I discovered, a few years ago, that you don’t have to shell out $75 to use someone’s software to prepare your taxes.

The information is all in the IRS documents. Unlike the simplified TurboTax questions, the specifics for your situation is very clear. It took me several weeks the first year I did it. But each year it takes less and less time. I think it took me less than a week this year.

Here’s how I did it:

Google Sheets Workbook

I use one Sheet per IRS form. I write the line number in column A, copy the description on the form on column B, the amount in column C, and a justification in column D. Writing the justification out makes me thoroughly think through my answer, and it can provide a paper trail if I am audited. Which I have been. While I was using TurboTax. I lost several hundred dollars because I didn’t read the IRS instructions. The answer to my question was in the instructions.

And because I was in correspondence with the IRS, I almost fell for a phishing scam from a foreign country which shall remain nameless. Someone called me and said I owed the IRS money, which I did. I told them I was emailing my husband to call the police to verify that they had officers standing by to arrest me, and they told me to have a good day and hung up.

The real IRS sent me a letter and explained the fee and included information on an appeals process. And had American accents.


I write spreadsheet formulas to do the math for me. And I never type a number in twice; I always use a reference to the first time I typed the number. That way, if I update any quantities, which I did often, the whole spreadsheet will update automatically. This year I took a big step and included IF statements. I felt so awesome.

The Google Sheet workbook starts the previous year, when you choose your PIN to file. Next year, you’ll need to put that PIN in. Mine are already in my next year’s workbook. Which is shared with my husband.

Dropbox Folder

Speaking of shared with my husband, we have free dropbox accounts. This allows us to share access to documents. And preserves a copy in the cloud.

We have a shared folder called Taxes, and in Taxes are one folder per year. We save an electronic copy of the tax return, the W2s, the 1099s, the whatevers.

I clicked on the 2020 folder and dragged it to the sidebar of Finder, so I would have quick access to the documents.

Bookmark folder

I made a bookmark folder holding links to websites like Mint, Vanguard, and Ally. Also the common 1040 forms.

Tax filing party

We set aside an evening or two to actually file. I have my spreadsheet open, and my husband has the Free Fillable Forms website from the IRS up. Which is free, as it says.

It’s an online version of the paper forms which our parents penned and mailed. I have an almost exact copy on my spreadsheet, so I tell him which numbers should go where and why. He catches a few mistakes, which freaks me out.


When the form mentions something like “Amount from form 8889,” you Google “form 8889” and the correct IRS form will be the first hit. The instructions will be the second hit. You should read the instructions. When you read the instructions, you will know if the form applies to you or not. And the next year, you will mostly remember what each form is about. And you will be aware during the year of what tax breaks you could get someday. Like 529 College Savings Accounts or Organ Donation deduction.

So this is an option, if TurboTax wants you to pay a lot of money for their “free” file.