works. The primary law of consumerism, if you buy it, they will sell it, comes into play when these purchasing behaviors are witnessed on a larger scale. Wal-Mart starts selling organic products. Sweatshops close, while fair trade coffee shops open. There’s been talk that specific purchasing behaviors only serve to create niche markets, but these markets are growing.

Just this month, BusinessWire reported that:

The organic food segment dominates overall organics spending with sales in excess of US$20 billion in Europe and US$17 billion in the US alone. Food products are also increasingly being tagged as organic. In 2007 15.1% of new food product launches tracked by Productscan were tagged as organic, compared to 7.3% in 2002.

As the ethical movement has grown, a number of companies have tried to position themselves as green, some with more success than others. Going forward it is imperative that businesses create a clear plan of how to re-adjust to meet consumer demand or risk being left behind.

While some companies merely posture (a tactic termed “greenwashing“), many companies are reacting to public demand and pursuing more socially responsible and environmentally sound business practices.

Conscious buying alone may always not achieve what you’re looking for. If environmental impact is what concerns you, tossing a household full of products into a landfill won’t offset all your new, green purchases. Buying consciously while buying only what you need is the key.

Does your spending reflect your beliefs?

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My Electric Bill: Why I Pay More

by Sasha

I asked a few weeks back whether any of you had changed your spending behaviors based on our current recession. Some of you had cut back, while others underscored the importance of always living frugally, so no recession-time cutbacks are necessary. I, too, choose to live frugally. But sometimes, I also choose to pay more. ... Continue reading this article…

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Cost-Cutting Consumers Trade Down from Steak to Chicken

by Sasha

RIS News, a retail technology publication, announced some interesting findings recently related to consumer shopping behavior. According to Deborah Weinswig of Citi Investment Research, the recession is creating more bargain hunters and transforming our shopping style in four key ways: 1. “Trading Down” to Private Label There’s a cost benefit to going generic, and store ... Continue reading this article…

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Too Cheap for iPhone or Blackberry, But I Got My Mobile Web Access

by Sasha

My day-to-day existence includes nearly 4 hours of commuting, 8-12 hours of work where I’m without access to my personal e-mail, and very little time left over in which to live life to the fullest. In my endless struggle to balance work, friends and family, I find that mobile web access is a must. For ... Continue reading this article…

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How I Evaluated and Declined a Recent Rental Property Investment

by Sasha

As my partner and I are active landlords and property investors, it’s no surprise that people approach us with real estate offers. Sometimes they’re great deals, too – people occasionally inherit properties they want to get rid of quickly and therefore cheaply, or learn of a house at a great price that just isn’t selling. ... Continue reading this article…

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My Favorite Source for Movies? The Library

by Sasha

I’ve never been a big movie buyer, and I own a whopping three DVDs. If I can’t guarantee I’m going to watch it at least five times, I don’t want it cluttering my abode. But I do like movies, and so I opt for rentals. And there are more rental options out there now than ... Continue reading this article…

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Searching for a CD as the Rates Plummet

by Sasha

Ah, hindsight. Although I’m glad I got a 5.65 percent CD when I did, of course I wish I’d invested more and for a longer term than 6 months. But it’s not too late to still lock in a CD at an okay rate. Or so I’d hoped. Recently, it seems the pickings are slim. Emigrant ... Continue reading this article…

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