We’re more likely to save a windfall than a small amount consistently over a long period of time. Hack that psychology by saving your bonuses, raises, and tax refunds. This tax season, get ahead of your financial goals by saving at least $50.
I’ve seen it all down my timeline on Facebook, and I know you have too. I’ve been on the same end of the windfall spending spectrum, so I am not judging, however, when I learned better I began to do better. Many people are talking about receiving their income tax checks. I have watched people ball till they fall. Then they get an attitude when someone with financial knowledge tries to share other options to set them up for the future.
I am not saying you have to take all of your windfalls, whether they be income tax, inheritances, bonuses from work, or some other type, take a portion of them and fund some type of savings account. You see, when you receive a windfall it’s like you’ve been given a second chance. Although you may have made money mistakes in the past, you now have a chance to fix those mistakes (or some of them, anyhow) and start down the path of smart money management.
It can be tempting (as I well know) to spend your windfall on toys, trips, and other things that you “deserve,” but doing so will leave you in the same place you were before you received the windfall. And if that place was chained to debt, you’ll be just as unhappy as you’ve always been.
I’ve received a few windfalls. With time, I’ve developed a system for handling these situations and I’d like to share this system with you.
If you receive a chunk of cash, I recommend that you:
- Keep 5 percent to treat yourself and your family. Let’s be realistic. If you receive $1,000 or $10,000 or $100,000 unexpectedly, you’re going to want to spend some of it. No problem. But don’t spend all of it. I suggest spending 5 percent on fun. That means $50 of a $1,000 windfall, $500 of a $10,000 windfall, or $5,000 of a $100,000 windfall. Don’t be tempted to spend more!
- Pay any taxes due. Depending on the source of your money, you might owe taxes on it at the end of the year. If you forget this fact and spend the money, you can end up in a bind when the taxes come due. Consult a tax professional. If needed, set aside enough to pay your taxes before you do anything else.
- Pay off debt. Doing so will generally provide the greatest possible return on your investment (a 20 percent return if your credit cards charge you 20 percent). It’ll also free up cash flow; if you pay off a card with a $50 minimum monthly payment, that’s $50 extra you’ll have available each month. Most of all, repaying debt will relieve the psychological weight you’ve been carrying for so long. Don’t underestimate the feeling of freedom that comes from no longer having creditors.
- Fix the things that are broken. After you’ve eliminated any existing debt, use your windfall to repair whatever is broken in your life. Start with your own health. If you’ve been putting off a trip to the dentist or a medical procedure, take care of it. Do the same for your family. Next, fix your car or the roof or the sidewalk. Use this opportunity to patch up the things you’ve been putting off.
- Deposit the rest of the money in a safe account. It can be tempting to spend the rest of your windfall on a new car or new furniture or new house. Don’t do it. Take some time to breathe. After attending to your immediate needs, deposit the remaining money in a new savings account separate from the rest of your bank accounts. Be sure that the account is as difficult to access as possible — no ATM card, no easy transfer to your other accounts, no nothing. (An online savings account is good for this. So is an account at a small, local bank in the next town over.)
- Make a wish list. Allow your initial emotion to pass, getting over the urge to spend the money now. Live as you were before. Meanwhile, spend some time learning how far your windfall could go. Most people have unrealistic expectations about how much $10,000 or $100,000 can buy. Resist the temptation to spend the money now, but do run the numbers to see what you could buy.
Saving a portion of your windfall will take you a long way to your savings goals. Tell me what you do with your windfalls.