One thing I loved about the holidays in my 20s? An influx of money.
When I was a broke and transient 20-something, the best gift my parents could get me each year was cold, hard cash.
Skip the greeting card (for the environment… ) The little annual boost helped me get through some rough years as a terrible freelance writer.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t as money-savvy then as I am now — at the wise old age of 30.
Financially stable and with this full-time personal finance writing job, I realize I missed out on some great opportunities to use those extra Benjamins, Hamiltons, Lincolns and — to keep this post evergreen — Tubmans to improve my situation.
If you find yourself with an extra $100 or so this year (or after your next birthday, bat mitzvah or quinceanera), here are six smart ways to use it to boost your financial health.
1. Buy These Money-Saving Items for Around the House
Instead of treating yourself to an expensive night out or a new outfit you don’t need, you can invest your $100 in products that will help you save more money down the line.
Before you splurge with your free cash, check these items off your shopping list:
- Vinegar — Do you know all the magical cleaning powers of plain white vinegar? Use it to clean build-up on your bathroom fixtures, clean old pots and pans, clear smudged glass and more. At just a few dollars a gallon, it’ll save you money (and fumes) on chemical cleaning products.
- Dryer sheets — Give your dryer sheets an extra purpose and a second life as dusting sheets for your baseboards and wooden furniture. They’re a fraction of the price of Swiffer sheets and smell fresh, too!
- Rubbing alcohol — Defrost your windshield in seconds with a mixture of rubbing alcohol and water. Save money on antifreeze wiper fluid, and skip the extra time waiting for your defroster to do the work.
- Denture cleanser — I’m not kidding! This has become one of my favorite cleaning products. It’s great for coffee pots, toilets, bathtubs and more — and cheaper than a bucket of chemical cleaners.
- Tank Bank –– If you have an older toilet, it could be wasting money with every flush. A Tank Bank is a simple tool that displaces water in your toilet’s tank, so it uses less to flush. A pack of three is just $12.99 and could cut your water bill by more than $30 every year!
2. Open a New Bank Account
It might be smart to just stick your extra $100 in your existing savings account for safekeeping. But it’s smarter to use it to open a new bank account.
Many banks offer bonuses when you open a new account. You could earn money just for having the account!
Requirements and offers vary. Some are pretty expensive. This offer from TD Bank is perfect for your extra $100:
- Go to this TD Checking page and enter your city and state to ensure it’s available in your area.
- Follow the instructions to open a TD Convenience CheckingSM.
- Maintain a $100 daily average balance (let your money stay put!) to waive the monthly fee.
- Receive a total of $500 or more via direct deposit into your account within 60 days of opening.
- A bonus $100 will be deposited to your account within 95 days of opening.
That’s a pretty simple way to double your money, isn’t it?
If you don’t want to continue managing multiple bank accounts, you can always close one down the road. But it might turn out to be a good place to build your emergency savings!
3. Start Holiday Shopping (Really) Early
I did not love the cost of the holidays when I was broke.
Most years, I had to choose between blowing my whole December budget on gifts, buying embarrassingly cheap stuff or skipping gifts altogether and sheepishly hanging my head at the holiday party.
I should have planned better.
That $100 in your hand is the perfect solution to holiday woes… for next year. Use it to get a head start.
Take advantage of after-Christmas sales to stock up on gifts before prices go up next holiday season.
You could knock out all your holiday shopping before spring!
You can even stock up on popular gift cards, like Starbucks, Target or Amazon, that just about anyone will love. That way you don’t have to lose sleep over a surprise Secret Santa at the office next year.
4. Start an Emergency Fund
You might be trucking along fine on your paycheck — covering the bills, buying groceries, even having fun once in a while. But are you prepared for unexpected expenses?
That’s what an emergency fund is for.
The name is a bit alarming, but your “emergency” doesn’t have to be life-threatening to seriously hurt your bank account.
If you blow a tire on the car, you could be out $100. If your bike is stolen, there goes $300 (or more). If your emergency is worse — a lost job, health problems, a death in the family — you could be in dire straits without a backup.
But, “just-in-case” money is tough to save when you don’t have much extra. Holiday money is perfect for that!
This account is perfect for an emergency fund, because:
- It’s separate from my main bank account, so I never think about the money.
- It comes with a debit card and free ATMs, so I can access the money whenever and wherever I need it.
- It yields up to 1% interest, so my money grows while it waits for me.
5. Invest It Through These Apps
Yes, you can start investing with just $100. And you don’t have to be savvy about the stock market, so don’t be afraid.
When you’re investing small amounts of money, you almost certainly don’t want to spend time or money getting stock guidance from a financial advisor. Instead, these apps can do the work for you:
- Stash lets you invest as little as $5 at a time into portfolios curated to meet your financial goals.
- Clink lets you invest a set amount per day, week or month — a minimum of $1 a day — automatically drawn from your bank account.
- Acorns rounds up purchases with your debit or credit cards and invests your digital change into portfolios based on your financial goals.
You can open any of these accounts with just a few dollars, but your spare $100 will give it quite a boost!
6. Donate It to Your Favorite Charity
Donating your cash gifts is a smart way to give to charity when you don’t have a lot of money to spare.
You’ll benefit from it, too.
If you donate to a charitable organization — most commonly a 501(c)(3) — your donation is tax deductible. That means your taxable income will be reduced by the amount you donate to charity.
Your donation of $100 may only save you $15 or $20 come Tax Day, but every penny counts!
7. Start a Side Hustle
Chris Guillebeau’s “The $100 Startup” is a favorite among entrepreneurs and bloggers trying to make a living online. It comes with an enticing promise: Start your own business for just $100?
With creativity, it’s possible. The Penny Hoarder contributor Steve Gillman even came up with a whole list of small businesses you can start with just $100.
You’re not going to make a living off your first $100 investment, but putting that money in the right place can be the first seed that will eventually grow into a thriving independent business!
Here are a few ways you can invest in your side hustle with that $100:
- Buy cheap items at thrift stores and flip them online.
- Buy a new website theme.
- Create materials for an online course.
Your Turn: What smart money moves will you make with your holiday gifts this year?
Disclosure: Our friends stopped inviting us over because we were always digging for loose change between their couch cushions. We use affiliate links instead so we still get invited to a few parties.
Dana Sitar (@danasitar) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s written for Huffington Post, Entrepreneur.com, Writer’s Digest and more, attempting humor wherever it’s allowed (and sometimes where it’s not).