I don’t do math. And by that, I mean I avoid it at all costs.
I can trace my aversion back to elementary school when I had a particularly crotchety math teacher whose trademark was rolling his eyes whenever I asked a question. So eventually, I quit asking questions and succumbed to a lifelong distaste for numbers.
As a result, any form of household accounting ranks among my least favorite things to do. And tax season? Sheer panic. Every April, I am convinced if I make one simple mistake, I’m going to IRS jail. My stress level goes through the roof and I’m inundated with flashbacks to my grumpy, impatient math teacher.
I know, I know... we all stress during tax season.
The difference is, I also live with multiple sclerosis (MS) — and that throws the whole equation off.
For starters, stress is a major trigger for me. I have a disease that makes it hard to think, especially when I’m stressed out — and I’m far from alone. About 117 million U.S. adults live with a chronic illness or disability.
For those with MS, “cog fog” (aka brain fog) is a common side effect which can make balancing a bank statement, prepping taxes, or planning for my financial future challenging, at best.
Still, finances are a necessary part of life. So while I dislike the process, I know I have to move beyond my aversion and get down to business. My old math teacher would be proud.
Here’s how I get the job done…
1. Tackle taxes now
Years ago, I decided to use a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) at tax time. My husband and I track our information throughout the year, input it into spreadsheets for personal and business taxes, then deliver everything to the accountant. She transfers it to the tax forms, works her magic, and sends it off to the IRS.
She’s my safety net. She checks through everything, asks a few questions, and sends me a nice, neat booklet of our documents. I sign and done. If the IRS should have any questions — which they did last year — she’s just a few keystrokes away to answer them.
Naturally, she doesn’t work for free. But for me, the money is well spent. No worries equal no stress — which means no flare-ups. I’d rather pay CPA costs now then pay with my health later.
- Don’t leave your taxes until the last minute.
- If you keep track of documents throughout the year, it will be easier when the time comes to file.
- If it’s too much for you, use tax services or a CPA to help put your mind at ease.
2. Get help from pals and the pros
Meticulous organization and planning is key, but since MS is unpredictable, I assembled a group of people I trust to help keep things on track. I call them my “financial board of advisors,” or FBOA.
For me, this includes an attorney, a financial advisor, and several friends who are very good with money. I got over my discomfort with talking about how much money my husband and I make in order to give my FBOA a clear picture of our situation and gain the best advice from them.
Even if you don’t have a ton of money wizards in your life, gather a group to support you and relieve money stress.
3. Hit “record”
I use Zoom (which is free) to do video conferencing. Any number of people can join a call on your desktop, laptop, or smartphone and — this is the most important part — you can record the conversation.
No matter how copious I’ve been in my note taking, I inevitably miss something. This allows me to go back and revisit our conversation.
4. Know what you have and how to access it
You know what your disease looks like now, but what will it look like in 5 years? Or 10? Understand the possibilities and have a plan, even in a worst-case scenario.
Check with your doctor about resources and state or federal programs you may qualify for. If you’re going to apply for disability, you’ll need your financial house in order as well.
5. The ‘B’ word
Yes, budget. I hate the dose of reality that I know it’s going to bring into my life.
But the funny thing is, it’s the lack of knowledge that’s the most stressful thing about financial housekeeping. It’s intimidating because I feel like I “should” know this stuff — but I don’t. Getting a handle on it will only help ease my concerns, right?
Yes and no. Putting my budget together is painful for so many reasons, not the least of which is that numbers make my head spin — and MS makes my head spin. I have to identify when I’m strongest and most focused and clear, and gear my budgeting for that time.
I feel clearest and strongest in the morning and after dinner. Those are the times I can put on my thinking cap and look at the numbers.
So remember, find the time when you’re healthiest and budget up.
6. Plan for things before you think you need to
A complete financial check-up includes insurance (disability, health, home, and car), estate planning (even if you don’t have an “estate”), HIPPA releases, living wills, advanced directives, trusts, and health proxies. It’s all important and planning for it all is doable.
Remember, planning before you need it is the best gift you can give to yourself and your loved ones. It can be intimidating, but getting a handle on your financial health and well-being is also empowering and can actually reduce stress.
It’s hard to put a price on that.
Kathy Reagan Young is the founder of the off-center, slightly off-color website and podcast at FUMSnow.com. She and her husband, T.J., daughters, Maggie Mae and Reagan, and dogs Snickers and Rascal, live in southern Virginia and all say “FUMS” everyday!