Tax day has come and gone. While you’re waiting for your tax refund (this year’s average individual refund is just under $3,000) it’s time to think about what to do with the cash that Uncle Sam owes you back this year. If you look forward to your tax refund every year, here are some savvy (and fun!) ways to make the best of your windfall.
Invest for the future: Pay yourself first
You can never go wrong by putting your tax refund to work for you. Your windfall can do a lot for you if you use it towards your own financial security. Here’s a quick list of great, money-smart options:
- Pay down your debt—high-interest credit cards, student loans, early payments on a mortgage, car loans, whatever it is, especially if you’re paying interest.
- Open a Roth IRA with your refund and save for retirement.
- Deposit your refund in an interest-bearing savings or checking account, or open a Certificate of Deposit with your bank or credit union.
- Donate it to the charity of your choice.
Set it aside as an emergency fund
An emergency fund may seem like a luxury in the midst of a recession, but if you don’t have one, now’s the time to start it.
How much you should set aside is entirely up to you (most advisers recommend three to six months living expenses), but there’s nothing like a good windfall of cash to help bolster your emergency fund against unexpected bills or problems that may come up. If you don’t have an emergency fund, consider using your tax refund to start one.
Replace a money-sucking appliance
One way to get some bang for your buck with your tax refund is to replace an old clunky fridge, washing machine, water heater, or some other aging, energy-inefficient appliance in your home with a more energy-efficient and money-saving model. Perhaps it’s time to consider replacing a few windows, upgrading your A/C unit, or replacing the insulation in your attic. Often we judge home improvement upgrades in terms of how quickly we’ll get a return on our investment, so there’s no better use for a windfall or cash than on something that will eventually save you money and start paying for itself, even if over the long run.
Stash it away in a new car fund
If you’re not in the market for a new or used car right now, consider stashing your tax refund away as a down payment on a car you want (and can afford over the life of the car), or even as the foundation for a fund you can use to buy your next car all-cash.
Fall in love with healthy food
Maybe it’s time to clean out the pantry and stock up on stuff that’s good for you and your family, or even plant a garden on your windowsill or backyard. A few dollars towards a garden can feed you and your family (and even your friends and neighbors if you have a green thumb) for a long time, and ultimately save you money at the supermarket.
While you’re at it, cooking classes aren’t too expensive, and the right ones will teach you how to cook tasty food and how to do so with an eye towards your health and wellness.
Invest in your well-being
If you’ve been putting off going to the doctor or dentist because you were worried about how much it might cost, now’s the time to make that appointment. Been meaning to get to the gym but didn’t want to buy a membership until you had the money? Grab one now, or head to your local sports equipment store and look at some exercise gear for your home and get in shape.
The same applies to things that have you stressed out. If you’ve been putting off some nagging home repair or car repair, get it out of your mind with your refund money before you spend it on something fun. The benefit of taking care of those stressors will last far longer than the momentary pleasure of a new shiny toy.
Invest in yourself: Learn something new
Maybe you’ve been meaning to take a class, either to train for a new career or just learn a new skill. Check with your local community college, four-year university or online for night classes, day classes, or for selected skill-based classes, like a dance or martial arts, a language class, getting started with electronics, car repair, or something else you’ve always wanted to learn. Most night classes, especially single-topic courses with only a handful of sessions, don’t cost very much at all, and are geared towards working people who want to improve their skills without sacrificing their day jobs. A little cash and an hour or so a few nights a week can go along way toward helping you get the job you want.
Take an “all expenses paid” vacation
Getting your tax refund doesn’t have to be all work and no play. You need time to recharge, relax, and get away from the day-to-day. Consider using your refund as a set budget for a little private getaway. Whether it’s a trip to a place you’ve always wanted to visit, a cruise to a tropical getaway, or just a picnic in the park, if the money is spent on you and your well-being, it’s not misspent. Just make sure to stick to your budget, and pick a destination or event you’ll really love. If planned right, you can walk away with a free vacation without even touching your regular budget.
Whatever you choose to do with your tax refund this year, make sure it’s a smart move for you, and if you do spend it, do something with it that’s memorable. Try to avoid using it to keep an unsustainable lifestyle afloat, or dropping it into something that’ll only create more debt. λ