10 Smart Ways I'm Spending My Tax Refund

For the first time in what seems like ages — at least six years — I don't owe the IRS one red cent on my taxes. In fact, this year the government is going to pay me. I have grand plans for the extra influx of cash, mostly to tie up several financial loose ends. Take a look at this list of where my refund money is going, and make a plan to spend yours just as smartly.

1. Paying Off an Outstanding Medical Bill

Very annoyingly, I received a doctor's bill many weeks ago that was well above what I was expecting. I let it go for a while because I needed to call the doctor's office and cross-reference the fees with my insurance company to make sure everything was legitimate. Unfortunately, the charges were valid (not the outcome I was hoping for), so I have to pay up.

If you have outstanding medical bills, consider using all or part of your refund to tackle this debt. One bonus: Many hospitals and physicians will allow you to create interest-free payment plans to tackle your bills, making it unlikely you'll need to drop your entire tax refund on them.

2. Scheduling a Car Maintenance Appointment

The last time I had my oil changed, the mechanic told me that my car needed an alignment. It wasn't something I was prepared to pay for at the time, but I'll have it done now that I have the extra dough. While I'm there, I'll also have a few other issues taken care of, like a recently burnt-out headlight and the buffing of a dent that someone put in my car in the mall parking lot.

3. Pet Expenses

In the winter, I let my babe's fur grow a bit longer than I normally do throughout the rest of the year — cold weather and all. But spring is just around the corner, so it's time for a trim. And maybe a treat or two.

More importantly: Is your pet overdue for a trip to the vet? Spending some of your tax refund on your furry friend's health might be much appreciated — and save you from bigger vet bills in the long run.

4. Household Maintenance

It's not smart to let household maintenance go, and with your wallet is flush, now's the time to cross those to-dos off your list.

Stocking Up on Household Necessities

I host a lot of guests on a regular basis, so not only am I constantly cleaning the house — causing me to burn through cleaning supplies rather quickly — but I also go through a decent amount of kitchen and bathroom paper products. To cut costs and trips to the store, I buy these items in bulk and store them so I always have them on hand. And since they're not exactly cheap, now is the right time to stock up.

Having the Carpets Professionally Cleaned

I totally dread having to replace my upstairs carpeting (I wish I didn't have it at all!), so I'm keen to keep it in good shape. That means having it professionally cleaned (which isn't as expensive as you might think) to combat the wear-and-tear of constant human and animal traffic.

Hiring a Landscaper to Clean Up the Yard

I love the outdoors, but I hate doing yard work. Thus, a portion of my refund will go to my friendly neighborhood landscaper who will clean up the fall and winter gunk so the my property can shine when the weather gets warm again.

Making Minor Fixes Around the House

We all have those tiny things that we need to fix around the house, but sometimes they're so insignificant that they don't warrant a trip to the store for supplies just for that one little problem. Refund time is a perfect time to make a list of what's dead or not working — like light bulbs, remote batteries, and other easy, inexpensive fixes.

Completing Forgotten or Overlooked Home Projects

I plan to hire a handy person — likely a student looking to make a quick few bucks — from Craigslist to help me finish a few put-to-the-side projects, like fixing a hole in my bathroom wall, hanging shelves, and cleaning up the basement. Much cheaper than hiring a professional company at professional prices.

5. Paying for My Spring/Summer Sports Leagues and Gym in Full

I enjoy staying active physically and socially, so I participate in several leagues, including shuffleboard (don't laugh!), bowling, and trivia. While I have some extra padding in my pockets, I'm paying for all those upcoming fees in full, mostly so I don't have to stop by the ATM several times a week. The same goes for gym or fitness class expenses. Pay for those suckers in full for a year, and save big on membership costs.

6. Buying Gifts for Upcoming Events

Wedding and baby shower season is coming, and if you're not careful, these events can really hit you where it hurts — your wallet! I know I have a few coming up, so I'm buying the gifts in advance. That way I'm not caught off guard in a few months when I've forgotten that I need to buy yet another toaster oven or playpen.

7. Taking Dry Cleaning and Alterations to the Cleaners

All winter long I keep separate clothes hampers in which I put my wool and other dry-clean-only garments along with any items that need alterations or repairs (like missing buttons). Since the cold season is coming to an end, I plan to have it all cleaned/repaired in one fell swoop so I can put everything away in perfect condition so it's ready to go for next year. This prevents me from making unnecessary new clothing purchases by keeping my existing wardrobe in good repair, year after year.

8. Paying Off Upcoming Trip Expenses

I have a spring birthday, and since I'm not a fan of public displays of birthday affection, I try to travel by myself when it rolls around. This year, I'm headed to three previously unvisited Major League Baseball stadiums (my goal is to see a ballgame in all of them by age 40), for which I'll need airfare, lodging, and a rental car. While it's not a super expensive trip, it's not exactly a drop in the bucket either, so my tax refund is a good way to fund this excursion now, so I can relax when it's actually time to depart.

9. Settling Long Overdue Debts

Interestingly, I have a smallish tax bill from 2013 that keeps popping up every now and again, and until recently I didn't know what it was for. I called the IRS and figured it out, so I plan to pay it off with my refund. If you have any bills like this — perhaps a credit card bill — you should think about doing the same. Get it out of the way and off your back. You'll instantly feel better.

10. Putting the Rest in Savings

Whatever remains of my refund will go straight to savings. I've wrapped up a lot of items on my to-do list, so if there's any excess cash, I plan to save it for surprise expenses in the future or to continue building my fund for a future investment. You can never go wrong with putting some money away for a rainy day.

And of course, it goes without saying that if you don't have a rainy day fund, likely the best thing you can do with your refund money is to put most or all of it toward an emergency fund.

Are you receiving a refund this year? How do you plan to spend it smartly? Let me know in the comments below.

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Guest's picture

Who's getting a tax refund? Why let the govt use your money all year long interest free? We use our money all year and pay a little bit instead. It's all about balancing your withholding and saving up for tax time. It's not that difficult!

Guest's picture

Number 9 should be number 1 on the list! The most important thing is to become debt free.

Max Wong's picture

I knew I was officially an adult when I spent my tax refund gleefully buying a vacuum cleaner.