🐦 Early birds

03.28.2024

The early birds have gotten over $135 billion in refunds. 

More than 62 million* people have filed their taxes ahead of the deadline, and thus far the IRS has issued 43 million refunds. The average refund amount is $3,145, up 5.8% compared to this time last year. 

And that’s not the only thing people are getting a jump on. With 80% of Americans planning to spend time spring cleaning, don’t forget that spring cleaning your finances could save you money. See how, and let’s take flight into this week’s money headlines. 

— The Editors

Money

🌸 An early bloom: Washington, D.C.’s iconic cherry blossoms hit their earliest peak bloom in 20 years,* when 70% of the city’s 3,700 trees were flowering. Based on hotel reservation numbers, organizers of the National Cherry Blossom Festival expect the number of tourists to reach 1.5 million* for the first time since before the pandemic. The festival generates $8 billion* from these visitors and creates more than 90,000 hospitality jobs.  

🥞 Breakfast prices wake up: The most important meal of the day is getting expensive, even as the Fed holds interest rates steady between 5.25% and 5.5%.* As grocery prices continue to grow, early risers are paying significantly more for their breakfast favorites than just a few years ago: Ground roast coffee is up from $4.25* in 2020 to $6.09 per pound; sliced bacon has increased from $5.50 in 2019 to $6.56, per pound; and eggs have climbed from $1.56 in 2019 to $3.00, slightly lower than last year’s 20-year high of $4.82.   

💀 Too soon, too scary: The Home Depot wants you to start thinking about Halloween. Retailers make up to 30%* of their annual sales during the holiday season now, so they’re bolstering consumer spending by launching themed merchandise earlier and earlier. For the home improvement retailer, that’s a seven-month head start for spooky decor and 12-foot skeletons that sell for $299.*  

💰 Gold rush: Soon after the Fed reaffirmed its outlook for three interest rate cuts this year, gold prices hit a record high of $2,222.39* per ounce. Central banks bought a record 2,100 tons* of gold in 2022 and 2023, and prices for the precious metal have increased 10% since mid-February and 20% since their October lows. 

Play

Save me a seat 

Looking to lock in a prime spot before crowds catch on? Booking ahead might actually cost you. 

In 2021, 28%* of Americans said they failed to show up for a restaurant reservation they’d made over the past year. Now, reservation fees are on the rise: Being a no-show for your time slot can result in a penalty that varies from around $10 per person to more than $50. This shift across the industry is an effort to protect no-shows from eating into a restaurant’s operational costs, but some diners are losing their appetites over the added charge. 

The airline industry also has a seat at this table. With U.S. airlines having collected $4.2 billion* in seat assignment fees in 2022, these add-ons are another way companies have tried to balance making revenue and retaining customers. Before you get too ahead of yourself on picking where to sit, check out these tips on how to travel on a budget

Life

Nesting 

In a $418 million* settlement agreement, the trade group National Association of Realtors announced increased transparency in real estate commission fees. Some estimate these changes could lower agent fees by 1–2%, resulting in tens of thousands of dollars of savings for buyers and sellers when closing a deal for investment properties or home sweet home. 

Though many would-be nesters are up against high housing prices and mortgage rates, the market is showing signs of optimism: Builder confidence rose to 51 in March from 48 last month, showing a net positive outlook for the first time since last July. 

Work

A head start for job seekers 

LinkedIn recently shared it made $1.7 billion* in revenue on premium subscriptions and increased paid users by 25% in 2023.  

The networking platform offers "Premium Career" and "Premium Business" plans that cost $29.99 and $59.99 monthly, respectively, which may appeal to job seekers wanting a boost in a competitive market. Some 70% of its premium users are using its AI tools to help write posts and comments and for profile recommendations. 

According to Empower research, a third of Americans worry about the job market (32%), and Gen Zers are the most concerned about job security (25%) as the overall unemployment rate increased to 3.9%* in February.  

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⏩ Thinking ahead: Which savings goal are you getting a head start on? 

  • Activities for long summer nights 

  • Halloween costumes and decor 

  • Thanksgiving dinner 

  • Holiday presents 

  • End-of-year travel

Get the scoop on your money.

Stay current on planning, saving, and investing for life.

As of March 22, 2024, EAG holds shares of Home Depot Inc. (HD) and Microsoft (MSFT) in advisory client accounts. 

*Third-party data is obtained from sources believed to be reliable; however, Empower cannot guarantee the accuracy, timeliness, completeness, or fitness of this data for any particular purpose. Third-party links are provided solely as a convenience and do not imply an affiliation, endorsement, responsibility, or approval by Empower of the contents on such third-party websites. 

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The Currency editors

Staff contributors

The CurrencyTM, a publication from Empower, covers the latest financial news and views shaping how we live, work, and play. We keep you current on ways to plan, save, and invest for life.

The content contained in this blog post is intended for general informational purposes only and is not meant to constitute legal, tax, accounting or investment advice. You should consult a qualified legal or tax professional regarding your specific situation. No part of this blog, nor the links contained therein is a solicitation or offer to sell securities. Compensation for freelance contributions not to exceed $1,250. Third-party data is obtained from sources believed to be reliable; however, Empower cannot guarantee the accuracy, timeliness, completeness or fitness of this data for any particular purpose. Third-party links are provided solely as a convenience and do not imply an affiliation, endorsement or approval by Empower of the contents on such third-party websites. 

Certain sections of this blog may contain forward-looking statements that are based on our reasonable expectations, estimates, projections and assumptions. Past performance is not a guarantee of future return, nor is it indicative of future performance. Investing involves risk. The value of your investment will fluctuate and you may lose money. 

Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. (CFP Board) owns the certification marks CFP®, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, CFP® (with plaque design), and CFP® (with flame design) in the U.S., which it authorizes use of by individuals who successfully complete CFP Board's initial and ongoing certification requirements. 

Advisory services are provided for a fee by Empower Advisory Group, LLC (“EAG”). EAG is a registered investment adviser with the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and subsidiary of Empower Annuity Insurance Company of America. Registration does not imply a certain level of skill or training.