Got a little extra cash burning a hole in your pocket? I don’t know about you, but when I find myself in the fortunate position of receiving some extra money from a bonus or tax refund, my first instinct is to get Chinese take-out and spend at least some of it on something for me.
While I’m probably not alone there, our instincts aren’t always our best guide. It definitely helps to pause and be more intentional with unexpected cash. For example, last year we got a small state tax refund - nothing too exciting. At the time, we were planning a trip to Disney and we were really trying to save as much money as possible for that. Even knowing that we were planning and actively saving for the Disney trip, my first instinct was to spend it on a couple of things for the house and a few dinners out.
Would I have gotten as much joy out of that spending as I did out of having our trip to Disney prepaid in the bank? Probably not. Was my first instinct to go out and spend that money? Yes. Sometimes our instincts are good. Not always. Unfortunately, when it comes to financial decisions, our instincts don’t always lead us in the right direction.
How can you be more intentional with extra cash?
For one thing, don’t deposit extra cash into your checking account. Deposit the money in a savings account and let it sit. While it’s sitting, run through this list and consider whether some or all of your money should be put toward these ideas:
#1 Pay down high interest debt
OK, this isn’t a big surprise but it seems to be a common question. Should you bulk up your savings account or pay off your credit card debt. It’s true, (according to the Wall Street Journal article linked here) having cash on hand makes people happier. However...when you are paying credit card interest rates of 12, 18, 28%, those interest charges are just so expensive you really need to get out from under them.
#2 Bulk up your cash bucket (aka your Freedom Savings)
Yes, increasing your cash-money on hand is probably not the sexy, get-rich tip you may have been hoping for, but it’s the kind of real financial advice that people need to know. In fact, let’s rename this cash bucket your “Freedom Savings.” Very patriotic.
The truth is, it’s hard to build wealth and create real freedom for your family without cash on hand to survive the inevitable wrenches life throws us. Here are a few things that have actually happened to my family:
- Job loss - OK that was pretty drastic
- Parked car almost totaled when hit by a Ram truck driver swerving to avoid a squirrel
- child hospitalized for croup
Fortunately, those didn’t happen in the same year. Yet, if we were like most Americans with less than $1,000 in a savings account, any one of those events could have put us into a downward spiral of financial debt.
#3 Use extra cash to boost your long-term savings
OK, long-term financial planning tip tucked in here - can you contribute to an IRA for you or a spouse? Consider using a windfall to boost your long-term savings. Or, fund a taxable investment account for that big dream you have - maybe it’s starting a business, going back to school or buying a beach house!
#4 Plan something fun
Set aside some money and think about how you want to spend it - don’t just trip into Nordstroms and treat yourself. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun to go shopping - we get a little hit of dopamine when we anticipate a reward, in this case spending money. That’s part of why so many of us have homes full of stuff. But let's dream a little bigger.
Perhaps it’s time to save up for that trip you have been dreaming about taking. Buying an experience (especially one we share with others) tends to bring people greater joy because they have fun anticipating the experience, they have fun during the experience, and then they have positive memories.
#5 Take care of some neglected home maintenance with extra cash
Other than your earning ability - a house may be one of your biggest (and most expensive) assets. Minor home repairs that go undone can result in much larger bills down the road. Now may be a good time to check some lingering home repairs off your to-do list. Plus, you’d be surprised how satisfying it can be to take care of something that’s been annoying you for the last year or two.
Note: I use the term “asset” rather loosely here to mean that you have a lot of money tied up in your home. In many ways a home is a liability...but I digress.
#6 Use extra cash to invest in yourself
For most young-ish professionals, your earning ability may be your greatest asset. What can you do to boost your earning power? We often focus on how much we save or spend but forget about the other half of the equation - how much we bring in. Would you be able to earn more money if you got a new license, finished a degree, invested in some coaching? You may get the best return on your money by investing in yourself!
Take a moment and give your financial picture a hard look. Do you like what you see? A sudden windfall can be a good time to reframe your financial future. Don’t let this opportunity slip through your fingers!