MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
And now, we turn to matters of personal finance. We are sure that you are fully dedicated to this year's New Year's resolutions. I know you've been working out and eating better, of course, but even though you've probably kicked that smoking habit and organized the garage, it doesn't mean you can't find space for one more promise to yourself.
The folks at Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine have an idea, especially if you're thinking about keeping that bank account healthy. They say an investment of just $1,000 can pay big dividends, even if you're not some hot shot stock trader.
Here to tell us more about this is Janet Bodnar. She is editor of Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine and she's with us now. Thank you so much for joining us and happy New Year to you.
JANET BODNAR: Well, thanks. Same to you.
MARTIN: Your article is called "How To Get a Big Return From Spending $1,000." One of the things that I liked about this piece is that your idea of a big return isn't just dollars and cents. Talk a little bit more about that. It's not just the money.
BODNAR: Exactly. Right. You know, the point is that the money is not a huge amount of money. It's an attainable amount of money. People always think they have to, you know, get a big amount of bucks in order to invest in anything. So this is an attainable amount and, as you say, it can be put into financial resources or financial assets, but you can invest in yourself, you can invest in your career, you can invest in your relationship and it still pays dividends. You can get a big return, so it's not just money that, you know, goes down the drain and you wonder what happened to it.
MARTIN: Well, a couple of your ideas, I think, might be surprising to people, given that this is a personal finance magazine, so I'll start with some of the more surprising ideas first, which I think might be surprising to some people. One is give to a classroom. You say, what better way, speaking of our subject...
MARTIN: ...that we just were talking about.
BODNAR: Perfect segue, right?
MARTIN: Right. What better way to spend your charitable dollars than to help teachers help kids and one of the groups that you point out is a group that we featured on this program called Donors Choose, where you get to actually pick the specific projects that you want to support. Why did you put that in your list of ways to have a big impact with $1,000?
BODNAR: Well, one of the things you can do with $1,000 is to be a philanthropist and you don't have to be a Rockefeller to do that. We like Donors Choose because it's different. You know, people are always looking for good charitable or philanthropic organizations and they're looking for ones that they may not have heard of and we really like Donors Choose because, as you say, you can choose a classroom project that has been suggested by a teacher. A teacher is looking for funds. You can support that project.
One nice thing. It is a charitable deduction for you, but Donors Choose takes care of all the paperwork, so you don't actually have to get directly involved, but you do get photographs for feedback on the project and it could be - you know, a teacher might want to stock a computer lab, even with chairs, not necessarily with expensive computers, but with chairs. Or maybe they want to have magazine subscriptions for their seventh grade class and you only have to donate 100 bucks in order to do this, so you don't have to - you could take your $1,000 and spread it around or, maybe if you only have a couple hundred dollars, you can use that.
MARTIN: The other suggestion you have is nurture your marriage or your relationship...
MARTIN: ...you might want to say. Going through a rough patch or just deepening your relationship may require help from a licensed marriage and family therapist. You said a one hour session ranges from $75 to $200 and averages $100, according to the National Directory of Marriage and Family Counseling. And you're saying, you know what? Spend the money on getting your relationship straight. That's an interesting idea. How did you come up with that idea?
BODNAR: Exactly. Well, you know, it's funny, Michel, because you know, this is our February issue, Valentine's Day, you know, so there's a little connection there, but maybe this is, again, something that people don't normally think about and, of course, if your marriage is in great shape, this is not something that you necessarily want to do, but maybe it's not, you know, and maybe you've been wondering, should we do something or what could we do? Or, again, how expensive would it be?
And at $100 on average per session, you could purchase 10 sessions and that should be - if you - with fingers crossed here, if you are having a little bit of a rocky relationship, but you're trying to move past that, that should give you at least a good head start.
MARTIN: Well, but tell me why you think that that can be a financially beneficial thing to do.
BODNAR: Well, first of all, staying together is one of the most financially beneficial things you can do. I mean, the cost of going through a divorce is just huge. This is something that you want to avoid at all costs, so to speak, because it really is a major financial problem. And, secondly, if you do stay together, the chances of working together - perhaps you both are earning income, so you have double income. That means double savings for retirement, certainly, or even if one of you is a stay-at-home - part of the stay-at-home spouse, contributing your financial acumen, your knowledge - I always say that, when couples manage money together, they're always a much more socko(ph) combination than any individual doing it himself or herself.
MARTIN: I think you're saying, like, emotional chaos can be expensive.
BODNAR: Oh, extremely expensive.
MARTIN: Many people don't think about that. And one other idea that you have is - this is interesting. Thanks to the government's approval in 2012 of crowd funding as a way for businesses to raise capital, it's easier than ever to - what would you call it - be...
BODNAR: Be an angel.
MARTIN: Be an angel or - what's - be an investor in a business.
BODNAR: Exactly. Yeah, exactly. So...
MARTIN: Which is something I don't think that people who are small investors would necessarily think that they are able to do, unless it's perhaps a cousin's nail salon or something like that.
BODNAR: Exactly. Well, we give a couple of examples. One is a site called Upstart and what Upstart does is it funds entrepreneurial ventures that college students have suggested and you can evaluate these and, again, decide how much you would like to invest and you actually do get a return, at least, up to a certain amount and/or, if the venture fails, it fails. I mean, you are taking a risk here, so you really have to have, again, some money to spare or at least some money that you're willing to lose. But, on the other hand, you know, it could really - you could be an angel and that venture could take off and that could really be a good thing or at least, you know, something that you could be proud of and that, again, yields dividends, certainly for the investor in yourself, as well.
MARTIN: And, finally, just to let people know that you haven't completely kind of gone off the rails, you do have some traditional - let's say - financial advice...
MARTIN: ...about - perhaps open something called a Roth IRA or give a kid a jump on retirement. Talk a little bit about that, if you would, very briefly.
BODNAR: You can, if your child has an earned income from a job - say it's a teenager who has a part time summer job. You can start a retirement account for that child when he is 15 or 16 years old and we like the Roth IRA account. We think it's a really great way of saving for retirement and giving the kid a jump start. The compounding that's going to take place over the years, even for that small one or two thousand dollars that the kid might earn over the summer can turn into big bucks for retirement.
MARTIN: So they can take care of us when we're older.
BODNAR: Yeah, exactly.
MARTIN: Exactly. Right. We want to go on that cruise.
BODNAR: Yes. It pays dividends. Right?
MARTIN: That's right. Janet Bodnar is editor of Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine. She was kind enough to join us here in our Washington, D.C. studios. Janet, thank you for joining us.
BODNAR: Oh, my pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.