Found Money

$7689 in Found Money: April 2015 – February 2017

By on March 6, 2017

When I made the decision to start blogging here at The Family CEO again, I knew that found money would be a big focus. It’s such a little thing to do – capturing any amount of money that isn’t part of your main income stream(s) and giving it a job to do – but it’s done big things for our finances.

Plus, it’s effortless, and even fun.

The last found money update I did here covered a period of time that ended with March, 2015, so I’ll pick up there for this update and tell you what we’ve been able to put away since then, using just this one money strategy.

The total for the 22 months ending with January, 2017 was $7689.89. The job we’ve given our found money right now is beefing up our emergency fund, so that’s where that money went. (Past jobs for found money have included paying off debt, and saving for our kids’ college funds.)

Here’s how the numbers break down:

Rebates, Reimbursements & Refunds

  • $1663 Income tax refund
  • $588 Reimbursements from family for fundraiser tickets
  • $460 Reimbursement from friends for basketball tickets
  • $200 Reimbursement from daughter for iPhone
  • $157  Insurance reimbursement
  • $132.51 Golf tournament reimbursement
  • $80  Reimbursement from family for shrimp dinner tickets
  • $177.67 Property tax refund
  • $49.83 Reimbursement for business expense
  • $44.65 Medical reimbursement

Gifts

  • $250 Anniversary gift checks from parents
  • $500 Birthday gift checks from parents

Cash Back

  • $2579 Cash back from Mr. Rebates
  • $483.13 Costco Membership Rewards

Other

  • $325 Winning from betting on the Kansas City Royals in Vegas (Tom placed the bet in April…the Royals won the World Series in November!)

$7689.79 Total

A word about reimbursements

There are a lot of reimbursements on the list above. Reimbursements are one of the hardest found money sources to describe. One common source is when we front the money for something (tickets and golf tournament entry fees for example) and then are reimbursed for it. Insurance reimbursements of all kinds (medical, auto, home) also seem to be fairly common in our lives.

Many times when we’re reimbursed for something, we’ve already absorbed the original expense and can treat the reimbursement as found money. Sometimes, however, the expense was large enough or came at a time when we needed to put the money back into our checking account to cover the original expense.

When that’s necessary, I don’t sweat it. But if there’s any way we can do without the reimbursement, I put it in our savings account as a found money windfall.

What’s with Mr. Rebates?

I must tell you that I LOVE Mr. Rebates. I’ve been using the site to earn cash back on online purchases since 2006, so I can vouch for its credibility. It’s free to join (actually it’s better than free… you get a $5 bonus after your first purchase) and it’s easy to use. Ebates is another site similar to Mr. Rebates. It’s also free join and, for the time being, the bonus after purchase is $10.)

I’ll write more on how I use these sites soon, but if you’re interested in found money, check them out. Those are my referral links, FYI, which means that when you use them to sign up make money, I make a little too, at no cost to you.

You can do that too, by the way – refer others to Mr. Rebates and Ebates and use the referral bonuses another source of found money.

Wrap-up

We’re continuing to build our emergency fund with other sources of income, including my part-time job earnings. But I love being able to add $7689 to the kitty just from miscellaneous bits of money that found us is amazing.

The found money method continues to amaze me!

I can guarantee that if we had not given this found money a job to do, and had just deposited it in our checking account and gone about our business, there’s no way it would have ended up in our savings account.

Where are you finding money these days? Have you given it a job to do?

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About the Blog

Hello Again

By on March 4, 2017

Tap, tap, tap…is this thing on? Is anyone still out there?

It’s been nearly two years since I’ve written at The Family CEO, but recently I’ve felt compelled to check back in.

When we last spoke, I told you that our family’s finances were on autopilot in the very best possible way. We had paid off a lot of debt, grown our savings, put one child through college without debt, and were working on doing the same for the second child.

Two years later we’re still on track. Our debt remains in check (mortgage plus one car loan), we’ve put more money into savings and retirement accounts, and our second child is finishing his junior year in college and we have enough savings set aside to get him the rest of the way there.

With that last one being oh, so close to being off our payroll, we’re going through another transition of sorts. We’re turning our focus to what we want our life as true empty nesters to look like. Where do we want to live? How do we want to spend our time? How much do we need to have saved for retirement and how will we get there?

So I find myself back here ready to talk finances again. The things that are on my mind right now are:

  • Houses…always houses. We recently did some long-awaited improvements to our house, but we know it’s not our forever house, so I keep pondering what that will someday look like.
  • Found money…I still love this fun, simple technique for paying down debt or saving.
  • Saving and investing for retirement.
  • Intentional spending, which to me means keeping expenses in check while continuing to live a life we love.

So if you’re still out there, let me know what’s been going on in your world since we last spoke.

I’ll be back on Monday with a found money update. Almost two years worth!

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About the Blog

That’s a Wrap

By on May 20, 2015

Be happy with what you have Last week I started a conversation with Tom this way: “I need to talk to you about something, and it’s going to sound familiar.” If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, it’s going to sound familiar to you too.

The something I needed to talk about was, of course, what to do about the blogs (the blogs being The Family CEO and Creating This Life).

I’ve been writing at The Family CEO since 2006, and for at least half that time I’ve been conflicted about what the blog should be about. It started as a blog about finances, but over time I became interested in writing about lifestyle topics (homes, food, books, travel) as well.

At first I incorporated those things into The Family CEO, but it never felt quite right; I thought the blog was stronger when it was just about money.

So two years ago I carved the lifestyle topics off into a separate blog, Creating This Life. The idea was that I would be freer to explore the two subjects (personal finance and lifestyle) if they each had their own space.

Instead what I found was that it was hard to get into a flow. I would ignore one blog while I wrote at the other for a while, and then ping-pong back the other way.

It felt disjointed, inauthentic, and I wasn’t doing either blog (which are my babies, after all) a service. Besides, I like things to be as simple as possible.

So recently I decided to focus on one blog, and it made sense that it be The Family CEO. The Family CEO is the more established blog, it has more followers, and has provided some pretty neat opportunities.

But as I started to write about money again, it became obvious that I don’t have a lot left to say. The Family CEO was about my journey to improve our finances, and the journey is on autopilot (in the best possible way).

Also, I don’t feel much like a Family CEO anymore. It’s nine years later, my kids are grown, and I’m more interested in exploring what’s next than I am in treating our finances as a job, despite how well that mindset served me.

So I’ll be blogging at Creating This Life. And to avoid more of the hot mess of second-guessing that I’ve just described above, I’m bringing The Family CEO to a close. (Because heaven knows if I don’t, I’ll be tempted to come back here when the mood strikes, driving myself, not to mention you and Tom, God bless him, crazy.)

The blog will remain here in archive form. The old posts still get hundreds of visits a day from people searching for how much prom costs or what Amy Dacyczyn is up to. Plus, I want to be able to revisit both the financial and blogging journey this was from time to time.

Whatever brought you here, I want you to know that I’ve so appreciated you being a reader. Whether your commented, emailed, or just lurked, I’ve been delighted and inspired by your presence.

If you want to stay in touch (and I hope you do), you can find me daily on Facebook and Pinterest (question: how does spellcheck not know that Pinterest is a word already?). Also occasionally on Twitter, and of course blogging at Creating This Life. (My latest post there is about simplifying.)

I’ll wrap it up this way: Recently I found myself in a conversation that required me to stop and think about what I believe to be true about money. What does it all come down to really? And here is what the last nine years of blogging about money have taught me:

  • Spend intentionally.
  • Give generously.
  • Save more than you think you can.
  • Create a life you love.

That’s what I’m taking with me.

All my best,

Julie

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Kids and Money

Teaching High School Students About Money

By on May 10, 2015

bridge-629776_1280 So this is cool.

H&R Block, the tax services provider, believes that mastering financial matters is an important adult life skill, but that teenagers aren’t being prepared for the challenge. So the company developed a teen financial literacy program that takes the form of an online game.

The game is played over nine weeks’ time in a high school classroom, and students play both classroom vs. classroom and student vs. student. Oh, and it’s free.

Here’s how it works:

Each student plays the part of a recent college graduate who has been out of school and working for six months. He or she gets a paycheck, a bank account, a 401(k), and bills to pay, including car and student loan payments. And has to set up accounts for things like cell phones and cable (which in my experience may be harder than paying the bills for those things).

Students are scored based on three things:

  1. Behavior (how often they play, how frequently their payments are late, and taking quizzes),
  2. Knowledge (how accurately the students answer financial quiz questions)
  3. Skill (how well they save and avoid late fees)

In addition to the simulation, teachers teach lessons (using plans and materials given to them as part of the program) that tie into what the students are doing in the game.

Big Scholarship Money is Available

Obviously, everyone’s a winner when taking part in a program like this, but there are some monetary winners, too. As part of the Budget Challenge, H&R Block gave away $3 million in grants and scholarships in 2014-15, and will again in 2015-16.

They include:

  • $20,000 scholarships for each of the 22 students who have the top scores in their nine-week simulation period (132 scholarships in all).
  • 60 total classroom grants of $5000 each, based on the scores at both the midpoint and end of each simulation period.
  • A $100,000 scholarship for the highest-scoring student overall, to add to the $20,000 he or she has already won.

Recently, H&R Block announced the $120,000 winner for the 2014-15 Budget Challenge. He’s Sean Lawrence from St. Clair, Michigan, and he had the best score out of 93,980 students taking part in the program. Sean plans to major in Chemical Engineering by studying first at Macomb Community College, and then finishing up at Western Michigan University.

That $120,000 should certainly come in handy.

How to Take Part in 2015-16

The Budget Challenge will start up again this fall in classrooms around the country. It’s free, but teachers must register their classrooms in order for students to play. Registration closes one week before the start date of the simulation.

Accredited public and private schools and home schools are eligible to participate in the H&R Block Budget Challenge. Students must be 14 years or older and enrolled full-time in grades 9-12 to take part.

More information, including FAQ and Official Rules can be found at the H&R Block Dollars & Sense website.

So, teachers: get signed up. And parents: contact your children’s teachers to encourage them to take part.

Scholarship money aside, the life lessons learned could be invaluable.

Thank you to H&R Block for sponsoring this post.

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The Rest

When an Introvert and an Extrovert Get Married

By on May 6, 2015

When an introvert and an extrovert get married A number of years ago – ten or more – Tom and I walked into a social function at church. It was either a casino night or a wine tasting (we’re Catholic so those are normal church functions for us), and as I scanned the room I said to Tom, “I don’t see any of our friends.”

Tom answered back, “we’ll make new friends,” at the exact same moment that I suggested, “let’s go to a movie.”

Welcome to our introvert/extrovert marriage.

We laugh about that story now, along with any number of others like it, but at the beginning of our relationship our different temperaments caused problems.

We didn’t have the words to describe it then. This was before I’d heard of the Myers-Briggs test (I’m an INTJ, Tom’s type definitely begins with an E). And it was long before introversion became a hot topic, thanks in part to Susan Cain’s book and viral TED talk.

All we knew at the time was that I felt like Tom always wanted to be at a party or gathering, and he felt like I never did.

And we had a lot of these conversations:

“I don’t want to go, but you can go.”

“I’m not going to go without you.”

“That’s not fair. It makes me feel guilty.”

“But I really want us to go together.”

Some of this began to change when I took a Myers-Briggs test at work. I remember being irritated – angry even – when my results showed that I was an introvert. To me, the word introvert had negative connotations: shy, boring, no fun.

And even though the person administering the test patiently explained that being an introvert didn’t mean any of those things, but instead had to do with where you get your energy, it took me a while to stop being defensive.

Once I relaxed into it, it began to make perfect sense.

The Myers-Briggs people use C.G. Jung’s definitions of introversion and extraversion, which they explain are different from the way we more commonly use those terms. To put it (very) simply: extroverts draw energy from activity and being with people, while introverts draw energy from a more inner world of thoughts and ideas.

To put it another way, while introverts may enjoy being with people (I do), it’s taxing. They need to be alone to recharge. Extroverts, on the other hand, are drained by being alone. They recharge by reconnecting with people.

These are general statements, of course, and people are found all along the introvert – extravert continuum. My tendency for introversion is more towards the middle, meaning I’m introverted, but not extremely so. Indeed, a lot of people are surprised when I mention that I’m an introvert, and I find myself relating to some new terms that are now popping up, like outgoing introvert and social introvert.

But other people are more clearly one or the other. My former boss’s Myers-Briggs test showed her to be 100% extraverted; there was no continuum necessary to plot her result.

I suspect Tom’s results would be the same. It’s rare that he comes home from a full day of work to an empty house, but when he does he’s been known to head to the Mexican restaurant down the street to watch a ballgame and have dinner at the bar. That’s how strong his need is to be around people.

Part of the Myers-Briggs theory is that both personality types are healthy and valuable; no one needs to be “fixed.” That’s an important point to make, especially regarding introverts, because our society generally favors outgoing types, and our institutions, like schools and workplaces, are often organized around this preference.

And about that other institution: marriage. Over time (we’ve had almost 30 years of practice) Tom and I have come to understand our differences.

Having the language to use has been helpful.

So has the fact that our work suits our personality types. Tom is in sales, and is therefore with people most of the time. I spend my days mostly alone, blogging and bookkeeping and Family CEOing.

We compromise, too. Tom is agreeable to taking a pass on some social events or going without me at times. In return, I go to a few more than I’d like to.

And communication is key. Tom knows to tell me if something is especially important to him, because then I know to make it a priority. As we look over our calendars or discuss an invitation, I’ll sometimes ask him, “on a scale of one to ten, how much do you want to do this?”

And we focus on the thing that makes us both happy: time with family and close friends. Things like outings with our kids, dinner with friends, and drinks on the patio with neighbors. In fact, despite being a card-carrying introvert, one of my favorite things is to have friends and family at our house for special occasions or no occasion at all.

I’m just going to need a really long nap when they’re gone.

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Managing Money

A Family CEO Job Description

By on May 5, 2015

Write a family ceo job description This blog began over nine years ago when I hired myself to make over my family’s finances. My theory was that if I treated our finances like a job, I could make as big of an impact as the real-life, outside the home, part-time job I was considering at the time.

My theory turned out to be true. Yet, in all this time I’ve never created a Family CEO job description.

Recently, I set out to fix that.

Why Write a Job Description?

The duties in my job description aren’t groundbreaking; I did most of them before I hired myself and I imagine you do many of them too.

Nonetheless, there are benefits to creating a list of tasks that make up your Family CEO job description:

  • First, there’s a shift in thinking that takes place when you stop looking at the parts of your job description as random items on a to-do list, and instead view them as the description of an important role that you fill. It wasn’t so much the things I did as the way I thought about the things I did that allowed me to make a positive change in our finances. Hiring myself made me more intentional and accountable than before.
  • When viewing the list as a whole, you can identify places where you want to improve or simplify your finances. You can also see holes where you should be doing things that you’re not currently doing.
  • Finally, if you have a spouse or partner, you can use the list to divide duties. Even if one of you is the organized one or the numbers person (and I think that’s usually the case) there will be areas where you need to work together (i.e. investing) or where the non-Family CEO type may want or need to take the lead.

So, with that said, here are the things that currently make up my Family CEO job description:

My Family CEO Job Description

Banking & Money Management

  • Making bank, IRA, & HSA deposits.
  • Doing monthly account reconciliations. Down to the penny! I’m compulsive about this, people, although it’s not necessary to be.
  • Paying bills.
  • Tracking expenses and looking for places to save or cut back. I heart Quicken.
  • Managing credit by analyzing what reward cards to use and monitoring credit scores.
  • Overseeing investments. We do talk about this as a couple. My role is to be the main researcher and recommendation maker, and once it’s decided, I make sure it happens.

Taxes

  • Keeping tax documentation throughout the year (charitable donations, IRA and HSA contributions, tax payments, medical expenses).
  • Making quarterly tax deposits (we’re self-employed).
  • Preparing the tax organizer & business paperwork for our CPA, meeting with him once a year and emailing when I have questions.
  • Doing the kids’ (now just Grant’s) taxes.

Stuff Management

  • Purchasing stuff for the household, making returns, and sending in rebates. Although now that the kids are grown and our schedules less hectic, Tom and I do some of this together. Is it embarrassing to say that we consider a joint Costco run a mini-date?
  • Getting rid of stuff through a combination of donating, selling, giving away or trashing. I am completely hooked on simplifying.

Miscellaneous

  • Making travel arrangements.
  • Handling kids’ school stuff. We’re down to just one in college now so this is much simpler.
  • Maintaining our household filing system.

What’s Missing?

  • Insurance. My husband is an insurance agent so I leave all of that to him. It’s why I rarely blog about insurance either.
  • Budgeting. As I’ve said before, I love making up budgets but I’m no good at following them. Instead, I try to keep our fixed expenses as low as possible, max out our IRAs and HSA, and use found money to squirrel away a bit more.
  • Debt Management. This used to be a big part of my job description. It included things like developing a debt snowball plan, finding money to throw at our debt, negotiating interest rates, and tracking our progress. We currently have a 15 year mortgage at 3% and one car loan at .9% and we’re content to let those pay off according to schedule for now, so debt management (other than paying those two bills) is no longer a part of my job description.

Writing Your Own Job Description

Here are the things that helped me get my job description down on paper:

  1. Start with main categories of duties, and then add in the details.
  2. Look over whatever system you use to track your money, as well as your filing system, wallet, even your calendar to jog your memory about the Family CEO things you do.
  3. Treat this as a process. You can add and subtract things as you think of them or as your life changes.

Now, it’s your turn. What are some of the things your Family CEO job description include?

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The Rest

April Wrap-up

By on April 30, 2015

Spring Daffodils at CreatingThisLife.com There are any number of end-of-the-month posts around the blogosphere with themes like what I’m intowhat I’m reading and what I learned this month. 

I’ve never participated in them, but closing out the month with a wrap-up post does seem like a good idea, so I’m making this my first. And I’m giving it the very clever name of April Wrap-up.

I’m not sure what this post will include each month. Definitely some of what I’ve been reading and links that I’ve bookmarked. And a recap of what we’ve talked about on the blog. Beyond that, we’ll just have to see.

As far as April goes, can I just say that this has been the most beautiful springtime that I can remember? Or maybe I’m learning to pay more attention. The colors, the smells, they all seem supercharged. I’ve been going out into my yard and dragging flowers and branches back inside on a regular basis. And I’ve just noticed that my two lilac bushes are blooming so those will be next.

On my Nightstand

  • My book club is reading A Star for Mrs. Blake this month. I’m not done with it yet, but I’m really enjoying it.
  • And I just finished 10% Happier by Dan Harris. I ran across his interview on Charlie Rose and was riveted, so I bought the book. It was a little slow in the middle for me, but overall a really good read. I just listened to the interview again while linking to it in this post, and it makes me want to re-read the book.

On the Blog

  • Found Money Update January – March, 2015 I made a change to the way I reported Found Money with this update. And in the comments, Melissa tells us about how she used the found money method to help pay for a big family expense.

Around the Web

  • Seth Godin is thinking about money, and when Seth thinks, it’s always a good thing. Among his observations: Within very wide bands, more money doesn’t make people happier. Learning how to think about money, though, usually does.
  • Value Penguin invited me to do an interview for their site, and one of the questions they asked me was if I thought there was an area of personal finance that there weren’t enough resources on? You can click through to see what I said, but I’m curious how you would answer that question? Any thoughts?

Finally, I can’t let April go without acknowledging that this was the month we lost my father-in-law. It was equal parts heartbreaking and inspiring. Heartbreaking for obvious reasons, but inspiring because I got to witness a family (my mother-in-law, her 9 kids, 21 grandkids, + all the accompanying spouses and great grandkids) come together to strengthen one another, comfort each other and celebrate the life of a great man. It was a bittersweet time and one I’ll never forget. I felt privileged to be a part of it.

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The Rest

3 Ways to Keep Clutter from Accumulating in Your Home

By on April 27, 2015

How to keep clutter from accumulating Achieving a clutter-free house, room, closet, or drawer is one thing; keeping it that way is quite another.

It’s an ongoing process.

It’s true that the process gets easier with time, but it’s a process nonetheless.

Here are three strategies I’ve discovered to make it easier.

Skip the free stuff.

Earlier this month Tom and I went to the Kansas City Royals home opener. As we were entering the park, there were people handing out magnetic Royals’ schedules and small Royals towels, and we ended up with two of each.

We have a stainless steel refrigerator at home, so we didn’t have anywhere to stick the schedules, and besides, we both have them on our phones already. I ended up putting one on the garage fridge (where we’ll never look at it) and the other in the trash. Tom can use the towels as golf towels, but we already have four (or is it six?) others just like them from the Royals playoff games last fall.

My experience has been that you get a little rush of adrenaline when you see people handing out free stuff; there’s a bit of “I want to get mine” that surges through you. But our great time at the baseball game wasn’t enhanced one bit by the things they were handing out. In fact, it just became extra stuff that I had to cart around in my purse for the day and then figure out what to do with when we got home.

Despite this most recent example, I’ve been doing better at saying no thanks to all kinds of free things since I’ve discovered that they turn into clutter down the line. The key is to pause for just a second to consider if you’ll use or value what’s being offered. Sometimes the answer will be yes, but more often it’s no, and you won’t end up with extra stuff in your house.

Free yourself of duplicates.

Were your kids pacifier babies? If they were, maybe you experienced the same thing that we did: the more pacifiers we had, the harder they were to find. If we had only one, we knew exactly where it was at all times.

That seems counterintuitive, but the more of something you have, the less you tend to value it. And having more of anything creates clutter.

Obviously, there will be exceptions. If you’re not sure if you should keep more than one of something, ask yourself this question: do I ever use more than one of these at the same time? That will help you get rid of extra sets of coasters, carry-on suitcases, and sleeping bags.

Another tip is to implement the no duplicates policy right away when you upgrade something. Get a new set of golf clubs? Sell or give away the old set instead of leaving it there right next to the new one. The same for a new camera, cell phone, or winter coat. You’re not going to use the old one once you’ve upgraded, so rid yourself of it now to avoid the clutter.

Take the slow road to decluttering.

With apologies to whoever came up with the concept of Spring Cleaning, treating decluttering like a big project can be overwhelming. It’s hard to work up the energy or enthusiasm to clear out a room, let alone a whole house, at the same time.

Instead, let small – even tiny – decluttering projects become a regular part of your routine. Clean out a kitchen utensil drawer while waiting for the spaghetti to boil. Toss stained or torn clothing while doing the laundry. Or edit the contents of your jewelry box while choosing which pieces to take on a trip.

Always keep a cardboard box in your closet or garage for donation items, and put the results of these mini decluttering sessions there. When the box is full, drop it off at your favorite charity while you’re out running errands.

The slow road to decluttering is an almost effortless route to having a cleaner house full of things you love and use. And the positive results may make you feel ready – even excited – to tackle bigger projects too.

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Found Money

Found Money Update: Jan – Mar 2015

By on April 3, 2015

Found Money Update It’s time for another Found Money Update, and I’m making a change in the way I’m reporting things. Specifically, I’ll no longer be including my income from bookkeeping and blogging.

Here’s why: I’ve had a couple of readers tell me that they don’t view those things as found money, and I can see their point. I’ve always defined found money as any money that’s not part of your regular income stream. Those two sources of income, while not large, are regular. They’re better defined as side gigs.

If you’re curious about my bookkeeping and blogging income, you can find the information in the previous found money updates. Although these two income amounts don’t change much from report to report, which is another reason to stop including them.

So, with all that said, here is the Found Money Update for January through March of 2015, broken down by category.

Selling Stuff

  • $550 Craigslist sale (bedroom set)
  • $100 Craigslist sale (dishes)

Rebates, Reimbursements & Refunds

  • $70 Contact lens rebate
  • $32 Reimbursement check for some tickets bought for a family member

Cash Back

  • $711.73 Costco American Express Cash Back

$3598.79 Total

That’s just shy of $3600 added to our emergency fund, which is the job we’ve given our found money to do. In addition to this total, we added $568.98 to my husband’s business savings account during the same time period, because businesses have found money too.

A word about the Costco AmEx cash back: that’s a year’s worth of cash back from the card we use for as much of our spending as we can.

I love our Costco card, mostly because I love Costco. The only credit card Costco accepts is their own, so having this card is the only way to get cash back for what we spend there.

You may have seen the reports recently that Costco is changing their card from an American Express to a Citi Visa in 2016. I greeted this news with a bit of anxiety, only because our card is working so well for us.

But it occurred to me that AmEx isn’t accepted at as many places as Visa, so we’ll be able to use the new card even more. As long as the rewards (currently 3% on gas, 2% on restaurants and travel, and 1% on everything else, including Costco purchases) are as good or better, I’ll be a happy camper.

Want some more found money inspiration? Check out these reader success stories from Elise and Stacie.

Where are you finding money these days?

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Managing Money

6 Ways to Spend a Tax Refund that You Will Thank Yourself for Later

By on March 31, 2015

Do something today that your future self will thank you for. “Do something today that your future self will thank you for.”

Are you getting a tax refund this year?

It’s very unusual for us to get one because we’re self-employed; any refunds get applied to next year’s taxes.

But this year, through a very specific set of events, we got a $2000 refund from the state. We put it into our emergency fund, since a tax refund is found money and that’s the job we’ve given our found money to do.

But before I transferred the money, I fantasized about other places we could put it – the kind of places that have you feeling good, because you’re taking control of your finances.

1. Put it towards your smallest debt.

By applying your refund to your smallest debt, you’ll get a big psychological boost from seeing that debt paid way down, or possibly eliminated. Then look at the interest rate you were paying on that debt and congratulate yourself for earning that guaranteed return on your money.

2. Start or add to your child’s college fund.

Tuition rates have been increasing at twice the rate of inflation, so it’s smart to get that money invested and working for you now. Then you can breathe the tiniest bit easier when you see those scary cost of college reports on the news.

3. Add to your retirement fund.

If you invest $2000 for the long term and earn a very conservative 6%, you will turn that $2000 into $6600 after 20 years. $8900 after 25. And that’s without taking into account any retirement account tax advantages.

4. Start a car fund for your next car so you can pay cash.

By paying cash for a car, you’ll save on interest. But the biggest financial benefit might be that you buy a less expensive car, since you’ll be looking at the total cost (which hurts more) and not the monthly payments. A less expensive car translates into cheaper insurance and taxes too.

5. Use it as investing fun money.

I don’t mean investing in your brother-in-law’s latest business venture or that stock the guy at work said was a sure thing. I’m talking about something a little safer, but still fun to follow.

If I had gone this route with our refund, I would have bought Costco stock, since we spend enough of our time and money there and might as well own a piece of the place. At today’s prices we could have bought a little more than 13 shares of COST with our $2000. Another fun money investing idea? Dividend Aristocrats.

6. Donate to your favorite cause.

Because giving feels good. It  just does.

Did you get a tax refund this year? Whether you did or you didn’t, what ideas can you add to this list?

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