African American woman counting money in living room

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It’s that glorious time of year when bank accounts catch a glimmer of hope and lump sums give our balances a boost. This magical time, full of false security and dreams of lavish living, is also known as “tax refund season.”

While some of us may owe money, most people will see a nice little chunk of change from Uncle Sam. But the real question you should be asking yourself is “how can I make my money work for me?”

Of course, your first thought may be to spend it all, especially since it is “found” money, but think before you spend, friends; there are better choices. Here are 6 smart ways to use that money to achieve impressive benefits and a fair dose of instant gratification.

1. Pay down credit card debt.

This has to be at the top of the list. It should honestly go without saying, but paying off a high interest credit card saves you money down the road. Stop putting it off, stop making minimum payments — just take whatever money you get and use it to get yourself one step closer to being debt free.

2. Start an emergency fund … right now.

If you don’t have one, use this money as your starting point. The general consensus is that you need at least six months (I say at least 9 months) of living expenses saved in case of an emergency or job loss. Getting started or beefing up an existing account will allow you to rest easier.

3. Upgrade your home.

If you have anything home related that is giving you problems or about to, now is the time to fix the problem and give yourself peace of mind. Also, home improvements now will pay you dividends over time, so it’s a smart investment. Not to mention, you will enjoy a more comfortable living situation in the meantime, so, there’s that too.

4. Put it in an IRA.

If you don’t have an IRA, start one. Studies have shown that Americans don’t have anywhere near the savings they should at retirement.If you are in that number, this is a chance to catch up. And let’s be real, you’re not getting any younger. You may think you have time, but more than likely, you’re already behind.

5. Go back to school.

If your financial house is in order, how about investing in yourself? Taking some of the money to pay for weekend or night classes can be a chance to upgrade your professional credentials. This could be a great way to leverage that money into a promotion, raise or better job down the road. And who knows, it could even lead to a new, dream job!

6. Join a gym or buy a bike.

This choice allows you to improve your physical health. Whenever possible, riding a bike can save you money on gas and car repairs while improving physical fitness. If that’s too much for you, joining a gym will give you an opportunity to take care of your body, which we could all do more of. Studies have shown that productivity is positively impacted and related to fitness and health. However you do it, an investment in your health can reap big rewards.

Jennifer Streaks is a stylish moneypro and lifestyle expert and is a contributor for HelloBeautiful.com. She tweets @JStreaks and her website is JenniferStreaks.com.

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