What Would You Do?: You Won $100, $500 or $1,000 Today!

I was listening to the radio on my drive home (in my paid off car, of course) just last week and heard an interesting advertisement for a contest the radio station was running. If you called in at a certain time you could win a chance to win (not straight out winning) a trip to Germany, a trip to Orlando or $500 cash. They then played a sound bite of someone freaking out when they won a $500 cash prize from a previous contest.

Since I have won multiple radio contests in the past, I wondered what I’d do if I won the same contest. At one time in my life, I might have been that person. I might have freaked out and been screaming, jumping up and down with joy, because I had an extra $500 to my name. Today it wouldn’t be the same story though. $500 wouldn’t change my life.

Why Winning $500 Wouldn’t Change My Life

Ok, so it would technically change my life, but not in any major way. The reason I’m confident that it wouldn’t change my life is because I’m on financially solid ground. I’m caught up or ahead on all of my bills. I have a decent emergency fund that I’m comfortable with. I’m not living paycheck to paycheck and we haven’t stretched our budget to the limits.

With all of those things nailed down pretty well, $500 just wouldn’t have a major affect on us. It wouldn’t catch us up on our rent to keep us in our home or give us $500 to pay off that nasty credit card balance. It wouldn’t turn our electric back on or prevent us from having our cars repossessed. So what would we do with an extra $500?

What I’d Do with an Extra $500

Sure, it’d be nice to have an extra $500 and, don’t get me wrong, I’d be happy about it. We’d like throw it toward my fiancee’s student loan debt and it would move our pay off date up a bit. Other than that, we could spend it on ourselves, but I doubt we’d find anything worth splurging for that would be more important that knocking the debt down.

What If I Won Only $100 Instead?

Then I got around to thinking, would I have changed what we’d do with the money we won if it was a smaller amount? What if I only won $100 on the radio contest? After giving it some thought, I decided I’d probably do the same thing and pay the student loan debt down. However, I’m guessing a lot of others would splurge with the smaller amount of money than with a larger amount like $500.

What If I Won Even More Money?

Naturally, because I considered a smaller amount, I wanted to consider a larger amount of money too. What if I won $1,000? Would that change how i dealt with the money that I won? I think at this point I actually would say yes, even though it seems a bit counter intuitive.

Instead of throwing it all towards the student loan debt, I think I’d set aside a small amount, such as $50, to splurge on a decent dinner out or something similar. Why? I don’t know exactly, but I feel like $500 wasn’t quite enough to take a small bit out of but, for whatever reason, $1,000 was big enough.Ā Hey, at least I’m an honest PF Blogger!

The Ideal Thing To Do With Money You’ve Won

In my eyes, the ideal thing to do with money is to further yourself as much as you can. In most cases, this would mean treating the money like any other money you’d earn from your job or any other source. Put it toward your goals, whether that is paying down debt, contributing toward retirement or saving for the next big chapter of your life.

So, what would you do if you won $100 today? How about $500? $1,000? Would it change your life, or would it just be more money in the bank? Let me know! I’m interested to see everyone’s answers and their rationale for what they’d do with the money. Be honest! I don’t care what you do with it, I’m just more interested to see how everyone would react!

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About Lance Cothern

Lance Cothern, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) licensed in the Commonwealth of Virginia, is the founder of Money Manifesto. You can read more about him here or connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Pinterest.


  1. Fat free personal finance says:

    That’s a good example of mental accounting. Money from one thing is not the same as money from something else. People don’t mind losing $500 that they won from the casino, but if they lose $500 of hard-earned income – it’s completely different! If I won $500 or $1000, I would deposit the check via mobile deposit into checking account and then spend it as if it were earned income.

  2. For me an extra $100 I would put towards my mom’s mortgage or give to church. $500 I would give $100 to church/mom and by some stocks. $1000 I would do the same but put some in savings and spend some money on wifey and my blog.

  3. I think for us it would likely go towards either investing or our vacation fund. We’re in a similar spot to you and will never turn down money to invest in, though we’re always looking to pad our vacation fund.

  4. $100 I’d probably just put it in my wallet and use it as part of my “fun money” for the month, but still count that as “earnings” in my budget. $500/$1000 I’d take a little out for maybe a couple summer tops, but put the rest in my e-fund. You’re right in the grand scheme of things it’s not a lot, unless you have cc companies calling your or late bills. If that’s the case you’re in serious trouble. I just won a $200 amex card from a contest and I will probably use it to buy groceries (but again count it as earnings in my budget).

  5. With $1000, that would definitely go to investment or savings and some I would probably share some with charity or to the church. If it’s only $100, grocery or treat my family for a dinner. If it’s $500 same with $1000.

  6. This is going to sound really sad, but I’m not even sure if winning $10,000 would really change my life that much. I was waiting for Big Bang Theory to come on and Wheel of Fortune was just wrapping up. The winner won like $12,000. Everyone was cheering. I was like: Hey, great. But you probably won’t be able to quit your job anytime soon. I think I’m jaded by all this retirement planning and playing with numbers. I would need like $100K before there would start being some serious changes in my life.

    So back to the topic, I’d probably book a short vacation with $500. I’d like to see it go towards something fun.

  7. I would throw the money into savings.

  8. I agree with everything you planned to do. I’d definitely throw any amount at my student loans, and maybe I would set aside a small amount ($50-$100) from the $1,000 for fun. I definitely wouldn’t be freaking out on the radio over it, but it would be a nice little bonus to receive.

  9. We’d treat these amounts the way we do with any other income (aside from gifts): we the appropriate amount aside for taxes, we give 10% to our church, we put 15% into our Roth IRAs, and the rest goes into our Travel savings account.

    I think we’d have to get into the $10,000 range to deviate from that plan, because that might put us over the contribution limit for our Roth IRAs and that’s too much to spend on travel. We’d probably put the non-taxed, non-given, non-Roth IRA portion toward a mid-term goal like a house down payment.

  10. $100 I would likely spend on a few small thinga like summer tshirt, $500 or $1000 would go in savings for family reunion trip and summer weddings.

  11. I’m boring, I would just save it.

  12. I don’t usually deal in “what-if” scenarios since each point in time will yield different resulting answers. I can say with certainty that it certainly would not change my life unless what I won matched a years worth of gross salary since that would effectively enable me to take some time away and pursue passions while not missing out on the pay or falling behind on anything. Too many people worry about tracking and saving every last penny, forgetting that some money is meant to be spent, or else why bother working for it if all that will happen is it sits until a “more appropriate time” to be spent?

  13. Interesting concept! I think for all of those amounts, I would put the money towards my car loan. I’ve become so focused on just getting rid of all of my debt, and it’s so close to happening for me, that every little bit really does count. If it was $5,000, I would probably keep like, $200 of it for myself, and use the rest to very nearly completely pay off my car.

  14. Great Article! If I won a cash prize, I would invest all of it into my business! I’d rather invest in my future.

  15. A windfall like that would immediately be saved. Practically speaking, that just makes sense. Also, however, I would probably get more happiness out of saving the money that spending it on material things for myself.

  16. If I won any of those amounts of money it would change my life in the sense that it would add to my overall savings goals. I’d put that money to work for me somehow but it would certainly not have a huge impact on my life. For some that money would make major impacts especially if they live pay to pay or are struggling with debt and bills. It can go both ways.. what one sees as menial another sees as a windfall. Both have huge impacts.

  17. James Scheibly says:

    again, we would spend it on a short celebration of our 50th anniversary.

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