• Susan Fletcher, Ph.D.

Stress and Taxes: How to Make April 15th Less Stressful

I recently finished my 2009 taxes and celebrated with friends by going to the Taylor Swift concert in Dallas. I know I'm not the typical demographic she appeals to - believe me, there were plenty of screaming teens there to remind me. But it was fun to blow off some steam and laugh with friends after finishing my taxes. Whew!

The American Psychological Association reports that 75% of Americans cite money as a significant point of stress. Tax time increases our focus on money and consequently, increases our stress. If your family has experienced unemployment recently then you are experiencing even more stress. Click here to read what I have to say about your spouse losing a job in eFinancialCareers.

To stay in the Smart Zone this tax season use these 9 Smart Moves to avoid stress and sustain your sanity during tax time.

  1. Don't avoid it. Paying your taxes isn't something most people enjoy - but let's face it - it's unavoidable. Avoiding it and procrastinating will only magnify your stress and cost you more in the long run with penalties.

  2. Avoid the "money fight" with your spouse. In many relationships there is a "saver" and a "spender." For couples who fight over money tax time raises the importance of money and fights can escalate. Money fights may really be rooted in the fight for power. In the long term, it's important to determine the true source of your money fights - you may need the help of a financial counselor or therapist. A job loss can make things worse (click here to watch my TV appearance on FOX where I discuss this).

  3. Don't take it out on your accountant or the UPS guy. Have you ever seen someone losing it because the UPS guy didn't bring what they were expecting? Your body doesn't know the difference between work stress, home stress and personal stress. When we have too much stress our hormones kick in causing a small hassle to suddenly become huge - and we have an "exaggerated response" (which some call "freaking out, going ballistic, losing it"). Your tax responsibility is not your accountant's fault - he/she is only the messenger. Learn to recognize when your stress level is getting high and eliminate it by reading a book, exercising, surfing the internet, getting organized or eating lunch with a friend.

  4. Use this time to commit to keeping better financial records. I tell people that the way we think affects the way we act affects the way we feel. You can think yourself into feeling defeated. So choose instead to think yourself into moving forward, managing your money and keeping good records in the future. Don't wait until you feel a certain way to act a certain way. Make it happen now.

  5. Keep it simple. Take baby steps. If your tax situation is complicated break it down into small steps and do a little each night or over a few weeks. Don't cram it all into 2 days.

  6. Have some fun. Put on some relaxing music, sit outside or light some candles. You don't have to be holed up in a dungeon with a scowl on your face to do your taxes. However, I would recommend waiting on a glass of wine until after you've finished.

  7. Expect things to work out well. Did you know that worrying about failing increases the likelihood of failure? Worrying about making a mistake or not doing your taxes correctly will only make things worse.

  8. Reward yourself when the taxes are complete. Go out to eat, see a funny movie, get ice cream or take a long walk with the dog. Take a break from email, news coverage and gossip to put yourself in a positive mood and to feel like you are moving forward with an optimistic attitude.

  9. Hire a pro. If your tax situation is complicated by all means hire someone to help you. This will cost you less in the long run and minimize your stress.