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Holiday Windfalls: 7 Tips on Using Them

Holiday Windfalls: 7 Tips on Using Them

windfall

    The holidays often come with a windfall or two: a monetary gift from a relative or a bonus from an employer. We don’t necessarily expect these gifts — that’s why they’re called windfalls — so deciding what to do with them can be a little complicated. Perhaps you have a pressing need for cash to pay an important bill. If so, that kind of practical application may make your decision for you. If you don’t have such a need, however, take time to consider your options.

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    1. Put it in your emergency fund

    While this option doesn’t sound particularly fun, it may be a life saver. Approximately 60 percent of Americans don’t have enough to make it through a full month on just their emergency savings — a huge problem if you’ve been watching the job market lately. If you’re in that group, a windfall might be your best opportunity for actually starting an emergency fund. If you’ve got a little bit of money already put away for a rainy day, using even a portion of your holiday gift to pad it can pay off. I’ve got my emergency fund in the savings account with the highest interest rate I could find: I’ve already put a few windfalls in there, and I’ve got the comfort of knowing that they’re actually earning me a little money.

    2. Set aside a few dollars for something fun

    Saving money all the time can be tough. More than a few people fall off the frugality wagon because it’s depressing to save every single cent you can. What’s the point of saving every little bit if you don’t get to enjoy your savings on occasion? I wouldn’t suggest spending all of your money on entertainment, but there’s nothing wrong with setting aside a few dollars of ‘play money.’ Depending on the windfall, using a fraction of your gift towards fun could be the equivalent of a dinner out or a new television — if you can afford it, neither is unreasonable.

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    3. Make an investment

    The stock market might make most investors cringe right now, but that doesn’t actually mean that investment is a bad choice. There are still many conservative investment options that can provide a safe place to keep your money and earn a little interest. Those conservative investments don’t provide the return of riskier choices, of course, but they can still provide a little income. Depending on your long-term financial goals, stocks may not be a horrible idea either — consider consulting a financial planner if you want to invest a significant amount of your windfall.

    4. Share the wealth

    I don’t tithe a certain percentage of my income, although I know people who do — including when they receive windfalls. I do believe, however, that it’s good to support causes you believe in (especially when your own financial situation is comfortable). Many non-profits are struggling this year as donations have dropped. If you have made a charitable contribution in years past but have cut back this year, think about donating even a few dollars of your windfall.

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    5. Pay down debt

    Odds are pretty good that you’re already working on paying down any consumer debt you might have — the balances on your credit cards and accounts. Applying a windfall to those balances can not only help you eliminate your debt faster, but it can also save you money in the long run. If you can wipe out consumer debt, you don’t have to pay interest on it. If your credit card balances are in great shape, the same holds true for your ‘good’ debt: mortgages and school loans are considered good debt because they help you earn and save money in the long run. Still, they’re both forms of debt and the faster you pay them off, the less interest you pay.

    6. Put it towards a bigger goal

    Saving up for a down payment on a house? Or for Junior’s education? If you’ve got a big goal that you’re saving up for, a windfall may help move you along to your goal faster than you might otherwise manage. Especially if you have a little time to save up for a goal, like Junior’s college, interest can turn even a few dollars into a larger amount — there are special investment options created for just such goals, like 529 plans. If you are looking at a shorter-term goal, you can often use that savings as a sort of emergency fund: you won’t want to pull money away from your goal, but you won’t be in too much trouble if you do.

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    7. Mix and match

    No matter how small a windfall is, you can divide it among these options if you choose. Dividing a monetary gift between your goals can give you an opportunity to move forward on all of them — if you feel like you’ve only made progress in one area this year, you have the opportunity to make a little progress on all the rest before the year ends. In some cases, it may be crucial to get ahead on a particular goal: you’ll want to take your finances into account to make your decision. And if you have any other ideas for using a windfall, please share them in the comments.

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    Last Updated on September 10, 2019

    How to Master the Art of Prioritization

    How to Master the Art of Prioritization

    Do you know that prioritization is an art? It is an art that will lead you to success in whatever area that matters to you.

    By prioritization, I’m not talking so much about assigning tasks, but deciding which will take chronological priority in your day—figuring out which tasks you’ll do first, and which you’ll leave to last.

    Effective Prioritization

    There are two approaches to “prioritizing” the tasks in your to-do list that I see fairly often:

    Approach #1 Tackling the Biggest Tasks First and Getting Them out of the Way

    The idea is that by tackling them first, you deal with the pressure and anxiety that builds up and prevents you from getting anything done—whether we’re talking about big or small tasks. Leo Babauta is a proponent of this Big Rocks method.[1]

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    Approach #2 Tackling the Tasks You Can Get Done Quickly and Easily, with Minimal Effort

    Proponents of this method believe that by tackling the small fries first, you’ll have less noise distracting you from the periphery of your consciousness.

    If you believe in getting your email read and responded to, making phone calls and getting Google Reader zeroed before you dive into the high-yield work, you’re a proponent of this method. I suppose you could say Getting Things Done (GTD) encourages this sort of method, since the methodology advises followers to tackle tasks that can be completed within two minutes, right there and then.

    Figure out Your Approach for Prioritization

    My own approach is perhaps a mixture of the two.

    I’ll write out my daily task list and draw little priority stars next to the three items I need to get done that day. They don’t need to be big tasks, but nine times out of ten, they are.

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    Smaller tasks are rarely important enough to warrant a star in the first place; I can always get away without even checking my inbox until the next day if I’m swamped, and the people who need to get in touch with me super quickly know how.

    But I’m not recommending my system of prioritization to you. I’m also not saying that mine is better than Leo’s Big Rocks method, and I’m not saying it’s better than the “if it can be done quickly, do it first” method either.

    The thing with prioritization is that knowing when to do what relies very much on you and the way you work. Some people need to get some small work done to find a sense of accomplishment and clarity that allows them to focus on and tackle bigger items. Others need to deal with the big tasks or they’ll get caught up in the busywork of the day and never move on, especially when that Google Reader count just refuses to get zeroed (personally, I recommend the Mark All As Read button—I use it most days!).

    I’m in between, because my own patterns can be all over the place. Some days I will be ready to rip into massive projects at 7AM. Other times I’ll feel the need to zero every inbox I have and clean up the papers on my desk before I can focus on anything serious. I also know that my peak, efficient working time doesn’t come at 11AM or 3PM or some specific time like it does for many people, but I have several peaks divided by a few troughs. I can feel what’s coming on when and try to keep my schedule liquid enough that I can adapt.

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    That’s why I use a starred task list system rather than a scheduled task list. It allows me to trust myself (something that I suppose takes a certain amount of discipline) and achieve peak efficiency by blowing with the winds. If I fight the peaks and troughs, I’ll get less done; but if I do certain kinds of work in each period of the day as they come, I’ll get more done than most others in a similar line of work.

    You may not be able to trust yourself to that extent without falling into the busywork trap. You may not be able to tackle big tasks first thing in the morning without feeling like you’re pushing against an invisible brick wall that won’t budge. You might not be able to deal with small tasks before the big tasks without feeling pangs of guilt and urgency.

    My point is:

    The prioritization systems themselves don’t matter. They’re all pretty good for a group of people, not least of all to the people who espouse them because they use them and find them effective.

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    What matters is that you don’t fall for one set of dogma (and I’m not saying Leo Babauta or David Allen preach these things as dogma, but sometimes their proponents do) until you’ve tried the systems extensively, and found which method of chronological prioritization works for you.

    And if the system you already use works great, then there’s no need to bother trying others—in the world of personal productivity, it’s too easy to mess with something that works and find yourself unable to get back into your former groove.

    “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

    In truth, this principle applies to all sorts of personal productivity issues, though it’s important to know which issues it applies to.

    If you thought multitasking worked well for you each day and I’d have to contend that you are wrong—multitasking is a universal myth in my books! But if you find yourself prioritizing tasks that never get done, you might need to reconsider which of the above approaches you’re using and change to a system that is more personally effective.

    More About Prioritization & Time Management

    Featured photo credit: Sabri Tuzcu via unsplash.com

    Reference

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