The average tax refund last year was around $3,000, according to the IRS. While it's always a safe bet to squirrel this money away for a rainy day, there are other uses for your refund that are not only more fun and personally enriching, but also completely responsible.
Here are our 10 best ideas for how you can use your tax refund in the coming year.
Plan a summer vacation
Summer isn't too far off; begin planning and investing now so you know you'll be able to take the vacation you've been dreaming of. Be strategic: how much money will you need and when? Is your destination do-able, or do you need to think of new options? The earlier you plan, the more effectively you can use your money. For some inspiration, check out the New York Times' list of 52 places to visit in 2018, which includes places you may not have thought of, from Denver on a budget to farm stays in rural Iceland or fine dining in Tasmania.
Replace a faulty appliance and get "smart"
It may seem like a minor issue, but don't underestimate the liberation of no longer seething while cleaning your leaky coffee maker every morning. While you're at it, get a "smart" appliance that will make your life that much easier, like a Behmor coffee maker that brews to your personal specifications ($169.99 on Amazon), an iRobot mop ($169 on Amazon), or go big and get several smart appliances and master them all with Bosch Home Connect, which allows for such pleasures as starting a load of laundry from the comfort of your bed.
Fund a hobby
Filling your free time with fulfilling hobbies is rarely free of cost. Baking, knitting, and even running all require some financial investment. Whether you're looking to fund a hobby you already enjoy or find a new hobby you're curious about, you can use your tax refund to maximize your personal enjoyment outside of work. New York magazine has compiled a comprehensive list of 20 hobbies to enjoy in 2018, from quirky pastimes like floral arranging, to learning how to become a better cook and hosting awesome dinner parties for your friends.
Make an investment in your human capital
Improve your résumé and position at work, or improve your future prospects, by making an investment in your human capital. You can take a class to learn a résumé-boosting skill, book a self-appointed business trip or conference that will help you make important connections, or, use your tax refund to invest in an exciting business idea you'd like to develop down the road.
Invest in your health (and finally meet those New Years' goals) with a diet or fitness reboot. This should be an investment that will encourage you to commit. To become a better eater, why not invest in a meal delivery service like HelloFresh or make homemade juices and smoothies with a Vitamix blender? If you're looking to become more fit, consider joining a gym (this can often be more effective than going to stand-alone classes), or if you want to work on your mental wellbeing, consider going on a wellness retreat with some friends.
Be a philanthropist
If you're feeling generous, there are plenty of worthy causes to contribute to this year, from fighting for safer gun laws, funding aid for Syrian refugees, giving money to a political campaign you believe in, or donating to an organization that's helping to raise awareness about climate change or pay gaps between men and women. Here are some of the top charities for 2018.
Get an electronic upgrade
Use your refund to get a new phone or tablet, and pay it off in full so your monthly phone bill doesn't go up. While it's true that you don't need to upgrade your personal electronics often—definitely not as often as new upgrades come out—if you've been holding on to an iPhone 4, there are many benefits to going bigger. The iPhone x for instance is a huge leap from other editions, offering the ability to take professional-grade photos, a longer battery life (goodbye Mophie cases!), and even a wireless charging feature.
Get a more comfortable pair of shoes
Many of us continue to shuffle to work in blister-inducing heels for no good reason other than we're too lazy to find a comfortable pair of work shoes. Finding comfy shoes that don't look like orthotics takes a bit of research, but your time will absolutely be rewarded, saving you from blisters or even more serious complications like fasciitis or chronic arch pain. Check out our list of 2018's most comfortable, stylish shoes.
Get some new lingerie
Yes, this is a completely worthwhile use of your money! Throw anything out that you'd be embarrassed to show to another human and replace all of it. Don't underestimate how much this will feel like a new beginning. Plus, there are some incredible new bra and undie brands that are worth investing in, as much for style as for comfort, many of which are owned and operated by women. Some favorites include the new underwear line from Everlane, Lively, Bare Necessities, Journelle, and Natori.
Over the past month, both Haiti and Afghanistan have been pummeled by tragic disasters that left devastation in their wake.
In Haiti, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake erupted, leading over to 2,189 deaths and counting. A few hours later, in Afghanistan, Kabul fell to the Taliban just after U.S. troops had pulled out after 20 years of war.
In many ways, these disasters are both chillingly connected to US interference. The United States invaded Haiti in 1915, ostensibly promising to restore order after a presidential assassination but really intending to preserve the route to the Panama Canal and to defend US creditors, among other reasons.
But the US forces soon realized that they were not able to control the country alone, and so formed an army of Haitian enlistees, powered by US air power and intended to quell Haitian insurrection against US controls. Then, in 1934, the US pulled out on its own, disappointed with how slow progress was going. Haiti's institutions were never really able to rebuild themselves, leaving them immensely vulnerable to natural disasters.
Something similar happened in Afghanistan, where the US sent troops and supported an insurgent Afghan army – only to pull out, abandoning the country they left in ruins, with many Afghans supporting the Taliban.
In both cases, defense contractors benefited by far the most from the conflict, making billions in profits while civilians faced fallout and devastation. While the conflicts and circumstances are extremely different and while the US is obviously not solely to blame for either crisis, it's hard not to see the US-based roots of these disasters.
Today, in Haiti and Afghanistan, civilians are facing unimaginable tragedy.
Here are charities offering support in Afghanistan:
1. The International Rescue Committee is looking to raise $10 million to deliver aid directly to Afghanistan
2. CARE is matching donations for an Afghanistan relief fund. They are providing food, shelter, and water to families in need; a donation of $89.50 covers 1 family's emergency needs for a month.
3. Women for Women International is matching donations up to 500,000 for Afghan women, who will be facing unimaginable horrors under Taliban control.
4. AfghanAid offers support for people living in remote regions of Afghanistan.
5. VitalVoices supports female leaders and changemakers and survivors of gender-based violence around the world.
Here are charities offering support in Haiti:
1. Partners in Health has been working with Haiti for a long time, and they work with the Department of Health rather than around them, which is extremely important in a charity.
2. Health Equity International helps run Saint Boniface Hospital, a hospital in Haiti close to the earthquake's epicenter.
3. SOIL is an organization based Haiti, "a local organization with a track record of supporting after natural disasters." They are distributing hygiene kits and provisions on the ground to hospitals and to victims of the earthquake.
4. Hope for Haiti has been working in emergency response in Haiti for three decades, and their team is comprised of people who live and work in Haiti. They focus on supporting children and people in need across Haiti.
When the new Tiffany's campaign was unveiled, reactions were mixed.
Tiffany's, the iconic jewelry brand which does not (despite what some might be misled to believe) in fact serve breakfast, featured Jay Z, Beyoncé, and a rare Basquiat painting in their recent campaign.
The aesthetics were undeniably luxe and historic. The campaign showcased the rarely-seen Basquiat painting Equals Pi (1982), which the brand acquired for the background's proximity to its distinctive Tiffany blue. Also notably historic is that Beyoncé was the first Black woman to wear the 128.54 carat Tiffany Diamond.
Before Beyoncé, the only other stars to wear the yellow diamond were Mary Whitehouse, wife of American diplomat Edwin Sheldon Whitehouse, Hollywood icon Audrey Hepburn, and singer Lady Gaga.
"Beyoncé and Jay-Z are the epitome of the modern love story …. Love is the diamond that the jewelry and art decorate," said the press release accompanying the campaign.
The campaign, titled "About Love," is stunning and has both classic and contemporary references. The image of the couple posing in front of high art recalled the iconic stills from their "APESHIT" music video, for which they famously rented out the Louvre and posed in front of the Mona Lisa.
THE CARTERS - APESHIT (Official Video) www.youtube.com
Their "APESHIT" photo made a giant cultural impact for its juxtaposition of Western beauty and Blackness. Tiffany's campaign seemed to have similar goals — showcasing Beyoncé and Jay Z as the peak of luxury, this time juxtaposing the Basquiat and the Tiffany diamond.
As a Black couple, their appearance in such a luxury campaign was a big move for representation, but in a post 2020 landscape, there was an outcry of criticism.
Despite the aesthetic beauty of the image, the high capitalist undertones didn't sit right with some on the internet — largely younger demographics. Though this campaign was an effort by Tiffany's to appeal to younger audiences and make the brand feel more relevant, Twitter's verdict was clear: a blood diamond wasn't the way to go.
The diamond, which was mined in South Africa in 1877, comes from origins laden in the implications of colonialism. The practice of mining in South Africa at the time was exploitative and destructive, eschewing the livelihoods and safety of African miners and their communities for... what? Money? So Tiffany could try to sell us some dream of affluence using Black celebrities as to "Blackwash" the history behind their treasured piece?
The Washington Post also had some choice words, saying: "Its campaign does not celebrate Black liberation — it elevates a painful symbol of colonialism. It presents an ostentatious display of wealth as a sign of progress in an age when Black Americans possess just 4 percent of the United States's total household wealth. If Black success is defined by being paid to wear White people's large colonial diamonds, then we are truly still in the sunken place."
Alongside the campaign, Tiffany & Co have promised to donate $2 million to HBCUs to fund scholarships and internships. But this measly amount (considering the multi-billion dollar net worth behind LVMH) is not enough to cover up that, despite their performative efforts to promote "diversity," Tiffany's is entrenched in a colonial history that neither beauty nor Beyonce can make us ignore.
While Black representation has been increasing over the past few years, the question of how we are represented is starting to be considered with more nuance. And as we examine the structures of wealth and hierarchical values, many people are starting to ask whether these should be the standards we aspire to anymore.
Jay Z and Beyoncé have come under fire before for their promotion of Black Capitalist values — which the kids don't seem to want. Jay Z especially seems invested in the trappings of traditional (read: white) success and wealth. His cannabis line recently unveiled a campaign based on the work Slim Aarons — which was famously focused on "attractive people doing attractive things in attractive places" — and its unashamed opulence raised some eyebrows.
Images like this aren't as revolutionary as they once might have been since they reinforce the status quo and tell marginalized people to reach for the same luxuries and lifestyles deemed aspirational by the people who have oppressed them.
Anti-capitalist theory has been around as long as capitalism has, but younger generations are more likely to question the status quo — even when it comes packed with Basquiat and Beyoncé.
The conversation about the Tiffany campaign is indicative of how Gen Z thinks differently about money and what it means to them. They are less likely to be seduced by the luster of the aspirational, and more receptive to relatability.
No more does financial literacy seem restricted to the pretentious or the elite — we get it, finance bros; you love capitalism. With Cleo, understanding your money is something that can align users with their values.
And those values don't look like blood diamonds or corporate pandering.
- Sorry, Beyoncé, but Tiffany's blood diamonds aren't a girl's best friend - Washington Post
- The Black-white wealth gap left Black households more vulnerable — Brookings
- The Unashamed Opulence of Jay Z's Luxury Cannabis-Themed Slim Aarons Photoshoot — Popdust
- ATTRACTIVE PEOPLE DOING ATTRACTIVE THINGS IN ATTRACTIVE PLACES WITH SLIM AARONS — Elle Decor
Road trips can be a lot of fun — but they can also drain your wallet quickly if you aren't careful.
From high gas costs and park admission fares to lodging and the price of eating out every night, the expenses can add up quickly. But at the same time, it's very possible to do road trips cheaply and efficiently. Without the headache of worrying about how much money you're leaking, you can enjoy the open road a whole lot more. Here's how to save money on a road trip.
1. Prepare Your Budget, Route, and Packing List in Advance
If you want to save money on a road trip, be sure you're ready to go. Try to count up all your expenses before you hit the road and create a budget. It's also a good idea to plan your route in advance so you don't end up taking unnecessary, gas-guzzling detours. And finally, be sure to pack in advance so you don't find yourself having to buy tons of things you forgot along the way.
2. Book Cheap Accommodations — Or Try Camping
All those motel rooms can add up surprisingly quick, but camping is often cheap or free, and it's a great way to get intimate with the place you're visiting. You can check the Bureau of Land Management's website for free campsites. Freecampsite.com also provides great information on If you don't have a tent or don't want to camp every night, try booking cheap Airbnbs or booking hotels in advance, making sure to compare prices.
camping road tripConde Nast Traveler
If you're planning on sleeping in your car, a few tips: WalMart allows all-night parking, as do many 24-hour gyms. (Buying a membership to Planet Fitness or something like it also gives you a great place to stop, shower, and recharge while on the road).
3. Bring Food From Home
Don't go on a road trip expecting to subsist on fast food alone. You'll wind up feeling like shit, and it'll drain your pocketbook stunningly quickly. Instead, be sure to bring food from home. Consider buying a gas stove and a coffee pot for easy on-the-go meals, and make sure you bring substantial snacks to satiate midday or late night cravings so you can avoid getting those late night Mickey D's expeditions.
Try bringing your own cooler, filling it with easy stuff for breakfast and lunch — some bread and peanut butter and jelly will go a long way. Bring your own utensils, plates, and napkins, and avoid buying bottled water by packing some big water jugs and a reusable water bottle. Alternatively, try staying at hotels or Airbnbs with kitchens so you can cook there.
4. Avoid Tolls
Apps like Google Maps and Waze point out toll locations, so be sure to avoid those to save those pennies. (If it takes you too far off route, you might have to bite the bullet and drive across that expensive bridge).
You can also save on parking fees by using sites like Parkopedia.
Road TripThe Orange Backpack
5. Save on Gas
Gas can get pricy incredibly fast, so be sure that you're stopping at cheap gas stations. Free apps like GasBuddy help you find the most affordable gas prices in the area. Also, try going the speed limit on the highways — anything faster will burn through your tank. Be sure that you don't wait till you arrive at touristy locations or big cities to fill up.
6. Get a National Park Pass
All those parks can get really expensive really fast. If you're planning on visiting three or more parks, it's a great idea to get an America the Beautiful National Parks Pass. For $80 you can get into every National Park for one year.