You won the lottery! Alright, not really. Theoretically, let’s say you do end up with some unexpected new funds. Perhaps your windfall came from your search for D.B. Cooper’s missing fortune or from sunken Spanish doubloons.
Whatever the case may be, coming into some unexpected money is may seem like a great thing.
Finance writer Nicole Dieker compiled a list of what she says is the best way to allocate unexpected money in order to make the most out of it.
Dieker’s recommendations can help you put some plans in place for how to make the most of your new fortune.
Get ahead on your financial goals
The first and most important place to start, according to Dieker, is to put the lion’s share of that money toward your biggest financial goal.
“Whether you’re working on paying off debt, saving up for a down payment, or budgeting for a round-the-world vacation,” she says, “Use your extra cash as a shortcut.”
Next in the hierarchy of ways to use this money isn’t anything fancy. Dieker says to stash that money away into your savings or an investment portfolio.
Investing in your savings is a lot like buying peace of mind. No one is able to predict the future. The unexpected water heater repair or a new set of tires is something that can take a big toll financially, if you aren’t prepared. Being able to have a cushion of funds to fall back onto can provide a level of security against the unknown.
Amy Fontinelle from the personal finance website Investopedia says that, “As you accumulate savings, your financial worries should diminish, as long as you’re living within your means … you’ll sleep better at night.”
Fontinelle says that even though money can’t solve every problem, the more you have in savings the more opportunities you have.
“If your job has you on the verge of a nervous breakdown, you can quit, even if you don’t have a new job lined up yet, and take time off to restore your sanity before you look for new employment. If you’re tired of living in an unsafe neighborhood, you can move to a safer area because you’ll have enough for a deposit on a better apartment or a down payment on a nicer home,” Fontinelle says.
Treat yourself and others
Even if the most financially responsible thing to do with any extra money would be to dump it all into a student loan or mortgage, Dieker says that can leave you feeling like watching an opportunity drift away.
“Chances are, a lot of people helped you get to where you are today,” she says.
This is why she and the Financial Samurai suggests taking 10% and putting it toward something you’ve always wanted and using another portion of it to help someone else out. This portion may go towards a charity or something nice for a family member.
“Now that you have some extra cash, it’s time to pay it back—and pay it forward,” she adds.
Look out for the lifestyle creep
“Lifestyle creep occurs when an individual’s standard of living improves as their discretionary income rises and former luxuries become new necessities,” says Investopedia. This ‘lifestyle creep’ may happen as soon as spending decisions are made with an “I deserve this” attitude.
“There’s something to be said for not spending money thoughtlessly.” Dieker says, “But there’s also something to be said for improving whatever aspect of your life isn’t currently working.”
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