It's April, and you know what that means: dedicating an entire weekend to scrambling through your desk drawer for tax paperwork and wishing your life had some semblance of organization. Unless, of course, you're the kind of person who did their taxes weeks ago, and now you're idly wondering how to spend your tax refund productively. If you're that put together, know that I congratulate and envy you in equal measure.
Procrastinating on taxes is practically an American tradition; in 2003, the IRS announced that 20 percent of Americans — in other words, one in five people — waited until the last minute to file. If you're a member of the 80 percent who get their taxes done on time, however, you may already have your refund burning a hole in your wallet — and it might be a pretty big hole. According to Bloomberg, the average refund processed between January and March of last year was nearly $3,000. (Refunds processed in April were about 20 percent lower. Womp, womp.) That's a hefty chunk of change, and you might not know what to do with all that money sitting in your bank account.
Sure, it's tempting to blow it all on a new entertainment system or a lifetime supply of coffee, but there are more productive ways of spending your tax return. Here are nine ideas.
1. Pay Off Credit Card Debt
Not all debt is created equal. Interest can make a huge difference in how much time and money is spent paying off a loan, and credit card debt tends to have some of the highest rates. Use some (or all) of your tax refund to pay off outstanding credit card debt this year. If you have some money left over afterward, put it in savings or toward student loans.
2. Donate To Planned Parenthood
At this point, you already know that the GOP doesn't get along with Planned Parenthood. Vice President Mike Pence made defunding the health care organization his personal mission years ago, and in late March, the Republican-controlled Senate voted to overturn Obama-era regulations on government funding for abortion providers. The public collapse of the conservative health care bill doesn't mean Planned Parenthood is out of the woods yet — far from it. To give back to the 100-year-old health care organization, use some of your refund to donate to Planned Parenthood.
3. Put It In An Emergency Fund
As much as we may like to think disasters happen to other people, you can't count on everything going perfectly your entire life. Put some of your refund in your emergency fund for unexpected expenses or life events —you never know when your car will give up the ghost or if you'll keep your job forever. If you don't have an emergency fund yet, now is the time to start one; most advice suggests having between three and six months of living expenses put aside just in case.
4. Go On A Trip
Research has shown that spending money on life experiences, rather than things like designer clothes or an expensive computer, actually makes people happier in the long run. Eventually, material objects become part of normal life, but you'll never forget the excitement of zip-lining through the rain forest or drinking espresso outside the Eiffel Tower. If you're in need of a mood boost, put your tax refund toward a trip you wouldn't otherwise be able to take.
5. Learn Something New
If you travel enough on your own, use your refund to try out something you've always wanted to learn. Sign up for music or dance lessons, or gather up your friends and head to an art class at your community center. Creative pursuits are so consider it an investment in your mental health.
6. Donate To The ACLU
Remember the furor that erupted in response to Trump's first travel ban following his inauguration, and again after he signed a revised version? The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was instrumental in speaking out against these bans. In February, the organization sent clients affected by the travel ban to watch Trump's first joint address to Congress. Not long afterward, the ACLU announced it intended to sue over the most recent travel ban on the basis of religious discrimination. To support the ACLU's action against discrimination, you can head over to its website and donate some of your tax refund.
8. Make Repairs
If you're getting tax refunds, you're officially an adult, and being an adult means you've acquired stuff. Unfortunately, stuff always breaks eventually, so you probably have a major repair or two hanging over your head. As tempting as it is to use your tax refund to splurge on new things, you might want to use at least part of it to fix up your house or car. Unless you want your air conditioner to stop working in July or your car to break down in the middle of rush hour on the highway, I guess.
8. Start An Activism Fund
Protests tend to happen in big cities — the hub for the Women's March was in Washington, D.C., the Day Without a Woman strike outside the Trump Hotel in New York City, and so on. It's totally understandable to pass on attending protests for financial reasons; not only do they require time off from work, but travel expenses add up fast.
But if you're still wishing you hadn't missed past protests, consider starting an activism fund for yourself. Set aside part of your tax refund so money won't get in the way of political participation next time.
9. Buy A Lottery Ticket
Fine, maybe it's not the most productive way to spend your money, but who wants to be that responsible? Maybe it's your lucky day.