Become a Savvy Consumer

What Do I Do With My Refund?

We don't normally like to tell you how to spend your money. Our members tend to be very good at that, often finding creative ways to turn the hours they've spent at the office into new ways to enjoy their lives. More often, we tell you how to not spend your money by letting you know about our fantastic savings options that can produce dividends in varying amounts of time, or we'll often tell you about ways to use your good credit for getting a loan that can make your life better or save you money in the long run.

At tax time, however, we thought we'd take a different direction. If you've got a windfall coming from the IRS and don't want to watch it disappear as you spend an extra $50 or $100 here or there, we've got some plans that can turn your refund into lifelong memories, earn you money in the long run or both, all while spending time doing what you want to do.

We're working with a hypothetical assumption that you have around $1,000 coming, because it can be an awkward amount of money. It's not enough to pay off a big chunk of debt or fund the purchase of a life-changing item like a house or new car, but it's too much to ignore. $1,000 is a lot of money to spend, but not a lot to have.

Tackle one home improvement project

We've all got a list of things we'd like to do around the house. Maybe you'd like a deck for grilling once the winter lets up, or you'd like a more welcoming front entryway to your home, or you'd like to drag the kitchen into the twenty-first century. Talk to your spouse, your kids or whoever might enjoy what you're planning to build. See what they have to say and what their interest levels might be in helping you out. Once you come up with a plan, watch some YouTube videos to make sure it's something you can handle, and then mark your calendar. Set times to work, and make it a family project. By the time you've finished, you'll have improved the value of your home, spent time building something tangible with your family, and you won't have to suffer through a summer without your deck.

If you can't think of a fun project your kids might enjoy, what about building a wood-fired outdoor pizza oven? They're simple enough to assemble, the kids will definitely enjoy it, and most home kitchens are ill-suited to making really good pizza.

Once that project is done, you can always go back for more. If everyone had a great time, take a look at what's next on your list and tackle that. Once your ambition to improve your home outpaces your refund, come see us about a home equity loan or line of credit and we'll help you turn your house into the home of your dreams.

Take a parents' weekend

Getting an evening away from the kids can be difficult, and a weekend might seem impossible, but it doesn't have to be that way. You're holding a refund check from the IRS and it might be enough to ship the kids off to grandma and grandpa's house, or pay for a couple of nights at a hotel in a nearby city. If you haven't tried it yet, AirBNB has made it easier than ever to find a great rate on a place to stay, even at the last minute. Guys: you get bonus points if you take her somewhere for Valentine's Day; dinner and a show might be lame at home, but in another city it can be romantic. When was the last time she got to wear her favorite dress or jewelry?

A parents' weekend is a great way to invest in your future, even if it doesn't seem like it at first. Study after study says that Americans don't vacation as much as the rest of the world, and that those who do tend to be more productive. Watch how much more smoothly everything goes at work when you get back.

If you're looking for an inexpensive getaway, try New Orleans. It's got haunted tours, antiquing and brass bands during the day, while still offering you world-class restaurants (Commander's Palace is a must for upscale restaurants, Mother's Po Boys for downscale, and try the chargrilled oysters at Acme for a taste you can't get at home that is priced right in the middle) and Bourbon Street at night. Mardi Gras is just around the corner, but you can save a bundle by heading down afterward. Maybe while the kids are on spring break?

Encourage a gifted child

Many families find that they'd rather splurge on the kids than on themselves. If that's the case, why not use your tax refund to invest in your child's future? Purchase an instrument, a trainer or a tutor for a child who's shown an interest in a special activity. The college admissions process has gotten incredibly competitive since you went through it, and the leadership and talent demonstrated through extracurriculars could mean the difference between getting into that prestigious East Coast school or having to stay home at football state university. Beyond admissions, talents your child can demonstrate will also help him or her get scholarships, making the investment you put in today a sound one financially, as well as spiritually.

If your child hasn't displayed any gifts or specific interests, this might be a chance to spark something. You could try paying for a school trip, which seems to happen every other month, or even take a family trip to Europe. If you still can't figure out what they'd like, you could always put the money into their college fund. We offer several tax-exempt programs, which would let this year's refund come off of next year's taxes while it earns interest toward their inevitably enormous tuition bill, which many experts think will be around $250,000 by 2030.

Hosting A Super 'Big Game' Party On A Budget

Super Bowl parties are among the most inexpensive to host. Besides the traditional chicken wings, tortilla chips and guacamole, and beer--the most important must-haves are adequate seating and a big-screen TV to watch the game.

So if you're planning to host a Super Bowl party for family and friends, how can you avoid going over your budget? Below are some ideas for throwing an inexpensive event that will still be fun and entertaining.

Keep It Casual

Set expectations with guests that your event will be low key and casual. After all, it's the game (and the commercials) that will be the star of your event. Nearly half of viewers in the NRF survey say that the game itself is the most important part of the day, followed by nearly one-third saying that the most important parts for them are the commercials and hanging out with friends and family.

Stress in your invitation that you're just hosting a casual get-together to watch the game. No fancy invitations are required: a simple email or e-vite with time, place, directions, and other details will do. And make sure you ask guests to RSVP so you'll have an idea of how many people plan on attending. That way you'll know how much food to buy--and won't overspend for guests who won't attending.

Make It a Potluck

People love sharing, and this goes double when it comes to sharing favorite dishes with family and friends. Asking each guest to bring a dish will not only create an interesting array of food and beverage offerings, it will significantly reduce your expenses.

You might say in your invitation that you'll provide one hot main dish (such as chili or soup) and snacks (such as cheese and crackers or raw veggies and dip) so you'll have something to serve in the very unlikely event a majority of your guests show up empty-handed. But in all probability, once you ask guests to bring something, you'll be inundated with food and beverages.

And don't worry about asking people to sign up to bring a specific type of dish (such as a beverage, snack, entree, or dessert). For some mysterious reason, potlucks always seem to turn out. You may be buried under an avalanche of chips, guacamole, salsa, and beer for a while--but that's a good problem to have since you can always eat the leftovers or give leftovers to guests.

If one of your guests has a special recipe (such as spicy chicken wings or a football-shaped cake) that you think could be the star of your party, you might reach out privately and ask them to bring it. Once the teams are decided, you can ask people to use the colors of their favorite team in the food they bring (or their serving dishes) to up the fun factor.

In light of people's food preferences (vegetarian, vegan, low-carb, low-fat) and food allergies (gluten, lactose, nuts), it's also a good idea to ask guests to label the dishes they bring accordingly. A small card indicating the dish is vegan, vegetarian, or gluten-free, or containing nuts can go a long way to making sure your guests enjoy themselves and don't ingest anything that won't agree with them.

Buy in Bulk

Whatever food and beverage items you plan to supply for the party, watch for sales and try to buy in bulk. Your local retailers are gearing up for the Super Bowl and will have an abundant supply (and probable sales) on Super Bowl staples such as avocadoes, tomatoes, salsa, chips, carrots, celery, chicken, and beer.

Watch for the circulars that show up in your mailbox, and take a trip to the local supermarket to see what they have on sale. Now might be a good time to visit a big-box outlet such as Costco and take advantage of savings by buying in bulk. You can always use the party leftovers to feed your family in weeks to come.

Seating Options

You'll want to make sure you have adequate seating for guests, but you don't need to go overboard and rent chairs. Clear extra pillows and cushions that might reduce the seating capacity of your TV-adjacent sofa and chairs, and place them on the floor to create comfortable nearby viewing areas.

If your seating options are skimpy, don't worry. Many people like to stand up to watch the game, freeing themselves for circulating or enthusiastic cheering when their team scores. And if you must bring in extra seating, ask a friend or family member if they can bring over a few folding chairs.

Decorations

It fun to spruce up your home with banners, balloons in team colors, or football-shaped trinkets. Definitely feel free to unleash your inner decorator for your Game Day bash. But your friends are really there for the game, and in all likelihood, they won't remember your decor. It will be the fun they had, the nail-biting moments of the game, the moments of triumph and defeat as they watch their favorite team struggle for dominance. And thankfully, moments like that cost nothing.

If you must decorate, dig out decorations you have on hand or visit the dollar-store so you won't break your budget. And is with everything, less is more. A strategically placed banner or a few balloons will go a long way to add a spirit of festivity to your gathering.

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