April 24, 2024

Saluti Law Medi

Rule it with System

How should you spend your tax refund? We asked Vox readers.

The concept of a tax refund is sort of a silly one, a reminder of the fact that despite some 250-ish years of existence, the US has yet to institute a system in which each citizen knows exactly how much money they owe the government. Every spring, Americans are subject to that uneasy feeling: “Am I committing a federal crime if I accidentally check the wrong box?”

But without it, we also wouldn’t be able to experience the joy of getting a surprise check from the IRS because we accidentally overpaid — which, even if the amount is hilariously tiny, is never not fun. We asked Vox readers about their favorite tax refund purchases, and their answers ranged from the practical (a travel trailer) to the unfortunate (a wedding from hell) and the joyfully random (a xylophone).

A Pilates instructor certification program

I took my first Pilates class when I was 14, and have been practicing ever since. Last year, I was in a very tough group class and toward the end, just as I felt like I was about to die, the instructor came by and said, “Great form, how long have you been taking Pilates?” I told her, “As long as I could remember.” She asked if I was an instructor, and I said no, but that it was my dream job. She said, “So do it!”

One week later I got my tax refund. The amount was $4,180 — the exact same as the instructor certification program! I’ve got 18 hours to go out of the 400-hour program. If all goes well, I will be officially certified next month. —Emily Negersmith, 35, New York, NY

A pink camper van with a vintage stripe green stripe decal. Two dogs, a cat, and a parrot are riding in the back, and a person with long black hair is driving.

A vacation for the pets, too

We’ve never really bought anything big because whenever we’ve actually had a refund, we’ve been behind on bills. I was planning on paying off some debt this year, but after I won a bit of money gambling, I realized I could combine the amounts and purchase an old, used travel trailer for $3,000. For the first time since our honeymoon, we will be able to actually go somewhere. After our honeymoon years ago, our dog at the time was returned to us from boarding in such a bad state that we thought for sure he had been mistreated. We’ve never trusted anyone to watch our pets since.

With this travel trailer, we’ll be able to pile our dog and cats in with us and hit the road to go visit my family, some of whom I haven’t seen in about a decade! We also see it as an investment. Even if something happened and we could no longer afford our house, we would still have a roof over our heads. —Larissa Land, 32, Erie, PA

A crowd of concertgoers in colorful outfits hold up signs and wave their arms at a performer singing onstage.

Adele tickets

I got a decent-sized refund last year, so I put it toward buying my Mum and I tickets to see Adele in Vegas. The tickets were so expensive — $750 each — and we were sat in the way back. However, we were the lucky ones who got upgraded up to the third row during the show. [It was] super special since my Mum flew from New Zealand for the show! —Ben Fitchett, 24, Los Angeles, CA

Two people stand holding hands under an altar flanked by potted plants and elaborate tile-work. One woman wearing a pink robe with ornate trim stands to the side with folded arms, looking displeased. Behind, the an ancient city skyline is visible.

A destination wedding from hell

In 2016, I spent my entire tax return, which was around $1,500, on the worst destination wedding ever — to Morocco. (The groom was my ex’s childhood friend.) Ostensibly, going to Morocco sounds amazing. In some ways it was. But the couple whose wedding it was were a total mess. Nothing happened on time. They made us pay for EVERYTHING, down to the rehearsal dinner meal. Plans were constantly changing and then running two to three hours behind. I ended up getting sick. I even spent another $900 at a market in Marrakech on a guest dress for the wedding — the couple wanted guests to come dressed in authentic garb. The $900 dress was beautiful and handmade, but I definitely went into debt to buy it. I bought it just to save me from having to deal with another logistical nightmare. To make matters worse, I’d just gotten laid off from my job prior to the trip, so I was in a pretty negative headspace around spending money. —Rachel Brodsky, 37, Los Angeles, CA

A person wearing a green jacket with white polka dots plays a large pink xylophone.

A xylophone

I played xylophone and marimba in the marching band and in Drum Corps International while I was in college and always wanted to own my own. I bought the xylophone in 2020 when I first moved to NYC with my first tax return ever from my first year working a job. It was $1,100! I had to sell it last year when I moved apartments, but it was so fun to play! —Jackson Weimar, 25, New York, NY

A woman wearing green pants and black heels and carrying a handbag and a shopping bag, strides happily past a city skyline and a yellow taxi cab.

A fabulous trip to NYC

In early 2018, I was traveling on a national tour with a children’s theater as an actor and director, and I was planning to move to NYC as soon as my contract ended. I’m from Florida and my entire family lives here, so it was a scary move to make. I wanted to make sure I was making the right decision, so I spent my $2,200 tax refund from 2017 on a week-long “vacation” in NYC during a week we weren’t actively touring. I figured that would be my last chance to play tourist in the city because the next time I flew there would be to move, so I literally blew the entire refund in one week on dinners, drinks, shopping, shows, etc. It was so much fun and SO incredibly stupid! —Lexi Inks, 30, Jacksonville, FL

A person wearing a pink shirt and black and blue striped pants lounges on a large pile of colorful buttons, and holds one button up to admire it.


Using my most recent tax refund, I spent around $1,000 on clothing buttons. I used these buttons to create several new works of art for my upcoming retrospective exhibition, “Beau McCall: Buttons On!” The refund came at the perfect time since I needed the funds to create these pieces for my show. Even though strangers sometimes donate buttons to me, I still need to purchase buttons to fill out my inventory of materials. So I was able to purchase Swarovski crystal, rhinestone, mother-of-pearl, horn, custom ceramic buttons, and one-of-a-kind decorative buttons from local button shops. People don’t realize it, but a single button can cost anywhere from 25 cents to $100 or more. When I look at my work and see these buttons on there, I am grateful that I was able to get the refund in time in order to create pieces that are now immortalized as art and will be on display. It’s an investment well spent. Beau McCall, 66, Harlem, NY