The alternative: Make a list of all of the things you've wished you could purchase outright during the last year, and carefully select something from it. You're less likely to overlook other, more useful purchases this way. Even then, once you've reached a decision, it couldn't hurt to sleep on it.
A phone on its own may not be an unwise purchase, but a new phone is often cheaper when you agree to extend your contract at the same time, and it may also require a more expensive data plan. Using your refund to heighten your financial obligations in the future is no way to get ahead.
The alternative: If your phone truly needs to be replaced, make sure that your new plan won't overextend your monthly budget. If that's not possible, consider giving your old phone a tune-up by transferring your old photos to your computer and deleting your rarely used apps. This won't make your phone new, but it's unlikely to wreck your finances either.
Sure, all of the items above can result in your refund evaporating quickly. But most of them will still yield a decent story. Letting haphazard spending habits erode your refund as it sits in your checking account is a great way to end up with no money and no real tale to tell about how you spent it.The alternative: If you suspect your refund may fall victim to checking-account overspending, have it direct-deposited into your savings account instead. While you'll still need to exercise discipline to avoid spending it, it will at least enjoy a buffer from your debit card. As pleasant as it is to receive a refund, adjusting your tax withholding status to prevent future refunds has its advantages. No, you may not get a lump sum each spring, but investing the extra money you get in your paycheck in a high-yield savings account or certificate of deposit allows your funds to earn interest throughout the year. Although deposit yields remain at historic lows, shopping around can still result in a reasonable return. And if you've already abstained from throwing a legendary party and spending an afternoon at the horse races, you deserve every penny you're entitled to.