I put things off—sometimes important things—like tax bills.
I think it all boils down to my commitment phobia. And procrastination. Sometimes I let all the little dreadful things (like paying the tax bill, dealing with the creditors, making doctor’s appointments, filling out financial aid forms … sense a trend?) build up and create a stack I can’t tackle.
Life builds up because we let it. I blame it on my established behavior—like an old dog, I have a hard time retraining myself after a lifetime of bad habits. Forgivably it’s difficult to be the teacher and the student at the same time.
A problem solver by nature, it’s surprising even to me that my own problems are last on my to-do list. I will quickly help someone out rather than deal with my own crap. My to-dos come with too much emotional baggage. Each one a promised fight, a challenge, a hurdle on the road to the cross out.
This mountain list becomes seemingly insurmountable.
Logically I tell myself that I can handle a little bit of “the list” each day. Baby steps, but better than shoving the unopened bills in the bookshelf by the door. I’m not awful. I pay my rent, electric, cable, phone … all the basics. It’s just the ones that well—let’s be honest, really could wait—those precious few, those get cast aside.
Money was tight; I was unemployed for six months—I took certain liberties.
Now that I was struggling, couldn’t I get a five-year extension to get me back on my feet? Or perhaps even a “We’ll let this one slide just this once?”
[Insert political economical capitalistic defense comment here. Democracy, government and all that stuff. I get it, I get it—I just don’t always like it.]
So last year I owed New York State a chunk of dough. I cleaned out the savings account and paid them to get it off my back. Or so I thought.
A few months into my unemployment, I get a notice telling me I owe New York State the very amount I thought I paid. Apparently, it got lost in the mail.
[Insert “how did you not notice aforementioned ‘chunk of dough’ still in your checking account?” comment here.]
I was pretty broke at the time and was going unemployment check to check (supporting my six-year-old) at the time and well … I went through the money that never got deducted so fast I didn’t realize the check never cleared.
[Insert “you should be ashamed of yourself … balance your checkbook” comments here.]
Soon the bills started making regular appearances. I greeted them all the same way—by shoving them into the bookshelf by the front door. Where there was one, there were many. Business-size, white envelopes with the now very recognizable IRS logo. This one-way correspondence went many rounds before I took notice.
Then something crazy happened—the IRS sent ME money. How about that? Apparently a screw up on their end from an audit the year before. (Yeah, THAT too.) I’ll never understand why the IRS didn’t just take this newfound credit and apply it to the balance they were demanding from me.
Instead they mailed me a check for almost the same amount I owed. That’s the IRS for you—America’s Accountants.
So I now I had this bonus chunk of dough but I didn’t use it to pay the other tax bill. I thought it was sent to me right when I needed it so that I could live. So that’s what I did.
Another bill. Then a collections statement. One afternoon I signed for the special kind of notice that comes via certified mail.
The last correspondence I received was very threatening. Of course I didn’t realize its gravity until today. Today—when I had my epiphany to start crossing stuff off “the list.”
With a little help.
My sister agreed to help me in my journey towards a massive cross-out mission. Us versus the Mountain List. Over the years I have mastered my ingrained nature of delegating. I handed “the list” over to my sister—along with extensive detailed historical perspectives—via dictation, accurately transcribed onto a laptop. (Delegator and control freak are not mutually exclusive.) From my list to hers. Amen sista—literally!
Incidentally, she’s accustomed to this breed of arrangement. When we were little I used call her up from the basement to the second floor to get me a remote control that was three feet away from me. She’d come running anxious to play with her big sister and I’d use her as an arm extender.
(I reveal this only in hopes of earning her forgiveness in my public and permanent humiliation.)
I did leave myself with a few of the extremely painful to-dos. Front and center—tax bill. Tonight I would finish him. (After all it was time to start this all over again in a few weeks.)
So I sort through the nasty letters. I find a place to pay online (at one of the ugliest, poorly-designed Web sites) and got into the mode; I would do the due. Note that my procrastination cost me an additional $350.
It took me three times to find my assessment id. Then the taxpayer id didn’t match up. Finally a red bold message spit out: five unsuccessful attempts to register—call Monday through Friday 8 a.m.–5 p.m. and talk to someone. Shit, you know I don’t do that!
I wasn’t giving up. When Firefox fails, I go Safari. This time I got it right. It took me three attempts to pick a username and a few more times to pick a password to fit their cryptic formula, but I did it.
I successfully transferred the funds. A few clicks and a sharpie off “the list.”