The 5 Stages of Emotions That Occur After Filing Your Taxes

Start to ruminate back on all the mistakes you might have made on your taxes, on all the money you might have left on the table.

Photo credit: Meditations, CC0 Public Domain

Stage 1: Shaky Relief

Breathe out all that avoidant mojo: You’ve filed your tax return! No more putting it off because you were an English major and dealing with numbers makes your face feel tingly, which is very similar to what happens when you eat Brazil nuts. No more putting it off because you have tooonnnsss of time before the deadline. Right now you’d really be better off watching The Man in the High Castle, because, you know, it’s timely but ominous commentary on our current sociopolitical climate, and we should all be paying attention!

Set aside all those flimsy, transparent excuses — you won’t need ’em again until next year! The rest of 2017 spreads out ahead of you like a yellow-brick road of opportunity. But instead of yellow bricks, they’re fat stacks of cash.

Stage 2: Oppressive Anxiety

Start to ruminate back on all the mistakes you might have made on your taxes, on all the money you might have left on the table. When you rest your head on your pillow at night, behind your closed eyelids you see only the TurboTax logo and its cocky, know-it-all check mark. What if the IRS audits you? Begin having stress-laden daydreams of the Grim Reaper knocking on your door. Instead of a scythe, he holds a massive calculator.

Stage 3: Blind Rage

It’s been days since TurboTax teasingly emailed you saying the IRS had accepted your tax return, and your refund still hasn’t hit your checking account. Why must they toy with your emotions — nay, your LIVELIHOOD? Fume for almost an hour before taking it out on the next coworker to stumble into your metaphysical den of fury. (You emailed me NINE SECONDS AGO, Dennis — of COURSE I haven’t read it yet. Go back to the sunless morgue that is the marketing department!)

Stage 4: Pure Elation

You think your heart might rupture from happiness when you see it: the comma in your checking account balance. Never has a dot and a curl placed in the midst of a bunch of stupid numbers looked like such a work of art. (Maybe your refund wasn’t this large — maybe it was a couple hundred, or possibly even less. It’s not the size of the refund that counts — it’s the size of the fight in the refund receiver to stretch that refund to its thinnest and most unrecognizable state of existence.) Shopping fantasies begin swirling in your brain like nebula made out of PCP: new clothes, new shoes, a Vespa, a kayak, stock in Kayak, stock in Google, a beach house in Silicon Valley! Sky’s the limit! … A rocket ship like Elon Musk’s!

Stage 5: A Gentle, Wafting Numbness

You finally know what they meant when they said, “If you love that money, let it go. If it comes back, it’s yours. If it doesn’t, it means you waited too long and the return/exchange period has ended.”

Sadly, the glittering money pool that was your tax refund has officially dried up. Whether you’ve deposited it into a savings account, invested it, spent it on a shiny new gadget, or frittered it away, over the course of many moons, on the endless varieties of delightfully imaginative snacks at Trader Joe’s, one thing is certain — you have no idea when you’ll feel that “free money” excitement again. Pay cycles have come and gone, but it’s not the same. Despite the layers and layers of jadedness, you retain a shred of hope that some day soon, you’ll experience the same buoyancy your tax refund injected into your mood.

Following the completion of stage 5, optional stages include:

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.


K. N. Wilson startles easily and enjoys lactose. She lives in Chicago.

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