Stressed at Tax Time? Check Your Relationship with Money

Tax time can be one of the most stress-inducing times of the year, but it doesn't have to be that way. "I probably cried at my accountant's office every year," says Eryka Peskin, an upstate New York-based life coach who deals with money matters. "I felt like an idiot," she adds. And that's not all: "I had a lot of anger and resentment toward myself and toward the world for not teaching me how to do it."

It's true - nobody learns to file a 1040 form in high school. And just because you graduate from college doesn't mean you know how to calculate the AMT or can tell the difference between a tax deduction and a tax credit. Still, as complicated as the U.S. tax code may be, ignorance is not a valid excuse in the eyes of Uncle Sam, which is why tax season causes anxiety and frustration for so many.

A day of reckoning.
If you are like most taxpayers, then your stress level creeps higher as tax day approaches. The biggest reason for the stress is that many adults are clueless about where they stand financially. Tax time forces you to look at just how much money you've earned, how much you owe to Uncle Sam, and to discover whether or not you have the cash to pay the bill.

In the money world, it's about as close as you can come to judgment day. "People come in and sit down and it's a confession," says Valerie Adelman, a certified financial planner in New York. [] "They say, 'I was afraid to come here because now I have to talk to you.'"

The vocabulary of money.
Money talk makes everyone nervous. Just how nervous Adelman found out when she asked the women on Connect: Professional Women's Network, Citi's LinkedIn group: "If you had to define your relationship with money in one word, what would it be?"

"The words were very charged," Adelman says, ticking them off: "Scary. Reciprocal. Creative. Grateful. Powerful. Contentious. Abusive. Awesome. Terrifying. Problematic. Battleground. Complicated." Nearly 300 women responded. "The word dysfunctional came up quite a bit," Adelman adds.

It's no surprise that people who are in a dysfunctional relationship with their money try not to think about it. Denial and avoidance might work well for 11 months of the year, but April forces a confrontation and triggers a lot of pent-up stress. One way to calm that stress is to change the conversation between you and your money.

Rewrite the script.
Everyone has "money scripts," says Joseph Goetz, associate professor of financial planning at the University of Georgia in Atlanta, and president of the Financial Therapy Association. Goetz says he engages in "money re-socialization - redefining those money scripts." Goetz practices what he preaches: "My money script was that money is negative. And I didn't like money. Then I was able to change my money script to see money as a tool. I can now keep track of my money and I like my money."

Eryka Peskin urges her clients "to deal with money in a loving, yet concrete way. There's the emotional side and the actual doing it." You need both. To start changing your ways, Peskin says begin with a big heap of compassion for yourself and your feelings of inadequacy. "You are absolutely not the only person in the United States feeling this."

Once you've changed your money script, read Take the Stress Out of Tax Time for some practical tips on how to approach your return in a calm and cool fashion.

Make stress an asset.
Stress that makes you anxious and suppresses your immune system is counterproductive. Tap into what psychologists call "eustress," or good stress, says Goetz. It's that sensation that kick-starts you on a program to improve your relationship with money (and to make sure you get your return postmarked on time).

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