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10 Smart and Fun Things to Do With Your Money

The Great Recession has taken its toll not only on our money, but also on our psyches. If you’re not sure what to do with your money, but want to do something, consider these 10 smart and fun uses for your money.
This to-do list can help you accomplish some worthwhile financial goals and simultaneously give you the peace of mind that your money is working for you.

  1. Pay extra principal on your mortgage and other loans. Are you tired of seemingly unending investment losses? Would you like no-risk investment returns ranging from five to 20 percent? You can earn these returns by paying down your credit card debt and mortgage loans. Paying down a 19 percent credit card balance is the equivalent of earning a 19 percent investment return. Making extra payments on your mortgage can also give you an attractive, risk-free return, equivalent to whatever the interest rate is on your home mortgage or home equity loan.
  2. Start a vacation fund. Everyone has suffered during the recession. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t reward yourself and your loved ones with something nice—like a vacation. Start a vacation fund right now. You don’t have to go on an elaborate vacation if you can’t afford one. There are some wonderful spots within a short drive from your home. But whatever you decide to do, travel bargains abound. The ways to get a bargain are either to make reservations well in advance of the vacation—in other words, right now—or to wait until the last minute if you can be flexible. Either way, go for it. You and your family deserve a treat.
  3. Do home improvements. Two years ago, I couldn’t get home-improvement contractors to return my phone calls. Lately, they are delighted to have the work. You might be able to get a better price to boot. Make sure you can easily afford to pay for the improvements, recognizing that they always cost more than you had budgeted. This is no time to go on a borrowing binge or to spend money that you might need in the event of a job loss or other misfortune. Second, any improvements should enhance the value of your home more than they enhance your ego. In other words, ask yourself this: How valuable will my repairs and improvements be to the person who eventually buys my home?   
  4. Take advantage of deals on big-ticket items you need. Manufacturers and retailers are hurting, so prices for many big-ticket items are declining. This is a good time to buy expensive stuff, but only if you really need it. Just because something is on sale doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to buy it. But if, for example, your car is so old that family members refuse to be seen in it, this is a good time to strike a good deal on a used or new car.
  5. Make charitable contributions. Tough times for individuals and families are even tougher times for charities. When the economy falters, giving decreases while the need for the services of nonprofits increases. If you have the money to spare, consider being even more generous this year. You’ll also enjoy a bigger tax deduction next year come tax time.  
  6. Continue your education. If you’re still a member of the working class, one of the best investments you can make is to obtain more education and training in your chosen line of work. Maintaining top-notch skills is doubly important amidst what is likely to be a weak employment climate for several years to come. Your career is the key to your future financial security. If you think a career change makes sense, enroll in programs that will get you up to speed in your next career. If you are retired, check out the many continuing education programs available in your community or elsewhere. Take this opportunity to learn about subjects that you had always wanted to better understand.
  1. Help younger family members fund their retirement plans. One of the best ways to teach children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews about the importance of saving for retirement and investing is to help them fund their retirement plans. Anyone who has job income, even from summer or part-time jobs, can contribute to an Individual Retirement Account (IRA), even if they are minors. Once a younger family member gets a “real job,” you might be able to afford to help him or her contribute to a retirement savings plan at work. I know this is a good investment for the youngster, but it may also be a good investment for you. The sooner you can teach the younger generation about financial responsibility, the better chance you will not have to support them financially.
  2. Join an investment club. The stock market implosion has left many befuddled, if not downright frightened by the investment markets. There’s safety in numbers. By joining an investment club or an organization designed to provide average investors with a straightforward education on investing, you can become a better and more confident investor—whether you invest on your own or use an investment adviser. Two organizations that sponsor these groups are BetterInvesting and the American Association of Individual Investors. BetterInvesting  helps members join or set up an investment club, which is a group of local individuals who meet periodically to analyze and make investments. AAII’s Web site has a wide variety of education tools. The association sponsors periodic local and national meetings, all designed to make you a savvier investor.
  3. Put your kids on an allowance. An allowance can help kids appreciate the value of money, not only as a means of buying things, but also as a way to save up for larger purchases in the future. Some parents even require their children to set aside a portion of their weekly allowance for charity. All in all, an allowance can be a great teaching tool.
  4. Invest in your good health. No matter your age, investing some money in your good health now can pay dividends later by reducing health care costs and increasing the odds that you’ll enjoy a longer and healthier life. You don’t have to invest very much to improve your health. Avoid fast food restaurants, and at home, substitute healthier foods for ingredients that are bad for you. Exercise can be free. If you want to use some fancy exercise machines and get some help with your regimen, join a health club. They’re suffering as most other businesses are, so you’ll probably get a good deal on a membership.