What Would You Do With an Extra $20,000?

by Ryan

CNN recently created a video in which they asked New York residents in Central Park a simple question “How would you spend an extra $20,000?

Most of the people whom they asked were puzzled, not necessarily sure what their answers should be and the range was huge from shopping, to investing, to starting a business, to buying a car. I didn’t hear anyone say I’d invest it in a retirement account though!

Watching the video put the obvious into perspective. Most people don’t know what to do with their money or any gifts of money they would receive. Too judgmental? Perhaps it was because nobody had any specific answers such as I’d invest in X, or I’d buy X car, or I’d do X just made me realize that the people who were asked didn’t have any sort of goal they were saving towards otherwise that would’ve been their first response… right?

In any case the video made me wonder whether $20,000 is a lot of money, what you could do with that $20,000, and what your responses would be to that question.

Is $20,000 even a lot of money?

If you go on a popular game show such as the Price is Right or Wheel of Fortune it wouldn’t be a bad day if you made $20,000 in prize value and/or cash. People are genuinely excited to win that much money so it can’t be that small of value. As the video closes out one of the guys says “I’m at a loss; $20,000 isn’t a lot.” So is that much money a lot to you?

That same gentleman said he’d use it towards the $2 million dollar loft he’d like to own in New York City. That’s only 1% of the value of the loft! Think of how long you’d have to save up to afford living in a place like that on a median wage! If you aren’t setting your eyes on an expensive NYC loft what other things could you do with that money?

What can you do with $20,000?

The Burj Al Arab

The Burj Al Arab

  • You could buy a Mini Cooper
  • You can invest it for 30 years and turn it into $265,353 at a 9% rate of return…
  • You can buy 40,000 donuts which is enough to last you 109 years (without inflation and the cost of your heart surgery).
  • You can stay at the Burj Al Arab for 3 nights
  • You can live in Thailand for two years
  • You could feed 80,000 children in Africa for a day or 220 for about a year.

The options are limitless, but I thought I’d use this example to show you the power your money, even if it’s not a lot of money to you it begins to stretch further when you look in different places. If you’d like top of the line (think pareto and living in America) then your $20k won’t go too far. But your $20k could probably make a fairly significant impact somewhere else. Would you prefer three nights in a hotel or feeding 220 children for a year?

For me, is $20,000 a lot of money? Yes… I could comfortably live on it for about a year and a half here in Honolulu, but that’s just me, and as a recent college grad I haven’t made millions (yet ;) ), but to you it could be pocket change.

What I’d Do with an extra $20,000

In the spirit of the question originally asked my response at the moment would be… I’d pay down the majority of my student debt and that would be about all. Nothing fancy, no travel, shopping, or 1% of lofts for me, but I would gain something that’s more valuable… Piece of mind in my financial security which I value much more.

What would you do with an extra $20,000?

Is $20,000 a lot of money to you or not so much?

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{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Financial Bondage June 27, 2010 at 10:49 am

It’s a lot of money in my book. I’d be debt free and have a nice emergency fund… give some to the church of course. I would not spend it on stuff.

A NON MOUSE June 27, 2010 at 12:06 pm

It would take approximate half of that to take care of the remain cc debt. So I would do that first. The rest I would “invest” in something very liquid – most likely a savings account. Having a “true” emergency fund would make life simpler for me.

Financial Samurai June 27, 2010 at 12:24 pm

I’d take $10K and go to Vegas with my buddies! $6K I’ll use to fund my poker barrage, and the other 4K for food/drinks/nightlife.

As for the other $10K, I’d throw it all at a rental prop mortgage.

Early Retirement Extreme June 27, 2010 at 3:23 pm

Invest it ($TOT). Dunno what else, I’d spend it on. Maybe a katana ($2k) although I don’t think I’m ready to wield one well enough to justify a purchase. It is really a key issue before buying something whether I’d use it enough to justify ownership. Price is not the limiter.

In terms of whether 20k is a lot. It’s above the daily and weekly volatility/”noise level” so I’d see the difference on a day to day basis or a week to week basis. However, I was 20k wealthier a few weeks ago (before the market dropped again), so it’s not that big of a deal.

Evan June 27, 2010 at 4:15 pm

I’d be pumped with 20K handed to me! Hell, I’d be pumped if someone handed me 250 bucks lol I would use half to pay off the upside down car, and put the other half into my down payment fund for a new house.

That being said, I think I would love if Sam would take me to Vegas.
.-= Evan´s last blog ..How Much Liquidity Do You Want =-.

Money Funk June 27, 2010 at 5:22 pm

$20,000 doesn’t sound like much until you view it across the nations. Funny, I asked myself what I’d do if I received $20k, but I could not come up with a solid answer. I’d pay debt, of course. But if I didn’t have debt… Dunno. Have a drink with the boys in Vegas. Or maybe that’s a ‘boys only’ territory. ;)
.-= Money Funk´s last blog ..Keeping your Pet Safe with Spot-on Flea -amp Tick Control =-.

Stephanie June 27, 2010 at 5:46 pm

Well, I was going to say I’d pay off some of my student debt with it, until you suggested it could help feed thousands of hungry children…then I felt bad being selfish and using it on my debt.

Though maybe I’d convince myself that if I pay off my debt sooner, I can start increasing my net worth faster, which means I’ll have even more money to donate later? Who knows.
.-= Stephanie´s last blog ..Fighting lifestyle inflation =-.

Roman Soluk June 28, 2010 at 12:32 am

I would use part of it for my personal life and the rest of it I would invest in something.
.-= Roman Soluk´s last blog ..Exclusive interview with D Devonshire- a former VP at Motorola Inc =-.

kt June 27, 2010 at 10:56 pm

i would tithe 10%, take another 3k and spend it on my family, take another 3k and give to the less fortunate and then invest the rest in my online business. I am not such a fan for cars so i think i will continue using the bus. Oh and a little traveling to distant lands like the land down under. If wishes were horses… right? :)

Jackie June 28, 2010 at 2:23 am

I’d probably take $2,000 and put it in my Antarctica fund, and put the rest toward getting our house paid off.
.-= Jackie´s last blog ..Sticker Shock =-.

Favor June 28, 2010 at 10:13 am

I’d present some of it as an tithe and offering to God, give some away, pay down the mortgage, put the rest our travel fund :)
.-= Favor´s last blog ..Whose Life are You Messing Up pt 2 =-.

Andrea June 28, 2010 at 10:31 am

I would pay off my credit cards and invest in my business with half and I would put the other half of the money in a savings account. I would also use about $800 for a vacation on a beach somewhere. :-)

Darren June 28, 2010 at 1:09 pm

Like you and others have stated, $20,000 may not seem like much to an American, but it can go a long way in other parts of the world.

Being somewhat of an investment junkie, since Vanguard funds usually have a $3,000 minimum, I’d invest in 6 of them and shoot for an 8% return. In ten years, the money would have more than doubled.
.-= Darren´s last blog ..Coverdell Education Savings Accounts – What Are They And How Do They Work =-.

Arlene June 28, 2010 at 4:59 pm

At this stage of the game I would put $15.000 away for retirement and than find a foundation that can help educated people in third world countries on how to provide for themselves and their familys.
.-= Arlene´s last blog ..Necessity vs Passion =-.

MakingAMillionDollars June 28, 2010 at 10:05 pm

I would buy 74 Shares of Apple Stock and watch it continue to grow over the next 10 years or possibly 266 shares of Bidu or a combination of the two. Love both stocks as they are dominators in their industries.
.-= MakingAMillionDollars´s last blog ..High Mileage Cars and How Keeping Them Forever Can Make You Money =-.

Mark Bell June 29, 2010 at 3:44 am

I think I would clear my debts and put the remainder away into savings. The money it would free up from my income each month would give me more scope to do anything else.

At the moment, $20k is about £14k. In the UK an average salary is about £20-25k, so giving someone here that amount is a big thing.

What is the average salary in the USA?
.-= Mark Bell´s last blog ..Achieving Success – Setting your goals =-.

Dan - BankVibe June 28, 2010 at 10:54 pm

We could all just give it back to the federal government since we’re about $17k in debt per person in the US…damn, then we’d actually have a surplus :)
.-= Dan – BankVibe´s last blog ..Incredible Bank’s CD Rates and Review online 12 mo CD =-.

Kevin M June 29, 2010 at 9:37 am

I’d probably take a leave from my job and use the time off to
a) start a side business and
b) spend the days with my kids and wife

We’d probably donate some of it also.

Kharim June 29, 2010 at 3:14 pm

I would invest some in a bank account and treat myself to a vacation :)
.-= Kharim´s last blog ..4 Small Reasons You Should Read Other Blogs =-.

Squirrelers June 30, 2010 at 3:04 am

Great question. I would take $2,000 up front and give it to less fortunate people. The rest of the $18,000, I would allocate as follows:
$12,000 – retirement savings.
$5,000 – kids college funds
$500 – weekend get away for my parents
$500 – weekend getaway for my family

That’s my answer right now. Ask me tomorrow, I may optimize this:)

Of course, my answer might change depending on how the $20,000 was obtained. I answered the question as if I was just handed it (what a thought…money falling from the sky!). Now, if it was as a result of me earning it, like a bonus at work, I might think differently. If it was willed to me by a relative, I would likely have a much different answer as well.

That in and of itself is interesting: how our reaction to what we would do with money would depend on how we obtained it.

Courtney Carver July 1, 2010 at 9:12 am

This is easy for me (although I would have spent it differently a few years ago)! Today, with an extra 20K, I would pay off my car – 2K and put the other 18K in my emergency fund.
.-= Courtney Carver´s last blog ..Stop Checking Email =-.

Aury (Thunderdrake) July 2, 2010 at 9:38 am

I’d invest it. I’d totally invest it. Particularly in commodities or anything that produces income.

I’ll probably buy myself the off doodad, maybe 1000 dollars worth out of the entire 20 grand, but I’m primarily bent on getting that asset column flowing!
.-= Aury (Thunderdrake)´s last blog ..Movie Review- Prince of Persia- Sands of Time =-.

Ary July 2, 2010 at 8:54 pm

Nice plan you got there Ryan. Seems like I’m one of the puzzled people, I see many opportunities in which anyone could invest if they had 20,000 $ , but health and family is on the first place. So I would use the money in order to solve those problems. But if there aren’t any problems, I would move in another country and maybe go in a trip to Vegas or Hollywood
.-= Ary´s last blog ..Money- Like a cake =-.

finallygettingtoeven.com July 2, 2010 at 5:17 pm

I would expect people on the street to have one answer, (or no answer at all) and all us smart people here in ‘blogland’ to be investing it for our futures…after all what’s the name of this blog again..? lol

We are a smart group of cookies here…

Mneiae July 18, 2010 at 8:18 pm

I’d throw 90% into a 529k for myself and take the rest [minus taxes] for a trip to somewhere I haven’t been.

Moneyedup August 11, 2010 at 5:29 pm

I would travel. I have been on a working holiday before, where I went away for the summer overseas to work at a different job…this was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. I earned money while traveling and seeing the world. You have to spend money to make money!
.-= Moneyedup´s last blog ..5 smart tips to get a business loan =-.

Jim August 16, 2010 at 8:25 am

$20,000 to me is a lot of money. i would do my very best to find an investment that i knew i could make an extra $5000 with. that could come in the form of a quick 20% gain over 6 months or so. t hat would be awesome.

money babe September 7, 2010 at 8:18 pm

$20,000 is so small in America but it is a very significant amount in developing countries. Yes Thailand is a beautiful country to live in but I have responsibilities at home. I still have a job so I would rather spend this free money on more important things rather than travelling the world and coming back empty handed. I will deposit 10k for my son’s education because I don’t want to be too bothered by it when I grow old. I’ll pay 5k to mortgage and go to an optometrist to get my eyes fixed, a laser perhaps so that I can work more efficiently. Well, these are my main agenda’s but if I don’t have these priorities for saving cash; I’m very much willing to feed those 80,000 children in Africa.
.-= money babe´s last blog ..Hello world! =-.

ElleX February 20, 2011 at 11:05 am

If I were given $20K: I would spend $5K to get my house ready for selling. $2K to get my car in travel condition (new tires, etc). $3K would go to helping others through random acts of kindness. The rest would be saved.

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