By now, all my Greek readers, both in Greece and around the world, will know about the economic crisis that has affected the country, and I mean Greece, the very country that "single-handedly managed to de-stabilise the whole European Union" and throw into question the tenacity of such a concept. Most of them will also be familiar with the new austerity measures that the Greek government intends to introduce concerning the collection of receipts from every purchase and transaction that Greek tax payers make, in order to claim the full tax rebate and not be required to pay more tax in penalties, if they cannot prove to the taxman where their annual income has gone. Today, the government announced new belt-tightening measures aimed to stop Greece from bankrupting, while the brussel sprouts approved of the austerity plan, thereby diverting a Euro-disaster.
For the first two months of 2010, our valid tax-deductible receipts (ie electricity, water, landline, mobile phones, basketball lessons are not included) total less than 2,500 euro; this sum doesn't include petrol, newspapers and other purchases we have made at businesses that were not issuing receipts at the time. The amount sounds quite high, until you realise that it counts for two income earners in the house: that's less than 600 euro for each one of us. On top of that, it includes all purchases and bills paid on behalf of our live-in grandmother.
We're not big spenders, George, we're big savers.
Re-reading my past blog posts (even I do that from time to time to remember what I was cooking at this time last year), I notice that I am constantly talking about healthy cost-saving ways to feed one's family with mainly local produce and the odd treat every now and then. But such advice does not seem to fit in with the new measures (which are constantly being revised) announced by the Greek government, aimed at fighting tax evasion, given that my income falls just outside what is considered the low income earners' group, which means that I am obliged to spend more than a 'poor' person. Here exactly lies the problem: I am not a spender. Last week, for example, after doing the week's regular family/food shopping on Wednesday, I did not need to take out my purse or credit card on Thursday, and I would have also spent no money on Friday, if my family wasn't tempted into a 10-euro souvlaki meal as an end-of-week treat.
But from here on, I will be facing many difficulties to sustain my hitherto spartan lifestyle, given what I am expected to do as a bona fide Greek citizen. Like all Greek tax-payers, I will have to make some adjustments in my life to ensure that I do not end up giving most of my income to the government to mis-spend, like it usually does. Here are some things to think about if you want to find ways to spend your money in a tax-deductible manner, and acquire more receipts, so as to claim the full tax rebate when you file your tax return in 2011, and pay no penalty tax:
- Don't grow your own vegetables, buy them (receipts for food items are valid tax-deductible rebates), just like all the MPs in the Greek parliament - none of them has ever claimed to do gardening in their spare time, and they don't seem to feel the need to get back in touch with soil, so why bother yourself? The cost of these lettuces may sound minimal, but we make a meal of such salads and other garden produce on a daily basis - if you add it all up, I probably save about 100 euro a month by growing my own vegetables and relying on farmer relatives and neighbours for eggs and other fresh produce.
- By not growing your own veges, you won't be doing much gardening, therefore, you will be able to keep your clothes clean for longer periods, and will not need to use the washing machine as often as before - this is a good thing because you won't be using so much water or electricity; yep, you guessed it, neither water nor electricity bills are included in the list of valid tax-rebate receipts, so put your money where your mouth is, in other purchases and utilities which ARE valid.
- Don't eat at home; eat out at restaurants instead, as it will cost you more than cooking at home, so your receipts will have larger amounts written on them. In any case, you don't write yourself a receipt for the food you cooked, and as previously stated, electricity bills are not included in tax-deductible receipts. It isn't often that we indulge in souvlaki in my house, even though it is cheap: a takeaway meal for my whole family supplemented by side orders (a salad and and some chips) costs only 10-12 euro; maybe I should be doing this more often instead of cooking Greek staples like fasolada and makaronada - when you add up all the expenses (ingredients, electricity, chef's wages), it costs just as much as a store-bought souvlaki meal.
- By eating out more often, you will eventually have to start throwing out the food you did buy, which could actually be viewed as a sign of modernity, as it's commonly practiced in countries which are associated with progress, like Britain, where people generally throw away a lot of food - instead of setting trends, we could be following them. I shouldn't really complain about the rare and few occasions when I do throw away food: scraps and inedible leftovers, that is, which our dog always gets.
- If you haven't started smoking yet, then do so - the purchase of cigarettes and tobacco is a tax-deductible expense (even though most kiosks which are the main cigarette outlets in Greece don't have a cash register installed in them yet). You may prefer to be saving for that piece of artwork you recently saw, but remember, that's not tax-deductible - it will be considered a luxury, and your right to afford such a luxury will be judged according to your income, whereas everyone has the right to smoke.
- Drink more alcohol and sodas than you usually do - your water bill will be lower, (water bills do not count in your permissible tax-rebate receipts), but you will more quickly tally up the amount required in receipts if you buy bottled/canned/cartoned drinks. I'm still drinking the barrelled home-brew that my late father made a few years before he dies (the latter event being 6 years ago) - does that make me cheap?
- If you used to buy cheap shoes and clothes, now is your chance to buy expensive footwear and clothing, so make sure you don't wait for the sales and buy everything at full price - unlike the purchase of a piece of art (considered a 'luxury item', whether cheap or expensive), or investing in your children's future by sending them to non-publicly funded English lessons at a frontistirio (private language school; again, considered to be a luxury), expensive clothing is a permissible expense; copy the example of the Anna Diamantopoulou*, the Greek Minister of Education, who was recently reported as buying a pair of boots with a 12cm heel for 680 euro: she won't take long to fulfil her spending duties to the state at that rate, will she? Or is it simply a case of the rich being allowed to afford more? Maybe she was just trying to prove that Greeks must learn to live within the pocket range, and not aspire to more than their worth on paper... These boots seem SO cheap in retrospect (20 euro in the sales); the bright side is, I can now justifiably buy a few more pairs of shoes to make my expenses look higher.
- Get your hair done more often - hairdressers' receipts are permissible tax-deductible expenses; now you are fully justified going for weekly sets, monthly dyes and bi-monthly trims: just think how good you will look, and how quickly your receipts will tally up.
- Next time you think about walking or taking the bus to save money, just think how much tax you will save by taking a cab - yes, you heard right: cab fares - unlike transport expenses by bus, plane or train - are permissible tax-deductible expenses. My husband's cab is fully equipped with a receipt printer; you may wish to use his services on your next holiday in Hania.
- Don't wait until a DVD comes out - go and see it the cinema: their receipts are tax-deductible (although cinema cashiers never issue receipts - they issue some kind of official-looking paper which is then torn at the entrance of the theatre to stop you re-using it); it will cost a family of four at least 28 euro (not including pop-corn and drinks). If you do decide to wait until the DVD is released, then buy it from a multi-media store at full price instead of ordering it online at a cheaper price.
- Stop taking holidays overseas - take holidays in Greece only (the receipt from a hotel is valid), and make sure you use ships AND/OR your own car, because tolls and garage station receipts for petrol are permissible tax-deductible receipts (even though most garage stations have not installed cash registers to issue them). More of this to look forward to for my family, I guess.
- If you have been thinking about investing in the property market because money in Greece is starting to appear worthless, don't do this because it property investments will son start to be taxed.
- Likewise, don't save your money in the bank either, because bank accounts will be subject to taxation - maybe it's time to re-consider the space under the mattress.
- Don't even think of taking your money abroad - you will pay a huge price to get it legally back into the country.
The aspiring image of a νεοέλληνα (young Greek): modern, rich, beautiful, fashionable, popular, living in the here-today-gone-tomorrow world, the wholly unsustainable throwaway culture of an elite dream society. The Germans have just told us to start learning to live off less; provocative glamorous images such as the one above (from the newspaper ΘΕΜΑ page 13, 21/2/2010) of a rich couple, apparently head over heels in love with each other (on and off for the last three years) and living the high society Athenian lifestyle, do not make it easy for us to believe this. Click on the image to see the notes.
If you decide that you cannot start smoking, drinking, buying expensive clothing, going out to restaurants, giving up gardening, taking cabs, and keeping your money under a mattress at this stage in your life, then you may consider leaving your job - your taxable income will thereby be lower and you won't have to collect so many receipts to prove your means of living.
So far, no one has mentioned a carbon-footprint exemption being included as a reward for living a 'green lifestyle'; to continue to live frugally within your means, you will probably need to emigrate to another country where the freedom to choose how you spend (and save) your money is not controlled by the state.
Hey, George , if you're reading this, how well do you know your people? Try reading my previous post, and see how the other half live.
*Just for the record, Anna claims that she did not eventually end up buying that pair of boots, but will not own up to what she did in fact buy from that very expensive shoe shop in Athens that she was spotted in (and spied on), suffice it to say that she claimed she found good bargains there during the sales there...
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