The winter chill has returned, and it seems like a long time until spring returns. What are you looking forward to? For many, it’s the tax refund that may provide a means to dream. How many ways can you think of right now, to spend it? If I take time to think about it and plan for it, I will probably make wiser choices than if I just cash the check and go shopping.

The IRS tells us more than 70 percent of us will be receiving a refund that averages about $2,000. Remember, this is your money that you have earned through the year and it is now being returned. Think of it as an extra paycheck instead of "free money." We can all think of things we want and probably many more things we need. Start by making a list of "need to have now" and "need to have later" and then a list of things we really want. Then put that list aside and consider the rest of the information. How can I best use the money? Think about the following:

— About 50 percent of us will use the refund to pay down debt. This will help in the long run by cutting the interest we pay on outstanding credit cards and loans. For credit cards, look for either the highest interest rate and apply the most to that payment or pay off the small amounts and then keep applying that amount the large one. PowerPay is a great resource from the University of Utah that can help with a payment plan. If you can make an additional payment to either your mortgage or vehicle loan, you can also save interest. Before sending the payment, call and ask where to send a payment for the principle so it is applied directly on the loan and not the interest.

— Consider starting or adding to an emergency fund. This is not the same as your savings account that you might use for vacations or other special events. This is the money that you could live on for 3-6 months to cover the household expenses. If the operating expenses for a month are $3,000, then we should aim to have between $9,000 to $18,000 in a "reserve" account to keep us going until our circumstances change. It’s a goal to work on; start small to build your emergency fund today. Don’t forget to make contributions to retirement accounts as well. Starting early in your career will be beneficial in the long run.

— If you are planning something special, like a weekend vacation or special event, then consider posting a chart on the refrigerator to show everyone how much you have toward the goal. If we needed $500 to go, then every time I can save money and put it toward the goal, I want to share it. Children learn many of their money management skills from us just by watching how we pay for things. Help them learn to save for things they want and give them the satisfaction of paying for it themselves.

— Other expenses that come up during the year are the vehicle license plates, some insurance, health and dental expenses, home improvements and vehicle maintenance. Let’s just say there’s no lack of places to spend the return, it comes down to your choices.

How are you going to make these decisions? I would hope by having a conversation with the co-spender in the home. Money can be the source of stress and arguments in a home. Having a plan on what the choices are and what your priorities are, can help us work together to accomplish our goals. For additional information contact the OSU Extension Office at 330-264-8722 or Wayne.osu.edu.

Melinda Hill is an OSU Extension Family & Consumer Sciences educator and may be reached at 330-264-8722.