It can be very tempting, even for a cheap-skate savings freak like me, to blow that massive tax refund or economic stimulus rebate on stupid crap. Sadly, that’s just what millions of Americans are doing this time of year when those big checks come rolling in from the IRS.
But for those of you out who aren’t content with merely saving that four-figure tax refund for the future, there are several less idiotic ways you can spend that money and derive both an immediate satisfaction payoff and long-term benefits. Here’s a look at some of those ways, starting with the most least stupidest.
- Save it anyway, dingus. Okay, I’ll make a deal with you. Even though this is supposed to be a list of smart ways to spend tax refunds, I’m still gonna top the list with saving it. But on the flip side, everything else on the list will be pure spending. So this item includes every possible way to save your money including long-term savings, retirement savings, emergency savings, investing, paying down debt, and sticking it under your mattress.
- Start a home-based business. If you’ve been itching to start a part-time business in that empty room upstairs but the only thing keeping you from doing it is the startup cost, devoting some of your tax return to getting it going can pay off big down the road.
- Make money-saving home improvements. Switching to new, energy-efficient windows is a smart home improvement that can pay for itself over time. Having your toilet bronzed—not so smart.
- Fix your car. Bad idea: using your tax refund to buy a new car you can’t afford. Good idea: using your tax refund to fix your existing car so you don’t have to buy a new one for a while.
- Get cultured. Grab yourself some tickets to a Broadway show, a symphony, or something else entertaining and sophisticated. Or make the trek to Burning Man. Totally your call.
- Invest in your health. There are a variety of small purchases you can make that won’t necessarily exhaust your whole refund but will help your body and mind in the long run. For example, if you sleep on a bed of straw, upgrade to a decent mattress. Or if your jagged teeth are digging into your brain, go to the dentist. Or if your last vacation was that weekend you spent in jail in Vegas, go on a mini-getaway to a nearby destination to recharge your internal batteries.
- After much consideration, purchase entertainment equipment with long-lasting appeal. This does not necessarily mean to rush out the door and buy the first giant TV you see. Nor does it mean to buy a 12-speaker, surround-sound, sub-woofing, flux-capacitator sound system. It does, however, mean to buy a Nintendo Wii because it is awesome and everyone should have one, even homeless people. Which leads me to the next item…
- Give it away. Handing a chunk of your refund or rebate to a worthy charity will not only help someone who might not be getting a refund this year, but it’ll also make you feel really good. And don’t forget to take the tax deduction on next year’s return.
- Stock the cupboards. Over the course of a few weeks, keep an eye out for incredible bargains at your local supermarket—sales that are designed to draw you into the store to get you to buy other stuff. Then go buy only those bargains… in enormous quantities. Cereal 10 for $10? Buy 100 boxes! Steak for $2 a pound? Buy the cow! You’ll save money as well as time you won’t have to spend looking for deals on those items for a while. Just make sure your family can consume what you buy before it goes bad.
- And for the eternally single folks out there who, through no fault of their own (*cough*incredible-unattractiveness*cough*), have not found the right person for them, I have just two words: Russian brides. This works for the ladies too; simply request one of the “strong, big-boned” types.