I don't know about you, but I've made several plans for spending my tax rebate. At the top of the list is me sipping a fruity drink on a white-sand beach with a mystery novel in hand, watching the sun set in a cascade of purples and pinks.
But, back to reality. First, I don't need to blow a tax refund on a vacation. Second, and maybe more important, I don't have a tax refund yet, but that's no impediment to a good imagination. I've noticed a few of you visualizing yourself with your novel right next to me.
Before you book reservations, think twice. I won't unpatriotically suggest that you save the money and bolster your emergency fund or improve your retirement prospects. (Ahem.) However, you can do your part for the country and improve your own bottom line at the same time. Consider these ideas for spending that check in a way that saves you money in the future.
Home improvements. If you have a nagging maintenance problem around your house, like an aging furnace or a leaky basement, spend your tax check on household upkeep. It's easy to postpone these expensive issues, but they often cost more when you do. Imagine how much you will pay if your furnace breaks down and a pipe freezes and bursts. Good home maintenance pays you back.
Energy savings. Here's a chance to replace ancient appliances with new, energy-efficient models that can lower your electric, gas, and water bills. An Energy Star clothes washer, for example, could cut $50 from your utility bills and save 7,000 gallons of water in a year. You don't have to seek an exotic brand to find green appliances anymore. Companies like General Electric (NYSE: GE ) are on the green bandwagon, and popular brands like Sears Holdings' (Nasdaq: SHLD ) Kenmore and Whirlpool's (NYSE: WHR ) Maytag all come in high-efficiency models.
It's also an opportunity to make energy-saving home improvements, like replacing your leaky windows and doors. Energy Star can point you to a lot of other good ideas, along with a list of manufacturers that meet their requirements for producing energy-saving products.
Less debt. You could use your rebate to put a dent in your credit card account. If you're a homeowner, you might take advantage of historically low mortgage rates and refinance, using your tax check to offset some of your costs. Delve into the details of how much it might cost you to refinance, and find out whether you could save money.
New wheels. Think two wheels, not four. If you can do errands around town or commute to work by bicycle or scooter, you'll save a lot on gasoline. If you can scoot around enough on a two-wheeled vehicle that your household can jettison one of its cars, you'll save a whole lot more. Cars rank among our most expensive possessions. They cost a lot to buy, maintain, insure, and keep topped up with fuel. Sell one of your family's cars, and you stand to save thousands of dollars in the future.
Financial peace of mind. If only it could be bottled and sold. Since it can't, you'll have to make due with the traditional means of gaining financial peace of mind, which means purchasing adequate insurance and writing a will. No one likes to spend money on these things, so they are often neglected. With a tax rebate in hand, you'll have the spare dollars to start carrying disability insurance or long-term care insurance. You can also hire that fancy-pants lawyer to draft your will. You will save yourself and your heirs from a heap of financial trouble.
Youth. I could get my Personal Finance Writer license revoked for suggesting this, but a gym membership could save your youth and your money. A long-term health problem can take a serious toll on your wallet. Only go this route if you will visit the gym for more than the sauna and the social scene. Otherwise, see the standard advice for saving money by canceling your unused membership.
For more spend-and-save ideas, see how to: