As we approach the only night of the year when we can sing “Auld Lang Syne” and pretend to know the meaning of the words, our investments are likely to be high on the list of things about 2008 we’d like to forget. So if zero interest T-bills, free-falling mutual funds, or Madoff’s distressed debt don’t appeal to any of us, what’s going to look better when we do this all again a year from now?
Here are three suggestions for places to park your money where it is likely to return more than just cash (although that’s nice too, especially if retirement or college is anywhere on the horizon):
Solar. Whether a home or business, installing solar power adds value to your real estate and will pay itself back faster than you can imagine. Investing $20,000 for a typical residential solar array will actually cost you less than half of that, after with the generous local and federal tax breaks and incentives, so you literally double your money overnight and it’s a great hedge against unpredictable future energy costs. Typical payback is 5-7 years, but even if it’s longer or you sell the property sooner, buyers will pay a premium for the solar-powered home or factory. Ka-ching!
CNG Car. Trade in the gas guzzler for a vehicle powered by compressed natural gas (CNG). The price of an equivalent volume of CNG lags gasoline by about a buck a gallon and is even cheaper if you install a home fueler (no more difficult than adding a gas-powered BBQ). Better yet, in many states like California, the CNG car gets a “clean air” sticker that allows you to use carpool lanes even when driving solo. Cars with those decals have sold for $5,000 more than their dinosaur-powered counterparts. My wife drives a Honda GX, a terrific CNG car, and there are hundreds of stations around for refueling until we install the home unit. Another Ka-ching!
Compost. This one is for those who may not be in the market for solar or a new car. Backyard composting is obvious, but in the office or apartment you can still participate by buying a simple plastic, self-contained (i.e. odorless!) unit. Toss in the kitchen scraps and take out rich soil, which you can you can use to grow veggies in the yard or a planter box, or give to employees for home gardens (think “employee rewards program”). It’s amazing how much lettuce, herbs, tomatoes, and carrots you can get from a 3’ X 4’ planter box, especially when you use nutrient-laden homemade compost. You’ll feel better and save money at the grocery store, especially if you prefer organic produce or anything that comes from places without melamine or other Chinese “additives”. Ka-ching for bottom lines and waistlines.
So there you have it. My 2009 investment suggestions. Think green, earn green. And the results are easier to digest than worthless stock certificates. Happy New Year!