Suggestions for ultra-practical upgrades to my life?
June 20, 2011 12:42 PM   Subscribe

Suggestions for ultra-practical upgrades to this life? I received a ~$5,000 windfall with some hefty strings attached, the main of which is that I must spend it within 60 days. Another kicker: whatever money I don't use before the deadline goes to a cause I'm ethically opposed to. I'm a single mom who, right now, would rather buy makes-life-easier/peace-of-mind type things, not silk sheets or espresso makers.

I cannot simply withdraw all the money and bank it. I have to purchase something(s) with it and provide receipts. Things like pre-paying a few years of AAA roadside service, finally creating a will with a lawyer, maybe getting some professional pictures of my kids. But I'm having trouble coming up with more than that. I don't have a lot of immediate needs (home, kids' education, transportation are handled) and I have very little debt. One thing I've already done is met with a CFP for a two-hour review of my existing finances. I'll also stock up on some birthday and Christmas presents for my kids.

Possibly relevant:
Urban residents in the Boston metro area
My kids are 8 and 4
posted by Yoshimi Battles to Work & Money (76 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Are gift cards an okay cheat?

Are you all up on eye exams, glasses, dentistry?
posted by jeather at 12:45 PM on June 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Can you not pay down debts, like car payments or something? if you get desperate there's always new appliances. If nothing else, it's an easy way to spend $3000.
posted by GuyZero at 12:47 PM on June 20, 2011

When I asked *my* Brewster's Millions question, my question got banned *grumble*

Split the money into two: a big holiday of a lifetime for you and your kids, and the rest on something that will last you a few years and make you and your kids' lives easier, or more fun.
posted by devnull at 12:47 PM on June 20, 2011

for ultra-practical 5K usage I'd buy a car warranty, you mentioned AAA service but there are also dealer warranties you can tack on to cover repairs.

stocking up on birthday and x-mas is noble, but it can be hard to predict what kids will want months or years our.

what household chores can you automate, automatic sprinklers, a new fancy dishwasher, a second fridge to help stock up on frozen goods and reduce trips to the store? All things I'd consider within 5K.

Likewise outside the home, can personal assistants be pre-paid?
posted by oblio_one at 12:47 PM on June 20, 2011

Organizational systems for your room and the kids' playroom. Check out The Container Store for great closet/laundry room/bathroom ideas.

Gift cards to your local supermarket.
posted by amicamentis at 12:47 PM on June 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

In addition to getting a will, how about a fee-for-service meeting with a financial planner? Stay away from anyone who is paid by commission or tells you that they don't need money up front. Get them to draw up a financial plan for you for the next 5 to 10 years. Before going to this meeting buy a read Personal Finance for Dummies.
posted by Homo economicus at 12:49 PM on June 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure from the parameters of the question if "purchasing" some stocks and bonds would be okay, like, for an IRA?
posted by sideofwry at 12:49 PM on June 20, 2011

If you own your own home, I would suggest a home warranty company. The one I linked to is the one I've used. I signed up at the suggestion of my financial planner. It's a great deal--only about $500-600/year and then $50/visit approx. My house is over 40 years old and always has some little thing going on--I would call random "handymen" with greater or lesser success. This service sends someone who is pre-vetted--I don't have to worry about picking random strangers. You could pre-pay a year or two.

If you rent, I'd suggest getting renter's insurance if you don't have it.

Do you or your kids need dental work? You could pre-pay for braces.
posted by agatha_magatha at 12:49 PM on June 20, 2011

Do you have space for a freezer? Could you buy a small chest freezer and fill it with a portion of a cow? Having a freezer, other than the one above your fridge is helpful if you want to do lots of advanced cooking, or simply stock up on sales, and if you had one and filled it with good food, you could keep your budget down for some time.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:51 PM on June 20, 2011 [11 favorites]

Are you renting, or do you own your house? Because a new dishwasher is right up there for me.

Computer? For you, for the kids? That will eat most of your money right there. Plus a printer. iPad? (my kids really like mine...)

New couch? A nice dining room table, with nice sturdy chairs to go with it? A nice rug? Bookshelves?

A set of good-quality cordless tools? (cordless screwdriver, saw, wet/dry vacuum, etc. that all use the same lithium-ion battery, plus an extra battery---there are several varieties at places like Lowes and Home Depot)

You haven't given us much to go on as to what is super-useful to you...
posted by leahwrenn at 12:51 PM on June 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

You could pre-pay for a year of weekly cleaning services. I bit the bullet and hired cleaners this year and it was one of the best things I've ever done.
posted by something something at 12:51 PM on June 20, 2011 [5 favorites]

A couple of pairs of really good shoes - good winter boots, good dress shoes, good walking-around-doing-things shoes.

Can you stock up on spare things? Spare hairdryer, spare microwave, spare printer, spare fan, etc? The kind of things where you know you'll be spending a moderate amount on a new one in the next five years?
posted by Frowner at 12:57 PM on June 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

You could pre-pay for a year of weekly cleaning services.

Or just a one time "spring cleaning" service.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:57 PM on June 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

Definitely get a will & durable powers of attorney for medical & financial affairs. If possible, adding to your life insurance would also seem like a good investment.

I'd probably pre-book a winter holiday at an all-inclusive for the whole family.

Memberships & subscriptions: the museum, the zoo, a grocery delivery service or a CSA, National Geographic, Owl or Highlights magazines, sports lessons for you and your kids.

Bikes for everyone

Car servicing up to date?

Buy weekly or monthly housecleaning services in bulk, in advance for a discount?

New, smart cell phones without contracts?

Can you donate some money to a group you DO support by buying something from like in an auction?
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 12:58 PM on June 20, 2011 [4 favorites]

Time with your kids, or even for yourself, is truly practical; it will build a foundation of trust or happiness and peace. If you can take a meaningful vacation with them, that would be one very productive thing to do. If you can get child care and/or meals delivered so you can enroll in a class or go to a spa, this is very helpful too. The better you take care of your own emotional needs, the better you'll be able to take care of them. The better their emotional needs are attended to, the better they'll be able to concentrate in school, etc.
posted by amtho at 1:03 PM on June 20, 2011 [5 favorites]

Winter coats and boots in a number of sizes.

Stock up on personal toiletries (shampoo, toothpaste, laundry detergent, anything that has a long shelf life) to free up more money in your weekly budget.

You say "very little" debt. Can you pay off whatever you have?

How is your house heated? Pre-buy heating oil? Pre-pay your utilities? (I prepaid our land-line for a year and they gave me a pretty hefty discount.)
posted by anastasiav at 1:09 PM on June 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

Not sure whether you're restricted, but can you buy CDs or other kinds of negotiable instruments that you can turn around and stick in your bank later? Otherwise, you might consider investing the $5k in experiences or hobbies that you'd like to have, e.g., scuba classes, a nice vacation, etc. If you take up a new hobby, you can probably get the equipment you need for it.

If this was me, I'd be upgrading my camera equipment, and probably my computers and iPad, too.
posted by Hylas at 1:11 PM on June 20, 2011

Pre-pay for any orthodontics your kids will need in the future? The 8 year old is probably old enough to get started on any work that needs done.
posted by cgg at 1:12 PM on June 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Roth IRA?
posted by nathancaswell at 1:13 PM on June 20, 2011

Buy a Costco (or other US equivalent) membership and go on a non-perishable shopping spree? It's nice knowing that there are a dozen bars of soap/toothpaste/you-name-it in the cupboard when you need it. There are plenty of items which are non-perishable yet don't take up too much room. Just don't by too much medication (such as Tylenol) or it will expire before you use all of it.
posted by Homo economicus at 1:14 PM on June 20, 2011 [5 favorites]

Buy some expensive items at Costco. Return them for cash that has no stipulation on how you can spend it.
posted by ShooBoo at 1:15 PM on June 20, 2011 [13 favorites]

Seconding "buy and then return for cash," if the stipulation doesn't somehow forbid that. If that's forbidden, buy something expensive and then sell it, still in the packaging, to someone else at a discount. Better to turn the $5000 windfall into $4000 cash than into merchandise priced at $5000 that you wouldn't otherwise have purchased.
posted by escabeche at 1:17 PM on June 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

Remodel the room that most needs it, or that you most want to remodel. Or buy some exercise equipment. Or vacation.
posted by troywestfield at 1:17 PM on June 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would buy things that can easily be re-sold, and then re-sell them. If you get iPhones, top-of-the-line Thinkpads, and Kindles for everyone in the family, that's $5000 right there, and you could very easily convert them back to cash via Amazon.
posted by vorfeed at 1:21 PM on June 20, 2011

Costco?? Buy a 1-year, 4-person Supply of Freeze-dried & Dehydrated Food!!!

I mean, it is a lot of bang for your buck. Possibly impractical if you have nowhere to put all 336 cans.
posted by GuyZero at 1:21 PM on June 20, 2011

I would fix my car up so that the muffler isn't tied with wire. Do you have a car? Get it serviced. Otherwise, subway passes or whatever you use? I'd also take a class in something I've always wanted to learn.
posted by amodelcitizen at 1:23 PM on June 20, 2011

Do you have a really good mattress? I have a really good, memory-foam mattress, and it's pretty astonishingly how much it seems to improve about 9 hours of the day. It's not at all the sort of thing I'd ever have bought for myself, but I'm extremely glad to have it.
posted by piato at 1:27 PM on June 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

A lot of good suggestions about getting your financial affairs planned out. Seconding a vacation with your kids, some good quality shoes (for you!) and /or a meeting with a personal shopper at Nordstrom or something.

Invest in good tools for whatever it is you do. It might be actual from-the-hardware-store tools, or kitchen equipment, a new computer, whatever. Having the right tools makes any job easier, and often prove to be an excellent investment.

Do you have any hobbies? If I had a $5,000 windfall such as you describe I'd probably buy some new lenses for my DSLR. New skis, or SCUBA equipment, or maybe a sewing machine?
posted by ambrosia at 1:30 PM on June 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Is your eight-year-old likely to be learning a musical instrument in the near future, and if so, could you purchase one now? Depending on the type of instrument and the quality, that could eat up several hundred to several thousand bucks (although I wouldn't go buying a full-sized string instrument now!).

Similarly, things like ballet shoes, sports equipment, and other activity supplies/clothing/equipment might be worth picking up now.
posted by pie ninja at 1:32 PM on June 20, 2011

How about a swing set or playground equipment for your kids. You could even hire a handyman to install it for you. I also really like the idea of buying everyone bikes, maybe even ones for when your kids get bigger.

I agree with the freezer and a cow portion idea. You can also buy a pig. My brother and sister in law bought part of an organic cow, they even got to go to the farm and see the living conditions, and it made some of the best steaks I've ever had.

Take your car in and get everything checked out and fixed. Get new headlights and taillights, new wipers, have the system flushed and all the fluids replaced. Buying brand new tires would be a good idea too. Since you live in Boston you could buy a spare set of rims and have snow tires put on them. Then in the winter you just have to take them to a tire place and have them switched out. It's better than wearing out your all-season tires. My husband did this with his truck and it saved a lot of time and hassle. (He can even do it himself if we're low on funds.)

Since you have kids you might like to get memberships to your local children's museums and the zoo. How about classes for them? I know if I had the money my kids would be in art classes, karate, and ballet. Those things usually have year round sign ups. Head down to your local craft store and buy a bunch of those crafting kits for kids and you'll have something to pull out on a rainy day or when your kids are sick from school.

What kinds of things do you guys like to do as a family? We love to camp and I could easily drop a load of cash on new tents and sleeping bags, not to mention hiking boots and supplies. What about your local pool or water park? Do they sell season passes?

You could also stock up on things like jeans and t-shirts. My kids go up a size pretty regularly, I think I could buy six pairs in each size and that'd last them quite a while.
posted by TooFewShoes at 1:33 PM on June 20, 2011

Lots of good ideas here. Here's another: there are a number of programs that let you sock money away for your kids' college educations and lock in future tuition fees (I think). These exist for state and private universities. Not sure if that would count as spending or saving, but it's something to look at.
posted by adamrice at 1:38 PM on June 20, 2011

New computer? Like a nice new computer - a top-end MacBook Air is $1800 + another $250 for the extended warranty. Multiple iPads, since parents I know who have one iPad have to be very strict with usage - child A gets it for 30, then child B, and then the adult uses it after they've gone to bed. Multiple iPads (a kids one and one for the adults) helps relieve the contention issue.
posted by SirOmega at 1:39 PM on June 20, 2011

You could spend some of it buying things wholesale that you can sell at a markup at local events.

This is similar to the idea of buying iPads, but with an iPad you'll always sell for less than you paid - with this approach you could turn your money into even more money.

As a bonus, you could find that you enjoy yourself, and end up with your own little business.
posted by emilyw at 1:44 PM on June 20, 2011

Pre-paid gym membership? or a year's worth of personal training will run you in the $$$Ks...prepay 1x weekly babysitting service? summer camp? any classes you want to take in the fall? the next-size-up-bike for the kids?
posted by lemonade at 1:57 PM on June 20, 2011

How much storage space do you have available to you...?

I'd go to, and clear out the sale section, buying many years' worth of children's shoes, coats, hats and mittens, tees, etc. If three years down the road you find that the whatever falls apart on the first wash (the majority of their stuff is sturdy but there are the odd misses) their "Guaranteed. Period" return policy has absolutely no expiration date.

The Costco freeze-dried food thing does not look that flaky given the positive reviews of the taste. You could basically skip grocery shopping anytime you felt like it for some time.

New linens? New mattresses? Set of good saucepans, knives, other kitchen whatnot?

Less seriously: $8k will buy 4,100 vintage soft porn mags
posted by kmennie at 1:59 PM on June 20, 2011

- Language or other education classes if allowed (like an auto maintenance class)
- Very good tool sets, and you can spring for some of the fancier tools
- Summer camps for kids
- A totally awesome overseas vacation for you and the kids
posted by schroedinger at 2:00 PM on June 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would argue the vacation is quite practical, by the way--exposing your kids to the larger world and other cultures is one of the best things you can do for them.
posted by schroedinger at 2:01 PM on June 20, 2011

Max out your Roth IRA for the year.
posted by InsanePenguin at 2:01 PM on June 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

fully stock your liquor cabinet with top shelf booze.
posted by vespabelle at 2:13 PM on June 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Kids 4 & 8? Someone's going to Disney World!!!!

If not there some other memorable trip is a fine idea. They're old enough to be able to appreciate going somewhere. Go there in style.

Otherwise the things you've already mentioned are great ideas.
posted by wkearney99 at 2:14 PM on June 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

seconding Lands End. When they go on sale (but even if they're not), I buy every size of basic pants, school shoes, water shoes, hikers, and long sleeve Ts. Because of their return policy, if one kid manages to miss the size I bought or not like the style, it can be exchanged.
posted by kch at 2:17 PM on June 20, 2011

- Yard work.
- Landscaping.
- New appliances
- Furniture (need any new mattresses?)
- Electronics (cellphone not on contract, computer, tv, etc)
- Emergency food storage for the next year
- spare tire(s) for the car, car maintenance + detailing
- Things that will increase the value of your home (minor kitchen/bathroom renos/windows)
- Get a new furnace/air conditioning/etc
- clothes for everyone in the family
posted by blue_beetle at 2:18 PM on June 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

Maybe a friend needs a big ticket item you could launder for her. Buy her the frig and have her give you the cash.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 2:21 PM on June 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

I don't know if your kids are boys or girls but what about a nice piece of jewelry that you could put away for when they're old enough for it.

I'd buy some decent kitchen things, kitchen aid mix master, nice pots and pans the kind of thing you have for a really long time.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 2:21 PM on June 20, 2011

It seems like you are rather financially secure so use this moment to make some wonderful memories with your kids. Give them $200 and let them loose in a toy store. Take the vacation of a lifetime. Get them season passes, or even lifetime passes, to places they love to go. And make sure you spend some money on something for yourself. If it were me, I would be upgrading my kitchen appliances because I love to cook.
posted by Foam Pants at 2:24 PM on June 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Pay ahead your rent/mortgage and utilities.

I used to do yearly contract work, and when the contract was up, I'd take a chunk of my last paycheck, and pay ahead my cell phone bill. Then I wouldn't have to worry about it when I was out of work.
posted by spinifex23 at 2:30 PM on June 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

If home is "handled" means you own your home, you might get an energy audit and then make all the changes and upgrades you can make in 60 days to save money and energy and add value to your home.
posted by *s at 2:31 PM on June 20, 2011 [5 favorites]

Since I don't know what you already have, the caveat is "unless you already have an awesome one already":

- A toolbox with good, solid tools (power drill with screwdriver attachment, hammer, ratchet set)
- Bedding for everyone in the family (including you) that's durable and doesn't have unicorns or spaceships on it so it can last through the teen years. Good bedding could be $5000 total and be worth it
- If you're allowed to paint, someone to come and give everything a fresh coat of paint
- Air filter or dehumidifier/humidifier to even out your indoor air quality if you're urban
- New mattresses and/or bed frames if you haven't had new ones in a while
- A loft and/or bunk beds to save space and/or make the kids' space more usable
- A good iron
- New drapes and/or couch, because unless you've updated recently, will what you have last another 6 years?
- New pots and pans, because cooking at home is always more practical than eating out and cooking with a good set makes a difference if you don't already have one
- A nice set of knives, same reason
- A good rug if you have wood floors. Serious carpet cleaning and/or new carpet if you don't
- A solid, dependable vacuum if you don't have one already. I love my Miele, but I'd have a hard time spending my own money on it
- A sewing machine if you're into that sort of thing or could be, as it's the height of practicality, it's a good skill for the kids to learn and it makes making their clothes and yours so much better fitting and longer lasting

Slightly frivolous, but still necessary:
- A trip somewhere that is practical. Taking my daughter to all the museums in DC made her brain all full of cool things and expanded her horizons. I also took her to Japan when she was about 8 and it seems to be one of her favorite memories of childhood so far
- Museum/zoo family annual passes
- A year of NetFlix streaming because it's cheaper/more practical than going to the movies, cable or renting lots of movies
- A new computer for the family because it'll get more and more important in the kids' schoolwork
posted by Gucky at 2:40 PM on June 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

You sound like you're kind of in my boat. Young kids, doing OK financially generally, in the Boston area. If I had a windfall under those considerations, I'd split it between a splurge vacation and something long-term and nitty-gritty practical. Say $1500 for a long trip someplace warm in the winter (hit Disney during one of the low-traffic weeks for least impact on your sanity).

I'd spend the remaining $3500 for something big-ticket with long-term practical impact along the lines of house repair/improvement--replacement windows, a new furnace or water heater, or a roof job if your house needs it. Or serious attention in the car department, up to and including trading in the existing car for a newer/better/more reliable one.
posted by Sublimity at 2:49 PM on June 20, 2011

Programmable thermostat (and buy a good one that is easy to program so you will actually use it and thus reap the benefits of using it).
posted by mmascolino at 2:58 PM on June 20, 2011

The "get it done":
Get a will, stat. And a health directive, and power of attorney, while you're at it.
Pay down you highest interest bills - even $200-400 dollars is totally worth it.

The "have fun":
A fun, local vacation/staycation - even for a weekend, and take lots of pictures of you and your family. Put them around the house to remind yourself that you guys know how to enjoy life when opportunity knocks. Submit photos with receipts.
posted by anitanita at 3:16 PM on June 20, 2011

I would purchase a CD now, and then in six months, sell the CD and put the money into a higher-return [some kind of financial account] for college.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 3:31 PM on June 20, 2011

A package vacation? It doesn't have to be Disneyworld, but something where you can spend a week with minimal effort on your part and create some fun memories for everyone, whether your tastes run toward a beach resort, the mega-indoor waterpark resort in the middle of winter, a skiiing/tubing package...

That's one of those things that gets filed under "wants" rather than "needs" and is, additionally, harder to prioritize, plan and pull off as a single parent (hence the suggestion for a package something...) But before you know it, they're gonna be 13 and 17 and won't want to hang out with you anymore :-)
posted by SomeTrickPony at 3:31 PM on June 20, 2011

Give it to charity!
posted by oceanjesse at 3:45 PM on June 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

your home:
1. any & all needed home repairs and/or upgrades (how's your roof? maybe remodel your kitchen or bathroom?)
2. pre-pay a chunk of your mortgage or rent

your car:
3. pay off your car and/or trade it in
4. pre-paid car service warrenty

the family:
5. a new computer
6. that dream vacation
posted by easily confused at 3:51 PM on June 20, 2011

New tires for the car. New mattresses if they are old. A modern dishwasher if yours is old. A low-water washing machine. Summer camp for the kids - can they swim? Get them lessons. Sign up for a fruit-of-the-month type club - a little luxury that will last all year AND get your kids to maybe eat more fruit. There are meat and other clubs as well. While I'm thinking food, treat yourself to a KitchenAid mixer - it makes baking so much easier.
posted by maryr at 5:32 PM on June 20, 2011

posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:16 PM on June 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

Or, a cleaning service, paid up?
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:19 PM on June 20, 2011

Community Supported Agriculture subscription.

Portion of a cow.

Shoes, etc from amazon (clearance! Use your time to find the best prices.)
Freezer, or whatever large appliance is probably going to kick the bucket at your house.
Car repair.
Roof repair.
Exterior house paint.
Window treatments - good blinds can do so much for a room.
Musical instrument for yourself and the kids.

Get yourself a massage, please.
posted by bilabial at 7:27 PM on June 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

More information would be nice.
posted by futz at 7:35 PM on June 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

National Park Pass or something similar.

Memberships at museums or aquariums you and your children frequent or would like to frequent.

Carpet cleaning.

Experiences you'll be unlikely to want to spend frivolously on later: vacations, dining, interesting places you've always wanted to see/have wanted your children to see.

Duplicates of clothing or shoes that you love and want to stock up on now that you have the extra money.

New computer or overhaul of your existing machine. Mine likes to break when I don't have any money.

Congratulations on your windfall!
posted by Temeraria at 8:06 PM on June 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'd start with anything you were definitely going to buy in the next year, since that converts quickly to savings:
- a lot of groceries (e.g., if you're meat-eaters, a whole butchered cow, and maybe the freezer to put it in), lightbulbs, trash bags -- max out your storage space with the more costly and less bulky items)
- Christmas and birthday cards/gifts for everyone you would buy for (you kinda said that)
- holiday plane tickets?
- annual transit passes, if you commute via transit
- school supplies, bookbags, back-to-school clothes (60 days is almost school anyway)
- winter coats
- a few pairs of shoes for everyone
- home efficiency upgrades (especially if combined with a utility rebate program!)
- prepay anything you can (monthly bills, recurring expenses like haircuts, and irregular expenses like a Christmas tree or Thanksgiving turkey)
- wardrobe disposables, e.g., a fifty-pack of socks
Basically, look at your annual budget and buy anything you can now.

Next, think about the major future repair and maintenance expenses you can avoid in your home, transportation system (car?), personal health, and wardrobe. Buy things that forestall them: the home warranty, a new clutch or furnace, dental work or orthodontia, any needed-eventually medical procedures. Fill in the gaps in your wardrobes, if any. Don't forget things that you don't really "want" but will have to buy anyway (e.g., something to wear to that wedding, a bathing suit). Maybe buy a few last-forever-quality basics (like a black cocktail party dress).

Then, I'd think about the things that might reduce your costs and will definitely improve your life and theirs. In my case, that would be: bicycles with good racks for groceries, raised beds and a composting bin for the garden, a good juicer. Anyone going to join sports teams or start playing a musical instrument?

Then you come to expenses you would not have made but that just purely enrich your lives, like a science museum membership, magazines, upgrading your household appliances...
posted by salvia at 8:12 PM on June 20, 2011

Do your kids need any extra help with their math or reading? Sylvan Learning Center sells gift cards.
posted by lovelygirl at 8:39 PM on June 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Are investments off limits? You could buy something really stable like 100 shares of Du Pont or 75 shares of Coca Cola.
posted by Bachsir at 8:42 PM on June 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Buy a new bed! If I had five big ones I would buy the shit out of a kickass new mattress ensemble suite thing. It's easier to have peace of mind when you sleep well.
posted by tumid dahlia at 9:23 PM on June 20, 2011

A really nice vacation with the kids, the kind of thing that's so extravagant you normally wouldn't even consider it. You could book and pay for it for Christmas so you don't have to actually do it now. Though I think this is the opposite of practical. I just priced out a week-long vacation for one adult and two kids over Christmas, with flight and hotel from Boston, and it was right around $5000 to stay at a Disney hotel and go to Walt Disney World. So you could something shorter, like over Thanksgiving, if you really can't spend it all. Or maybe Labor Day?

Though I guess this is the opposite of practical.

What I would actually do: a bunch of work around the house, like an updated fence or garden work, or get the house painted (inside or out). You could re-do a small bathroom or re-finish your floors. Maybe you need a new appliance or tile floors?

I'd get something a bit extravagant for the kids, like a gaming console and a big, fancy tv if you're into that. Or are you guys into any kinds of sport? You could buy kayaks or golf clubs or skis.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:24 PM on June 20, 2011

Can you get away with buying assets? I'm thinking relatively liquid investment vehicles -- gold is an easy one. Just buy some gold bars by weight. Or, you know, bonds in blue-chip corporations or solid governments. Annuities. Safe stocks...
posted by paultopia at 10:33 PM on June 20, 2011

Diamonds work too. Anything that holds value really well... then you can just sell it later and have the money without restrictions.

Or if you want to go with traditional money-laundering methods, casino chips.
posted by paultopia at 10:37 PM on June 20, 2011

Start a 529 fund for your kids education.
posted by kjs3 at 11:35 PM on June 20, 2011

please not diamonds if you're investing on something to convert to cash later. any diamond you can buy for $5000 is a terrible investment
posted by 6550 at 11:50 PM on June 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Make absolutely sure whatever you choose to buy will be "covered" before you buy it.

If home is "handled" means you own your home, you might get an energy audit and then make all the changes and upgrades you can make in 60 days to save money and energy and add value to your home.

This is an excellent idea that seems to solve the "purchase" and "practical" restrictions. If your HVAC system is old, get a new, super efficient one. Depending on various variables, they can sometimes end up paying for themselves over a few years. When purchased with free money, that is an annuity that keeps paying for a long time.

If you are in a temperate zone (heavy heating in winter, high cooling in summer), consider a geothermal (ground loop) heat pump. They are super efficient, with the downside that they have high install costs. But that $5k might just do the job.
posted by gjc at 6:18 AM on June 21, 2011

A whole life insurance policy might not be a bad idea. Protects the family, and has (some kind of) value that you can trade against.

If they WILL let you buy gold, just do that. If it was me, I'd just buy some US Mint coins. Sit on them until all the restrictions are gone, and then sell them off, one by one, and convert them into rolling certificates of deposit. Do that for a few years, buying whatever term pays the highest, and you'll start to have a pretty good chunk of change.
posted by gjc at 6:35 AM on June 21, 2011

Oh, also for the home, heat as you go water heater. Saves money in the long run on electric bills.

Just make sure that you are getting the right size for your family and actual use patterns. I'd suggest keeping a log of what water is used when. Because if you want to run a load of clothes while the 8 year old is taking a 30 minute shower, that's a very different pattern than showers all in a row with laundry limited to after the kids are in bed.

Basics like white tee shirts, jeans you like, spare tires for the car if you're keeping it a while, cleaning supplies (though I would suggest going as natural as you can on those, because the laundry soap I make costs almost nothing -1 cup borax, 1 cup washing soda and a bar of grated wax free soap, stir it all up really super well, use 1 tablespoon per load, slightly more for filthy stuff)

If you're buying appliances, wait until the 4th of July sales, and then go to sears or wherever and get the "sign up for our credit card and get an EXTRA 5% off" deal.) Also, keep an eye on Craigslist for appliances - sometimes when people move they want to unload their fabulous appliances. If you have 60 days you might get just the bargain you want, making that money go farther.

Definitely look into paying a year ahead for utilities. Throw a tiny bit of extra money at your mortgage if you have one. Even an extra $100 off the principal now will be a help later.

Planning on doing any home remodeling? If yes, and you have a Habitat for Humanity Re-Store near you, swing by and look at sinks, dressers, tile, bed frames, whatever they have.

Do you want electric blankets, fuzzy slippers,? Summer can be a good time to buy those things. At the end of your 60 days buy a bathing suit when it's on sale, and maybe suits for the kids for next year, if you're the gambling type.

Tampons, Diva Cup, whatever you use. Also, check into Mormon house stocking, having a year of ____ can be really handy.
posted by bilabial at 7:04 AM on June 21, 2011

If it were me (and I'm also super-practical)
- financial planner (ASAP, cost ~$500-1000, but might also have some advice better than ours on how to spend the rest of it, including insurance recommendations)
- new appliances, replace the oldest thing in the kitchen/laundry (okay, actually I wouldn't have any trouble spending $5000 and having the maw gape for more, we're starting a kitchen remodel), make sure all HVAC, computer, etc. are in good shape.
- Any systems that you have that are annoying you: piles of mismatched gladware, rubbermaid and take-out containers that you could condense into a good set of snap-and-seal? three odd-sized pots that you could replace with one good Calphalon dutch oven? Mess in the craft/storage/junk/whatever room that would be so much tidier if you replaced all the odd shoeboxes with same-size rubbermaid bins?
- Any tasks you'd like to get some help with? Now's a great time to hire somebody short-term. Could be a cleaner, a landscaper, a high school student with a scanner who'll sort through piles of old photos, a piano teacher for the kids, a tailor to repair and alter the "can't wear that right now" clothes pile.
- Stock up: Do a major groceries and household items run, Make sure kids are all set for a whole year of school. Everybody goes clothes shopping to really solidify the core wardrobe (in my opinion, get a few good items that will be really useful, but also souvenirs: you'll be able to look back at and say, "Yeah, I wore those boots for years, the only time I ever spend $300 on boots - that one time we had that $5000 windfall was pretty awesome!")

- A vacation. Seriously. One notable splurge. You could spend $5000 on a package for 4 to Disney, or Hawaii, or London, or wherever you want to go, but you don't sound like you'd end up liking that. However, set aside $800 or so to do something totally unusual for your habits, something that your kids will remember doing: Hop the bus down to NYC for a long weekend, stay in a hotel, go to tourist sights, try new foods in ethnic hole-in-the-wall places, go to at least one fancy restaurant, and take pictures of everything. This is the kind of thing that your kids will at some point in the future understand and be awed by how much it meant to you that they have a good time. In 10-20 years, they'll be posting sage reminicenses about it on AskMe. (For example the summer after my grandma died, we inexplicably did not go camping like normal but spent 2 weeks in the Smithsonians in DC, and I hadn't realized there was a connection until I was in college, I just knew what an awesome summer it had been)
posted by aimedwander at 7:26 AM on June 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wow! Thank you all so much for the responses. This is a nice problem to have, but the stipulations have triggered some negative emotions so I've been struggling with how to relate to this.

I do a lot of cooking, but don't really enjoy it, so a backup freezer is a good way to make my cooking go farther. jacquilynne, you are more than welcome to come over and help us eat the half cow. Most of my other appliances are either a newish 3-5 yrs old, or workhorses that have needed only minimal repairs. Power tools: awesome. Will definitely put those on the list since I consider myself handy and could be more (enjoyably) so. Rims and snow tires are a great idea too. And I thought extended car warranties were scams, but now I will look into them. I forgot to mention that I have indeed arranged to get our 16yo couch reupholstered.

Landscaping never occurred to me, but since I have two boys, a small gate to block off the street and a semi-mature tree they can climb seem like gifts that keep giving.

Some answers have caused me to reconsider my definition of luxury. I spend a lot of time with my kids now, and considered a fun vacation too frivolous, but I think I've been convinced that a grand experience the kids will enjoy would be valuable. We tend to travel bare bones, staying in small apartments and eating from the grocery store. All inclusive is a new frontier I'll consider.

salvia, your answer offered a smart way to think about expenses, period. *s, mmascolino and gjc: I installed programmable thermostats a few years ago--they rock. I've installed weather-stripping on some windows, and blown foam into keys spaces of the house. And I have indeed looked into geothermal in the past, but the geo folks won't touch my 1800's house until all the windows have been replaced. That alone would be many thousands of dollars, so many the windfall wouldn't cover it. I'm reluctant to spend the money on something that won't make a full impact.

As for gift cards, IRA contributions, gold etc. I need to see if those meet the spirit and letter of the conditions. The idea of retiring big-ticket items at Costco feels like it would take up my already-limited time, and not worth the hassle.

So many ideas to pore through. Thanks again! (p.s. devnull, feel free to poach any of these ideas!)
posted by Yoshimi Battles at 7:27 AM on June 21, 2011

CDs or otherwise long term investments for your children / yourself. Whatever you have, trying to make it multiply itself, if that's within the terms of the agreement.
posted by DisreputableDog at 2:35 PM on June 21, 2011

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