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 two years into the most momentous event in our lives the world has changed forever … Some of us have PTSD from being locked up at home, some are living like everything’s going to end tomorrow, and the rest of us are merely trying to get by. When the pandemic hit we entered a perpetual state of vulnerability, but now we’re supposed to return to normal and just get on with our lives.
What does that mean? Packed bars, concerts, and grocery shopping without a mask feel totally strange. We got used to having more rules over our everyday life, considering if we really had to go out or keeping Zooming from our living rooms in threadbare pajama bottoms.
The work-from-home culture changed it all. Initially, companies were skeptical about letting employees work remotely, automatically assuming work output would fall and so would the quality. To the contrary, since March of 2020 productivity has risen by 47%, which says it all. Employees can work from home and still deliver results.
There are a number of reasons why everyone loves the work from home culture. We gained hours weekly that were wasted on public transport, people saved a ton of money, and could work from anywhere in the world. Then there were the obvious reasons like wearing sweats or loungewear all week long and having your pets close by. Come on, whose cat hasn’t done a tap dance on your keyboard in the middle of that All Hands Call!
Working from home grants the freedom to decorate your ‘office’ any way you want. But then people needed a change of environment. Companies began requesting their employees' RTO, thus generating the Hybrid Work Model — a blend of in-person and virtual work arrangements. Prior to 2020, about 20% of employees worked from home, but in the midst of the pandemic, it exploded to around 70%.
Although the number of people working from home increased and people enjoyed their flexibility, politicians started calling for a harder RTW policy. President Joe Biden urges us with, “It’s time for Americans to get back to work and fill our great downtowns again.”
While Boris Johnson said, “Mother Nature does not like working from home.'' It wasn’t surprising that politicians wanted people back at their desks due to the financial impact of working from the office. According to a report in the BBC, US workers spent between $2,000 - $5,000 each year on transport to work before the pandemic.
That’s where the problem lies. The majority of us stopped planning for public transport, takeaway coffee, and fresh work-appropriate outfits. We must reconsider these things now, and our wallets are paying
the price. Gas costs are at an all-time high, making public transport increase their fees; food and clothes are all on a steep incline. A simple iced latte from Dunkin’ went from $3.70 to $3.99 (which doesn’t seem like much but 2-3 coffees a day with the extra flavors and shots add up to a lot), while sandwiches soared by 14% and salads by 11%.
This contributes to the pressure employees feel about heading into the office. Remote work may have begun as a safety measure, but it’s now a savings measure for employees around the world.
Bloomberg are offering its US staff a $75 daily commuting stipend that they can spend however they want. And other companies are doing the best they can. This still lends credence to ‘the great resignation.’ Initially starting with the retail, food service, and hospitality sectors which were hard hit during the pandemic, it has since spread to other industries. By September 2021, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 4.4 million resignations.
That’s where the most critical question lies…work from home, work from the office or stick to this new hybrid world culture?
Borris Johnson thinks, “We need to get back into the habit of getting into the office.” Because his experience of working from home “is you spend an awful lot of time making another cup of coffee and then, you know, getting up, walking very slowly to the fridge, hacking off a small piece of cheese, then walking very slowly back to your laptop and then forgetting what it was you’re doing.”
While New York City Mayor Eric Adams says you “can't stay home in your pajamas all day."
In the end, does it really matter where we work if efficiency and productivity are great? We’ve proven that companies can trust us to achieve the same results — or better! — and on time with this hybrid model. Employees can be more flexible, which boosts satisfaction, improves both productivity and retention, and improves diversity in the workplace because corporations can hire through the US and indeed all over the world.
We’ve seen companies make this work in many ways, through virtual lunches, breakout rooms, paint and prosecco parties, and — the most popular — trivia nights.
As much as we strive for normalcy, the last two years cannot simply be erased. So instead of wiping out this era, it's time to embrace the change and find the right world culture for you.
What would get you into the office? Free lunch? A gym membership? Permission to hang out with your dog? Some employers are trying just that.
The rising trend of pet-friendly offices is part of the effort to incentivize employees to come back to work in person. Many companies completely embraced the remote-friendly convenience of WFH. Digital nomad culture emerged and “second cities” arose when people exited New York, San Francisco, and LA, and headed to Denver, Austin, Charlotte, Nashville, and Raleigh.
But now, employees and employers have a choice to make. The question now is: to return or not to return to the office? This is no longer about forcing employees to commute. Post The Great Resignation, employees feel more empowered to leave in-person positions and seek out remote jobs. So if offices want people to return, they’ve got to do a ton to entice their employees.
Some huge companies with giant operating budgets are not worried. With major perks like shiny facilities and full-service food bars, they feel comfortable requiring in-office work days — even if it’s for a hybrid week. But the solution might be simpler: pet-friendly workplaces.
The Allure of Pet-Friendly Offices
According to the Washington Post, pet-friendly workplaces are becoming a common solution to improve employee morale and appease the rising number of pandemic pet owners. “As offices start reopening and thousands of workers are being called back for the first time in two years, some companies are allowing employees to bring their pets. About 23 million American households adopted a pet during the pandemic, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Many workers say they find pet-friendly environments an important perk for their new furry family members. A recent survey conducted by Banfield Pet Hospital, owned by Mars Inc., showed that 57 percent of the 1,500 pet owners polled said they would be happiest returning to a pet-friendly workplace. Half of the 500 top executives surveyed said they are planning to allow pets at the office. Tech companies including Google, Amazon, and Uber plan to continue to allow dogs at their offices, even with their flexible office policies.”
With so many people adopting and fostering since the pandemic, becoming a pet parent is a trend. And to welcome these new additions into people’s lives, it makes sense for some workplaces to welcome them into the office.
After spending unlimited amounts of time at home, many pets grew greatly attached to their “parents” — and pet-parents feel the same about their pets. Rather than keeping them locked in the house while their caretakers head off to work, this is a mutually beneficial solution to the current separation anxiety faced by pets.
Pets have also been shown to boost happiness in pet owners. According to heart.org, “Studies show that dogs reduce stress, anxiety, and depression; ease loneliness; encourage exercise and improve your overall health. For example, people with dogs tend to have lower blood pressure and are less likely to develop heart disease. Just playing with a dog has been shown to raise levels of the feel-good brain chemicals oxytocin and dopamine, creating positive feelings and bonding for both the person and their pet.” Most likely, this might have a similar effect on people who bond with animals at work that don’t even belong to them, lending an overall mood boost to the office.
The controversy behind pet-friendly workplaces
However, not everyone is as enthusiastic about the prospect. Some would rather keep the office separate from their personal lives. Some are allergic to pets. And some people simply don’t like animals.
Offices considering pet-friendly policies are weighing the pros and cons to keep everyone happy. According to the Washington Post, clear guidelines and communication can increase the chances of success.
“Before making the jump, pet experts say that leaders should first understand whether their employees have interest in, or strong feelings against, having a pet-friendly office. Doing an anonymous survey may allow employees to freely share thoughts on the matter.”
Overall, the key to a policy like this is flexibility. “Be ready to adjust: Above all, pet-friendly offices should be ready to listen and adjust their policies as they go. What works for one office may not work for another, but experts say proper planning can lessen much of the burden.”
Ensure your office is actually suited to the pets you want to welcome. “A well-developed pet-friendly office should be both safe and welcoming to pets. That means companies should consider blocking off areas that could be dangerous to pets as well as making sure pets have access to clean water, food, and places to rest.”
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