Photo via 401kcalculator.org
Ah, April. The month of cherry blossoms, practical jokes and … taxes.
Money continues to rank as the top source of stress for Americans. Nearly 90 percent of us fretted more over money than anything else last year—as well as the six years before that—according to the American Psychological Association’s annual “Stress in America” report.
Whether it’s the complicated filing process for small business owners, the stress over owing money to the government or the sobering experience of having to confront our cash flows, tax season shines a big spotlight on money, ratcheting up the stress right along with it, says Centreville resident W. Douglas Tynan, Ph.D., director of integrated health at the American Psychological Association in Washington, D.C.
Indeed, more than half of U.S. adults—56 percent to be exact—consider tax season to be stressful, while 18 percent consider it “very stressful,” according to a Zogby Interactive Survey.
As the deadline for filing looms, consider what the APA survey has revealed about the relationship between financial/tax stress and our health:
- One in five Americans has either thought about skipping or have skipped a doctor’s appointment because of concerns over the state of their finances, even after the Affordable Care Act took effect.
- Stress about money and finances may help explain why fatal car accidents increase about 6 percent on April 15—the deadline for Americans to file their taxes.
- Consequences of stress also include poor concentration, depression, sleeplessness, relationship problems, migraines, gastrointestinal issues, back pain, even heart attacks.
- The APA survey also found that financial stress causes people to engage in unhealthy coping behaviors like smoking, drinking, overeating and binge TV-watching.
While nothing can make your date with Uncle Sam more pleasurable, there are steps you can take to reduce the stress (and possibly) the health issues it triggers. In fact, experts say tax time provides an excellent opportunity for each of us to get a handle on our finances.
“When you have that W-2 form in front of you, you can calculate how much money you have coming in every month, how much you need for fixed expenses and how much you have for discretionary spending,” says Tynan.
Here are some of his thoughts:
- Know where your money goes. Looking at a few months’ expenses will reveal some surprising sinkholes that can break a budget, like eating out on a regular basis or subscribing to a welter of cable TV channels. “There are cheaper alternatives like packing your lunch, streaming movies over your computer, or renting them from the library,” says Tynan.
- Prioritize expenses. Rank expenses according to importance. Do you really need a new car if your current vehicle is in good running condition? And don’t be enticed by sales, there will be other sales on similar items in the future. Remember: Nothing is a bargain if it breaks your budget. “Big expenditures aren’t that difficult if you plan for them,” says Tynan.
- Develop a spending plan. Once you know where your money goes and you have determined your priorities, you can draw up a realistic spending plan that allows some flexibility with regard to discretionary spending. And remember to cut yourself some slack. Trying to account for every penny—like counting every calorie—can cause you to jettison the plan out of sheer frustration.
- Be open about it. Communication is key when money is shared between partners or within a family, says Tynan. However, 36 percent of Americans say they are not comfortable talking about finances and about two-thirds do not regularly talk about money within their families, according to the APA survey.
- Adopt healthy coping strategies. If you blow off steam by downing a pint of ice cream or picking a fight with your significant other, try an approach that won’t jeopardize your health or relationship. Take a walk; go to the library or visit a museum during free admission times. “There are plenty of things to do in Delaware that are free or don’t cost a lot of money,” says Tynan.