Within the next few weeks, those who qualify for Congress’s stimulus-plan tax rebates will be getting checks: $600 for singles, $1,200 for marrieds, $300 per kid. Should you sock it away in a retirement account? Give it to charity? Or have some prepaid fun? Here, eighteen ways to blow (or invest) your gift from the government.
Put money on last quarter’s losers.
For a quick return, pick one sector (in this case, retail) that’s benefiting from market gyrations. Stocks in companies like Dollar Tree, Big Lots, and Yum! Brands got oversold earlier in the year, when the Fed was signaling fears of a major recession. Now many money managers have reassessed, and the stocks are gaining. As the Fed tries to encourage consumer spending, outlooks for retail companies could brighten, and the buzz around their stocks will peak— at which point you should sell.
Take your investment dollars abroad.
Not that they’re fortune-tellers, but many financial experts think that domestic mutual funds are not the safest place to invest in the midterm. Foreign economic growth rates, they say, are likely to beat ours over the next couple of years. Yale School of Management professor Matthew Spiegel advises reapportioning some dough into an international fund. Investing in index funds gives you the most cover, Spiegel says, but something “at least Europe-focused” can provide some upside.
Sock it away in a retirement account.
Let compound interest be your pal, says Charles Schwab adviser Richard Rosso. Up your 401(k) contribution by $50 a month ($600 annually). If you keep up these contributions, you can accumulate $23,000 over the next twenty years (assuming a conservative 6 percent annual return).
Buy two awesome seats for Kanye.
What better way to stimulate the economy than by supporting pop music’s leading exponent of materialism, Kanye West? On StubHub, $600 will get you a pair of seats in the 100 level of the Louis Vuitton Don’s May 13 concert at Madison Square Garden. If you want two seats on the floor, you’ll have to pair up with another rebate recipient—they’re going for $600 apiece (Stubhub.com; 866-788-2482).
Join a museum that throws good parties.
Add some highbrow to your dating life by signing up for a $600 dual membership to P.S. 1. The deal grants instant art-insider status; members get visits to artists’ studios, curator-guided walk-throughs, and access to VIP openings for every exhibition. Plus you can jump the long lines at the Saturday-night Warm Up parties, which start July 5, and get free entry to big-sister MoMA (22-25 Jackson Ave., at 46th Ave., Long Island City; 718-786-7375).
Commission a mural.
Hire Welybom Studios (917-439-3921) to festoon your bedroom with a three-foot-square mural of polka-dotted dogs. Or go with Decoradar (917-981-8804), which will create large silhouettes of you and your cat (or dog, or boyfriend). Or ask painter Peter Paquin (508-878-5165) to do one of his small, graffiti-style pieces, which he describes as “cartoony, fun, and kind of evil.”
Get fitted for a phony ponytail.
Some girls have silky ponytails. Others have weird hair appendages that frizz from Memorial Day to Labor Day. If you’re in the latter camp (or you just want to try out a new color), let Eva Scrivo make you an impeccable $600 medium-length ’tail. Starting in June, her salon will customize attachable highlighted ponytails that match your hair’s density and style (Eva Scrivo, 50 Bond St., nr. Bowery; 212-677-7315).
Spend the summer at a really nice pool.
In addition to letting you lap up the Printing House’s floor-to-ceiling views of the Hudson, a three-month gym membership ($625) starting in June grants you access to a gorgeous rooftop pool with an “endless swim” device that simulates open-water swimming. Your up-front payment includes a $300 joining fee, and you can extend your membership for the rest of the year for only $60 a month (421 Hudson St., nr. Leroy St.; 212-243-7600).
Teach your face muscles to unclench.
Less invasive than fillers like Botox and Restylane, acupuncture facials offer the double benefit of being relaxing and gently effective. A series of treatments, which adherents swear help lessen wrinkles and eye puffiness, can be pricey. But Sharon Yeung, a licensed acupuncturist, offers a six-session special for the nice round sum of $600 (Five Seasons Healing, 80 E. 11th St., nr. Broadway, Ste. 407; 917-538-5755).
Book a sweet weekend in the Hudson Valley.
Ride Metro-North 50 minutes to Peekskill, then cab it to Monteverde at Oldstone Manor, a 29-acre estate with six new garden rooms and a restaurant overseen by Allen & Delancey’s Neil Ferguson. Spend an afternoon hiking or at the spa, then do the locavore thing (farmhouse cheeses, line-caught halibut) beneath the restaurant’s grapevine trellis. The one-night “Rejuvenate & Refresh” package is $1,200 for two (28 Bear Mountain Bridge Rd., Cortlandt Manor, N.Y.; 914-372-1212).
Try out the city’s newest driving range.
The sparkling new Randall’s Island Golf Center opens officially May 14. Blow most of your rebate on four $130-an-hour private lessons with head pro Tom Sutter (he’s Mayor Bloomberg’s personal instructor). Or spread the wealth and invite the whole office to hit balls ($12 a bucket, $2 a club) at the 78-stall, two-tier driving range. Spend any leftovers on Heinekens and Angus burgers afterward at the soon-to-open beer garden (1 Randall’s Island; 212-427-5689).
Refresh your camping gear.
You’ve had that tent since college. Upgrade with an Escape 2 two-man tent; it’s a cinch to pitch ($149). Add two Boreal Switchback sleeping bags ($99 each) and two Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite pads ($35 each). For nights, the Apollo lantern has a dimmer switch ($50). For mornings, Jetboil’s Java cup includes a French press ($110) (Eastern Mountain Sports, 591 Broadway, nr. Houston St.; 212-966-8730).
Treat your five closest friends to eels.
Piballes, exotic baby glass eels prized in the Basque country for their linguinelike texture and creamy taste, are in season only three weeks of the year. This week, they arrive at Le Bernardin, but they’re not on the menu—you have to ask for them. The eels are thrown live into a sauté pan with red-pepper oil, garlic, and lemon, and are garnished with Espelette peppers. Each order costs $100, so get six for the table (155 W. 51st St., nr. Seventh Ave.; 212-554-1515).
Become a wine person.
Buy a one-year membership to the wine auction house Acker, Merrall & Condit’s Platinum Wine Club. Once a month, a rare and unusual bottle will arrive along with a newsletter on the vintage as well as tasting notes, food pairings, and a recipe. Start this week and your first bottle will be a 2005 Testarossa Sanford & Benedict Chardonnay, with hints of passion fruit, pear, almond, and smoke. Pair it with roast duck breast, and toast Congress for its munificence (212-787-1700 or ackerstore.com).
Become cheese people.
A Murray’s Cheese Shop fromager will come to your house and teach you and eleven friends what goes best with a tangy young goat cheese versus a stinky washed-rind versus a strong and salty blue. A 90-minute group lesson covers how to compose a cheese plate and how to talk the cheese talk—“This bloomy cheese smells like hay with a truffly flavor … ” Participants get to sample six different Murray’s selections ($600 for a group of twelve; 254 Bleecker St., nr. Cornelia St.; 212-243-3289, ext. 12).
Send a girl to summer camp by shopping.
Drop by the Sweet Things Bake Shop and La Tiendita booths, both run by the Lower Eastside Girls Club, at the Essex Street Market on Saturdays, and pick up Mexican fair-trade clay pots (from $25), a box of mini cupcakes ($10), handmade greeting cards (3 for $5), and a canvas bag to carry it all ($10). Your remaining bucks can go to fully funding a week of sleepaway camp for one girl. In about 75 percent of cases, it’s the girl’s first time away from New York (Essex Street Market, 120 Essex St., at Delancey St.; Girls Club, 212-982- 1633 or girlsclub.org).
Give someone a loaner.
Small-time loans to new immigrants (especially those with no credit history) can help them start a business or expand an existing enterprise. A new initiative by the micro-lender Accion New York rolls individual donations into loans for recent immigrants or minorities. Insignificant though it may seem, your $600 can help create and maintain two jobs for a small-business owner who needs a little extra money for payroll (212-387-0377 or accionnewyork.org/donate).
Turn a tar beach green.
Do your part to lower city temperatures and improve air quality by donating to Sustainable South Bronx, an environmental group that runs a green-roof installation business. Ask that your contribution be earmarked for the organization’s SmartRoofs program, which has installed flowering sedum plants on a historic brownstone and native strawberries on a 1,500-square-foot industrial warehouse.
CONTRIBUTORS: Alec Appelbaum, Sarah Bernard, Elizabeth Brown, Joanna Goddard, Kaija Helmetag, Ben Mathis-Lilley