6 Smarter Ways to Spend Your Tax Refund This Year
The tax deadline has now come and gone. (But you knew that, right?) Are you expecting a refund? Big, small, or somewhere in the middle, your refund deserves to be money well spent, because, hey, you earned it from working hard.
If it’s not imperative that you take care of any long-standing bills, add to your IRA account, or chip away at that credit card debt, consider putting it toward your professional growth (instead of spending it all on new shoes or the latest PlayStation system). Now, I know that may sound boring, and that the big blowout dinner with friends far more appealing, but I’m telling you, investing in yourself and your career is actually so much better than any kind of short-term gratification.
Really, no matter if you’re getting back $100 or if you’re looking at return of over a thousand dollars, this is your opportunity to put money into a job-enhancing endeavor. Remember: Career boosts usually lead to higher salaries. And that, my friends, is the best return on an investment you could ask for.
1. If Your Refund Is $50 or Less: Buy a Book
OK, so maybe it’s not as much as you would’ve liked to get back from Uncle Sam, but as someone who has owed money in the past, I can assure you that getting peanuts back is better than writing the IRS a check. And, let’s be real, there’s plenty you can do with 50 bucks when it comes to furthering your career.
Take a break from the TV show you’re binging (don’t worry, it’ll be there when you get back) or the series you’re reading (also not going anywhere) and pick up a career-boosting book for inspiration, motivation, and insight. Caroline Webb’s How to Have a Good Day: Harness the Power of Behavioral Science to Transform Your Working Life is an obvious choice, and I’m partial to Jessica Bacal’s Mistakes I Made at Work: 25 Influential Women Reflect on What They Got Out of Getting it Wrong because it does a great job of showing you how to turn failures into something positive. For increased productivity and to figure out how to eliminate workplace distractions once and for all, you’ve simply got to pick up Cal Newport’s Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. And, honestly, you can’t go wrong with Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. For even more options, check out the six classic career titles successful people read.
2. If Your Refund Is $150 or Less: Learn a Skill
Before you buy those concert tickets or purchase those new headphones you’ve been coveting, consider the many career-enhancing expenditures you could invest in instead! Mediabistro, a website that offers resources for professionals, has a slew of classes that are neither time-intensive nor expensive. Whether you want to (finally) get a grown-up handle on proper grammar and punctuation, learn how to create your brand, figure out a way into the public relations sector, or become a social media marketing whiz, this site has it. Courses are very reasonably priced, and depending on which ones you’re interested in, you may even be able to afford more than one.
If media-related topics aren’t your jam, there are thousands of other options out there for building your skills. For example, you can consider a class on becoming a business foundations specialist via Coursera for just $95 or a photography and 3D animation class through Udemy, both of which will run you under $100. Depending on what you’re interesting in learning or honing, you can bet there’s a website with online class offerings at reasonable price points. The best places to start looking are Coursera, Udemy, and edX. However, if browsing endlessly stresses you out, this is a list of 13 skills-boosting classes we recommend.
3: If Your Refund Is $350 or Less: Hire a Coach
Career coaches offer a variety of services, which makes sense since when it comes to your career, there is no one-size-fits-all. A recent grad requires different strategy than a mid-level associate. And a person changing industries needs different advice that someone figuring out how to negotiate for a raise. Whatever your particular situation, a coaching session—or two—can guide you in taking next steps.
Whether it's your resume that needs work or a desire to form a better job search strategy based on specific needs, The Muse's career experts have got you covered. From sharpening your networking skills to learning how to become a better leader to prepping for an interview—there’s a coach for that.
4. If Your Refund Is $500 or Less: Take a Career-Changing Class
At this rate, you can really give your career a boost. If making a transition has been on your mind, then this extra money will come in handy. Thinking about getting a job in tech, the area in which it seems like every single company is hiring for? Well, look no further than Skillcrush’s “life-changing” digital program. Choose from a bevy of their Career Blueprint courses, each of which is three months long. For a mere $399, you get a “structured online program with classmates, amazing instructors, and expert career coaches.”
Or check out General Assembly’s list of courses. While some of the online courses, including digital marketing and data analysis are $750 and $1250, respectively, the payment plan option means that you can put your refund toward the class and make a plan to maybe cut back temporarily on your social life to fund the rest.
5. If Your Refund is $1250 or Less: Get a Personal Site Built
What about getting a one-page portfolio built out? You can get started for around 1K working with a designer who fits your needs and understands your style. While this one-pager would just be a start, considering the fact that a lot of your peers and colleagues probably don’t have any kind of personal website of which to speak, it’s a darn good start.
As Muse Editor, Erin Greenawald says, "Even if you only had a page’s worth of information, putting it on a website under yourname.com is still worth it just to have some real estate on the web and make it easier for hiring managers to find you, learn about you, and get in touch with you." You probably have more to showcase about yourself and your work than you realize.
6. If Your Refund is $2000 or More: Take Yourself on a Retreat
If you’re looking at a tax refund that exceeds two grand, congratulations. There are plenty of possibilities for spending that extra pocket change that don’t involve splurging on something you don’t need. Instead, take your refund money and plan a reflective trip away that’ll help you recharge and get you ready for an awesome year of productivity. If this sounds like code for a vacation, that’s because it is.
A yoga retreat is a fantastic option if you’re starting to feel burnt out, and there are excursions across the States and in further-flung locales. If that sounds up your alley, Yoga Journal is a resource that can help get you started. Want to improve your writing among other creatives? Here are 25 options to do that. How about coding? (I know, it always comes back to that.) This is a 10-day code school in Bali. Really, there are more and more of these awesome retreats popping up every day, so Google away and see if you can find one that makes sense for you.
After all of this, I will say that giving your career a boost doesn’t have to cost money. There are actually a ton of free classes and programs, and I’m sure you’ve heard of the library, where the freebie options are often perfectly suitable. But, if you’re in a position to invest in your career in any way, it’s likely going to pay off a lot more than those new sunglasses will.
Stacey Gawronski is the Senior Editor/Writer of The Muse. She started writing short stories in the second grade and is immensely grateful to have the opportunity to write and edit professionally. Her work has appeared in YouBeauty, Refinery29, A Practical Wedding, Runner's World online, and The Billfold among other publications. She enjoys running and eating in equal measure and lives with her husband and dog in Brooklyn. All three of them are avid New York Mets fans. Say hello on @stacespeaks.More from this Author