31 Things to Do With a Money Windfall

By Kylie Ora Lobell · June 15, 2023 · 12 minute read

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31 Things to Do With a Money Windfall

You just came into a cash windfall. You’re happy about this, but you aren’t exactly sure about what to do with it. Should you spend it? Save it? Invest it?

Depending on the amount of money you now have and your financial situation, the answers are going to differ. Here are some things you can do with a financial windfall to ensure that you are handling it in the smartest way possible.

What Is Considered a Windfall?

There is no one specific definition for what is a financial windfall. Typically, it means that you’ve received some unexpected money of a significant amount. For some people, a windfall could be a few hundred dollars; for others, it could be millions.

Whatever the amount, if it feels as if you have come into a considerable amount of money that you weren’t anticipating, it makes sense to develop a plan for how to use it.

3 Tips to Help You Make the Most of Your Money Windfall

If you are fortunate enough to have a windfall land in your lap, consider these points before you take action (whether spending, saving, investing, or donating). These steps can help you make the most of your money:

•  Get professional advice: Depending on the size and source of your windfall, you might owe taxes on it and it might push you into a different tax bracket. Consulting with an accountant or financial planner may help you identify the implications.

•  Go slow: Of course it’s exciting to have cash coming your way, but it’s wise to take some time and reflect on how the money would be best spent versus deciding “Dinner’s on me!” for you and your 10 best friends to celebrate. For instance, could your windfall lower or wipe out some debt? Could it be invested? Don’t let the adrenaline rush drive you to make too quick a decision. Take some time to clarify your goals.

•  Think long-term: If you’ve received a sizable sum, it may be tempting to drop everything and quit your day job to travel or take on a passion project. Again, financial counseling could be wise before you do such things. What sounds like a major sum may not actually finance those things (or at least allow you to go all in on them), so look at the implications carefully before making a big life change.

Remember That Taxes May Be Due on Your Windfall

As briefly mentioned above, taxes may be due on your windfall. Talking with a certified public accountant or financial planner could be a wise move. Some food for thought:

•  A large inheritance (more than $12.06 million as an individual in 2022) from a relative other than a spouse would trigger federal taxes owed.

•  A gift of more than $16,000 will require you to pay federal taxes.

•  A lottery win is taxed as ordinary income.

What to Do With a $500 Windfall

Let’s say the amount of money you received was $500. While it isn’t a ton of money, it still is significant enough that you should figure out what to do with it. Here are a few ideas for what to do with a small windfall.

1. Investing in Real Estate

Did you know that you can become a real estate investor with just $500? The real estate crowdfunding platform DiversyFund allows you to invest in real estate investment trusts (REITs) with a minimum of $500. Although there is risk involved in real estate investing and it might tie up your money before you see a return, this might be a good way to get your feet wet when it comes to real estate.

2. Meeting With a Financial Advisor

Hiring a financial advisor to help you learn how to plan for your financial future might be a good use of this money. Financial advisor charges vary: Some might charge hourly while others are commission-based. If this professional will be managing a portfolio for you, it is fairly common to be charged 1% of the portfolio value.

3. Buying a New Wardrobe

You could refresh your wardrobe with a little extra money. Wearing the right clothes could make you feel more comfortable and give you the confidence to go after your professional goals. Or you might splurge on some clothes you’ve been eying that give you a self-esteem boost.

4. Traveling Somewhere Cheap

You may be able to save on hotel rooms and plane tickets when sales are running. Or, you could always take a road trip somewhere locally for only $500. Since you’re on a tight budget, you may want to use credit card rewards to finance any additional cost of your trip.

5. Investing in a Certificate of Deposit

Another thing you can do with a $500 financial windfall is put it into a certificate of deposit, which is a savings account with a fixed interest rate as well as the maturity date. It’s a low-risk way to invest your money.

6. Getting Your Car Fixed

Have you been putting off car repairs because they’re too expensive? Now that you have $500, it might be time to put it towards your vehicle so it’s less likely to break down when you’re on the road.

7. Buying Renter’s Insurance

If you’re a renter, your personal property is not covered under your landlord’s homeowners insurance policy. Your renter’s insurance policy, typically costing less than $500 per year, will cover the cost of your belongings should anything happen, as well as offer liability coverage if anyone gets injured on your property. How much does renters insurance cost? Prices will vary depending on where you live and the value of what you have to insure, but nationally the average cost is typically between $126 and $252.

8. Purchasing a Life Insurance Policy

Life insurance is designed to protect your family in the event that you pass away. The average cost of a life insurance policy is $26/month, so you could pay for the whole year upfront with just $500. Typically, life insurance rates increase as you age and your risk of dying increases. So it’s likely to be less expensive to purchase life insurance while you’re young, rather than waiting until you feel like you can afford it.

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9. Taking a Professional Development Class

While private colleges and universities may be pricier, you may be able to find a class online or at your local community college for less than $500. Finding something that is relevant to your career may even help you move up the ladder at your job.

What to Do With a $1,000 Windfall

Did you receive a $1,000 financial windfall? Here are some tips on what to do with windfall money of that amount.

10. Getting Started on Your Emergency Fund

Ideally, your emergency fund will be as robust as possible and include several months’ worth of expenses just in case you lose your job or otherwise face some financial hardships. However, if you don’t have anything saved up, then putting $1,000 into it is a great start. You will have a safety net at the very least.

11. Hiring an Estate Planning Lawyer

Another important thing you could do with a $1,000 cash windfall is meet with an estate planning lawyer to write your will, establish a trust, and determine your power of attorney. You may feel some peace knowing your family will be protected and your assets will go where you wish to distribute them.

12. Opening a 529 Plan

A 529 plan is a way to save for your child’s college education. With $1,000, you can get a nice head start on college savings and gain interest on your money at the same time. Plus, the money will be tax-deferred.

13. Doing Home Improvements

With $1,000, you could do some significant home improvements like replacing your curtains, put down a new kitchen floor, paint different rooms, or spruce up your backyard. If you do the work yourself, you may be able to stretch your financial windfall money even further.

14. Donating It

If there’s a nonprofit you always donate to, you could make a big difference by giving $1,000 to it. You could also write it off on your taxes if it’s a qualifying organization.

15. Opening a High-Yield Savings Account

A typical savings account tends to have low-interest rates. But a high-yield savings account could earn up to 25 times the interest of a regular savings account. Putting the $1,000 in your account and then setting up automatic transfers from your checking into your new savings account will help it continue to grow.

16. Opening an IRA

If you don’t have anything saved up for retirement and you suddenly get a $1,000 financial windfall, then it might be time to open up an IRA. It’s wise to speak with a financial advisor about the best type of account for your situation.

17. Investing in Your Side Hustle

To make money on your $1,000 financial windfall, you could start or invest in your own low-cost side hustle. For instance, perhaps you’re a freelance graphic designer on the side but you need to buy some software to be able to do more detailed work. Or maybe you need to purchase a domain name and hire a developer to create a business website. With this initial investment, you may be able to bring in much more money and improve your finances.

What to Do With a $5,000 Windfall

You just got a cash windfall of $5,000. Now what? Here are some ideas.

18. Saving Up for a Down Payment

In some instances, you could make a down payment on a home for only 3% to 5%. For instance, if you purchase a $100,000 home and you only need to put 5% down, you could use your financial windfall money as your $5,000 down payment.

19. Paying Off Credit Card Debt

The average American family has $7,951 worth of credit card debt. Even if you have more than that much debt, $5,000 could make a big difference.

20. Investing Via Robo-Advisors

Do you want to invest your $5,000 cash windfall, but you don’t know where to start? Robo advisors create a diversified investment portfolio based on your investment goals and the level of risk you’re willing to take.

21. Investing in Blue-Chip Stocks

If you’re willing to take some risk with investments, then blue-chip stocks could be good investments for you. These stocks are from well-established and financially stable companies that typically pay dividends to investors.

22. Investing in International Bonds

Bonds typically have a solid history of returns, although slightly lower than that of stocks. However, since US interest rates have been relatively low, it may be a good idea to look into international bonds for a better return rate. These can carry higher risk because of currency exchange rates, however, so it’s wise to choose carefully, based on the country where the bond is held. Having both stocks and bonds in a portfolio is a good way to achieve diversification in a balanced portfolio.

23. Taking a Luxurious Vacation

With $5,000, you and your family could potentially vacation in a luxury resort. By looking for all-inclusive experiences, you could do much more with your money. Check out sites like Expedia, Costco Travel, and Booking.com for deals.

What to Do With a $10,000+ Windfall

If you received a cash windfall of $10,000 or more (lucky you!), here are some things you could do with it.

24. Opening a Money Market Account

With $10,000 could enable you to invest in a money market account, which typically earns a higher interest rate than a regular savings account.

25. Paying Off Student Loan Debt

The average student loan debt is more than $32,000. If you have a $10,000 financial windfall, you could put a nice dent in your student loan payments.

26. Trying Peer-to-Peer Lending

You could lend your financial windfall money to someone who is looking for a loan and have the opportunity to earn a much higher interest rate than you might receive on other types of investments.

27. Making Mortgage Payments

You could make a large principal-only payment toward your mortgage loan with a $10,000 cash windfall. Using an amortization calculator on the remaining balance of a fixed-rate loan will show you how much sooner you could pay off the loan.

28. Going to College

While $10,000 won’t cover a bachelor’s degree unless you also get grants or scholarships, you may be able to earn your associate’s degree at your local community college with your financial windfall money. This may also cover several classes at a university that could lead to career advancement.

29. Starting Your Business

Let’s say you want to do more than start a side hustle, and you’re ready to open a small business. With $10,000, you can get the ball rolling on your business without the need to borrow money. It could be a good idea to talk to a successful business owner in your industry who has the experience and can give you some guidance on how best to allocate your money.

30. Putting it in Your 401(k)

If you have a 401(k) through your employer, you could put your $10,000 into it. If your employer matches your contributions, the money could go even further.

31. Moving to a Different Home

Moving can be expensive, and a $10,000 financial windfall could be useful when it comes to covering moving costs. A move may make sense if you can find a place that’s more convenient to your work, restaurants, and entertainment and/or gives you and your family more space or offers additional amenities.

The Takeaway

Receiving a financial windfall of any amount is probably best handled with careful thought. You might pay down debt, take a vacation, invest the funds, or pursue higher education…or even do a little of each. Sometimes, the best thing to do is to set it aside while you take your time to make a decision about how best to spend it.

Earning interest on the money during a “thinking it over” period can be a good thing, too. A SoFi Checking and Savings Account can be a good place to park your money; it will earn a competitive annual percentage yield (APY) and you won’t pay any account fees. Those two features can help you money grow.

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What amount of money is considered a windfall?

The amount of money that is considered a windfall will vary depending on your circumstances. If you are just starting out or earning a lower income, $500 might be cause for celebration. Typically, a windfall is considered $1,000 or more, and in some cases, it could be a major sum of six figures or more.

What to do with a $50,000 windfall?

There are many ways to use a $50,000 windfall. You could pay off high-interest debt, pump up your retirement account or savings for your children’s education, or you might invest it, whether in the stock market or your own business.

What can you do with a $100K windfall?

With a $100,000 windfall, you might pay off high-cost debt, stash money for future educational costs for yourself or your child, save for retirement, or invest the money or buy real estate with it.

Photo credit: iStock/TARIK KIZILKAYA

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