Imagine waking up one day, signing into your bank account, and seeing an extra $10,000 just sitting there. I know, it's a dream come true! But what would you do?
Obviously upon receiving this kind of cash, most of us would want to head down to the mall and buy designer boots and a new LBD, but here's the reality: you can put that money to better use.
While this fantasy may seem far-fetched, there are plenty of realistic ways to come into an influx of money. Whether it's a raise, bonus, property sale, or cash wedding gifts, money sometimes comes in waves.
So we asked six money experts what they would do if they came into an influx of $10,000. Their answers included some financially savvy tips, creative ideas, and — most importantly — practical advice on how to manage your money most effectively. Check out their answers, and then you can responsibly prepare for that holiday bonus before it's here.
First Have a Little Fun — Then Look Seriously at Your Goals
"This is going to sound like weird financial advice, but before you do anything else, put aside 10 percent of the money to spend on whatever you flippin' want. It's a double whammy of money you can use to fund some fun, and money that makes you forget that you're about to be a responsible adult with the other $9,000 you just scored.
You should put that $9,000 towards one, or several, of your financial goals. Maybe that's clearing your last little bit of credit card debt and getting to a sweet $0.00 balance or topping off your house down payment savings account or building an emergency fund. Whether you're accelerating your progress towards a goal that matters to you or just helping future you out of a sticky spot, 90 percent of that 10 grand should be used 'responsibly,' whatever that means for you."
— Desirae Odjick, personal finance blogger at Half-Banked
Free Yourself From Debt
"Coming into an influx of $10,000 can either put you on the right path to success or down the wrong path of exposing what is already inside of you. It doesn't matter how much money you come into if you still have old habits and beliefs to how you view money.
The first place that we would consider using the money is to free yourself from the trappings of debt. Using all or some of the $10,000 to dig your way out of debt relieves you of the stress that being in debt brings and increases your net worth simultaneously."
— Talaat and Tai McNeely, financial educators and "America's #1 Money Couple"
Beef Up That Emergency Fund
"As with many personal finance questions, the short answer is: it depends. My first question for you is this: do you have an emergency fund? Ideally, you want three to six months of living expenses in fairly liquid savings. But if you're starting at square one, then use the first $2,000 of your bonus for that.
Consider it insurance against going into debt if something unexpected were to happen. Speaking of which, if you have any high-interest-rate credit card debt, that's what you should target next. It's one of the best returns on your money, because it's equal to the card's interest rate.
Debt-free? Use your bonus to meet the match on your workplace retirement plan. And if that's taken care of, then go back to your new emergency fund and work to get the full three to six months socked away."
— Jean Chatzky, personal finance journalist, AARP's personal finance ambassador, and host of the podcast HerMoney with Jean Chatzky
Consider the Biggest Return on Your Investment
"Coming into any lump sum amount of money is a good chance to fix some financial wrongs. First off, do you have any debt to pay off? That can be the biggest return of your investment, especially if it's high-interest credit cards.
Once that's covered, look to start (or top up) an emergency fund. Some people may want more to sleep better at night, but I think a great minimum to shoot for is the equivalent of three months of take-home pay."
— Tom Drake, founder of personal finance site Maple Money
Put It Straight Into an Index Fund
"Personally, I'd put every penny of it into VTSAX — Vanguard's Total Stock Market Index Fund — before I get too tempted to spend it. That $10K would get to $100K eventually over time! If I were in debt or just starting out my money journey, however, I'd use some of it to kill the worst of the debt, some of it to help start an emergency fund, some to pad my checking account to give me some breathing room, and then I'd take out a few hundred to blow on something fun. And that's assuming there's no taxes to be paid on it, which is the opposite of fun!"
Disaster-Proof Your Life
"There's no one solution that will apply for everyone, so it might be better to have a framework to think about. If you think generally about net worth, there are two sides to consider: your assets (what you own) and your liabilities (what you owe). Therefore, you can increase your net worth in two ways: increase the assets side or decrease the liabilities side. If you have high-interest debt, definitely focus on the debt.
If that's fine, then look at filling out your insurance and estate planning needs (like life and disability insurance, wills, and powers of attorney) so you can disaster-proof your life. And then, if you have all the basics in order, look at investing. Also, if you're not in the high-interest-debt group, feel free to use $500 to $1,000 for something indulgent. That's to help you feel like it's not all work and no play when getting smart with your money."