Making Your Money Last

How Would You Spend an Extra $1,000?

A grand might not sound like all that much, but our readers sure know how to stretch it.

What would you do if you had an extra $1,000? We put that question to our Kiplinger.com visitors, and they told us by a wide margin—65% to 17%­—that they’d be more likely to put it toward their kids’ or grandkids’ college fund than to donate it to charity. They’re slightly more likely to invest it in the stock market than to stash it in a savings account or CD (46% to 41%). Given a choice between paying off debt or building a retirement fund, they’d go after the debt—56% to 31%. And if they wanted to splurge, they’d much rather go on vacation than shop—62% to 18%.

What really impressed me was the range of responses when people were asked to fill in their own ideas. A number of them had charitable impulses: “I’d like to throw a party in the children’s wing of a local hospital,” said Jasmine Ho of Somerset, N.J. Leonard from Detroit said simply, “I’d give it to my brother.”

Tina Barry of Garfield Heights, Ohio, was torn between the practical and the frivolous. “The realistic side of me would stock up on groceries, fill my gas tank, purchase some much-needed clothes for my family and bank the rest for emergencies. But the frivolous side would love to get her hair done, take a beach trip, redo her backyard and replace some carpet.”

Don Orlando of Latrobe, Pa., had no such qualms about indulging his frivolous side: “I’d board the next Spirit Airlines flight from Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Latrobe to Fort Lauderdale, lie on the pool deck at the Sheraton hotel and soak up the Florida sunshine.”

A grand might not sound like all that much, but our readers sure know how to stretch it. From Alyssa in Austin, Tex.: “I’d put $328 toward this pair of boots I’ve been eyeing for over a year; $50 into each of my seven ING targeted savings accounts; $200 to my favorite animal-rescue charity; $122 into my Machu Picchu vacation fund.”

Mike from Texas would divvy up “$200 to charity, $200 to treat my wife to a very nice dinner, $400 to my IRA, $100 for my wife to spend on herself, and $100 for me to spend on myself.”

Some responses were poignant: “I would take my family out to an amazing dinner and night on the town,” said Claire Marie Huber of Arlington, Va. “We live in different cities, so this would be our chance to enjoy a wonderful evening together.”

A number of people proposed using their $1,000 as seed money to grow into something bigger—which happens to be the theme of our cover story. But even we didn’t think as big as Steven from Ohio, who would invest the money in the stock market or real estate and let it appreciate. Once he built a real estate empire, he’d use his millions to fund affordable bullet trains, and he’d “invest heavily in scientific research into renewable energy and back-scratching T-shirts.”

Storm survival. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, “generator envy,” as one wag put it, has become a hot topic in some circles, and a number of staff members suggested that we do a story on how to buy one. I thought that was a little off-topic for a personal finance magazine with a limited amount of space. But as so often happens with our discussions, the idea morphed into a financial story on how you can protect your home against costly storm damage and even get your insurer to subsidize the cost (see Lowdown).

Or you could follow the lead of Mary, a reader from Aurora, Ill., who would use her $1,000 to “buy an $800 generator and accessories.”

P.S. See who tops the rankings of our best values in public colleges.

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