20 Ways to Spend Your Tax Refund That Are Actually Life-Changing (No, Seriously)

20 Ways to Spend Your Tax Refund That Are Actually Life-Changing (No, Seriously)
This year, make it count.

Ah, tax season. That magical time of year when we all suddenly transform into mathematicians, furiously crunching numbers and hoping for a little extra cash to materialize. If you're one of the lucky ones receiving a tax refund this year instead of owing, you might be tempted to treat it like the lottery and blow it on an impromptu shopping spree. But what if you could use it to improve your life in more meaningful ways? Here are 20 ideas that will make you say, “Take that, (fun and) irresponsible spending!”

1. Build an Emergency Fund (Cue Adult Disappointment)

Let's start with the most boring (but arguably most important) item on the list. Financial experts recommend having at least three to six months' worth of living expenses saved up in case of emergencies. This isn't just about padding your bank account—it's about giving yourself peace of mind and financial stability in a world that seems to delight in throwing curveballs.

2. Pay off High-Interest Debt (Stop Kicking Yourself When You're Down)

If you're carrying any high-interest debt, now's an opportune time to pay it down. Remember that credit card bill from that one time you had to buy that real life 3D printed Iron Man mech suit? Yeah, we've all been there. Pay it off, and sleep better at night knowing you're no longer accumulating interest.

3. Invest in Retirement Accounts (Future You Wants to Go to Cracker Barrel)

Retirement might seem like a distant dream, but it's never too early to start planning, in fact, the earlier the better. Use your refund to boost your retirement savings, whether that means contributing to a 401(k), IRA, or some other tax-advantaged account. Future you will thank you (and might even buy you a drink at the beachside cabana). New iPhone today, or sipping margaritas on a beach in the golden years?

4. Pursue Continuing Education or Skill Development (Discover New Passions, Hobbies, and Career Off Ramps)

Invest in yourself by enrolling in a course or workshop to expand your skill set. Whether you're hoping to climb the corporate ladder or switch careers entirely, continuing education can make a world of difference. Just imagine the look on your boss's face when you casually mention your newfound expertise in underwater cloud server management.

5. Make Home Improvements (Because That's Where Life Is)

A few well-placed upgrades can make your home more comfortable, energy-efficient, and valuable. Consider installing weather-efficient windows, upgrading your insulation, or finally tackling that kitchen renovation you've been dreaming of. Your home will thank you, and so will your wallet when it comes time to sell. As someone who recently installed a dishwasher that actually gets the food off, I can confirm that it's the little things in life that bring joy.

6. Focus on Health and Wellness (One Life, One Body, Unfortunately)

Your body is the only one you've got, so treat it right. Use your tax refund to invest in your physical and mental well-being. Join a gym, hire a trainer to jumpstart new habits, sign up for a yoga class, or finally spring for that ridiculously expensive (but oh-so-effective) therapy. Your future self will thank you when you're running marathons and crushing life well into your golden years.

7. Invest in Upgrades That Lower Recurring Expenses (Go Green, Save Green)

Invest in eco-friendly home upgrades like solar panels, a programmable thermostat, or an electric vehicle, not only will you save on recurring expenses, but you'll also be doing your part to save the planet. Not to mention any of the potential tax breaks you may get based on local programs for these expenses on next year's taxes. Using a tax break to save on future taxes?? That's some 1% thinking!

8. Travel and Experience New Cultures (Find Your New Favorite Place)

Experiences are more valuable than things, so why not use your tax refund to see the world? Whether you're exploring a new city, hiking through national parks, or immersing yourself in another culture, travel can enrich your life and alter future thinking in countless ways. Just remember to take lots of photos, so you can reminisce about your adventures when you're back in the daily grind.

a couple overlooking a distant land

9. Support Local Businesses and Charities (Be a Good Neighbor)

Put your money to work in your community by supporting local businesses and charities. Not only will you be helping your neighbors thrive, but you'll also be contributing to a stronger, more vibrant local economy. Plus, shopping locally often means discovering unique, one-of-a-kind items and experiences you won't find anywhere else. I've found some of my favorite hidden gems by supporting local businesses, and I've made some great friends along the way.

10. Start a Side Business (Unleash Your Inner Entrepreneur)

Ever dreamt of turning your passion into a profitable venture? Use your tax refund to kickstart your side hustle, whether that's launching an Etsy shop or offering freelance services. With a little time, effort and your unexpected tax refund, you could create an additional income stream that makes your 9-to-5 feel a little less soul-sucking.

11. Enroll in a Personal Development or Life Coaching Program (Get Your Life Together)

Personal growth is a lifelong journey, so why not invest in yourself with a personal development or life coaching program? These programs can help you set and achieve goals, build healthy habits, and develop a more positive outlook on life. Just think of all the inspirational Instagram quotes you'll be able to share!

12. Purchase a Subscription to a Professional Networking Platform or Industry Journal (Get Ahead of the Curve)

Stay in the loop in your field by subscribing to a professional networking platform or industry journal. These resources can help you stay informed about the latest trends, make valuable connections, and potentially even open doors to new career opportunities. As someone who's always anxious of falling behind, I can attest to the value of investing in industry news and networking with like-minded professionals.

13. Invest in Smart Home Technology for Increased Convenience and Security (Welcome to the Future)

Use your tax refund to make your home smarter and more secure. Invest in smart home technology like a video doorbell, a voice-activated assistant, or a smart lighting system. These devices can make your life more convenient while also giving you peace of mind. I've personally installed a smart lighting system in my home, and I can't imagine life without it (plus, who doesn't love controlling their lights with a simple voice command? “Computer, enact the Bedtime Protocol.”).

14. Take up a New Hobby, Such as Learning a Musical Instrument or Joining an Art Class (There's More to Life Than Emails)

Use your tax refund to explore your creative side. Sign up for a painting class, learn to play a musical instrument, or try your hand at pottery. Not only will you develop new skills, but you'll also have a blast in the process. I recently picked up abstract art, and while I'm no Rothko, it's been a great stress-reliever and a fun way to express myself.

15. Fly Home and See Your Mom (You Only Get One)

Whoever said “distance makes the heart grow fonder” probably never had to endure a year's worth of a mom's guilt-tripping voicemails about how they never visit. So, why not use that tax refund to hop on a plane, train, or automobile and make a surprise visit to your dear mother (or any cherished family member or friend)? After all, time spent with loved ones is priceless, and the warm, fuzzy feeling you'll get from seeing their faces light up when you walk through the door is worth more than any material possession. So go ahead, treat yourself to some quality family time and create memories that will last a lifetime (and silence those guilt-tripping texts, at least for a while).

16. Learn to Cook Healthy Food That Tastes Good (The Trick to a Better Diet)

We all know the struggle: you're trying to eat healthier, but your culinary repertoire of “good-for-you” dishes is limited, and honestly, not that appetizing. No one can live on bland salads and unseasoned veggies alone. So, why not use your tax refund to transform your relationship with wholesome food? Enroll in a cooking class that focuses on nutritious, flavorful recipes or invest in a food delivery service that teaches you to make meals you can later make again with normal groceries. It's not that you don't want to eat healthy, it's that you want to eat food that tastes good. You can learn to make meals that are both.

17. Attend Workshops, Conferences, or Seminars Related to Your Field or Interests (Never Stop Learning)

Expand your knowledge and network by attending workshops, conferences, or seminars related to your field or interests. These events can be a goldmine of information, connections, and inspiration, and they might even spark your next big idea. But they're also not cheap if your work isn't paying for them. I've attended several conferences in my industry, and the insights I've gained and friends I've made have been invaluable.

18. Buy or Upgrade Insurance Policies, Such as Life, Health, or Disability Insurance (Better Safe Than Sorry)

Insurance may not be the most exciting thing to spend your tax refund on, but it's a crucial part of protecting yourself and your loved ones. Consider using your refund to buy or upgrade your life, health, or disability insurance policies to ensure you're adequately covered in case the unexpected happens. After a friend experienced a home fire, I realized the importance of having proper insurance coverage, and it's given me peace of mind ever since.

19. Hire a Professional Organizer or Interior Designer to Optimize Your Living Space (Home is Where the Mess is)

A well-organized, beautifully designed living space can do wonders for your mental well-being. Use your tax refund to hire a professional organizer or interior designer to help you create a home that's both functional and inviting. I once hired an organizer to help me declutter my living space, and it's made a huge difference in my overall mood and stress levels.

an organized garage

20. Fund a “Creative Retreat” or Sabbatical for Personal Growth, Reflection, or Pursuing Passion Projects (Escape the Rat Race)

Sometimes, we all need a break to recharge and refocus. Use your tax refund to fund a Workcation, creative retreat, or sabbatical, allowing you to step back from the daily grind and focus on personal growth, reflection, or passion projects. Whether it's writing that novel, painting a masterpiece, or simply exploring new interests, this time away can be invaluable for your mental and emotional well-being. Read more about my regular workcations for tackling projects I haven't been able to finish or deciphering life questions.

While it's always tempting to splurge on short-term pleasures, a tax refund can be an opportunity to invest in yourself and your future. By opting for one (or several) of these life-improving ideas, you're choosing to make a positive impact on your life and, possibly, the lives of others.

Andrew Snavely

Andrew founded Primer in 2008 and brings 15+ years of men's style expertise. Known for his practical, relatable approach to style and self-development, he has been a recognized speaker at conferences and has styled work for top brands. Off-duty, he loves photography & editing, and enjoys road trips with his dog, Leela. Raised in rural Pennsylvania, educated in DC, and living in LA for nearly 20 years, Andrew's diverse experiences shape the relatable and real-world advice that has helped millions through Primer. On Instagram: @andrewsnavely and @primermagazine.