These days, when it comes to money, it can be hard to dream big. The average American holds about $90,460 in debt, so most of the time, if we’re offered free money — even hypothetical free money — many of us would forgo our bigger aspirations and shovel all that cash toward getting out from under its weight.
But recently, children’s author Erin Entrada Kelly asked a compelling question, with an even more exciting caveat:
“Let’s pretend I have just arrived at your door with a check for $50K. The rules: You must spend it within three months. You cannot give it to charity. You cannot use it to pay off debt. You have to spend it on something(s) for yourself. What will you do with the money?”
We loved the prompt so much that we reposted it — twice — and nearly 1,000 (!) of you chimed in. What we learned, though, is that most of your dreams don’t actually require a magic check to achieve (although the cash sure would be nice).
Here are six of the most common responses we saw — and how Ellevest can help you start to build the wealth you’d need to achieve them not just in a perfect world, but right now.
1. Invest in your future
Technically, this doesn’t count as “spending the money within three months,” we know. But hey, we’re Ellevest. Helping women+ invest in their futures is what we do best. And lots of you aspire to grow your wealth rather than use it right now, whether for retirement or otherwise. (*sniffle* We’re so proud.)
Luckily, this is the easiest goal to start with. Whether you have $50,000 or just $5 to spare, Ellevest’s IRAs and investment portfolios are designed to help women build wealth. Our unique algorithm is built by women, for women, and works to accommodate women’s lives specifically. It accounts for things like career breaks and longer lifespans and can be personalized to help you maximize your social, political, and environmental impact when you invest.
Our recommendation: Start investing in Future You with an Ellevest membership
2. Make a mortgage down payment
One of the most popular responses we saw boiled down to two words: real estate. Whether that was a down payment on a home or rental property, a renovation / remodel (including multiple barns!), or even just land, you know the value of equity very well.
So do we. That’s why one of our tentpole investing goals — which we call the “Place to Call Home” goal — is specifically designed to help members invest enough over six years to put a 20% down payment on their dream home. (Or barn.) You can change those inputs if you want, though. And if you’re a first-time homebuyer, there’s lots to learn in the meantime!
Our recommendation: Build a “Place to Call Home” goal as an Ellevest Executive member
3. Upgrade with an education
Leveling up at work with an MBA. Getting your pilot’s license. Finishing your master’s degree, at last. Going back to school for a whole dang career change.
A lot of you saw a $50K boon as an opportunity to put a pin in your professional life and get some extra schooling, either to make an emergency exit toward a more fulfilling career, or simply to vault yourself into another tax bracket in the job you have now.
Call us biased, but we’d like to think that learning how to achieve these big changes anyway — where you’re at now, without a lump sum at your disposal — will benefit you long after any pile of cash dries up. Our career coaches can help you not only visualize your perfect work scenario, but also build and follow a reliable plan to get there.
4. Open a business
Plenty of you didn’t stop at leveling up your career. You wanted to level up your life by opening your own businesses — or funding the ones you already have. From planting flower farms to buying food trucks to producing short films, there was no shortage of creativity when it came to your new dream ventures.
Our guiding principle at Ellevest is simple: Nothing bad happens when women have more money. We believe that building wealth shouldn’t have to stop at getting out of debt or saving for retirement (although, duh, we love those, too). That’s why we’ve also designed a goal specifically for our most entrepreneurial members: the “Start a Business” goal. (Clever name, we know.)
With a default (but customizable) timeline of five years, this goal is built to help you build two years’ worth of income as a cushion so you can spend that time getting your guinea-pig-themed café off the ground without the added financial stress. (Read more about why two years is often the ideal amount here .)
Our recommendation: Build a “Start a Business” goal as an Ellevest Executive member
5. Make your escape
Want to know the difference between a good vacation and a great vacation? A plan. You all know your dream destinations — Antarctica was our personal favorite! — now it’s time to make it happen. While IRAs and investment portfolios are meant to take care of you long-term, taking yourself on a much-deserved adventure will be a more immediate expense, so a simple savings goal could be enough to do the trick.
If you’re not sure where to start, Ellevest’s coaches also offer one-on-one sessions where you can take a deep dive into your finances with a super-experienced pro to help you build a plan tailored just for you — and that dream vacay that awaits, just around the corner.
Our recommendation: Book a Budgeting & Spending 1:1 coaching session
6. F*ck it, we’re buyin’ stuff
Hey, it’s your fantasy. If you want to go to Target with 50 stacks, be our guest. Maybe just make sure it’ll align with your core values first, though. Ellevest’s coaches can help you figure those out, too, with small-group workshops built to help you carve out time to define what matters to you, and how to save — or spend — like it.
Our recommendation: Your Money and Your Values: Small-Group Session
A step forward is a step forward — no matter how small
Let’s face it: Daydreaming about a bag of cash dropping into our laps is mostly about instant gratification. When we ask, “What would you do with $50,000?” we’re really asking, “What would you do if you could skip what it takes to save $50,000?”
And while that can be fun, we believe that every woman+ has what it takes to build that wealth and make their dream a reality — without having to win the lottery first.
© 2021 Ellevest, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
The availability of Ellevest’s investing goals depends on the membership plan selected. Ellevest Essential members can access Build Wealth only. Ellevest Plus members can access Build Wealth and Retirement On Your Terms. Ellevest Executive members can access all available investing goals.
All opinions and views expressed by Ellevest are current as of the date of this writing, for informational purposes only, and do not constitute or imply an endorsement of any third party’s products or services.
The information provided does not take into account the specific objectives, financial situation, or particular needs of any specific person.
The information provided should not be relied upon as investment advice or recommendations, does not constitute a solicitation to buy or sell securities and should not be considered specific legal, investment or tax advice.
Ellevest Membership fees are as follows: Ellevest Essential is $1 per month, Ellevest Plus is $5 per month, and Ellevest Executive is $9. Other fees as described in Ellevest’s Wrap Fee Program Brochure and the Ellevest Membership Terms and Conditions Agreement will continue to apply.