04/13/2011 06:18 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Dreaded Tax Time

Are you ready? Have you gathered your documents and are you prepared to file your tax return? If you are one of those adrenaline junkies who likes to wait until the last possible minute to get your tax return stamped at the post office, you better know that the due date for 2010 individual federal income tax returns is Monday, April 18, 2011. What? Why?

Traditionally, Tax Day falls on April 15 unless that day happens to be on a Saturday, Sunday or federal holiday. In 2011, April 15 meets none of those criteria -- it falls on a Friday, and there's no federal holiday that day. You have Abraham Lincoln to thank for your extra couple of days. You see, in 2011, Washington, D.C., will celebrate Emancipation Day on April 15, a day earlier than normal, since April 16 falls on a Saturday. Emancipation Day marks the anniversary of the day that President Lincoln signed the Compensated Emancipation Act which freed 3,100 slaves in the District of Columbia. In observance of the DC holiday, Tax Day will be moved forward one business day, this year landing it on Monday, April 18. OK - enough of the history lesson!

What if you have been working towards that April 15 deadline and now find yourself with 3 extra days? What do you do with the extra time? Here's an idea: invest that time to better understand your total financial portfolio. Really take the time to understand what's coming in each month and what's going out, align your financial goals, understand your financial attitude, get on board with upcoming opportunities to save or invest, and think about any unanticipated spending that may have to occur.

Benjamin Franklin said, "An investment in knowledge pays the best interest." Smart man! I can't emphasize enough the importance of totally understanding your financial picture. Most single adults by default have to 'own' responsibility for their financial practices, but that doesn't mean they each necessarily understand it or take the time to appreciate it. Add the complexities of divorce, and things can get downright dicey. Will I get alimony? When will it end? When will I stop paying it? Child support? Saving for college for my kids? Forget college, can I even make my mortgage! Who gets the life insurance? Is there a value to that pension and those stock options? And the questions -- and stress -- go on and on.

I am not a financial planner or a certified divorce financial analyst, but I am a woman who survived divorce and who learned first-hand about the need to fully understand my financial situation. I never really liked focusing on our financials. Frankly, it stressed me out. But ignorance is not bliss, and you can't turn a blind eye to ultimately being the one who has to be knowledgeable about your finances.

I took an informal poll of several of my friends and acquaintances who are all married. I am making a strong generality here, but most of them admitted to not knowing enough about their total financial picture. Few knew the basics like the amount of their mortgage, let alone the more complex things like where their investments were housed or how much insurance coverage they had. I started to lecture, "Girlfriends, this is fiscally irresponsible," to which I would hear, "Well, my husband handles that stuff, and we're never going to get divorced, so it's fine." You know where I'm going with this, right? I would respond, "Well, life happens. One, I never planned to get divorced either, and two, what if he drops dead of a heart attack tomorrow? You don't want to be grieving, taking care of your kids, and trying to figure out what kind of life insurance he had."

We all know time flies. I've spoken with many women who have become comfortable with their alimony arrangement, and have delayed the inevitable discussion, and needed planning, for the day that alimony ends. Now what? For many, that day came in the midst of a tumbling economy adding salt to an already open wound that hadn't been properly cared for!

Whether single, married or divorced, you have got to understand your financial situation. This doesn't mean you have to be well-versed in all the intricacies of the stock market, but you do have to have a general understanding of what you have coming in each month, what you have going out each month, and what you have planned in the way of financial security.

Bottom line? My advice is to make time for your financial "up-date." Find time on a somewhat regular and scheduled basis to make a date with yourself to ensure you are aware of your financial picture, your investments, your assets and liabilities. This doesn't have to be a cumbersome and dreaded task. Making this a part of your routine helps you to stay on top of things, which leads to less stress in the long run. Heck, open a bottle of wine while you review your numbers, or only review them while dining on your favorite meal. Do something to make it more 'fun' ... just do something! By the way, I am not a financial planner and I don't enjoy (!) crunching numbers. I haven't been endorsed by any financial planners to write this! I'm just a woman who knows from experience that you need to stay on top of your financial picture. You never know when you may need this knowledge, and if/when you do, you need to be on your game!