Thursday, April 15, 2010

10 Sporty Ways to Spend a Tax Refund

You still have until midnight to file your taxes, but if you're Type-A--as many triathletes and athletes admit--you probably already filed them, or an extension, in advance. And assuming that your taxes are done, you know how much you're getting back from Uncle Sam, what you owe (hopefully nothing) or what ways you could reorganize your finances for some wiggle room in the budget. Not that you want a refund to burn a hole in your pocket, but if you're looking for ways to spend that tax refund or bonus cash (maybe a little too much penny-pinching this year and you're looking to splurge for once), here are 10 sports-friendly ways to give yourself a gift.
  1. Upgrade your gear. Is your biking looking like it needs a little TLC? Are your running shoes showing too much wear and tear? Did you tell yourself last season that you needed to buy a wetsuit for this season--and the 80 degrees air temperature coupled with frigid Lake Michigan waters convincing you even more?
  2. Buy a training plan. Have a race coming up that you planned to train for under your own tutelage due to a lack of funds? A training plan can keep you accountable for your workouts plus help guide you successfully to the finish line.
  3. Join a training group. Forget the training on your own, meet some buddies who can log the miles with you as you prep for your "A" race this season. You'll get a coach leading you through workouts and creating a training plan, learn the do's and don'ts of training, and keep yourself from overtraining to be on fresh legs at the start line. Chicago Endurance Sports, Chicago Fit, Max Multisport and Well Fit are a few area groups that have programs starting soon.
  4. Splurge on a ski trip. Running is a great way to get in shape for a week of downhill skiing so when the ground freezes and you have to switch to the treadmill, why not give your running legs a break and switch to a new activity? Your quads will already be exercised to endure the turns and carving on downhill skis and you'll get plenty of fresh air and time outdoors. And now's the time to save on a trip for next year with ski passes on sale until the end of the month. Whistler and Vail Resorts both have passes to help you get in plenty of days on the snow without breaking the bank.
  5. Attend a training camp. Need a week away from the city but want to train at the same time? Forge full speed ahead on the training by attending a camp where you have zero distractions and only have to focus on your sport. Vision Quest Coaching is holding its annual spring cycling camps this week and next in Santa Rosa, Calif., but that doesn't mean you can plan ahead for next year or wait until fall for another trip. Max Multisport is hosting a triathlon camp in Galena, Ill., the weekend of May 1. And there are many other sports-focused camps around the country--just search Google.
  6. Register for a race. The Chicago Marathon and Soldier Field 10 races might be closed already but there are still plenty of race opportunities in and around Chicago--and even more if you skip town. And now with that extra money in your pocket, you can sign up for those events that you were crabbing over the costs like a half Ironman, triathlon, half marathon or marathon.
  7. Find a friend who's running for a cause and donate to their fundraising efforts. There are lots of reasons people choose to participate in an endurance event, one of which is running under a charity program. You've probably had at least one friend or coworker ask you to donate to their efforts. Maybe before you had to turn them down or donate less because you just didn't have the funds but now that you do, consider making the charitable donation that you can write off on your 2010 taxes.
  8. Revamp your wardrobe. I'm specifically thinking of shopping the Boston Marathon expo with this one, but that's because I'll be there 24 hours from now perusing the aisles of shops, freebies and organizations. But honestly, it's almost too easy to want to replace those threadbare socks, stinky tees and rundown shorts if you have a tax refund, no matter how big or small. Or just splurge in a store where you normally wouldn't go to buy your gear because it seemed too expensive in the past.
  9. Make time for massage. Our bodies love a little R&R, but it's never easy to find the time and money to always cater to those desires. It's spa week in Chicago so you can hurry and make a massage appointment while the deals are still hot, or just pocket the thought for the next time your muscles are writhing after a run. Or go for the at-home do-it-yourself TP Massage Kit: It works wonders, too.
  10. Go high tech. When was the last time you bought an iPod so you could listen to tunes while you run? How ancient is your bike computer? Have a heart rate monitor that doesn't have the same bells and whistles fo those that your friends have? Running in the dark in terms of pace and distance and put a Garmin on your wish list year in and year out but never buy it?
Sure, there are plenty of ways to save or spend a tax refund. But isn't it nice to have a few options that can help you on the sports front? Sure, they're not guaranteed to make you faster or anything but they're like little rewards for a hard day's work. I have my eye on a long-sleeve wetsuit: After two years of 50-something-degree water at the Spirit of Racine and my arms are begging me for coverage. Photo grabbed from 401K at flickr.

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