In the article, “How To Get Over Your Fear Of Investing” I mention how your risk tolerance decreases the more capital you accumulate. When you were rocking a $100,000 net worth as a 30-year-old, you had no problems investing 30% of your net worth in your employer’s promising stock. But now that you’re 50 and less enthusiastic about working for decades more, investing 30% of your $1 million nest egg doesn’t seem like a good idea.
The tax refund actually provides for a great opportunity to swing for the ROI fences every single year, no matter your age or net worth. Given that the average tax refund is only around $3,000, many people just blow it on material things like shoes, clothing, gadgets, and LED TVs. It’s not necessarily a bad idea to use your “bonus” money to buy something tangible: any of these things can provide solid utility until next year’s refund. Alternatively, going the traditional route of paying down debt or increasing a depleted emergency fund is also fine, just terribly unexciting.
Now if your tax refund was a whopping $100,000, I’m willing to be that your approach to spending it would be substantially different! Some would unwisely go out and spend the money instantly on a luxury automobile; most, however, would probably give considerably more thought to the question of how to deploy such a large sum. Things like paying down a mortgage, investing for retirement, buying a home, putting money away for a child’s education, or helping out a loved one all come to mind with this level of money. But most people will never receive such a large refund, so the point is moot (sorry!). The $100k refund simply provides a mental exercise that highlights how our spending habits shift when dealing with different levels of money.
Although a tax refund often feels like a nice windfall each year, it’s actually been your money all along. And how boring it is to just invest that money (now that you finally have it) in the stock market for a potential 8% historical return. Of course if you’ve got revolving credit card debt with interest rates in the teens or higher, certainly give that a whack. But as a Financial Samurai reader, I’m thinking you guys are savvier than this.