What Would You Do With a $20,000 Windfall?

Yo, internet. I’m in a fantasizing mood. Are you? Do you ever think about what you’d do if you suddenly had a bunch of money that you didn’t think you’d have? What would you do with a surprise $20,000 windfall? (Government already took their cut. All yours.)

Emily Gould:

Pay off my credit cards and if any was left over put it towards paying off the credit cards of the two people I most love, then never, ever use credit cards again in my life no matter what it took to manage to do that. No-brainer. 

I don’t spend time thinking about windfalls but now I will. THANKS, LOGAN. ;)

Cord Jefferson

I would pay off the remainder of my student loan bill (about $8,000) and be 100 percent debt-free. After that I’m afraid I’d be equally as boring with the rest. My brother and his family are in town right now, so I’d probably use some of it to take them all out to an expensive meal and get some ice cream afterward. Then I’d wake up and put what money was left in my savings account until I figured out something not pathetically frivolous to do with it. If I’m trying to think frivolously, I think I’m going to Vietnam or Mali next year, so maybe I’d buy those tickets. I also saw a cool jacket that looked pretty good on me at Zara a couple weeks ago. It cost $200, but I didn’t buy it because I have too many jackets already. Perhaps I’d buy that jacket, but who knows. I’m already conflicted about how to spend the money I currently have, so coming into a lot of it without any effort would only serve to make me more conflicted, I imagine. There’s a good chance I’d put it all into a shoebox under my bed and stress about it until I died.

Sarah Todd:

I have one dreamy answer and one practical answer. The dreamy answer is that I would use the money to travel around the world for a year, hurray! I’d bring a friend and arrange a journalism project to go along with the trip so we could gallivant with a purpose. (But still leave plenty of time for trying new foods and laughing around a bonfire and swimming in hot springs beneath giant mountains and everything, of course.) Afterward we’d put the project together into a book and people would like it and pay dollars for it, and we’d give the proceeds to some rad nonprofits and get funding to do more travel journalism projects based on the popularity of our first one (and so on).

The practical answer is that I’d use $10,000 to pay down my student loans (still wouldn’t wipe ’em out, though!) and give the other $10,000 to a person I love who is paying off credit card debt (it also wouldn’t wipe out their debt). But actually, I don’t even know how much of a difference this would make in either of our lives, now that I’m typing it out, so maybe the dreamy answer is just as practical?

Jon Custer:

First thing, I’d pay off a couple of annoying old debts. Let’s say $2,500 or so for that. Then I’d buy plane tickets for us to go visit my wife’s family in the Caribbean and maybe have a small wedding celebration since we only had a quickie wedding here in D.C. Hopefully there would be at least a few thousand left after that to keep for emergency savings. Oh, I’d probably buy a new computer too since mine is getting up there in years.

I used to dream about getting a surprise windfall, but lately I just think about what it would be like to have a slightly higher salary. Like, “Oh, if only I made $500 more per month I could finally start saving and doing this and that.” Which is even more stupid, in a way, because everyone knows if I made $500 more per month it would just magically disappear with no discernible effects on my life or my financial stability.

Maybe a more interesting question is what would be a life-changing amount of money? For me I think it would have to be about $100,000. Then I could pay off my private student loan and have enough money left over to buy a house or apartment with a mortgage we could afford. Even though I’m not necessarily planning to stay in D.C. forever, the property market is so hot I don’t really have the same dread about buying property that a lot of people of our generation feel. (Somehow I don’t mind spend $10,000 a year on bars and restaurants, but I HATE throwing $15,000 down the toilet for rent.) The only way I’d ever realistically see that kind of windfall is if someone close to me died, which is another reason I don’t fantasize about it much.

Jia Tolentino:

I never think about what I’d do with extra money that I don’t/won’t have. I assume I will never have this mystical “extra money” unless I write a bestselling YA dystopian trilogy, which seems pretty unlikely. With money, as with all things, I think I’m solidly in the “Expect Nothing and Your Whole Life Will Be a Pleasant Surprise” camp for now. 

So, if I got $20,000 today, let’s see: I’d put half of it in the mutual fund where I have a very wee bit of savings and try to forget about it, and I’d put half of the rest of it in my Freelance Taxes bank account (which I drain on the regular for plane tickets and booze). That leaves me with $5,000: I’d use $1,000 for charitable purposes, spend $2,000 on an amazing vacation, and go *~* shopping *~* with the rest in the interest of having a closet that is not still 90 percent Tween. Annnnd okay now I really want lots of money to appear in my bank account. “Expect $20,000 and Your Whole Life Will Be Spent All Like ‘Hey, Where’s That $20,000’.” 

Zan Romanoff:

So I’ve been living with my parents for the last year, since I quit my last job and moved across the country in December 2012. This was supposed to be more temporary—until I was making enough money to make rent—but that’s only been happening kind of recently, and it’s not quite enough (or quite stable enough) that I’ve been comfortable making that leap, so with $20K in my bank account probably what I’d be doing is putting down first and last month’s rent somewhere and maybe buying some furniture. Maybe even not from Ikea. I’d probably pick some arbitrary amount to spend on clothes—because I could easily spend $20K shopping, so easily, too easily—and put the rest in savings against the day my 14-year-old car finally eats it. Clearly I have spent a certain amount of time thinking about this. Who doesn’t? It provides such a pleasant combination of (imagined) practical security and high-fantasy consumer fun times. 

Chiara Atik:

Move to Rome for a year. Hands down. And just write. OH and buy a Vespa. Which is like, $4,000? Maybe it’s less in Italy! So, buy a Vespa and use the remaining $16,000 to write a play in Italy. Is the Vespa a little too “Under the Tuscan Sun?” Forget the Vespa. The real luxury is being able to feed yourself and pay rent and just work on whatever you want to work on.

Allison Cintins:

I love to fantasize about having a lump sum of money or gigantic raise suddenly coming at me. I’m a constant worrier, especially about finances, so my justification for constantly imagining this unlikely situation is that having that extra money would make me a happier, less anxious person overall.

Past me would have just gone on a crazy shopping spree with no regard toward the future because I’d rationalize with thoughts, like, “What if I die tomorrow?” and “You should live in the moment!” As I’ve gotten older, I’ve turned into a semi-responsible adult. First, I would pay off all of my debt (which adds up to about $6,000) and put $5,000 into an untouchable CD. I’d use the remaining dough to go on a much-needed vacation and buy a few quality pieces that are on my perpetual “To Buy” list (an Eames chair, a new computer, some fancy rings). I think I’d have more than a few thousand left after that, so I’d invest in maid service, put some in an accessible savings account and top it off by adopting the silliest rescue pup I could find.

Audrey Ference:

I do this constantly, and the sad thing is that my fantasies are always the boringest. I would pay off some student loan debt. Like, even though I understand the point of fantasizing about a windfall is to imagine doing something amazing like living in Thailand for a year, my stupid brain still just thinks about paying off debt. I’m a sad specimen.

Jane Hu:

I would save it. I would put it in the bank RIGHT AWAY. (Post-humanities-grad-school anxieties of lifelong waffling in poverty increases by each day—would be good if some finances were accumulating interest along with them.)

Mitch Sunderland:

I’d pay off my nine grand in student loans (it’s somewhere around there), go to Disney World (I miss Disney World), save half the rest of it so I can retire in Palm Beach, like I’m supposed to, and buy stocks with the rest. 

Adam Frucci:

I’d buy myself something nice, like a fancy dinner or an expensive article of clothing, and put the rest in savings. Maybe I’d take a vacation in the next few months using some of it. But there’s no $15,000 item that I’m dying to acquire—it’d just be nice to have that cushion to let me splurge on something every once in a while and to have as a backup/emergency fund otherwise.

Jesse Fox:

$20,000 is a good amount. $10,000 is too reasonable, so I probably wouldn’t do anything but save it. $30,000 is too much; I probably would feel like I need to be smart about it. With $20,000, however, I think I’d buy nice shoes and then make a reservation at a restaurant that would demand the wearing of nice shoes. Then I’d think about buying something lavish—like art or a new chair—but get overwhelmed by the choice and just order Chinese food, but a la carte, no lunch special for me—I’m a thousandaire. 

Lauren Rodrigue:

Rational: Put toward student loans


Irrational: TopShop + Sally Hansen stick-on nail decals

Humanitarian: A dog. What. Wire fox terrier + cuddly bed + a dog walker for as long as that money will last + beggin’ strips

Selfless: Parents (granite countertops, a vacation), brother (new used car)

Weird: Sushi every day till I puke!

Stupid: Save for retirement

Omg nose job I would get a nose job

Blair Thornburgh:

First, I really hope it’d be in the form of a GIANT NOVELTY CHECK.

So, I need a new computer: $1K. My roommate and I need a couch, and if we have money, why not get a good one, so: $1K. And I could use a non-shitty mattress: $1K. Oh! And I’d pay off the rest of my Volvo 240, and start paying my own insurance so that I could get a street parking permit for my new apartment ($1K, ish). Also, my blush just ran out, so, $50? I guess? What does rich-people blush cost?

To reassure myself that I’m not a terrible person, I’d throw some money at my fave charities (to the tune of $5K, let’s say), and since my baby sister is looking likely to go to grad school, I’d give her $5K in seed money for that because I ~*believe in her*~. The remaining $5950.00 would go in my high-yield savings account until I can think of better use for it—like maybe a vacation? But let’s earn some interest first.

Brendan O’Connor

First I would take my friends to a really fancy dinner at like Balthazar or Pastis or somewhere like that. Or maybe just Brisket Town, but pay for everybody’s meat. Like pounds and pounds of it. Meat for everybody. I would bribe them into letting me get behind the counter so I can chop up the meat. Have you ever been to Brisket Town? It’s so cool. Also I would go to bookstores and not feel guilty about buying lots of books. I need a new pair of boots. I would buy a new pair of boots. Also I would get a new tattoo. A big one. Then I would do some traveling probably? I have a bunch of college friends on the West Coast—L.A., San Francisco, Seattle—and I miss them terribly. Or maybe I would pay for them to come to New York. Like all of the friends that I’ve ever had, West Coasters and otherwise. And then take them to Brisket Town and buy them meat. Or do the biggest grocery shop of all time and then everybody helps make dinner together and it’s real food with really good, quality ingredients. That would be fun.

Lindsey Weber

I think I’d like to imagine that it would go right into savings and become some sort of bigger foundation for further growing my puny 401(k)? But that’s the most boring response ever, and if we factored in the condition that I would not tell my mom (…So I wouldn’t feel bad about this next option! Sorry Mom!) I would probably blow it all on getting my own place (for however long these funds last…) and a Volvo station wagon. The place would be cheap(er) because it would be far(ther) away, and that’s why I’d need the car! Or maybe I’d just live in my station wagon. You know what? Don’t give me this money.

Shannon Palus

I would be boring and save it. My daydreams are more control-oriented. “If I ran the world,” fill in the blank.”If I could go half an hour back in time,” fill in the blank. “If I could teleport somewhere right now,” fill in the blank. I think because I’m mostly OK with money right now (income, savings account), and so that feels like something I do have control over. If I had to spend it now, it would be on plane tickets, because plane tickets are expensive, and they are the only thing that I really, logically, want, but are also out of my reach. But teleportation/world domination would solve that.

Christian Brown

Jeez, for $20K it’d probably be take a month off work and just go places without feeling like I was losing money by not working. Go to Spain for a month and chillax. OR, likewise, spend it on house upgrades that I can’t afford for years right now, like turning the backyard into an actual yard instead of a rectangle of weeds/dirt. BIG DREAMS.



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