Boxes

It's Tax Day! Here's a story about what I kept, and what somebody more famous kept, and why it matters. Also... 7 other things worth your time.

When I graduated from college long ago, we had only a few hours to move out of campus housing.

I packed quickly and haphazardly. This included reams and reams of paper, stuffed into boxes: class assignments, job applications, random half-finished creative projects, all kinds of stuff.

Someday, I presumed, as I grew older, life would become less hectic.

I imagined a leisurely weekend would one day come along, when I’d pick up one of those half-finished, (literally) sophomoric creative writing exercises, tweak it a bit, and wind up with a million-dollar book deal or an Oscar-winning screenplay.

In reality, I moved back home with my parents for a while, worked at my old lifeguarding gig, and applied to newspapers all over the country.

Before long, I landed a comically low-paying job that nevertheless seemed like it would be fun, as a bottom-rung reporter at the New Haven Register newspaper.

Off I went!

First to the paper, then when I got sick of being comically underpaid, to law school.

Then, a whole bunch of other adventures, good, bad, and ugly, that truly covered decades, and led me down the winding path to where I am right now: Sitting happily at the dining room table on a Sunday afternoon, while my wife and daughter are out for a walk, writing the first draft of this newsletter to you—hustling to get as much of it done as I can before we have dinner together.

Nearly all that time, those reams of college papers stayed stowed away. First, they remained in my parents’ basement; then over the years, my dad would hand them to me, one box at a time, when I came to visit.

Leisurely weekends were in shorter supply in the 21st century than I might have imagined at age 21, so the papers remained untouched for long stretches. But then, occasionally, I’d open some of them.

  • Low point: I found a letter addressed to a college friend, dated a few weeks before graduation, congratulating him and inviting him to set up a job interview. (Sorry, Matt. Glad it all worked out for you, anyway.)

  • High point: I found an old assignment from my very first, English 101 class at Fairfield University — a class that stands out now, because it’s where my wife and I first met.

I share this story of the things I carried all these years, because it’s Tax Day in the United States, and I’ve been holding onto a tax-related story about Warren Buffett that illustrates a key difference between Buffett and me.

There are many other differences, of course — nearly half a century in age, approximately $109.9 billion in net worth — but this is the big one from which all others derive.

You see, the IRS advises holding onto your tax records for three years in most cases (longer explanation here; you didn’t come to this newsletter for tax advice). But, Buffett has done something different.

"You may think this odd,” he wrote in his 1995 Berkshire Hathaway letter to shareholders, “but I have kept copies of every tax return I filed, starting with the return for 1944.”

This means he's held onto these returns—boxes and boxes, and reams and reams, I’m sure—for more than 75 years. It dates back to when he was just 13 years old and his income came from delivering newspapers.

(On that first return, he explained, he took a $35 deduction for the cost of his bicycle. His total tax due was $7.)

It also means Buffett almost certainly holds the record for the most tax returns retained, given that 1944 was actually the first year that most Americans had to file returns (due to the extra need for government revenue during World War II).

So, Buffett can gleefully tell you exactly how much he’s spent and made buying GEICO over the years, and I can tell you that I got an “A” on a paper that I wrote about Beowulf a long time ago ago. (It’s a pretty darn tedious read now, I must admit.)

Regardless, we’re both rich; maybe in different ways. I hope he had half as good a Sunday as I did.

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7 other things worth your time

  • About 17 percent of recent (2021) college graduates say they expect to earn at least $85,000 a year in their first post-graduate jobs, thus skipping right past the character-building, comically low-paying stage described above. Reasonable? I have no idea. “Prior to the pandemic, the average starting salary was $53,889 for those in the Class of 2019 earning a bachelor’s degree.”

  • U.S. forces have left Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan, a base that was once one of the largest NATO installations in the country. “They left in the night” and there are no more U.S. forces in Kandahar, “not at this moment,” said Gen. Faqir Qowahi, commander of the military side of the Kandahar Airport. There are roughly 3,000 remaining U.S. troops in Afghanistan. (Stars & Stripes)

  • An air force officer who managed to land her A-10C attack aircraft without landing gear and after its canopy blew off is the first woman pilot to be awarded a series of military decorations and trophies for airmanship. (Yahoo News)

  • The stories are coming out one after the next about Bill Gates. The NYT says he had “developed a reputation for questionable conduct in work-related settings,” and the WSJ reports: “Microsoft Corp. board members decided that Bill Gates needed to step down from its board in 2020 as they pursued an investigation into the billionaire’s prior romantic relationship with a female Microsoft employee that was deemed inappropriate.” Overnight, Gates admitted at least one affair. (NYT, WSJ, WashPost)

  • “Israel and Gaza's ruling Hamas militant group faced mounting international calls for a ceasefire in hostilities that entered their second week on Monday with no end in sight.” (Reuters)

  • Pre-post-pandemic, hugs are coming back. But people who never liked them to begin with aren’t exactly thrilled. (Washington Post)

  • Today in Make Me Feel Old: Top Gun opened in theaters 35 years ago yesterday. By now, Maverick would have retired from the Navy, done an additional 20 years with a defense contractor, and become a motivational speaker. (Twitter)

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Thanks for reading. Photo credit: Wikimedia. I’ve mentioned Buffett’s tax return collection at Inc.com. Want to see all my mistakes? Click here

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