I like to talk about saving. I feel like my tendency to save instead of spend has opened me up to a world of wealth lots of people don’t get to enjoy. When I give advice, I mostly talk about saving, investing and growing your money.
I probably don’t need to point this out, but I will anyway: saving isn’t the end goal. We don’t save because we want to hoard our money and flaunt the numbers on our balance sheets. The whole reason we save is so we can spend! You don’t save for retirement so you can swim in a vault of coins like Scrooge McDuck; you save for retirement so you’ll have money to spend in retirement.
As I’ve pointed out before, you want to have money in your final years, but you don’t want to guard those finances at the expense of the rest of your life. There has to be spending while you’re young so you don’t waste your best years. Use your money wisely and with caution, and only when you’ve earned the right to do so, but please don’t forget to enjoy your life!
Let’s assume debt isn’t your biggest problem, your finances are in order, and you’ve got $1,000 to spend. With so many fun things to buy, how will you decide where that money should go? One of the problems with having so much commerce at our fingertips is we sometimes get overwhelmed and then make the easiest - not the best - purchase.
Buying things is much more fun when you don’t regret the purchase a few days or minutes later. If you take a little extra time to consider what you really want before making a transaction, chances are much better you’ll feel the money was well spent.
I’ve got five options for those of you with a little financial cushioning to mull over. Hopefully one of these ideas will help you turn those extra funds into a rewarding experience.
Jet-setting should always be on your radar. Few things are as fun and rewarding as visiting a place you’ve never been before. A grand might not seem like a hefty travel budget, but depending on where your travels take you, a little money can go a long way. It takes more planning and research to find the best deals, but it’s worth the effort.
If you haven’t had good experiences with plane rides and hotel stays in the past, you just need to pick a different location and try again. If the problem is you feel like a vacation does nothing but drain your money, that’s understandable. Most people don’t get paid to fly away from where they live and work, and being on the road brings about lots of food and lodging expenses. On paper, travel does not help your net worth.
Fortunately, we’re not looking at your life on paper. We’re looking at your life as a whole, and thinking about building memories for you to look back on as the years go by. Through that scope, traveling becomes much more attractive.
In a certain respect, I view travel as an investment. Just as we invest in a college education, seeing new sights and meeting new people provides a type of learning you can’t get anywhere else. You might not get a degree out of it, but think about all the different ways travel can educate:
It doesn’t matter how far you go, traveling outside your normal realm can teach you a lot about various economic truths. If you travel from the U.S. to a developing nation in Africa or South America, you can learn about jobs and industries unlike anything we have here in the States. If you don’t want to spend all your money on a plane ticket, you can leave the city you live in and drive to a more rural area, or vice versa. Economic realities change quickly from region to region, and you can learn a lot visiting a place two hours away.
In addition to seeing stark differences, there’s plenty to learn from observing similarities. Plenty of foreign markets operate similarly to ours in America, and watching vendors in those countries can shed light on why the global economy does what it does. You can also travel from Kentucky to Oregon and see how bourbon distilleries and craft breweries do similar things for their surrounding regions.
When you travel the world, you learn more about how the world works. And like Liza Minnelli says in Cabaret – “Money makes the world go round.”
Speaking multiple languages opens doors left and right. On one hand, speaking Spanish, French or Mandarin enables you to travel virtually anywhere you want to go. Even if you don’t have dreams of picking up multiple dialects and traveling constantly, language comprehension is always valued in the workplace. How many applications have you filled out asking what languages you speak? How nice would it feel to be able to check a few extra boxes? I’m not saying $1,000 and a plane ride is going to make you fluent in a new language, but it certainly won’t hurt your progress.
Understanding the cultural identity of another group of people makes communication so much easier. It becomes easier to identify motives and meanings when trying to work with a person from another walk of life. Also, learning more about another country or city’s history and culture may give you a better appreciation for that place, influencing your future travel, work and life choices.
These points offer a little incentive for those worried bouncing around the globe is financially irresponsible. If you’re more interested in traveling as an escape and you just want to get pampered at the Ritz for a few days, that’s fine, too. Sometimes we need to get away and enjoy a stress-free life for a quick minute before getting back to the grind. If you can spend the money without regret and your only goal is relaxation, you have my blessing.
How many times have you felt just shy of qualified, wishing you had one extra credential you could tack onto your resume? As industries change and jobs are added and subtracted, it’s difficult to keep up and maintain a strong foothold in the workplace.
Alternatively, maybe you’ve been waiting to make a career change. Maybe you want to work in computers or medicine but haven’t known how to transition from your current position. You don’t feel like going back to school makes sense, but a change seems inevitable. What’s a working man or woman to do?
Hop online, search through all the classes and programs, and take the first step in what could be a brand new life. These beginning actions often scare people out of making a career move, but if you’ve saved the money and can comfortably pay the tuition, it’s much less intimidating. Many fee-based programs connect enrollees with exclusive jobs sites and opportunities, so putting a little money down can really make a difference in your effort to shake things up.
If you love your job and it like the discretionary spending it affords you, this type of course might not be what you need. However, there are plenty of other classes worth investing in. For those who have spent too many years focusing on work and not enough time indulging in fulfilling hobbies, I encourage you to look into something fun like painting or dance classes, or join a group that enjoys wilderness hikes and spends time outdoors.
For many of you, putting $1,000 toward an extracurricular class seems like a luxury only afforded to the rich and famous. If you’ve saved up that money and don’t have concrete plans for it, this is a worthwhile option that can absolutely enrich your life.
You know what’s not fun? Throwing down money to have a lawyer draw up a will, paying to have a medical exam you’ve been putting off, or fixing your car’s alignment. You know what’s less fun? Doing any of those things when you’re already strapped for cash but have no choice.
Sometimes we have no other option but to pay for something sensible. However, our inclination is rarely to put a bonus toward precautionary spending, even when that’s the best choice. You really have to push yourself to fight your instincts and basic desires to make this decision; you have to give up on those brilliant travel plans and skip that coding class you’ve been looking at. In many cases, it’s the right thing to do.
This type of spending, while totally boring and unimaginative, may help you make better use of your money in the long run, and it might even speed up your rate of saving so you’ll reach $1,000 more quickly the next time. For example, maybe you go see the doctor about a nagging issue that you’ve been taking medication for but haven’t seen improvement. After paying a little extra for a better test, it’s revealed you don’t need those meds, and you cut a monthly expense you thought would go on indefinitely – that’s a financial win. Similarly, the right fix to your car can save you on future maintenance and improve your gas mileage – another victory.
Another expense that gets kicked down the road is legal assistance. Once you decide to spend the money, these one-time expenses can offer invaluable peace of mind. Splurging on a will or some help with your estate planning removes a huge check mark from your life-long to-do list, and it’s amazing how much time gets freed up after you ax that kind of burden. It won’t be fun, and you might have some immediate buyer’s remorse after the lawyer takes your money, but you can’t feel bad about paying for these services. Some other less-than-thrilling expenses to consider:
● Upgraded computer software
● Financial advisement
● Fitness classes
Right now, you might feel like sprinting off to grab an atlas and plan a thousand-dollar vacation to avoid the tedium of what I’ve mentioned above. How you spend this money depends on your situation, personality, passions and long-term goals. It might be more important for you to have a fun weekend right now than it is to get a gym membership. For others, the sense of accomplishment and the benefits that come from spending responsibility are worth every penny.
Yet another expense people don’t plan for and then get crushed by. It’s awfully hard to feel good about spending hundreds of dollars to replace a broken window. It’s easier to stay positive when you make this move from a position of control.
Staying within our $1,000 price range, what type of renovations are available to you? Probably more than you think. You can upgrade doorways and windows to look better and become more energy efficient, which will help reduce bills and get money back into your savings account. You can also hire landscapers to improve the outdoor aesthetic of your house. Maybe you live somewhere affected by drought and you want to join the lawn-free movement by putting in a rock or cactus garden (another way to save money on your water bill).
People think of home improvement projects as gigantic, expense overhauls, but your remodel doesn’t have to be so massive. By retiling a surface or adding some fancy lights, you can completely change the geography and aesthetic of a room. Redo the countertops in your kitchen or upgrade your shower; have some old carpet replaced with newer, better material; get new shelving put in the den to give your entertainment center a new look. There are plenty of affordable options, most of which will increase the value or your home, all of which will make you happier living there.
If there’s a project you’ve had in mind for years that costs well beyond $1,000, maybe this money helps you get started. Perhaps you can have a basic deck put in the backyard, then the rest of your dream patio can be built when you have a little more money. Just because you don’t have all the cash you need doesn’t mean it’s time to give up on a project. Keep your goals in mind, chip away, and eventually you’ll get there.
The very last thing you might think to do with your money is perhaps the best choice of all: donate it.
Whether it’s to your church, a charity, or the gofundme account of a friend who’s fallen on hard times, very few things are as rewarding as helping those in need. Some people use taxes as their motivation for charitable giving, and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, the benefits reach far beyond what you declare to the IRS. When you give back to your community, the people around you do better. When you give to those less fortunate than yourself, your share your wealth and improve the life of another. I could go on for another 10 pages and I don’t think I’d ever overstate the importance of tithing.
Once you decide you’ll survive parting with this money, donating is just as much fun as any other type of spending. From animal shelters to the many organizations doing God’s work, you can quickly and directly impact many lives with your money. Take your time, choose wisely, and take pride in doing your part to make the world a better place.
I encourage people to give 10 percent of what they make to a charitable cause. I know that can be difficult on a monthly basis, so donating when you can is still very meaningful and fulfilling. After giving a little money back to your community, you may realize you can do so regularly without feeling any financial strain.
Money needs to be spent. You have to save a lot of it so you have some to spend later, but you should always be thinking about the ways in which the money you have can enrich your life. You don’t have to rush to get rid of the dollars in your pocket, but you can always be on the lookout for worthwhile purchases and experiences.
Before you resign to hiding away and investing every penny, think about what you can afford to spend and what expenses make the most sense. It might feel foolish to buy those plane tickets at first, but the resulting trip could be the best experience of your life. Paying $999 for an online class could seem dicey while you’re enrolling, but when you land your dream job in a few years you’ll be really glad you made that decision.
Of course, none of you are allowed to spend on the options above if you currently have $1,000 or more in debt to pay off. Paying down outstanding balances comes first and feels just as rewarding as anything else. Once that’s done, you should feel free to entertain some fun, non-frivolous spending options.