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Rags To Riches: How To Best Use Your Tax Refund

Career

It’s that time of year again… tax season! For many, this means an exciting tax refund. While it can be tempting to take this cash windfall and splurge on a shopping spree, you may want to reconsider. There are a number of great ways to use this influx of cash to improve your financial situation. Below are some smart uses for your tax refund you may want to consider:


Pay Off Debt

One of the best ways to use your tax refund is to put it towards debt repayment. Consider putting it towards the highest interest debt you owe, as this will save you the most money in the long run.

Top Up Your Emergency Fund

If you’ve recently had to dip into your emergency fund (or haven’t even started one), your tax refund can be a great way to top it back up again. Remember, it is generally recommended that you have at least 3-6 months’ worth of savings in your emergency fund!

Invest

Whether a Roth IRA, stocks, bonds, or mutual funds, your investment options are nearly endless. The opportunity to earn even more money can be a great use of your tax refund. If you’re new to investing and not sure what options make the most sense for you, consider talking a financial planner or investment advisor.

Put It Towards Your Children’s Future

If you have children, you can do them a huge favor by using your tax refund to set up a 529 College Savings Plan.

"There are people who have money and people who are rich"

-Coco Chanel

Make Home Improvements

Try to limit your spending to needed improvements, such as a new roof or more energy efficient windows. Also consider whether you’ll see an ROI on your investment. For instance, kitchen and bathroom improvements tend to have the highest returns on investment. Remember, your home is an investment, and at the end of the day, if you are going to be spending money on it, you want to ensure you are increasing your property value.

Save

Don’t feel like you necessarily need to do anything exciting with the money! Simply putting it in your savings account is still a responsible use of the money. However, don’t do this if you have more pressing financial matters to attend to such as multiple debts owed, as you want to avoid paying more interest than necessary on those debts.

Donate to Charity

Rather than several smaller charitable contributions throughout the year, you may find it more manageable to earmark your tax refund as a yearly lump sum contribution to your favorite charity.

While these options may not feel as “fun” as a last-minute weekend getaway or new handbag, your future self will thank you for making responsible financial decisions. Of course, if your plan all along was to use your tax refund for a big expense you’ve been considering for a long time, there’s nothing wrong with that! Just try to avoid blowing it on impulse purchases and first consider whether any of the above options make more sense for your financial well-being. Happy tax season!

7min read
Culture

The Middle East And North Africa Are Brimming With Untapped Female Potential

Women of the Middle East have made significant strides in the past decade in a number of sectors, but huge gaps remain within the labor market, especially in leadership roles.


A huge number of institutions have researched and quantified trends of and obstacles to the full utilization of females in the marketplace. Gabriela Ramos, is the Chief-of-Staff to The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an alliance of thirty-six governments seeking to improve economic growth and world trade. The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.

To realize the possibilities, attention needs to be directed toward the most significantly underutilized resource: the women of MENA—the Middle East and North African countries. Educating the men of MENA on the importance of women working and holding leadership roles will improve the economies of those nations and lead to both national and global rewards, such as dissolving cultural stereotypes.

The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.

In order to put this issue in perspective, the MENA region has the second highest unemployment rate in the world. According to the World Bank, more women than men go to universities, but for many in this region the journey ends with a degree. After graduating, women tend to stay at home due to social and cultural pressures. In 2017, the OECD estimated that unemployment among women is costing some $575 billion annually.

Forbes and Arabian Business have each published lists of the 100 most powerful Arab businesswomen, yet most female entrepreneurs in the Middle East run family businesses. When it comes to managerial positions, the MENA region ranks last with only 13 percent women among the total number of CEOs according to the Swiss-based International Labor Organization (ILO.org publication "Women Business Management – Gaining Momentum in the Middle East and Africa.")

The lopsided tendency that keeps women in family business—remaining tethered to the home even if they are prepared and capable of moving "into the world"—is noted in a report prepared by OECD. The survey provides factual support for the intuitive concern of cultural and political imbalance impeding the progression of women into the workplace who are otherwise fully capable. The nations of Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Jordan and Egypt all prohibit gender discrimination and legislate equal pay for men and women, but the progressive-sounding checklist of their rights fails to impact on "hiring, wages or women's labor force participation." In fact, the report continues, "Women in the six countries receive inferior wages for equal work… and in the private sector women rarely hold management positions or sit on the boards of companies."

This is more than a feminist mantra; MENA's males must learn that they, too, will benefit from accelerating the entry of women into the workforce on all levels. Some projections of value lost because women are unable to work; or conversely the amount of potential revenue are significant.

Elissa Freiha, founder of Womena, the leading empowerment platform in the Middle East, emphasizes the financial benefit of having women in high positions when communicating with men's groups. From a business perspective it has been proven through the market Index provider MSCI.com that companies with more women on their boards deliver 36% better equity than those lacking board diversity.

She challenges companies with the knowledge that, "From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies."

Freiha agrees that educating MENA's men will turn the tide. "It is difficult to argue culturally that a woman can disconnect herself from the household and community." Her own father, a United Arab Emirates native of Lebanese descent, preferred she get a job in the government, but after one month she quit and went on to create Womena. The fact that this win-lose situation was supported by an open-minded father, further propelled Freiha to start her own business.

"From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies." - Elissa Frei

While not all men share the open-mindedness of Freiha's dad, a striking number of MENA's women have convincingly demonstrated that the talent pool is skilled, capable and all-around impressive. One such woman is the prominent Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al-Qasimi, who is currently serving as a cabinet minister in the United Arab Emirates and previously headed a successful IT strategy company.

Al-Qasimi exemplifies the potential for MENA women in leadership, but how can one example become a cultural norm? Marcello Bonatto, who runs Re: Coded, a program that teaches young people in Turkey, Iraq and Yemen to become technology leaders, believes that multigenerational education is the key. He believes in the importance of educating the parent along with their offspring, "particularly when it comes to women." Bonatto notes the number of conflict-affected youth who have succeeded through his program—a boot camp training in technology.

The United Nations Women alongside Promundo—a Brazil-based NGO that promotes gender-equality and non-violence—sponsored a study titled, "International Men and Gender Equality Survey of the Middle East and North Africa in 2017."

This study surveyed ten thousand men and women between the ages of 18 and 59 across both rural and urban areas in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and the Palestinian Authority. It reports that, "Men expected to control their wives' personal freedoms from what they wear to when the couple has sex." Additionally, a mere one-tenth to one-third of men reported having recently carried out a more conventionally "female task" in their home.

Although the MENA region is steeped in historical tribal culture, the current conflict of gender roles is at a crucial turning point. Masculine power structures still play a huge role in these countries, and despite this obstacle, women are on the rise. But without the support of their nations' men this will continue to be an uphill battle. And if change won't come from the culture, maybe it can come from money. By educating MENA's men about these issues, the estimated $27 trillion that women could bring to their economies might not be a dream. Women have been empowering themselves for years, but it's time for MENA's men to empower its women.