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What to Do With a Financial Windfall

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Maybe you purchase a lottery ticket every once in a while and dream of your life after winning the jackpot. If only you had millions and millions of dollars…

The odds of winning the lottery may be minuscule, but there are a number of other times when you may receive a more modest financial windfall. Whether it’s a bonus from work, a tax refund, an inheritance or a birthday gift, unexpected money is exciting. Even small amounts can go a long way toward helping you reach your financial goals, if you use them wisely.

1. Press Pause

You need a plan. Before you spend any of the money, really think about your financial goals. Depending on your situation, this could mean looking at clearly defined goals you have set out, or it could mean mulling over your future for the first time. Either way, look at the big picture to see how you can best use this money toward getting you where you want to go. Put the money in a secure place while you mull over your options.

2. Dump Your Debt

High-interest debt is a drain on your finances. A big chunk of money can knock some of it out and help you avoid paying more in interest. Consider the impact on your budget if you knocked out your credit card debt or paid off your car. Look at whether it makes more sense for you to put the windfall entirely toward one debt or if you should spread it around.

3. Feed Your Funds

Assess your current emergency fund. It’s a good idea to have three to 12 months of expenses saved up in case of a job loss or other unexpected expense. Just how much you need to have at the ready depends on your income, job stability and personal comfort. Squirreling away your surprise money doesn’t sound exciting but it can provide peace of mind.

4. Dream Big

This can be a time to live out some of your lottery fantasies. While your windfall may not be enough to finance the purchase of an exotic island, use this opportunity to start a vacation fund to visit an island. If you have an established emergency fund and have already paid off your debt, you can set a new goal and use this money to start saving for it.

5. Ratchet Up Retirement Savings

This could be a good time to bump up your 401(k) or IRA contributions. Saving for retirement is a long-term goal that sometimes gets forgotten with all of the short-term financial obligations. Plus, there’s a lot of confusion over just how much you need to save to secure your retirement. But the earlier you put money into retirement savings, the more it will work for you. You can use unexpected money to build up your nest egg.

6. Share the Wealth

Giving all or some of your financial windfall to charity is a noble goal. Make sure to research the organizations you want to support to ensure your money is going where you want it to go. And don’t forget to keep track of your donations for tax purposes.

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