I still haven't filed my taxes, in part because I only got my 1099-MISC for the Amgen Fellowship on Saturday and I haven't yet been able to track down the people within TFA I need to talk to about getting a receipt for the $900 in graduate tuition I had to pay through them. (Come to think of it, I haven't seen a transcript either, grr.) I have, however, been reading all of the forms and worksheets so I'll be able to just plug in the numbers once I finally get all of my documents in order. The IRS website is a trove of interesting information.
You know that big stimulus program where the government mailed out checks to taxpayers last year in the hopes we'd resume our wanton spending and save the economy from collapse, I didn't get to be a part of that because I was my parents' dependent in 2007. Instead, I can get the money added to my tax refund for 2008 through the recovery rebate credit. Basically, I'm looking at an unexpected $300 (albeit from a program I believe to be of dubious merit and efficacy). So now I have to figure out what to do with the money. I could:
Lend it back to the government.
If the government really wants to increase the national debt by sending out money to yahoos like me, I could use it to buy I Bonds, earn a little interest, and boost my emergency fund in the process.
Plonk it into my Roth IRA.
This isn't a bad option, except I already have a plan for maxing out my Roth in 2009 so I'd end up with an extra $300 lying around later on.
Increase my financial emergency preparedness: toss it into my savings account and forget about it.
This would be a fine option, but it's boring.
Increase my physical emergency preparedness: buy supplies.
It sure wouldn't hurt to get those last few things I've been wanting for my emergency kit and then start making some progress on food storage.
Give the money to charity.
I've been bad about that in the past. I give in dribs and drabs when I think about it, but until this year I've never been systematic. Last fall I felt like it was something I needed to start doing now that I am fully employed, but I kept shelling out so much money for my classroom that it felt like that was a contribution in itself. January 1st I finally quit making excuses and automated a monthly donation to Doctors without Borders, but I'm only giving $50 a month right now. I feel like I really ought to be tithing despite being one of those heathen agnostics so this would be a small step in the right direction.
Stimulate the economy in the developing world.
Lending the money through Kiva would help entrepreneurs create jobs for themselves and their communities, plus later on I can decide whether to lend the money again or take it out to do something else.
Stimulate the economy in my family.
My little brother is scraping by working six nights a week at a pizzeria, an experience that is definitely helping convince him he needs to go back to college in the fall. Right now, he isn't saving much at all, which is entirely understandable, but it seems like a shame to miss this opportunity to start saving for retirement early. Even though $300 isn't much, I could set up a Roth savings account at ING for him to get him started. Perhaps I might instead offer to match retirement savings of $25 a month to encourage him to save himself as well, but is that a little too paternalistic for a sibling relationship?
Frivolous spending can be fun. $300 would buy a lot of nights of all you can eat crab legs and shrimp, a bunch of used paperbacks, a nice weekend trip, or cable television. It wouldn't be the most practical use of the money, but sometimes I get tired of being practical.
What would you recommend?