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You’ve done your taxes and realize you’ll be getting a refund this year. Rather than blow it all in a shopping mall, think about some big-ticket items you need for your home, a savings goal you have or take a look at your retirement accounts. When receiving a big fat check in the mail, it’s easy to get carried away thinking about all of the lavish ways you can spend this money.
Instead of going down a spending rabbit hole, really do some homework and take a look at your finances. A tax refund, after all, isn’t free money. This is money you’ve earned and you’re getting back because you’ve overpaid on your taxes this year. Thinking of it as hard-earned money may make you less likely to spend it frivolously.
Here are a few smart financial ways to spend your tax refund this year.
Save and save some more
Saving money is always a good idea. When you’re expecting a refund, this is the perfect time to beef up your rainy day emergency fund. A good rule of thumb is you should always have at least three months worth of living expenses saved. This means saving three months worth of your housing payment, car payments, bills, and living expenses. It’s even better if you can have six months saved.
Saving this emergency money will help ensure that if you lose your job, you can still keep up with your payments until you find another one. It will also help in times of emergency such as a major unexpected home repair, a car accident or an unforeseen health issue. While we always hope something like this won’t happen, knowing you’re prepared in case it does happen, will help set your mind at ease.
You can also save money for things like a child’s education, retirement or a down payment on a new home or home refinance. The more you have saved for any of these, the better off you’ll be in the long run.
Investing your tax refund is another great way to spend it. If you already have a 401(K) account you can consider adding more to it every month and using your refund money. If you don’t have one through your employer, you can set one up privately using this money as well. Other investment accounts include IRAs, CDs, Money Market Accounts, and the 529 College Savings Plan. While each of these has risks and rewards, when you invest in one of them and leave the money there for a good amount of time, you’re always going to see a good return on your investment over time. Forbes talks about some safe investment choices here for only $1,000.
Other investment ideas include the stock market, a new business venture, or real estate. While your refund isn’t going to be enough to buy an income property, it will be something you can add to your savings every year to work towards a bigger goal. A smaller goal can also be to pay down some of your mortgage debt. Making an extra payment every month or paying an extra lump sum will add to your equity and decrease the amount of interest you’ll pay over time.
Reduce the amount of debt you have
Using your refund to reduce your debt is a healthy financial choice. You’ll want to start by paying off the debt with the highest interest rate. Credit cards, student loans or medical bills can cost you thousands a year in interest. Use all or part of your refund to pay these down and you’ll be saving on interest in the long run. You’ll also see a nice bump in your credit score the more you can pay down.
Put the money into a home project
Your home is one of your biggest assets. If you’ve been saving for a home remodeling project, your tax refund may be just what you need to get you there. Making big or small changes to your home can really increase its value. Making energy efficient improvements will also pay off at tax time next year. These improvements can often be used for credits and deductions.
Improvements like new windows, new HVAC systems or a new roof may not be the most glamorous but they will also save you money on your utility bills. These types of improvements also give you a great return when you go to sell your home.
Smaller improvements such as fresh paint, new hardware, or new flooring, are less expensive ways to add value. Even a small project can be a smart investment.
When you’re already in great financial shape
Let’s say you have a healthy emergency fund, a great retirement plan, investments and little to no debt. First of all, way to go. Second, there are still positive financial ways to use your refund this year. Some other ways to use your refund for good can include self-care, personal fitness, education, travel, and charity.
Because you are already so financially savvy, it would probably bother you to put all of your tax refund check to one of these causes so take half of it and save it or invest it. Take the remaining half and do some good for you or someone else. Use some of the money to take a cooking class or a class that will boost your career skills. You can take a trip you’ve always wanted to or sign up for an exercise class. You can sign up for a race you’ve been wanting to run and do it for a charity. You’ll get in better shape and be able to make a donation to a cause you care about.
If you’ve been trying to have medical treatments done, this is also a great time to do it. Dental work, new glasses or some much-needed physical therapy will do your body good. You won’t have to dip into your savings and you’ll be investing in your personal health which is always a smart choice.