Last-minute tax filers: Listen up

Nancy Marshall-Genzer Apr 2, 2012

Kai Ryssdal: So the good news is that you’ve still got two weeks ’til your taxes are due. The bad news is that you’ve only got two weeks ’til your taxes are due.

However you actually feel about the idea of taxes, fact of the matter is that nobody really likes the tallying up of receipts and filling out of forms. That’s probably why a lot of people distract themselves — create little tax-time rituals — trying to blend a little fun in with their annual date with the Form 1040.

Marketplace’s Nancy Marshall Genzer reports.

Nancy Marshall-Genzer: For most of us, watching the Academy Awards every year entails sitting back and relaxing. We might lift a hand to grab a chip or send a text, but that’s about it. Paula Van Gelder is different. She uses her annual date with Oscar to sort through a mountain of receipts. Among the Oscar glitz and glory, she gets all her tax prep done.

Paula Van Gelder: While they’re coming in and showing their dresses I’m sorting my taxes and then by the time the awards start I’m making some spread sheets from what’s there.

Van Gelder is a freelance writer in Boston. She has to keep track of every expense for her accountant. She throws everything in a big, black-and-white box.

Van Gelder: Let’s see what’s in here. Everything — photocopying, bank statements. Every once in a while, something personal… Oops, there’s a picture of my nephew. That doesn’t belong in there.

On Oscar night, Gelder sits on the floor surrounded by stacks of paper. Drinking a glass of wine as she sorts with one eye on the TV. At the end of the night, she feels like she’s won a little gold statue.

Tom Hanks: And the Oscar goes to…

Van Gelder: Me, because I’ve done this task that everybody avoids.

Van Gelder’s Oscar tax tradition dates back a decade. Although this year she had to forgo it to attend a family funeral. She wound up watching the Oscars with her sister in Arizona, which was odd for her. Her Oscar night tradition is a solitary one. She declines Oscar party invites. And would never dream of having anyone over.

Van Gelder: There’s only so much room on the floor for my piles and, who knows, I might end up with somebody else’s receipt in my taxes!

Splendid IRS isolation doesn’t work for Katherine Sixt. She needs someone to share the pain.

Katherine Sixt: Hey Dad.

Her tax ritual? Calling her dad, Ed Sixt. She’s a cancer cell biologist. But he’s a CPA. She’s got him up on Skype. She’s at her kitchen table in Gaithersburg, Md. Her dad reclines in an easy chair in the Buffalo suburbs. They soon descend into a thicket of tax talk.

Sixt: I was wondering if there was anything with the energy credit this year?

Ed Sixt: Right. You could still get a credit if you have not taken it at all.

Sixt says tax time gives her an excuse to call her dad. They bond over talk of deductions, and changing tax law.

Katherine Sixt: He’ll tell me they changed this and now it’s completely affecting this part of what I’m doing, and I get to check in with him.

Regina Conti teaches psychology at Colgate University. She’s an expert in motivation. She says Katherine Sixt is onto something.

Regina Conti: People can bond around things that are stressful.

And what’s more stressful than doing your taxes? Conti says there are lots of things that can ease our annual April anguish — the Oscars, listening to your favorite songs, taking coffee breaks.

Conti: It gives us a framework for doing something that otherwise would be tedious and boring. That brings some structure to it. That brings some enjoyment to it.

But Conti says watch the wine. As she delicately puts it: you might put yourself in a mental state that’s not… focused.

In Washington, I’m Nancy Marshall-Genzer for Marketplace.

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