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12 ways to blow your tax refund

Why set your refund aside for a boring old college fund when there are so many great ways to spend that windfall?

space-adventures
Space Adventures

Your tax refund might seem like new money, but in reality, it belonged to you all along. You simply overpaid on taxes, and now the government is returning your money. While you might be tempted to invest that cash in Future You -- college fund, retirement, leaky roof or the like -- I'm here to say that it's a lot more satisfying to spend the money on something awesome. Why not reward yourself with a new PC, an enormous television or even just a high-tech temperature-regulating coffee mug?

No matter what your tastes -- or how much money is in that refund check -- I've rounded up a selection of great tax-refund gifts you can give yourself.

Read more: How to estimate your 2020 tax refund

Experiences

I've found that the best way to spend your money is on experiences, not possessions. Experiences stimulate the mind and give you lasting memories to reflect on. Things, on the other hand, can wear out, break and disappoint you -- and you tend to stop appreciating them after a while anyway. With that in mind, here are some experiences that even your accountant might agree are a solid use of your tax refund. 

iFly

If you've never gone skydiving, here's some free advice: don't. It was the most relentlessly unpleasant experience of my life, and one I wouldn't repeat for all the donuts in the world. But something I did love? Indoor skydiving. iFly operates indoor skydiving in more than 80 locations, and it's easy and inexpensive to suit up and ride the wind -- solo, or with the entire family. 

Richard Petty Driving Experience

What's the fastest you've ever driven? If it's under 100 mph, you owe it to yourself to hop in a NASCAR race car and power through the curves of a local race track under the supervision of a racing instructor. The Richard Petty Driving Experience has a slew of options, starting with five minutes of track time for $200, but going all the way up to 48 minutes on the track for about $2,000. 

Space Adventures

No matter what your pretax income, you don't have a refund large enough to pay Elon Musk for a trip to space. But you can do the next best thing. Space Adventures operates a number of earth- and space-bound activities, and the most affordable is the Zero G Experience. Climb aboard the "vomit comet," a Boeing 727 that repeatedly flies parabolas to give you about 30 seconds of weightlessness over and over again. It's like you're in space, however briefly.  

Stuff over $500

Experiences may be better than possessions, but the flip side is that possessions are fleeting, and stuff can be awesome. From a fully stocked arcade cabinet to a gaming PC to a 65-inch TV, these items are refund-worthy. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Nothing says "home theater" like a (very) big flatscreen TV. The TCL 65-inch 6 Series 4K UHD Roku TV, called 65R625 by its friends, is one of the most impressive 65-inch sets in its (or any) price range. With superb brightness and color handling, 120 distinct contrast zones and excellent motion handling, this is the TV to beat. And it has Roku's terrific smart TV features as well. Read our TCL 6-Series (2019 Roku TV) review.

Dell

If you're a gamer, into virtual reality or do a lot of resource-intensive photo and video editing, you need a traditional desktop PC -- most laptops simply won't cut it. The Alienware Aurora R8 is all that and then some. I'd recommend the "200-plus FPS" edition, which has a ninth-generation Intel Core i7 9700 CPU, a GeForce 2070 Super GPU and a generous 1TB SSD, all of which clocks in at $1,880. But depending upon the size of your refund, you can customize that rig up or down. 

Dream Arcades

You know we love Arcade1Up's three-quarter-height arcade cabinets, but if you're flush with cash from your tax refund, it's time to go all in. The Dreamcase Vision 32 from Dream Arcades is packed with over 250 games in a full-size cabinet, and you can customize it with a light gun or trackball and a slew of additional games. The price starts at $2,899 (plus $495 for shipping) but if you check every option, it can total close to $5,000. 

Under $500

You don't need to be prepared to drop a William McKinley (the last person to appear on the now-defunct $500 bill) to make great use of a tax refund. Here are a few of our favorites. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

There's no question that the Oculus Quest is the best overall VR headset you can buy today. With about the same resolution as the first wave of PC-tethered VR headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive but completely self-contained and wireless, the Quest is fun, easy to use and painless to set up. In fact, it's complete portable -- you can use it anywhere. While you can get the 64GB version for $399, you might want to spend an extra $100 for the 128GB version, which holds a lot more games. Unfortunately, there's a worldwide shortage of Quests right now, but perhaps they'll be back in stock by the time you get your refund check. Read our Oculus Quest review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

For many audiophiles, the holy grail is a high-quality multiroom system. With speakers in every room, you can play music wherever you like, whenever you like. Sonos is the gold standard in multiroom audio. Equipped with a Sonos system, you can play the same or different audio in every room from streaming services or your personal collection. For less than $500, the Move is a fully portable Bluetooth speaker with 10-hour runtime that's also a Sonos component. That means you can add the versatile Move to an existing Sonos network or use it as the cornerstone of a Sonos multiroom system that's handy as a portable speaker right from Day 1. Read our Sonos Move review.

Under $100

If your refund is modest, or you're planning to peel of one Benjamin and save the rest, here's a collection of under-$100 items that will both delight you and help improve your life. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

If you already have a fitness band, you might want to divert some refund cash to a smart scale. Eufy's scale is attractively styled and records a lot of details, including your weight, body fat, water, muscle mass, bone mass, BMI and BMR. All that data is synced via Bluetooth to Eufy's app on your phone, and the stats are also flagged as low, normal or high, so you have a sense of your overall health. And this is an inexpensive way to share your refund with the whole family: It supports up to 16 users. Read our smart scale roundup.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Your house isn't already filled with smart speakers? Then make room for the Echo Show 5. It's great in the kitchen -- you can use it to watch cooking videos -- or as a smart alarm clock in the bedroom. No matter where you place it, it's a great control center for all the smart devices in your home and gives you full access to all of Alexa's usual skills and information. Read our Echo Show 5 review.

Érika García/CNET

Invest your refund in self-improvement. The Fitbit Inspire HR is pretty close to the ideal fitness band. It has a five-day battery life, a built-in heart rate monitor and it's waterproof for swimming. Flitbit is really smart about knowing when you're exercising and automatically tracking your workouts. And it can even display notifications from your smartphone. Read more about the Fitbit Inspire HR.

Ember

Ordinarily, it's hard to justify spending $100 on a mug that maintains a constant temperature, but sometimes you just need to splurge. Ember is a self-heating, app-controlled mug that can maintain a constant temperature between 120 and 140 degrees for about an hour and a half -- or, if it's resting on its wireless charging pad, all day long. There's also a 12-ounce travel mug version that costs $180. 

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