20 Ways to Make the Most of Your Tax Refund

TAX REFUND TREATS

Tax time can cause headaches but the strain usually pays off. In 2015, nearly 80 percent of tax payers will receive a refund, according to the IRS; the average refund for returns filed in January topped $3,500. That's a lot of money and it sure is tempting blow it all on the spot. Stop and count to 10. You worked hard to earn that and the prudent course calls for crafting a thoughtful spending plan.

KITCHEN UPGRADE

Remodeling an entire kitchen can easily cost more than $10,000, but a smaller DIY project can make the space feel like new and cost much less. Replace the countertops or floor, repaint the room, or install new sink and cabinet hardware. A new set of silverware and dinnerware is also a relatively inexpensive way to give the space new flair.

OUTDOOR FOOTWEAR

With warm weather on the horizon it's time to hit the trails and enjoy some fresh air. Whether you're a runner or hiker a new pair of high-quality shoes or boots can last for years. Proper footwear also protects you from injury and is well worth the investment.

PROGRAMMABLE THERMOSTAT

A programmable thermostat is unlikely to eat up your entire refund and it can more than pay for itself in relatively short order. EnergyStar estimates that you can save more than $180 a year in heating costs by setting the thermostat to automatically lower the trigger temperature during periods when you're not home.

BEAUTY REST

You're spending hours every day lying in bed, so it's worth every penny to have a mattress that's comfortable. A tax refund is an opportunity to invest in something that will pay dividends every night.

VACATION

It's hard to find a better way to spend your money than buying brand new experiences. Studies show that experiences and the anticipation leading up to them result in more "happiness" than physical products. User your tax refund to get out of town and enjoy a nice vacation.
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EDUCATIONAL TOYS

Educational toys keep children entertained while stimulating their minds, an inarguable win-win. Several websites specialize in such toys and awards are given to the top toys by The Oppenheim Awards, The Parent's Choice Awards, and several other organizations.

TIME

Your tax refund can buy you time if you know how to spend it. Hire someone to clean the house for about $20 an hour. With a $3,500 refund that's 175 hours of work, about three hours every week.

WINDOWS

Replacing just one or two windows won't do too much, but refitting your house with double-paned windows can decrease the amount of energy consumed by 18 to 24 percent year round, according to a post at Home Advisor. Prepare for the summer and buy solar shades for even more efficiency and comfort.

VACUUM SEALER

Vacuum sealers, such as those made by Food Saver or Weston, seal food in plastic bags as a preservative measure. The Natural Resources Defense Council reports that the average American family throws away between $28 and $43 worth of food every month. Imagine being able to save that money -- and enjoy leftovers.

LIGHT BULBS

LED technology has advanced over the last few years and today's LED light bulbs offer the same warm glow of incandescent bulbs but use a fraction of the energy. Many LED bulbs pay for themselves within 18 months and go on to save you money for decades more. Some are even remote controlled, dimmable, and can change colors.

PICNIC GEAR

Get ready for fun in the sun with a new picnic basket, blanket, and cooler. Free concerts and activities run throughout the summer and buying supplies now means there's one less expense to worry about later.
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BATHROOM REMODEL

Like a kitchen, a bathroom remodel can cost a lot but replacing one or two pieces is an affordable way to give the space a facelift. Buy a new toilet or sink, or replace or cover up the floor and shower surfaces to get the most bang for your buck.

SHEETS

Speaking of beds, have you acquired new bedding recently? A soft but breathable set of sheets will work well for the upcoming warm months, but don't get tricked into thinking a high thread count is always best. Going above a 400 thread count may be a waste of money, according to a study by Consumer Reports.

SMART POWER STRIPS

"Vampire drain," the energy used by your electronics when they're powered off but plugged in, can total more than $200 in annual costs, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Smart power strips help eliminate vampire drain with on/off switches and by automatically turning off.

HOUSE PLANTS

A bit of greenery in your home has numerous benefits, according to academic studies highlighted on the website About Flowers. If you don't have a green thumb, start simple with succulents or air plants and then make your way up to more traditional house plants. The air quality will improve, as will your happiness, sense of satisfaction, and overall emotional health; in the office, plants have a positive effect on employee productivity.

SPACE ORGANIZERS

If your garage or closet, or both, are a mess, spend some money and time to get things organized. Buy new shelving units, storage boxes, and whatever else you need to keep everything in its place.

CURB APPEAL

Put a smile on your face every time you come home by using your tax refund to upgrade the porch or to landscape the space in front of the house. A door, bench, shoe shelf, shrubs, or small tree can make a big difference.
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EFFICIENT APPLIANCES

Investing in a new energy-efficient appliance is the gift that keeps on giving. In addition to the new refrigerator, washing machine, or dryer, the average savings on energy costs compared with some older models comes to more than $150 a year.

STAYCATION

If a vacation isn't in the cards right now, set your sights on a pleasurable or fun-filled local experience. Spend some of that wad on a staycation and enjoy a spa day, an overnight at a cozy bed and breakfast, or a weekend camping trip.

EVEN MORE HAPPINESS

A study released by Harvard University found that there is indeed a way to buy happiness: Give away your money. Buy the next round of drinks for your friends or find a cause you believe in and use some of the tax refund to give back to your community writ large or small.