23 ways to spend your tax refund that can make you happy and the world a better place.

It's April, which begs the question how are you going to spend your tax refund this year?

(If, of course, you're fortune enough to get a refund. My condolences if you end up owing Uncle Sam.)

Bills need to be paid. And the zeroes in your student debt total should, at least in theory, keep dwindling. You should probably stock the pantry while you're at it, and make sure the gas tank is filled, too.


But if you cross off all the boring payments on your "being a responsible adult" list and still have a good chunk of change at your disposal, I have a few suggestions that could make you feel good about where your money is going.

Here are 23 seriously rewarding ways you can spend your tax refund this year:

1. Buy individual sets of flowers and visit a senior center.

Image via iStock.

Bring a friend if you like, too, and pass them out room by room. You'll definitely make (at least) one person's day.

2. Find a cool and important project helping teachers and students on DonorsChoose.

The online platform allows educators, mostly in underserved communities, to raise funds for neat learning opportunities for their students — from getting new computer tablets to providing enough instruments to create a drum line for music class.

3. Donate it to a local nonprofit helping your own community.

Big, national, or international nonprofits do vital work, of course. But there's something pretty special about seeing how the people in your own city can benefit from a little generosity.

4. Pay it forward in the drive-through line — or, better yet, the grocery store.

You've seen the viral stories of folks grabbing the tabs of other patrons ahead of or behind them in line. You could be the person who starts the next chain reaction.

5. This one isn't immediately gratifying, but ... your savings account may need some padding.

Image via iStock.

Just because something doesn't give you instant gratification doesn't mean it won't eventually be rewarding, right? Save up to pay off that loan, buy that car, be prepared for a rainy day, or be less burdened when next semester's tuition bill arrives. It'll be worth it.

6. Sponsor a person or group that has been taken advantage of by our flawed justice system.

News flash: The power structures at play in our law enforcement and justice systems favor white and wealthy people. Funded Justice is a crowdfunding platform where donors can help foot defense expenses — like legal and bail fees, for example — for those seeking a fair shot.

7. Throw a pizza party at your local food bank.

Ask the Pennsylvania man who did just that in 2016 — it's great knowing every cheesy bite is greatly appreciated.

Image via iStock.

8. Reach out to that friend you've been meaning to call and take them out to dinner and a movie.

You both deserve each other's company.

9. Chocolate.

Hey now, it's good for you. Indulge a little.

10. Give cash to a friend or family member who could really use it this month — in the form of a money cake.

Image via Jodi McKinney, used with permission.

OK, this is a bit lavish, but if you're feeling especially generous, here's how to make it, courtesy of Jodi McKinney's blog, "The Creative Life In Between."

11. Buy new socks and feminine hygiene products to give to a homeless shelter.

They're always among the most requested items, but — because you can't donate these sorts of items used — many donors don't realize how tremendous the need is. (Here are other vital products to donate you maybe haven't thought of.)

12. Donate to Meals on Wheels, then grab a friend and volunteer for the group locally.

After seeing President Donald Trump's proposed budget, the organization may need all the help it can get in the years ahead.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

13. Commit to guilt-free purchases for the week.

Shopping for food, clothes, and other products that are fair trade, locally sourced, and produced by ethical companies can be an expensive, exhausting privilege not everyone can afford.

But with some extra cash on hand, try to take the leap for a few days. You may be able to work in some better long-term spending habits, too.

14. Book a solo weekend getaway on the fly.

Depending on whether you're an impulse buyer, this probably sounds either exciting or terrifying. Either way, you should indulge in some R and R. In today's 24/7, on-the-go world, recharging mentally and physically is important. (Plus, solo travel rocks.) Quick, go!

Image via iStock.

15. Donate to an organization that helps people who are particularly vulnerable in the era of Trump.

So many groups — immigrants, LGBTQ people, women, people of color, Muslims, and others — are facing a hostile administration attempting to strip away their rights and send us backward. Help them out.

16. Buy house plants and bulk up on garden items just in time for spring.

Research suggests that greening up your living quarters can actually benefit your health and boost happiness. If you're new to the plant game, maybe start out with some succulents (they practically take care of themselves).

17. Order a bunch of Girl Scout cookies for the neighbors you love or the ones you haven't met yet.

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images.

What's a better icebreaker than "Hi, here are some Thin Mints"? Another option: Hoard all of the Samoas and Caramel deLites for yourself (no judgment). Either way, you'll be supporting an important organization doing great things.

18. See if there's an Amazon Wish List registry for an animal shelter near you.

Animal shelters need lots of specific items to care for their four-legged friends — things like outdoor, durable furniture, cat and dog food, and specialized collars to keep pups (and their humans) safe.

19. Buy some Dogsbutter for your pup. Your purchase will helping another sweet doggo in need.

Dogsbutter — made from peanuts and flaxseed (minus any sugar, salt, or hydrogenated oils) — is a healthy snack for your pup they'll certainly enjoy. For each item you buy, Dog for Dog also gives an equal amount of food to a pet shelter, so dogs in need will benefit, too.

20. Buy "(R)evolution: The Girls Write Now 2016 Anthology" and help underserved teen girls pursue their creative dreams.

The book of essays and poetry was published by Girls Write Now, a New York-based after school program that connects girls with accomplished female writers, who serve as mentors. All proceeds of the book benefit the program.

21. Donate to a bowling team that's helping fund abortion access.

The National Abortion Access Bowl-a-Thon allows people to set up bowling teams and fundraise on behalf of abortion access across the country. Donate or — better yet — join a team. It's a sort of unconventional but equally awesome idea.

22. Get your neighborhood excited about books again, and snag some supplies to set up your own Little Free Library.

Once you build and stock one of these (ridiculously adorable) mini-libraries in your yard — or any other public-facing space you think might be a great spot — readers take a book from the stockpile and leave a different one in its place.

23. And last but not least: Treat yo' self.

GIF via "Parks and Recreation."

Get that flat-screen. Book that massage. Splurge a little (or a lot).

You work hard, and you deserve it.

Correction 4/12/2017: Several references to "tax return" in this article have been corrected to "tax refund."

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

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2020 was difficult (to say the least). The year was full of life changes, losses, and lessons as we learned to navigate the "new normal." You may have questions about what the changes and challenges of 2020 mean for your taxes. That's where TurboTax Live comes in, making it easy to connect with real tax experts to help with your taxes – or even do them for you, start to finish.

Not only has TurboTax Live helped millions of people get their taxes done right, but this year they've also celebrated people who uplifted their communities during a difficult time by surprising them with "little lifts" to help out even more.

Here are a few of their stories:


Julz, hairdresser and salon owner

"As a hairdresser and salon owner, 2020 was extremely challenging," says Julz. "Being a hairdresser has historically been a recession-proof industry, but we've never faced global shut down due to health risk, or pandemic, not in my lifetime. And for the first time, hairdressers didn't have job security."

Julz had to shut down her salon and go on unemployment benefits for the first time. She also had to figure out how she was going to support herself, her staff and her business during this difficult time. But many other beauty industry professionals didn't have access to the resources they needed, so Julz decided to help.

"My business partner and I began teaching basic financial literacy to other beauty industry professionals," she says. "Transitioning our business from behind the chair to an online academy was a challenge we tackled head-on so that we could move hairdressers into this new space of education, and create a more accessible curriculum to better serve our industry.

Julz connected with a TurboTax Live expert who helped her understand how unemployment affected her taxes and gave her guidance on filing quarterly estimated taxes for her small business. "I was terrified to sit at a computer and tackle this mess of receipts," Julz says, so "it was great to have some virtual handholding to walk me through each question."

In addition to giving Julz the personalized tax advice she needed, TurboTax Live surprised her with a "little lift" that empowered her to help even more beauty professionals. "When my tax expert Diana surprised me with a little lift, I was moved to tears," says Julz. "With that little lift, I was able to establish a scholarship fund to help get other hairdressers the education they deserve."


Alana, new mom

Alana welcomed her first child in 2020. "I think my biggest challenge was figuring out how to be a mom, with no guidance," she says. "My original plan was to have my mom by my side, teaching me the ropes, but because of COVID, she wasn't able to come out here."

She was also without a job for most of 2020 and struggled to find something new.

So, Alana took it as a sign: she decided to launch her own business so she could support her new baby, and that's exactly what she did. She started a feel-good company that specializes in creating affirmation card decks — and she's currently in the process of starting a second, video-editing business.

TurboTax Live answered Alana's questions about her taxes and gave her some much-needed advice as she prepared to launch her businesses. Thanks to their "little lift," they provided her with a little emotional support too.

"I got my mom a plane ticket to finally [have her] meet [my daughter] for her first birthday," Alana says. "I was also able to get a new computer," which helped her invest in her new business and work on her video editing skills. "It's helped my family and me so much," she says.


Michael, science teacher

When schools shut down across the country last year, Michael had to learn how to adapt to a virtual classroom.

"As a teacher, I had to completely revamp everything," he says, so that he could keep his students engaged while teaching online. "At the beginning, it was a nightmare because I had no idea. I had to go from A-Z within a couple of weeks."

Michael's TurboTax Live expert answered his questions about how working from home affected his taxes and helped him uncover surprising tax deductions. To top it all off, his expert surprised him with brand new science equipment and supplies, which allowed him to create an entire line of classes on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. "Now I can truly potentially reach millions of children with my lessons," he says. "I would never have taken that leap if not for the little lift from TurboTax Live."



Ricky, motivational youth speaker

As a motivational speaker, Ricky was used to doing his job in person, but, he says, "when COVID-19 hit, it altered my ability to travel and visit schools in person [because] schools moved to fully virtual or hybrid models."

He knew he had to pivot — so he began offering small virtual group workshops for student leadership groups at middle and high schools.

"This allowed me to work with student leaders to plan how they would continue making a positive impact on their school community," he says. He wasn't sure how being remote would affect his taxes, but TurboTax Live Self-Employed gave him the advice and answers that he needed to keep more money in his pocket at tax time — and the little lift he received from them has helped him serve even more students.

"[It] has been a major blessing," he says "There will be multiple schools and student groups from across the country that I can hold leadership workshops with to empower them with the tools to be inspirational leaders in their school, community, and world."

Plus, he says, it was great knowing he had an expert to help him figure out how being remote affected his taxes. "I felt confident and assured in the process of filing my taxes knowing I had an expert working with me, says Ricky. "There were things my expert knew that I would not have considered when filing on my own."

Filing your taxes doesn't have to be intimidating, especially after a year like 2020. TurboTax Live experts can give you the "little lift" you need to get your taxes done. File with the help of an expert or let an expert file for you! Go to TurboTax Live to get started.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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