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  • 12.11.15

What Should You Buy If You Get An Extra $10,000? Anything But More Stuff

Some advice for what to do with a sudden cash windfall: Travel, education, or just plain fun. But not more things–they won’t make you happy.

What Should You Buy If You Get An Extra $10,000? Anything But More Stuff

Science shows that if you want to buy happiness, your best bet is to buy experiences not things. Physical objects may last longer than a one-off experience, but that fails to account for what’s known as the Easterlin paradox: We adapt quickly to our current levels of material wealth. We might be happier for a bit if we win the lottery, but in the long run, we’ll go back to however happy or miserable we were before.

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But that still doesn’t answer the question of how to allocate our wealth, especially when we have an unexpected sum of money to spend. Assuming our basic needs in life are accounted for, how would you spend, say, a surprise $10,000 gift?

That’s the question asked in a thread on the forum Quora. Many respondents have absorbed the message that more consumerism isn’t the best use of money. The thread has all kinds of interesting ideas on how to spend $10K, and many of the ideas can apply to different sums of money as well.

Travel was obviously a popular answer to the question of how to spend $10K. One user recommended buying a $5,000 round-the-world ticket and traveling for a year, living cheaply off the remaining $5,000. But another user had a different idea of how to best travel: “All experiences saturate. World-travel versus single-city travel will be remembered just the same. Spend more time and less money at one place–you’ll remember it better.” Another suggested expanding cultural horizons by making sure to go to a different continent, with a different culture and language.

A second popular idea is to spend $10K on learning and culture. “All knowledge compounds. Investing in core skills will yield the best results. The cost of learning how to cook well will more than repay itself by allowing you to avoid mediocre, overpriced restaurants,” wrote one user. Another suggests getting a private pilot’s license–“You will see and experience the world in a way that increasingly few others do. And once you have it, it never expires.” Coding school, spending to see great theater, and simply buying tons of books were other suggestions. Buying a smartphone or laptop could also be counted as improvement tools, according to one user.

Sometimes the best way to get a lot out of your money is to spend it on others, some Quora users believe: “The ‘coolest’ thing is the joy of helping others. It beats the ‘happiness’ of stuff by a mile.” One said to use it to buy “life-long happiness” for someone less fortunate whose “never-give-up attitude makes us salute them.” More concrete options might be buying clothing for the homeless, paying for someone’s groceries behind you in line, or giving to a charity or local institution. Or buying a gift, especially the gift of new shared memories with whoever gave you the money in the first place.

The last category was to defer happiness and invest the money instead: “Save it until you decide what to do with it for your own self. Don’t let the Internet tell you what cool is to them” and “how about a nice SP500 index fund?” Other ideas include learning how to become an expert stock or real estate investor yourself, using it as a downpayment on real estate, or investing in a startup.

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If you make a lot of money in your investments, one day you’ll be able to travel the world as much as you want. “Eiffel tower is just as nice 10 years ago and today, London would still be London 10 years from now. Bali will be as beautiful as ever,” said another user.

Yet not everyone is so self-serious with their idea of what to do with $10K: “If you are still a teenager I would say blow it all away on travel, parties and friends. You have lots of time to earn, besides money is overrated anyways.”

About the author

Jessica Leber is a staff editor and writer for Fast Company's Co.Exist. Previously, she was a business reporter for MIT’s Technology Review and an environmental reporter at ClimateWire.

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