Think in terms of investing, not consuming. If you use your refund check to, say, buy a coffee maker and bean grinder you may be able to cut out the frequent Starbucks trip and earn back your investment in a matter of months. The same could be said of a Netflix membership if you don't mind watching movies at home, or a lawn mower or snow blower or vacuum sweeper that allow you to fire the gardener, snow plow guy and housekeeper. "We're in an economy where people are going to have start doing more things for themselves for the foreseeable future," says Pamela Shortal, a financial planner with Harris SBSB in McLean, Va. So buying the right tools is a smart use of your money. So is investing in energy saving technologies like new windows and more efficient heaters and coolers and insulation. A programmable thermostat, which adjusts the temperature when people are out of the house or asleep, can cost as little as $50. A membership at Sam's Club will pay for itself in just a couple visits.
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