Ideally, the details following your tax return would be rather uneventful. You'd have withheld the exact right amount, and paid the appropriate estimated taxes, and your post-April 15 results would be pretty neutral: the IRS has its money, you have yours, and the two of you can check in again next spring.
Of course, that's never what happens, and Tax Day inevitably goes in the two obvious directions: you still owe more, or you get a refund. If you're a small business owner or freelancer, like me, you nearly always end up on one side of that equation. But, every so often, there are those glorious years that go down in history as that-one-time-you-got-a-tax-refund, and you get an unexpected check with which you may do whatever you like.
Typical personal finance wisdom would advise you to be responsible with it, and I can't argue with that. If you get a tax refund this year and aren't already maxing out a Roth IRA, that's exactly what you should do with it. (And if you don't have one, this a great way to start.) If you have high-interest credit card debt, this is a chance to make a dent in it, however small. And if you don't have an “emergency fund” set aside, then you know where your tax money should go.
But let's say you're current, finance-wise, and instead, you chose to make a different kind of investment: an investment in long-lasting quality goods, or in yourself. These are the sorts of things you can't do otherwise, because you can't, or won't, justify spending the cash. Except, this year, you actually can, and how you spend it can also produce exponential returns on your money. Here's what you should get.
1. Buy Yourself an Investment Pair of Leather Boots or Shoes
The problem with cheap shoes is that they wear out. So, you buy a pair – maybe every year, every other year – for $80 or $100, and then they wear out and you do it again. Then, after four years, you're out $400 and still need a pair of shoes.
But, with tax refund in hand, you buy a nice pair of leather boots, such as the Chippewa Plain Toe ($190), Red Wing Iron Ranger ($320), or Wolverine 1000 Mile ($360). Four years later, you still have a pair of great shoes that will last a lifetime. And hopefully, another tax refund.
2. Get a Piece of High-End Cookware
If you like to cook, then you most certainly also like to drool over those super dreamy pieces of kitchen gear. This includes, but is not limited to: sweet European-made enamel-coated cast iron, really really nice stainless steel pots and pans, fancy countertop appliances, high-quality German or Japanese steel knives, or any variety of grills, smokers, and other assorted backyard cookery options.
So, get yourself one. If you don't have an enamel dutch over, we'd start there. A 7 1/4 qt from Le Creuset or Staub 7 Qt Oval Coquette are heirloom items your grandkids can pass down to their own. If you're set there, a 12″ All-Clad Stainless Skillet clocks in a $120, but will cook 1000s of meals to perfection.
Or, perhaps you buy our argument that a $500 blender really is worth it. If so, now's your chance. And, for the record, you will never, ever regret getting that Big Green Egg. Just trust me on this one.
3. Buy a New Suit
Often, a new suit comes into our lives for a specific occasion: we have a particularly high number of wedding invitations in a summer, or perhaps you have an important job interview or you need to upgrade your professional wardrobe.
Those tend to come as a surprise, and you're often stuck getting whatever's in stock, or at least will show up quickly. So, this time, buy the suit you want. Take your time, explore the options, get the cut and fabric you like most, take it to the tailor, and have it ready to go for when that special occasion arrives. If you don't know where to start, I love the affordable but very stylish options from SuitSupply.
4. Upgrade Your At-Home Coffee Routine
There's something to be said for taking the electric machine out of the coffee equation, especially if you are the kind of person who is invigorated by making things. Taking the time to carefully heat your water, thoughtfully grind your beans, warm your mug, execute a technique… This kind of attention makes your cup something extraordinary, and fills your morning with inspiration enough to match the aroma of your beans.
Plus, if you master it at home, you'll save boatloads of money over buying it daily at your local shop. How's that for investment. Here's some of our favorite coffee-gear upgrades:
- Hario V60 Buono Pouring Kettle (1.2L) – $34
- OXO Stainless Steel Food Scale – $50
- Bodum Burr Grinder – $90
- Hario Skerton Ceramic Coffee Mill (100g) – $40
- Chemex 8-Cup Classic Series Glass Coffeemaker – $60
- SterlingPro 8 Cup French Press – $26
- Aerobie AeroPress Coffee and Espresso Maker – $34
5. Take a Class or Private Lessons
I have been playing the guitar for more than twenty years. I teach guitar lessons to young students. But I have never taken any official instruction myself. Why not? It's not like I don't want to improve. I do, and I practice almost everyday. It's also not that I haven't plateaued in my skills. (I certainly have.) I believe actual lessons with a qualified instructor would totally help me get to the next level. And yet, I can't bring myself to find a teacher, simply because I don't want to spend the money.
If you're in the same boat – you have a skillset you've always wanted to learn, or need to improve your craft, then a tax refund is a great way to make that happen. Sign up for a hand tool woodworking class, or a specific skill, like sharpening. Go to your local art center and learn about wheelthrown pottery, or how to better use your DSLR. YouTube is great, but it is not sufficient. Invest in yourself, and well-spent free time becomes that much more valuable.
6. Buy That Tool You've Had Your Eyes On
For me, it's a Lie-Nielsen Large Shoulder Plane. For you, it might be a proper set of chisels, a new 2ov impact driver, or perhaps its time to invest in a bandsaw, or thickness planer. Whatever will take your making skills to the next level, now just might be the time to get it. If it's built to last, it can be something you'll take with you for the rest of your life, and give you a chance to really master it.
7. Give It to Causes You Care About
I'd like to think that most ManMade readers are community-minded people, and choose to give of their resources to issues and causes that matter, or to groups that help address people on the margins. And, if that's true, I'd like to think we'd all like to do more if we had a little more cash flow each month.
Well, now you do. And if you really have been wanting to do more, you can, even if only this once. For example, my beloved Columbia River Gorge caught on fire last year, and it's going to need a lot of help to heal. There's no reason I can't use a bit of my tax refund to do my part, especially when coupled with volunteer time and advocacy.
8. Start a New Hobby
You know that thing you keep seeing people do on Instagram or YouTube videos, and you keep thinking to yourself “you know, that's something I'd really like to try. If only I had the gear or materials to do it.”
Well, here's your chance, friend. Of course, you don't want to go invest a $1000 in super-specialized mountaineering gear, or get hundreds of dollars worth of stuff you don't know how to use yet. But if you've been interesting in, say, learning more about carving a simple wooden spoon and you can get started for $100 or so, then why not make this your opportunity?
9. Splurge on a High-End Bottle of Whiskey
It shouldn't be a daily thing. In fact, we don't even suggest making a habit of spending $50+ on whiskey on the reg. But, once or twice a year, a celebration bottle is completely worth it. Here's our recent roundup of excellent bottles that still come in under $75.