MONEY

24 Things to Do With $10,000 Now

$10,000 bundle
Grafissimo—Getty Images

Got 10Gs burning a hole in your bank account or withering away in your 401(k)? Here's how to deploy that money wisely.

1. Stash your cash in a CD. Really.
Believe it or not, putting a portion of your emergency fund into a CD looks like a decent idea. Synchrony (née GE Capital Retail) Bank offers 1.05% for a 12-month CD of $10,000. Meanwhile, a one-year Treasury yields 0.11%. And Vanguard’s Short-Term Investment Grade bond fund returned 2.6% over the past year, which is not a lot of compensation for the greater risk.

2. Write the book that will launch your career
Julia Child’s first cookbook helped turn her into a star. Follow her recipe, but get to the table faster by self-publishing. You can hire an editor, designer, and formatting expert for some $6,000 via BiblioCrunch.com; use the rest of the $10K to pay a publicist.

3. Create a D.I.Y. home theater
The average home theater costs $26,000. But Dave Pedigo of the Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association helped MONEY put together this one for under 10 grand, with wiggle room for extras like 3-D glasses, movies, and a gaming console.

Seats: Novo Home Viewpoint (around $1,400)
Screen: LG’s 55-inch LED TV ($3,300) or Stewart Filmscreen ($1,200 to $1,500) plus Epson 5030UB projector ($2,499).
Sound system: Sonos Playbar ($699) plus Sub subwoofer ($699) and a pair of Play:1 speakers ($199 each)
Concessions: Nostalgia Electrics vintage popcorn maker ($370) and Avanti’s 3.1-cubic-foot stainless- steel beverage cooler (around $230).

4. Go to the jungle
Traveling with four or more gets expensive fast. But a trip to Ecuador can help you stretch your budget. Since the opening of a new international airport in Quito, airlines have instated new routes to the city and are offering roundtrip flights from the East Coast for as low as $400, says Smartertravel.com’s Anne ­Banas. G Adventures was recently advertis­ing a nine-day tour of the country, including a visit to the Amazon jungle and hot springs, for $1,599 a person, down from the usual $1,999.

5. Give like Gates
Create your own mini version of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—without administrative hassles or billions of bucks—by opening a donor-advised fund. Fidelity lets you start one with as little as $5,000. You don’t have to decide which charity gets the money right away, “so you can be more intentioned about the giving,” says Burlingame, Calif., wealth adviser Sean Stannard-Stockton. But you get to write off up to 50% of your income this year—which is especially valuable when you’re at your peak earnings.

6-8. Snap up an income property
In some locales, a $10,000 down payment gets you a three-bedroom home that will rent for twice your mortgage payment. “For a strong pool of renters, jump into a market with a big student population,” says Daren Blomquist of RealtyTrac. Here are three:

Income property

 

9-10. Put Paul Bunyan in your portfolio
A tighter labor market may ramp up wages and lead to higher prices. Stocks can help you hedge, but for an unexpected support, try trees. Timber is a commodity, so it rises with inflation. Also, it’s used to make houses, and housing prices rise when investors seek shelter in hard assets. Global investment firm GMO predicts that timber will be the best-performing asset class over the next seven years, with gains of 5.4% annually after inflation, vs. 2.1% for high-quality stocks and 0.5% for U.S. bonds. Get your lumber through the Guggenheim Timber ETF CLAYMORE ETF TST 2 GUGGENHEIM TIMBER ETF CUT 0.2033% and ­iShares Global Timber and Forestry ISHARES TRUST GLOBAL TIMBER & FORESTRY ET WOOD 0.2516% .

11. Lock in a great deal on a ski vacation
Ski resorts are eager to get people to book early, before there’s a sense of what kind of winter it will be, says Leigh Crandall, managing editor of Jetsetter.com. For example, Ski Holidays Canada recently offered a 10-day 2015 hotel and ski package in Banff, Alberta, for $4,000 for a family of four, about 40% off the regular rate. Flights to the Calgary airport from the East Coast start at $500 a person in January.

12-14. Get your house ready to sell
If you want to sell next spring, focus on amping up curb appeal, starting now. For $10,000, you could revamp the plantings. Replace what’s along the foundation with a mix of evergreen shrubs of different textures ($2,000 to $4,000), add beds of colorful perennials with different bloom times ($500 and up) and put ornamental trees at the house’s corners ($500 to $1,500 each). Or paint the exterior, which can help your house sell faster, which usually means a better price, says Pasadena architect and realtor Curt Schultz. Or add, upgrade, or replace a deck or patio—since buyers “like to be able to step right outside onto an outdoor room that feels like part of the house,” says Schultz. You might be able to get a 20-by-40 deck, a 20-by-20 deck with a barbecue or a fire pit built in, or a 10-by-10 patio with a roof for 10Gs.

15. Give your investments a boost
Research has demonstrated that certain stocks—those that regularly grow divi­dends, have stable prices, are undervalued compared with fundamentals, or have re­cent­ly appreciated—tend to outperform. Split your $10,000 among these characteristics as follows:

16. See Europe by boat
The market for travelers who want to explore the continent by boat is growing exponentially, says Colleen McDaniel of CruiseCritic.com, but the launch of two dozen new ships last year has created competition to fill cabins. Recently you could get a seven-night late-fall cruise on the Danube for about $1,500 a ­person (a savings of $1,360). Nonstop flights from the eastern U.S. start at around $1,200. So a little over $10,000 would have a family of four out on the river in style.

17-19. Buy a great used car
Check out these three picks for $10,000 from Patrick Olsen of Cars.com:

  • 2008 Ford Fusion: The roomy Fusion— which is “great for a small ­family running errands around town,” according to ­Olsen—has a V-6 engine and gets about 23 miles per gallon.
  • 2008 Kia Sportage: While no-frills, the Sportage is one of the few quality SUVs at this price point. “It’s good for small-business owners and parents whose kids play sports,” Olsen says.
  • 2007 Toyota Prius: This second-genera­tion Prius “is good for those who have a long commute,” says Olsen. “You’ll save a lot of money on gas.” It gets 46 mpg.

20. Practice living in your retirement town
To determine whether a place is really a good fit for you, you need to visit different times of the year and stay for longer periods, suggests Miami financial planner Ellen Siegel. Allocate $10,000 to travel and costs to stay for, say, a month in the summer and a week in the winter. Rent a condo or house in a neighborhood where you want to live and get to know area residents to make the simulation more real.

21. Make yours a chef’s kitchen

Many homebuyers love the industrial looks of pro-style appliances, but a Wolf range can ring in at $10,000 and a Sub-Zero fridge might cost $16,000. And if you invest in one or two high end appliances, but stick with economy versions for the rest, buyers will likely penalize you for that old dishwasher more than they reward you for the gleaming “prosumer” cooktop, real estate agents say. “Still, you don’t need to invest that much to get the professional look in the kitchen,” says Mechanicsburg, Pa., kitchen designer John Petrie, who’s president of the National Kitchen and Bath Association. “Moderately priced brands like Jenn-Air, Kitchen Aid, and Whirlpool have jumped on the commercial trend.” So, you can now outfit the entire kitchen—and cook like a semi-pro—for under $10,000.

22. Chase a market sector before it’s over

Since we’re late in the sixth year of the bull market, many analysts think it’s nearing the end. Certain sectors perform well in the last year of a bull run, including energy (34% average returns in last year of bull), health care (27%) and tech (23%), according to research by Ned Davis. Both energy and technology companies have a lower forward p/e than the S&P 500, and are expected to outgrow the market over the next five years. Meanwhile, “the outlook for the health care sector is promising,” says Eddie Yoon, a portfolio manager and research analyst for Fidelity Investments, “based on factors including an aging global population, an expanding middle class in many emerging markets, and a strong product innovation style.” Look to Money 50 funds Sound Shore SOUND SHORE FUND I COM USD0.01 SSHFX 0.4165% , which allocates almost half of its holdings to energy, technology and health care, and Primecap Odyssey Growth PRIMECAP ODYSSEY F TRUST UNIT POGRX 0.7767% , which has two-thirds of its holdings in health care and technology companies.

23. Invest in the frontier
BRICS is so 2012. With emerging markets countries (recent case in point: Russia) struggling to sustain economic growth, it may be time to look toward faster growing smaller countries (like Ghana and Vietnam). These “frontier” nations have been expanding fast: iShares Frontier 100 ISHARES INC MSCI FRONTIER 100 ETF FM 0.5007% is up 15% this year, but is still less expensive than the S&P 500. (The MSCI Frontier Index forward p/e is 13.6). Moreover, an index of frontier funds has actually been less volatile over the past 15 years than its emerging markets counterpart, says Morninstar’s Patricia Oey.

24. Sprechen Deutsche
If you work for a firm that does business internationally, becoming fluent in another language may pay off. A second language is correlated to an average 2% to 3% increase in annual income, according to research from Wharton and LECG Europe. Chinese provides the highest return. But if you don’t have it in you to learn an entirely new alphabet—and your company is trying to land clients in Deutschland—try learning German, which is correlated to 4% higher pay. One way to get up to speed: A language vacation. LanguagesAbroad.com offers language immersion programs for travelers in 35 countries. An intensive two-week course with 20 group lessons and 10 private lessons in Berlin is $2200, not including airfare or accommodations. On a $100,000 current salary, it would only take you three years to recoup a $10,000 investment.

Related: 35 Smart Things to Do with $1,000 Now
Tell Us: What Would You Do With $1,000?

 

MONEY Investing

13 Things to Do with $100,000 Now

domino stacks of $10,000 bills
Ralf Hettler—Getty Images

Oh, if only six figures landed in your lap tomorrow. Hey, you never know. In case it does—or in case you're lucky enough to have 100 grand put away already—you'll want to have these smart moves in your back pocket.

1. Say “yes” to a master
Unless you live in one of the few areas where the real estate market hasn’t come to life, the decision of whether to move or improve is likely tipped in favor of remodeling, says Omaha appraiser John Bredemeyer. A new bedroom, bath, and walk-in closet may cost you $40,000 to $100,000. But it’s unlikely you’d find a bigger move-in-ready abode with every­thing you want for only that much more, especially after the 6% you’d pay a Realtor to sell your current home.

2. Burn the mortgage
If you’re within 10 years of retiring, paying off your house can be a wise move, says T. Rowe Price financial planner Stuart Ritter. You’ll save a lot of interest—$24,000, if you have a $100,000 mortgage with 10 years left at 4.5%. Eliminating the monthly payment reduces the income you’ll need in retirement. And as long as you’re not robbing a retirement account, erasing a 4.5% debt offers a better return than CDs or high-quality bonds, says Ritter.

3-5. Buy a business in a box
One hundred grand won’t get you a McDonald’s (for that you’ll need 10 or 15 friends to match your investment)—but there are a number of other good franchises you can buy around that price, says Eric Stites, CEO of Franchise Business Review. Here are three that get top raves in his company’s survey of owners:

  1. Qualicare Family Homecare (a homecare services firm)
  2. Window Genie (a window and gutter cleaning service)
  3. Our Town America (a direct mail marketing service)

6. Tack another degree on the wall
On average, someone with a bachelor’s degree earns $2.3 million over a lifetime, vs. $2.7 million for a master’s and $3.6 million for a professional degree. The payoff varies by field: In biology a master’s earns you 100% more, vs. 23% in art. So before applying, find out how much more you could earn a year, research tuition, and determine how long it’ll take you to recoup the investment.

7. Make sure you won’t be broke in retirement
More than half of Americans worry about running out of money in retirement, Bank of America Merrill Edge found. Allay your fears with a deferred-income annuity: You pay a lump sum to an insurance company in exchange for guaranteed monthly payments starting late into retirement. Because some buyers will die before payments start, you get more income than with an immediate annuity, which starts paying right away. A 65-year-old woman who puts $100,000 into an annuity that kicks in at age 85 will get $3,500 a month, vs. $600 for one that starts this year. In the future you could see deferred annuities as an investment option in your retirement plan; the Treasury Department just approved them for 401(k)s.

8. Get a power car that runs on 240v
For just over $100,000 (after a $7,500 tax rebate), you can be the proud owner of an all-electric Tesla Model S P85, with air suspension, tech, and performance extras. Yes, that’s a pretty penny. But you’ll help the planet, eliminate some $4,000 a year in gas bills—and get a ride that gets raves. “The thing has fantastic performance,” says Bill Visnic of Edmunds.com. It goes from 0 to 60 in 4.2 seconds and drives 265 miles on a charge, which requires only a 240-volt outlet.

9-12. Put hotel bills in your past
Think you missed the window on a vacation-home deal? True, the median price has jumped 39% since 2011, according to the National Association of Realtors. “But while you can’t buy just anything, anywhere, for 100 grand anymore, there are still decent deals out there in appealing ­places,” says Michael Corbett of Trulia.com. Here are four markets where the price of a two-bedroom condo goes for around that amount:

  • Sunset Beach, N.C./$96,000
  • Fort Lauderdale/$116,000
  • Colorado Springs/$117,000
  • Reno/$117,000

13. Tone up your core
The average American saving in a 401(k) has nearly $100,000 put away ($88,600, to be exact, according to Fidelity). With this core money, you’re likely to do better with index funds vs. active funds, says Colorado Springs financial planner Allan Roth. “The stock market is 90% professionally advised or managed, and outside Lake Wobegon, 90% can’t be better than average.” His three-fund portfolio: Vanguard’s Total Stock Market Index, Total International Stock Index, and Total Bond Market.

Related: 35 Smart Things to Do With $1,000

Related: 24 Things to Do with $10,000

Tell Us: What Would You Do With $1,000?

MONEY hiring

This is the Easiest Way to Put $2,000 More in Your Paycheck

140826_CAR_BonusBuddies
Maybe you should wait to do this until after you've collected your bonus... Baerbel Schmidt—Getty Images

Companies struggling to find talented workers are increasingly paying their employees referral bonuses, a new survey from Challenger, Gray & Christmas reveals.

Raises are expected to be measly for most folks in the coming year, but a new survey out today reveals an easy way to get a bump up in your compensation: Recruit your friends.

As the job market rapidly improves, many employers are struggling to attract talent, according to the survey by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. Three-quarters of human resources execs polled said they were having difficulty filling open positions because of the shortage of skilled and experienced workers.

So, to unearth talent, Challenger reports that nearly 40% of employers are offering referral bonuses to encourage their own workers to send good job candidates their way. A survey in June by human resources association WorldatWork put the number even higher: That survey found that 63% of companies had referral bonus programs, up from 60% in 2010.

If you work for one of these firms, the payoff can be pretty juicy, as you can see here:

image (1)
Source: WorldatWork

Of course, these are only averages and for one level of position. Your take can be higher if you work in a complex field or position for which there is a lot of demand. For example, in Detroit, some accounting firms are paying workers as much as $5,000 for CPA referrals, Crain’s Detroit Business recently reported.

One-third of all hires come via internal referrals, according to recruiting consultant CareerXRoads. Hiring managers like internal referrals because they are a less costly way to find workers, and those hires have better retention rates. People already on staff have a good sense of the job and are more likely to reach out to passive candidates who might not be in the job market but would move for the right opportunity.

The bonus isn’t the only way you can benefit from making a good referral. Workers who find talent for hard-to-fill jobs are also valued as problem solvers.

Just don’t give that referral lightly. If the person doesn’t work out, it can reflect poorly on you. And you’ll typically need the person to stick it out in the job to collect your loot—the majority of companies don’t pay out the bonus until the new employee has been on the job between one and a half and six months, according to WorldatWork.

MONEY Ask the Expert

How To Tap Your IRA When You Really Need the Money

140605_AskExpert_illo
Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.

Q: I am 52 and recently lost my job. I have a fairly large IRA. I was thinking of taking a “rule 72(t)” distribution for income and shifting some of those IRA assets to my Roth IRA, paying the tax now while I’m unemployed and most likely at a lower tax rate. What do you think of this strategy? – Mark, Ft. Lauderdale, FL

A: It’s a workable strategy, but it’s one that’s very complex and may cost you a big chunk of your retirement savings, says Ed Slott, a CPA and founder of IRAhelp.com.

Because your IRA is meant to provide income in retirement, the IRS strongly encourages you to save it for that by imposing a 10% withdrawal penalty (on top of income taxes) if you tap the money before you reach age 59 ½. There are several exceptions that allow you to avoid the penalty, such as incurring steep medical bills, paying for higher education or a down payment on a first home. (Unemployment is not included.)

The exception that you’re considering is known as rule 72(t), after the IRS section code that spells it out, and anyone can use this strategy to avoid the 10% penalty if you follow the requirements precisely. You must take the money out on a specific schedule in regular increments and stick with that payment schedule for five years, or until you reach age 59 ½, whichever is longer. Deviate from this program, and you’ll have to pay the penalty on all money withdrawn from the IRA, plus interest. (The formal, less catchy name of this strategy is the Substantially Equal Periodic Payment, or SEPP, rule.)

The IRS gives you three different methods to calculate your payment amount: required minimum distribution, fixed amortization and fixed annuitization. Several sites, including 72t.net, Dinkytown and CalcXML, offer tools if you want to run scenarios. Generally, the amortization method will gives you the highest income, says Slott. But it’s a good idea to consult a tax professional to see which one is best for you.

If you do use the 72(t) method, and want to shift some of your traditional IRA assets to a Roth, consider first dividing your current account into two—that way, you can convert only a portion of the money. But you must do so before you set up the 72(t) plan. If you later decide that you no longer need the distributions, you can’t contribute 72(t) income into another IRA or put it into a Roth. Your best option would be to save it in a taxable fund. “Then the money will be there if you need it down the road,” says Slott.

Does it make sense to take 72(t) distributions? Only as a last resort. It is true that you’ll pay less in income tax while you’re unemployed. But at age 52, you’ll be taking distributions for seven and a half years, which is a long time to commit to the payout plan. If you get a job during that period, the income from the 72(t) distribution could push you into a higher tax bracket. Slott suggests checking into a home equity loan—or even taking some money out of your IRA up front and paying the 10% penalty, rather than withdrawing the bulk of the account. “Your retirement money is the result of years of saving,” says Slott. “If you take out big chunks now, you might not have enough lifetime to replace it.”

Do you have a personal finance question for our experts? Write to AskTheExpert@moneymail.com.

MONEY 401(k)s

The Secret To Building A Bigger 401(k)

Ostrich egg in nest
Brad Wilson—Getty Images

There's growing evidence that financial advice makes a big difference in your ability to achieve a comfortable retirement.

Some people need a personal trainer to get motivated to exercise regularly. There’s growing evidence that a financial coach can help whip your retirement savings into better shape too.

People in 401(k) plans who work with financial advisors save more and have clearer financial goals than people who don’t use professional advice, according to a study out today by Natixis Global Asset Management. Workers with advisors contribute 9.5% of their annual salary to their 401(k) vs. 7.8% by those who aren’t advised, according to Natixis. That puts workers with advisors on target for the 10% to 15% of your annual income you need to put away (including company match) if you want to retire comfortably.

Natixis also found that three-quarters of 401(k) plan participants with advisors say they know what their 401(k) balance should be by the time they retire vs. half of workers without advisors who say the same.

The Natixis study follows a Charles Schwab survey out last week that found that workers who used third-party professional advisors and had one-on-one counseling tended to increase their savings rate, were better diversified and stayed the course in their investing decisions despite market ups and downs.

Similar research was released in May by Financial Engines—that study found that people who got professional investment help through managed accounts, target-date funds or online tools earned higher median annual returns than those who go it alone. On average employees getting advice had median annual returns that were 3.32 percentage points higher, net of fees, than workers managing their own retirement accounts.

Granted, most of these studies come from organizations that make money by providing advice—either directly to investors or as a resource provided by 401(k) plan providers. Still, Vanguard, who provides services to both advisers and do-it-yourself investors, has published research showing that financial guidance can add value. In a 2013 research paper, Advisor’s Alpha, Vanguard said that “left alone, investors often make choices that impair their returns and jeopardize their ability to fund their long-term objectives.” According to Vanguard, advisers can help add value if they “act as wealth managers and behavioral coaches, providing discipline and experience to investors who need it.”

In other words, the value of working with an advisor, like a personal trainer, may simply be that when someone is working one-on-one with you to reach a goal you are more likely to be engaged.

Whether you want to work with a financial advisor is a personal decision. If you’re like many people who feel overwhelmed by investment choices, or don’t have a lot of time to spend on investment decisions, getting professional financial advice can help you stay on course towards your retirement goals. You can get that advice through your 401(k) plan or via a periodic check up with a fee-only financial planner or simply by putting your retirement funds into a target date fund.

Still, before you hire a pro, make sure you understand the fees. A recent study by the GAO found that 401(k) managed accounts, which let you turn over portfolio decisions to a pro, may be costly—management fees ranged from .08% to as high as 1%, on top of investing expenses. Ideally, you should pay 0.3% or less. High fees could wipe out the advantage of professional guidance.

Other research has found that you may get similar benefits—generally at a much lower cost—by opting for a target-date fund. If you go outside your 401(k) plan, it’s generally better to use a fee-only planner, who gets paid only for the advice provided, not commissions earned by selling financial products. You can find fee-only financial planners through the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors; and for fee-only planners who charge by the hour, you can try Garrett Planning Network.

Still, if you enjoy investing, and you are willing to spend the time needed to stay on top of your finances, a do-it-yourself approach is fine. Using online calculators can give you a clearer picture of your goals, and simply knowing what your target should be can be motivating. The Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) consistently finds that people who calculated a savings goal were more than twice as likely to feel very confident they’ll be able to accumulate the money they need to retire and are more realistic about how much they need to save. All of which will help you reach your retirement goals.

MONEY workplace etiquette

This is the Grossest Thing Someone Can Do at Work

Man clipping his nails
Rolf Bruderer—Getty Images

Q: How do I address a coworker who clips his finger nails at work? —Nancy Duray, Westbrook, Maine

A: The best way to handle this disgusting habit—which tops the list of workers’ office pet peeves, according to a survey by temporary staffing firm Adecco—is to be direct. “It should be addressed immediately, politely, and privately,” says Tina Fox, a general manager at staffing agency Accountemps.

Start by asking your clipping co-worker to chat in a conference room, rather than trying to have the conversation at the person’s desk. “That sets the tone that it’s a serious issue,” Fox says.

Your colleague probably doesn’t realize that the nail clipping is annoying you, says Fox. She suggests starting the conversation with that point: “You may not be aware of this, but when you clip your nails at your desk, it bothers me. I’d appreciate it if you did it at home or in the bathroom instead.”

If it happens again, ask your boss to send out a memo about office etiquette and to specify the behaviors that aren’t acceptable. As a manager, Fox says she deals with issues like this all the time. “Whether it’s wearing inappropriate clothing at work, flossing at your desk or talking loudly next to colleagues trying to work, people are often just unaware that their behavior is bothering others,” she says. “Usually it’s just a matter of spelling it out.”

Half of workers in that Adecco poll said that nail clipping at the desk offended them more than other questionable in-office habits, including brushing one’s hair, putting on makeup at one’s desk and taking one’s shoes off in the workspace. So, says Fox, it’s very likely that “your co-workers will be glad you spoke up.”

MONEY Investing

35 Smart Things to Do With $1,000 Now

Andrew B. Myers

These moves can make you smarter, healthier, happier—and richer.

1. Buy 1 share of Priceline Group THE PRICELINE GROUP INC. PCLN -0.5117%
The fast-growing travel biz has just 4% global market share, leaving plenty of room to expand.

2. Buy 10 shares of Apple APPLE INC. AAPL 0.2445%
The Mac daddy has a dividend yield of 1.9% and a cheap price/earnings ratio of 14.1.

3. Buy 50 shares of Ford FORD MOTOR CO. F -0.0574%
The automaker has a P/E of 10.5, a 2.8% dividend yield, and a record (5%) market share in China.

4. Grab the last of the great TVs
While they’re considered superior to LCDs—for having deeper blacks and any-angle viewing—plasma TVs haven’t been profitable enough for manufacturers, so most are curbing production. LG is one of the last in the game, and its ­60-inch 60PB6900 smart TV (around $1,000) has apps to stream digital content and 3-D performance besting its peers. Get the extended warranty, since a service company would have to replace the TV if parts are no longer available.

5. Kick tension to the curb with yoga…
Half of workers say they’re less productive due to stress, the American Psychological Association found; worse, research from the nonprofit Health Enhancement Research Organization found that health care expenses are 46% higher for stressed-out employees. Regularly practicing yoga can help modulate stress responses, according to a report from Harvard Medical School. Classes cost about $15 to $20 a pop, which means that $1,000 will keep you doing downward dog twice a week for about half a year.

6. …Or acupuncture
A recent article in the Journal of Endocrinology found a connection between acupuncture and stress relief. Your insurer may cover treatment, but if not, sessions run $60 to $120 a piece. So you can treat yourself to around 10 to 15 with $1,000.

7. …Or biking
Research suggests that 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise can lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. So take a bike ride after work. The ­Giant Defy 2 ($1,075) is one of the best-value performance bikes out there, Ben Delaney of BikeRadar.com says.

8. Give your kids ­a jump on retirement
Assuming your kids earn at least a grand this year from a summer job or other employment, you can teach them the importance of saving for retirement by depositing $1,000 (or, if they earn more and you’re able, up to $5,500) into Roth IRAs in their names. Do so when the child is 17, and it’ll grow to over $18,400 by the time he’s 67 with a hypothetical 6% annual return, says Eau Claire, Wis., financial planner Kevin McKinley.

9. Get over your midlife crisis
Would getting behind the wheel of your dream vehicle make you feel a teensy bit better about reporting to a 30-year-old boss? Then sow your oats—for 24 hours. Both Hertz and Enterprise offer luxury rentals; you can find local outfits by searching for “exotic car rental” and your city. Gotham Dream Cars’ Boston-area location rents an Aston Martin Vantage Roadster for $895 a day.

 

Andrew B. Myers

10. Iron out your wrinkles
For a safer and cheaper alternative to going under the knife, try an injectable dermal filler. Dr. Michael Edwards, president of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, recommends Juvéderm Voluma XC, which consists of natural hyalu­ronic acid that helps smooth out deep lines and adds volume to cheeks and the jaw area. It lasts up to two years and costs near $1,000 per injection.

11. Live out a dream
Play in a fantasy world with these adult camps, which cost in the neighborhood of $1,000 with airfare: the four-day Adult Space Academy in Huntsville, Ala. ($650); the Culinary Institute of America’s two-day Wine Lovers Boot Camp in St. Helena, Calif. ($895); or the one-day World Poker Tournament camp in Vegas ($895).

12. Hire someone to fight with your folks
Is your parents’ home bursting at the seams with decades of clutter … er, memories? Save your breath—and sanity—by hiring a profes­sional organizer (find one at napo.net) for them. Mom and Dad may listen more to an impartial party when it comes to deciding what to toss, says Austin organizer Yvette Clay. Focus on pile-up zones, like the basement, garage, and living room (together, $500 to $1,500).

13. Launch you.com
A professional website will help you stand out to employers, says Jodi Glickman, author of Great on the Job. Buy the URL of your name for about $20 a year from GoDaddy and find a designer via Elance​.com or Guru.com; $1,000 should get you a nice-looking site with a bio, blog, photos, and portfolio of your work.

14. Become a techie—or just learn to talk to one
Technical knowledge isn’t just for IT folks anymore. “Digital literacy is becoming a required skill,” says Paul McDonald, a senior executive director of staffing agency Robert Half International. Get up to speed with one of these strategies. Understanding how websites, videogames, and apps are built is useful to almost any job dealing in big data or search algorithms, says McDonald. Take a course in programming for nonprogrammers at ­generalassemb.ly ($550), then get a year’s subscription to Lynda.com ($375) for more advanced online tutorials.

15. Get tweet smarts
Take a class to give you expertise—and confidence— in using social media and analyzing metrics. MediaBistro’s social media boot camp includes five live webcast sessions for $511, and you can add four weeks of classroom workshops with pros for $449. #olddognewtricks

16. Buy the Silicon Valley gear
Need a new laptop now that you’re a tech whiz? To best play the part, go with Apple’s MacBook Air ($999) or its big brother the MacBook Pro ($1,099). With a long battery life and powerful processors, the Air and Pro are the preferred picks for developers, coders, and designers, says PCmag.com’s Brian Westover.

David Kilpatrick—Alamy

17. Save your cellphone camera for selfies
Your most important memories shouldn’t be grainy. Get a digital SLR camera featuring a through-the-lens optical viewfinder, “which is still essential for shooting action,” says Lori Grunin of CNET. Her pick, Nikon’s D5300 ($1,050). Its 18–140mm lens produces sharp images shot quickly enough for most personal photography.

18. Class up your castle
Interior decorating can cost a fortune—insanely priced furnishings, plus a 30% commission. Homepolish.com, launched in 2012 and now in eight metro areas, upends the model. The site’s decorators charge hourly ($130 or less) and suggest affordable furnishings.

19-21. Hire a good manager
With only 10 C-notes, your mutual fund choices are limited by minimum investment requirements. Besides simply letting you in the door, these actively managed funds have relatively low fees and beat more than half their peers over three, five, and 10 years:
Oakmark Select large blend; 1.01% expenses
Schwab Dividend Equity large value, 0.89% expenses
Nicholas large growth, 0.73% expenses

22. Primp the powder room
Get a new sink and vanity for a refresh of your guest bathroom without a reno. You can find a combined vanity and sink set for under $650; figure another $100 to $200 each for faucet and labor.

23. Replace light fixtures
Subbing in new lighting in the dining room, the front hall, and possibly the kitchen can take 20 years off your house, suggests Pasadena realtor Curt Schultz. You’re likely to pay $100 to $400 per fixture, plus $50 to $100 for installation.

24. Swap out the front door
It’s the first impression guests and buyers have of your home. Look for a factory-finished door—possibly fiberglass if it’s a sunny southern or western ­exposure without an overhang. You could pay $1,000 for the door and the installation.

25. Catch up on retirement.
If you’re 50 or older, you can put in $1,000 more in an IRA (above the $5,500 normal limit) each year. Do so from 50 to 65, and you’ll have $27,000 more in retirement assuming you get a 6% annual return, per T. Rowe Price.

Ingolfur Bjargmundsson—Getty

26. Fly solo to see the Northern Lights
As more companies package deals to Iceland, prices are dropping, says Christie McConnell of Travelzoo.com. You could recently find four-night packages with airfare, hotel, and tours for $800 a person. Go in late fall to see the Northern Lights.

27. Hit the beach in Hawaii
The islands are still working through the overbuilding of hotels that began before the recession, says Anne Banas of Smartertravel.com. Three-night packages for fall with hotel and airfare start around $500 a person from the West Coast.

28. Give your car a makeover
You can’t get a new set of wheels for 1,000 smackers, but you can make your old car feel new(ish) again with this slew of maintenance fixes: A new set of tires ($600), a full car detail ($100), new wiper blades ($50), a wheel alignment ($150), and a synthetic oil change ($100). You’ve likely been putting these off until something breaks, but there’s good reason to do them all at once. Besides giving your car a smoother ride, “this preventative maintenance will help you nurse your car longer, while also saving some gas,” says Bill Visnic, senior editor at Edmunds.com. New car smell not included.

29. Make like (early) Gordon Gekko
Wall Street buyout firms KKR and Carlyle are inviting Main Street investors into private equity funds for $10,000 and $50,000, respectively. Want to play the game with less scratch? Invest $1,000 in Blackstone GroupBLACKSTONE GROUP LP, THE BX 0.5699% . Shares of the private equity giant have a 5.1% yield and a cheap P/E of 8.5, plus Blackstone is a top-notch alternative-asset firm, says Morningstar’s Stephen Ellis.

30-32. Put your donations to work where they’ll do the most good
Groups that focus on improving healthcare in the developing world have some of the best measurable outcomes of all charities, says Charlie Bresler, CEO of The Life You Can Save. Many of the supplies used to improve and save lives, like vaccines or mosquito nets, cost pennies to produce, he says, and surgeries that cost tens of thousands in the U.S. can be performed for a few hundred bucks overseas. Three great organizations working in those areas: SEVA Foundation, which works to prevent blindness; Deworm the World, which seeks to eradicate worms and other parasitic bacterial disease; Fistula foundation, which provides surgical services to women with childbirth injuries.

33. Defend the fort
An alarm system can pare as much as 20% from a homeowner’s policy, and the latest ones have neat bells and whistles. Honeywell’s LYNX Touch 7000 (starting at $500, plus $25 to $60 a month) links to four cameras that stream live video. It randomly switches on lights to make an empty home look occupied—and can detect a flood and shut down water.

34. Enjoy a buffet of entertainment
The average cable bill is expected to hit $123 a month in 2015—or $1476 a year—according to the NPD group. What if we told you you could cut the cord, redeploy $1,000 of that to getting two years worth of the following digital libraries, and still bank about 500 bucks? Yeah, we thought so.
For old movies and TV shows…get Netflix ($7.99-$8.99/month). Analysts estimate the company’s library is much larger than that of Amazon Prime.
For current TV shows…watch via Hulu ($7.99/month), which offers episodes from more than 600 shows that are currently on air.
For music…stream with Spotify Premium ($9.99/month). The premium version lets you skip commercials and listen to millions of songs even offline.
For books…read via Kindle Unlimited ($9.99/month). You can access the company’s library of more than 600,000 ebooks and audiobooks with one of its free reading apps, which work Apple, Android or Windows Phone devices.

35. Protect your heirs.
For about $1,000 you can have a will, durable power of attorney, and health care directive written up. Find an estate planner at naepc.org.

Related: 24 Things to Do With $10,000 Now
Tell Us: What Would You Do With $1,000?

MONEY 401(k)s

Workers Spend More Time Researching Cars Than Checking Out 401(k) Options

140821_RET_ResearchCarsnot401k
Dimitri Vervitsiotis—Getty Images

Investors understand that retirement plans are important. But judging by time spent, 401(k)s are don't rate nearly as high as a new SUV.

When it comes to retirement saving, Americans still have their priorities skewed. That’s the conclusion of a new Charles Schwab survey, which found that workers spend more time investigating options for buying a new car or planning a vacation than researching the investment choices in their retirement plan. Cars and vacations got two hours of effort compared with one hour for 401(k)s.

It’s not that workers don’t value their retirement plans. Nearly 90% of workers say that a 401(k) is the most important option an employer can offer, the survey finds. But for most workers, appreciation of the plan isn’t translating into doing the best job possible of managing it. “It’s just human nature. We tend to gravitate to things we are comfortable with and avoid the things that we are not,” says Steve Anderson, president of Schwab Retirement Plan Services.

Part of the problem may be lack of financial knowledge. Workers surveyed by Schwab say they’d feel more confident about the ability to make a good financial decision if they had some professional guidance. Yet few people seek out help. Fewer than 25% participants who have access to professional advice have used it, according to the survey. By contrast, 87% of workers said they would hire a professional to change the oil in their car and 36% rely on one to do their taxes.

Of course, outsourcing your taxes and car maintenance isn’t the same as finding good investment help. But it’s not that the advice isn’t there. Three-quarters of 401(k) plans offer some type of help, ranging from from target-date funds to online tools to professionally managed accounts. Anderson said one reason people may not seek out help is that they don’t know it’s available. “Advice is available but it’s not promoted,” he says.

Taking advantage of this guidance can pay off, especially when it comes to reducing risk.

According to a study released by Financial Engines earlier this year, people who got professional investment help through managed accounts, target-date funds or online tools earned higher median annual returns than those who go it alone. It found that on average, employees getting advice had median annual returns that were 3.32 percentage points higher, net of fees, than workers managing their own retirement accounts.

Meanwhile, Schwab also found that people who used third-party professional advisors and had one-on-one counseling tended to increase their savings rate, were better diversified and stayed the course in their investing decisions despite market ups and downs.

If you are looking for plan guidance, though, make sure you understand the fees for this advice. A recent study by the GAO found that managed accounts, which let you turn over portfolio decisions to a pro, may be costly—management fees ranged from .08% to as high as 1%, on top of investing expenses. Ideally, you should pay 0.3% or less. High fees could wipe out the advantage of professional guidance. Other research has found that you may get similar benefits—generally at a much lower cost—by opting for a target-date fund.

In the long run, stepping up your saving and keeping fees low will make a bigger difference to your financial security than the investments you select. Still, making the right choices in your 401(k), as well as understanding what you need to do to reach your goals, is important. If professional advice will help you avoid making mistakes, it may be worth seeking out.

MONEY College

The Important Talk Parents Are Not Having With Their Kids

College tuition jar
Alamy

The new Fidelity College Savings Indicator survey reveals that parents are only on track to pay a third of college tuition—and that they're keeping mum on the topic.

Moms and dads expect their children to pay for more than one-third of college costs—but only 57% of parents actually have that conversation with their kids, according to a new study out by Fidelity today.

The cost of college has more than doubled in the past decade, and parents are having a hard time saving for it, Fidelity’s 8th annual College Savings Indicator study shows. While 64% of parents say they’d like be able to cover their kids total college costs, only 28% are on track to do so.

That jibes with reality: For current students, parents’ income and savings now only cover one-third of college costs on average, according to Sallie Mae’s recently released report How America Pays For College. Kids use 12% of their own savings and income. Loans taken by students and parents account for 22% of the funds, while another 30% comes from grants and scholarships.

Experts urge parents to have a frank conversation well in advance with their children about how much college costs and how much they are expected to contribute, either through summer jobs, their own savings or part-time jobs while in school. “If children know that they are expected to contribute to their college funds, they are more likely to save for it,” says Judith Ward, a senior financial planner at T. Rowe Price.

A T. Rowe Price study released earlier this week found that 58% of kids whose parents frequently talk to them about saving for college put away money for that goal vs. just 23% who don’t talk to their parents about how to pay for school.

There’s also reason to believe that parents shouldn’t feel so bad about not being able to take on the full tab. A national study out last year found that the more money parents pay for their kids’ college educations, the worse their kids tend to perform. In her paper “More Is More or More is Less? Parent Financial Investments During College,” University of California sociology professor Laura Hamilton found that larger contributions from parents are linked to lower grades among students.

Apparently, kids who don’t work or otherwise use their own money to pay for school spend more time on leisure activities and are less focused on studying. It’s not that these kids flunk out, according to Hamilton. She found that students with parental funding often perform well enough to stay in school, but they just dial down their academic efforts.

Given all these findings, parents should feel less pressure pay the full ride for their kids—especially if it means falling behind on other important goals like saving for their own retirement. “Putting your kids on the hook for college costs is better for everyone,” says Ward.

MONEY 101: How much does college actually cost?

MONEY 101: Where should I save for college?

MONEY Ask the Expert

Here’s How to Protect Your 401(k) from the Next Big Market Drop

140605_AskExpert_illo
Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.

Q: Bull markets don’t last forever. How can I protect my 401(k) if there’s another big downturn soon?

A: After a five-year tear, the bull market is starting to look a bit tired, so it’s understandable that you may be be nervous about a possible downturn. But any changes in your 401(k) should be geared mainly to the years you have until retirement rather than potential stock market moves.

The current bull market may indeed be in its last phase and returns going forward are likely to be more modest. Still, occasional stomach-churning downturns are just the nature of the investing game, says Tim Golas, a partner at Spurstone Executive Wealth Solutions. “I don’t see anything like the 2008 crisis on the horizon, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see a lot more volatility in the markets,” says Golas.

That may feel uncomfortable. But don’t look at an increase in market risk as a key reason to cut back your exposure to stocks. “If you leave the market during tough times and get really conservative with long-term investments, you can miss a lot of gains,” says Golas.

A better way to determine the size of your stock allocation is to use your age, projected retirement date, as well as your risk tolerance as a guide. If you are in your 20s and 30s and have many years till retirement, the long-term growth potential of stocks will outweigh their risks, so your retirement assets should be concentrated in stocks, not bonds. If you have 30 or 40 years till retirement you can keep as much as 80% of your 401(k) in equities and 20% in bonds, financial advisers say.

If you’re uncomfortable with big market swings, you can do fine with a smaller allocation to stocks. But for most investors, it’s best to keep at least a 50% to 60% equities, since you’ll need that growth in your nest egg. As you get older and closer to retirement, it makes sense to trade some of that potential growth in stocks for stability. After all, you want to be sure that money is available when you need it. So over time you should reduce the percentage of your assets invested in stocks and boost the amount in bonds to help preserve your portfolio.

To determine how much you should have in stocks vs. bonds, financial planners recommend this standard rule of thumb: Subtract your age from 110. Using this measure, a 40-year old would keep 70% of their retirement funds in stocks. Of course, you can fine-tune the percentage to suit your strategy.

When you’re within five or 10 years of retirement, you should focus on reducing risk in your portfolio. An asset allocation of 50% stocks and 50% stocks should provide the stability you need while still providing enough growth to outpace inflation during your retirement years.

Once you have your strategy set, try to ignore daily market moves and stay on course. “You shouldn’t apply short-term thinking to long-term assets,” says Golas.

For more on retirement investing:

Money’s Ultimate Guide to Retirement

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