6 Better Bets for Your Money Than Gambling on March Madness

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It’s March Madness time, and everyone is filling out their brackets. From office pools to family competitions, we all love to put a little dough on the tourney and prove we have the skills to pick the winners.

Except, we never seem to do that. The odds of selecting a perfect bracket are 1 in 9.2 quintillion, according to Forbes’ calculations. The odds of becoming president of the United States sit at 1 in 10 million. Take a look in the mirror and mull that over.

While you probably don’t need a perfect bracket to win your office pool, all it takes is one upset (can you say Iona over Duke?) to destroy your chances early on.

6 Things to Spend Your Money on Instead of March Madness

The average wager on a tourney bracket is $29, according to ESPN. Rather than toss that money into a bracket pool someone who doesn’t even watch hoops is going to win, consider these options that are much more likely to make your money grow.

1. Let This App Spot You a Few Bucks When You Need It

It’s happened to all of us at some point  — the dreaded overdraft. It’s not only embarrassing if your card gets declined at the grocery store over a few bucks, but the fees that come with it only put you further into a hole. Double yikes.

But a banking app called Chime wants to protect you from both of those problems with its SpotMe® feature1. It’s a fee-free overdraft protection that lets you overdraft up to $2001 (for eligible members) without penalty.

Yep. Just sign up for a free Chime checking account and set up a qualifying $200 monthly direct deposit to take advantage of this face-saving tool. You’ll also get access to other sweet features, like getting paid up to two days2 earlier with direct deposit, help automatically growing your savings and access to more than 60,000 fee-free3 ATMs.

Signing up takes just a few minutes. You’ll need your Social Security number handy — but don’t worry, your information is protected by bank-level security, FDIC insurance and two-factor authentication.

2. Invest with Stash

Think $29 isn’t enough to invest? Do you also think free-throws don’t matter because they’re just one point? Come on, you know better than that.

It’s no brilliant secret that investing can be a smart way to grow your money.

Sometimes, though, it feels restricted to a few wealthy elite.

But Stash is different. This app lets you start investing with as little as $5 and for just a $1 monthly fee for balances under $5,000.

Stash curates investments from professional fund managers and investors and lets you choose where to put your money. But it leaves the complicated investment terms out of it. You just choose from a set of simple portfolios reflecting your beliefs, interests and goals.

Bonus: Right now, The Penny Hoarder is teaming up with Stash to fund your first investment — so you’ll get a $5 bonus to get started!

3. Optimize Your 401(k) With Blooom

Sure, winning your office pool would be sweet. You’d get some cash (that you’d probably blow on a great night out. That’s cool.), and you’d have bragging rights for the next year. But what about those years down the line? Maybe you could use that $29 to build something lasting. Not just a one-year winner, but a dynasty!

Got a 401(k)? You’re on the right track.

Now, you just need to make sure it’s doing what you need it to. However, tapping into that account and deciphering the information — or lack thereof — can be hard.

There’s a robo-advisor for that. Blooom, an SEC-registered investment advisory firm, will optimize and monitor your 401(k) for you.

It gives you an initial 401(k) checkup for free, and you’ll get to know your account a little more intimately. Find out if you’re paying too many hidden fees, have the appropriate amount invested in stocks versus bonds, that kind of fun stuff.

After that, the tool is $10 a month to use to continue to monitor your retirement account. Let Blooom know your target retirement age, and it can help you get there by investing more and less aggressively.

It’s like having a personal trainer for your 401(k) to turn it into an elite performer.

4. Make a Difference Through Impact Investing

What if you could use your $29 to help create affordable housing, sustainable agriculture or even renewable energy? Oh yeah, you’ll also earn a return on investment while doing all of that.

Sound too good to be true? It’s not. It’s called impact investing.

Impact investing is a way of investing your money only in companies that strive to create positive change. But you’re not donating your money, you’re investing it to see a profitable return.

Even a few years ago, this was a concept only for those who could fork over tens of thousands of dollars. But with today’s technology, you can be part of the fun for as little as $20 with Calvert Impact Capital.

Investment gains with the warm fuzzies of helping make the world a better place? That feels as good as swishing a three-pointer at the buzzer for the win.

5. Earn Rewards When You Spend Your $29

What’s better than a chance to win money? A sure thing. No matter how strongly you feel that your bracket rocks and that Villanova is a lock to cut down the nets, it’s not a sure thing. Sorry.

Put your $29 where you know it can pay off.

Here’s an option we like: It’s the Chase Freedom Unlimited card. Its claim to fame? You’ll earn an unlimited 1.5% cash back on all your purchases. Plus, if you spend $500 in your first three months of opening the card (hi, groceries), you’ll pocket a $150 bonus.

There’s no annual fee, and the cash back rewards don’t expire. We checked Credible’s annual rewards calculator, and it estimates $417 in annual rewards based on our spending habits.* (You can enter your unique spending habits and see what you’d earn, too.)

Get signed up — and 0% intro APR for 15 months — here.

How’s that for a sure thing?

6. Buy a Thoughtful Gift for the Hipster in Your Life

Wait, is this really a better option than wagering your money on a bracket? Come on.

We all have a hipster or two in our lives, and let’s face it, they are great to have around. They know the coolest little places to grab a bite or a drink. They’re like that “hustle” guy who sits toward the end of the bench. Everybody needs one.

And boy, do they know how to save money. From used furniture to so-called vintage clothing, hipsters are masters at living on the cheap while living large.

If you have a hipster in your life, it pays to keep them happy. Why not spend a little to give them a cool gift that they’ll enjoy?

The next time you need a coffee table, they may just find an upcycled gem for next to nothing. It will pay off. Trust me.

Spend Responsibly

As we get set to tip off this year’s tourney, feel free to enjoy it. Just think carefully about wagering your money.

True Penny Hoarders don’t risk their money on the fadeaway jumper of a sophomore in college when they can put that money to work. Use your $29 wisely and wager something better, like the best parking spot at the office.

Now that’s a slam dunk.

*Annual Rewards amounts will change based on the amounts you enter. The monthly spending category names and definitions may vary among issuers, and categories may not align one-to-one.

The information for the Chase Freedom Unlimited card has been collected independently by The Penny Hoarder. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. The Penny Hoarder is a partner of Credible.

Chime is a financial technology company, not a bank. Banking services provided by, and debit card issued by, The Bancorp Bank or Stride Bank, N.A.; Members FDIC.

1 Eligibility requirements apply. Overdraft only applies to debit card purchases and cash withdrawals. Limits start at $20 and may be increased up to $200 by Chime. See chime.com/spotme.

2Early access to direct deposit funds depends on the timing of the submission of the payment file from the payer. We generally make these funds available on the day the payment file is received, which may be up to 2 days earlier than the scheduled payment date.

3 Out-of-network ATM withdrawal fees may apply except at MoneyPass ATMs in a 7-Eleven, or any Allpoint or Visa Plus Alliance ATM.

Tyler Omoth is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder who loves soaking up the sun and finding creative ways to help others. He’s secretly hoping for Iona to win it all. Catch him on Twitter at @Tyomoth.