10 Ways to (Responsibly) Blow Your Tax Refund in 2018
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.
It's Southwest Companion Pass Season. Here's Why It's The Best Flight Deal on the Market
There’s all this talk about solo travel. And for good reason — no wasting precious time waiting for others to get their act together, take the plans out of the group chat and actually buy the tickets. Going solo, you can be spontaneous. You can plan your trips according to your precise tastes. You can hop on any flight and fly awayyyyyy.
But what if each time you flew you’d get a free ticket? That’s what you get with the Southwest Companion Pass.
Award status, upgrades, lounge access — there are many perks in the frequent flier game. But one of the coveted holy grails is the Southwest Companion Pass.
What is the Southwest Companion Pass?
The Companion Pass is part of Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program. You get to choose one person to be your “companion,” and they fly with you for free (plus some taxes and fees) on every flight. That’s right. Two for the price of one. That’s half off each ticket if you split it! Whether you’re flying with a partner, family member, friend, or anyone else, they can tag along for free.
And it gets better: once you earn the pass, you can reap the rewards for that full calendar year … AND the next. That’s why people go mad trying to earn a companion pass during the early months of the year. The sooner you qualify, the longer you can use it.
There are also no blackout dates. There are no limits. And if you didn’t purchase the ticket (think: work travel, your companion, or a generous benefactor), there are no restrictions! As long as you’re the one on the plane, your companion can also … be on the plane.
You can also switch out your designated companion 3x a year. So, no need to stay in a relationship simply to get the most out of your companion pass! Ghost and fly away — with a whole new companion!
If this sounds too good to be true — it’s not. But there is one small catch. It’s kinda tough to earn this mega reward.
How to qualify for the Southwest Companion Pass?
You can qualify for the pass in one of two ways:
- Fly 100 qualifying one-way flights
- Earn 135,000 qualifying points in a calendar year.
Clearly, this is no small feat — especially if you’re trying to qualify ASAP.
So how do you actually earn the Southwest Companion Pass?
Don’t worry, there’s a path to earning this amazing reward without climbing on 100 flights or spending an exorbitant amount of money.
Earning 135K reward points may seem completely impossible, but it’s easier than it sounds. Simply sign up for a Southwest Credit Card and turn those spending habits into a rapid rewards account. Through the Rewards Priority Credit Card, earn points when using local transit and commuting, plus score major points and miles whenever you spend.
Stay with me here. This is not some scheme to get you into credit card debt. Many airline cards come with potential savings, giantic rewards, awarding you points, and cashback with every purchase you make that can be redeemed for travel. And often they can come with passive sign-up bonuses. If you spend a specific amount of money within a certain timeframe of opening the card, you can be in for a windfall of points.
Now that’s where the companion pass comes in:
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card
- Southwest Priority Credit Card
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card
- Southwest Performance Business Credit Card
Southwest has three personal cards and a business card. Each of these cards offers rewards between 30K-80K points. In the past, people could open two cards and get a bonus that granted enough points to almost meet the minimum. However, with new restrictions on personal cards, you can only get one bonus every 24 months. Boo!
However, this doesn’t apply to business cards. If you’re eligible, have good credit, and not likely to spiral into insane credit card debt, you can open a business card and a personal card, and accrue 100K+ points. The Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card will get you points after you spend money in no time.
Now to earn the rest of them.
The secret to gaining these credit card points is to plan your card sign-ups around big purchases. Just before a recent move, I opened a card . . . and the rewards came rolling in — a small balm to ease the pain of how exorbitant moving can be.
Put everyday spend — especially big purchases or bulk items — on your Southwest credit card and watch your award points quickly add up. Typically, you earn 1 point per $1 spent on your Southwest card and 2 points per $1 on actual Southwest purchases.
But there are other ways to earn points, including:
- Flying Southwest: Booking travel on Southwest earns more points. The cost of this travel will be worth it with your companion pass
- Shopping from Rapid Rewards Partners: Purchases with Southwest’s “Home & Lifestyle” and “Shop and Dine” Partners also earn Companion Pass qualifying points. While you shouldn’t make gratuitous purchases, browse Southwest’s partners to see if you could earn extra points for items you'd be purchasing anyway. All this, simply from enrolling in their Dining Program and shopping with their partners.
So there you have it! And since it’s almost Spring, get to earning and soon you’ll be flying two for the price of one!
Oh, how far we’ve come!
Women’s History Month is here. What a pertinent reminder of how far women have come in society — but this far is far from far enough. From the pay gap to daily microaggressions, it’s still obvious that women are treated as lesser-than in society. This is especially clear when you look at how few female-founded businesses there are.
According to Rolling Stone, it’s crucial to support female-owned businesses. They report: “While it is true that the different experiences and backgrounds that women and men have undoubtedly affect business approaches, this is actually a good thing. A business with diverse perspectives is an innovative business that can actually push the boundaries of industries.” Like with any other social justice cause, uplifting marginalized folks is good for everyone involved. We all benefit from the increased, diverse worldviews brought about by representation.
The article continues: “Having a gender-diverse business yields better consumer insight, and in turn, a more profitable business. Back in 2015, McKinsey & Company found businesses that were more gender-diverse were likely to outperform approximately 15 percent above the industry median. Years later in 2020, they found that the percentage had increased to 25 percent.”
Therefore, even if we aren’t focused on all the social and political reasons to uplift female entrepreneurs, it’s better for everyone’s bottom line if we do.
Yet, despite this oft-proven reality, archaic stereotypes and oppressive systems stand in the way of progress in every sector. An article in Business News Daily outlines some of the obstacles women face as entrepreneurs. The number one hurdle they face? Social expectations.
The article advises that in order to beat this imposter syndrome, female founders should stick to their guns rather than trying to conform. “Women may feel as though they need to adopt a stereotypically "male" attitude toward business: competitive, aggressive, and sometimes harsh. But successful female CEOs believe that remaining true to yourself and finding your own voice are the keys to rising above preconceived expectations.”
But often, women are told their lack of professional advancement is their fault. You’re too shy. You’re not assertive enough. You need to ask for what you want. Otherwise, how do you expect to get it?
However, despite this refrain, it’s actually not their own fault. This scapegoating convinces ambitious women that if their careers are stifled, it’s their fault. This causes imposter syndrome, lack of representation, and real industry consequences.
According to BND, “Raising capital is even more difficult for women-owned businesses. A 2014 Babson College report found that less than 3% of companies with venture capital funding had female CEOs … venture capitalists tend to invest in startups run by people of their own ‘tribe.’”
Other things that get in the way of women climbing the ladder to success include: struggling to be taken seriously, owning their accomplishments, building a support network, balancing business and family life, and coping with the fear of failure.
These are real, tangible barriers that most female entrepreneurs face. The women who have succeeded should be celebrated — and this month is the perfect one to do so. Luckily for us, we can vote with our dollars, supporting the businesses we love so that there can be more like-minded companies out there in the world.
Here are some of my favorite female-owned brands to shop during Women’s History Month:
Sustainable brands are on the rise and women are leading the charge. Bee’s Wrap is a savvy alternative to disposable food covers like tin foil and cling film. It’s also much cuter and easy to use and reuse over and over again.
Southern Elegance Candle Co - Sweet Tea
A divine self-care day — or rather, night — isn’t complete without candles. This female-owned Southern Elegance Candle Co is backed by Dianne Furstenburg. Their candles blend luxury and comfort with the down-home scent of sweet tea. Their signature scents will fill your home with relaxing aromas that will remind you to stop the insanity and slow down.
The Chai Box - The Ultimate Chai Lover's Gift Set
There’s nothing like curling up at night with a cozy, warm drink. This Chai Set gives you the opportunity to make your chai anyway you like it with the most high-quality spices you can buy.
Bossy Cosmetics Style, Meet Substance Eyeshadow Palette
This brand keeps natural shades of make-up from being boring. Earth tones and metallic shades combine to create a palette that’s bright without being garish. Plus, it's not just woman-owned, it’s Black-owned, and also vegan.
Pura Terra Complexion Clay
Clay masks may be effective at detoxing your pores of excess sebum and clearing pimples. But they can strip your skin of some of the good oils it needs to thrive. This complexion clay is the best of both worlds, making it tough enough to work and gentle enough not to demolish your moisture barrier.
OBIA Naturals Babassu Oil Deep Conditioner
Restore your hair’s natural moisture levels with this rich, nourishing conditioner. It’s enriched with babassu oil, an oft-overlooked oil that pumps your strands full of goodness without leaving a residue. Combined with avocado oil, and pro-Vitamin B5, you’ll have your healthiest hair yet.
The Future of Coffee is Melted
There’s an internet trend that says that everyone has three drinks: one for energy, one for hydration, and one for fun.
Hydration drinks are usually seltzer, a sports drink, or good old-fashioned water. Fun drinks can be anything from boba to kombucha to a refreshing fountain sprite. But the drink you choose for energy says the most about you. Are you a chill tea drinker? An alternative yerba mate devotee? A matcha-obsessed TikTok That Girl wannabe? A chaotic Red Bull chugger? Or are you a lover of the classics, a person after my own heart, who just loves a good cuppa joe?
Coffee can come in many forms. Straight black, concentrated like cold brew for a heartier flavor, or a milky, sugary, frothy treat for a blend of energy and fun.
But the dreaded coffee descriptor: downright bad.
We’ve all been there — free hotel coffee, questionable diner coffee, disappointing overpriced coffee shop coffee. Pour one out for the cups we left unfinished due to sheer revulsion.
In those moments — taking a sip of bitter, bad bean juice and worrying that someone might know if we slyly spit it back into the offending cup — I start to wonder if the “make your coffee at home” brigade is right.
It’s a common point of contention in the personal finance community — but also in the world at large. Is it really such a monumental waste of money to buy coffee instead of making it at home?
If you go by the dollar, of course, it’s cheaper to brew a cup at home. Plus, you’ll always know what you’re getting. It’s not exciting, but it’s not disappointing either. You'll never risk a truly awful cup unless you never learned how to use that French press of yours.
But what about the emotional cost? Especially during the height of the pandemic, going out for a little coffee and a walk was one of the few indulgences we were allowed. Plus, there’s a reason coffee shops are always bustling and busy. They’re a place of communion. Of community. To gather intentionally, to bump into the same 9:47 a.m. crowd every morning on your commute, or to stumble into delight.
And, while the money you save making every single cup of coffee at home could compound into hundreds of dollars over your lifetime…is it worth it?
If your coffee habit is integral to your happiness — for so many of us, it is — don’t give it up. Add it to your budget alongside other delights that align with your values like your Apple Music premium subscription or your travel fund.
Maybe reduce other expenses like that accompanying pastry, disposable cups, or larger sizes over smaller ones. You can also find a middle ground. Save your coffee walks for a special occasion or reduce to a few times a week. A few times a week, why not splurge on an at-home coffee brand you truly adore to make yourself more likely to brew at home. Better yet: one you can take on-the-go. Never stoop to subpar coffee again!
Enter: Cometeer Coffee.
Cometeer is the latest coffee innovation: flash-frozen coffee pods. They developed a proprietary extraction system that optimizes all the variables that lead to spectacular coffee. This is achieved with high-quality coffee beans, flash freeze them, and deliver the pods right to your door. Simply melt and enjoy.
26 grams of coffee go into each capsule, brewed with a process that’s carefully calibrated to extract as much flavor as possible from the beans — which are sourced from an array of the country’s best roasters. As soon as it’s brewed, it’s frozen at a chilly -321 degrees to lock in its flavor. The result? The perfect icy puck of the most complex coffee you’ve ever tasted.
And with a travel set to ramp up, having easy coffee pods on hand will be a game-changer. Everyone’s traveling — but travel better by packing Cometeer pods.
Based on research from the travel guidance firm The Vacationer, more than 42% of Americans are expected to travel this summer than last, while only 12% will travel less. (The 42% is a notable jump from the 25% who said they would travel more in 2021's survey.)
It’s the summer of revenge travel, promising lots of trips … which means endless nights, early mornings, and long airport lines. Get through them with coffee, but don’t settle for less than the best.
Cometeer's hyper-flavorful top-tier beans come from the world’s best roasters, ground and brewed with incredible precision, flash-frozen at peak flavor, and ready to be melted by you.
Making great coffee is hard, but melting great coffee is easy. Peel back the lid and drop it in a mug. Add hot water, enjoy. The end.