You just pushed the send button on your income tax return and you can't wait for your refund to go into your account. You might be thinking about what you'll use it for. An exotic vacation? A down payment on a new car? Here's another thought: You can use that money to brighten your family's financial picture over the long term.  

Here are five ways you can do that:

1. Start an emergency fund.

You can use your income tax refund to start an emergency fund, or add to your current emergency savings. Aim to have enough money to cover about three to six months of necessary living expenses. Keep that money in an easily accessible, high-interest emergency savings account or a tax-free savings account (if you have contribution room). That way, you will be better able to weather a financial crisis, like the loss of a job, a car breakdown or unexpected, unpaid time off work.  

2. Top up your RRSP.

For the 2019 tax year, the registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) contribution limit is 18% of earned income from the previous year, up to $26,500. That number will be adjusted if you put money in a company-sponsored pension plan. Yet studies steadily show that less than half of Canadians put money in their RRSPs every year. If you haven't been contributing the maximum to your RRSP, you can use your income tax refund to help build a larger retirement fund.  The interest on your money will also compound over a longer period than if you only put money in at the end of each year.

3. Pay down credit card debt.

According to, the average adult Canadian carries about three credit cards. The Canadian Bankers Association reports that about 60% of Canadians pay off their accounts in full each month. That means 40% of us are paying interest rates of 15% to 20% on our outstanding balances. Paying down or paying off your credit card debt will free up money that you can use to boost your retirement savings.

4. Pay down your mortgage.

Given that the average Canadian home sold for $468,350 in February 2019, according to the Canadian Real Estate Association. The average detached home in Toronto sold for just under $1 million the following month, per the Toronto Real Estate Board. So there’s a good chance you took on a large mortgage to purchase your family home. Mortgage interest rates have started to inch up, and your payments may no longer be affordable the next time your mortgage renews. So, depending on your situation, it may make sense to take advantage of early pre-payment privileges to reduce your mortgage debt as quickly as possible. Once your mortgage is paid down or paid off, you can catch up on your RRSP.

5. Open an RESP.

For the 2018-2019 school year, the average undergraduate tuition fee was $6,571, according to Statistics Canada. And that's only one year out of a four-year program, and doesn't count books and living costs. Those expenses can add tens of thousands of dollars to the bill – and by the time your young children are of university age, the total will likely be a lot higher. If you're not saving for your child in a registered educational savings plan (RESP) you're leaving free money on the table.

That's because when you contribute to an RESP for your child, the Canada Education Savings Grant adds 20 cents to every dollar you contribute, up to a maximum of $500 on an annual contribution of $2,500 until your child is 17. Special rules apply, so it's important that you speak to your financial advisor in order to maximize the grant. Using your tax refund to make annual RESP contributions is a great way to invest in your child's future.