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Money Rules

Bang for Your Buck

Two dozen people—a JP Morgan associate, a sex worker, a pastor, a living statue, a marine, “the World’s First Publicly Traded Person,” and many more—tell us the best way to invest a single dollar.

David Opdyke, The One, 2007. Courtesy the artist and Lower East Side Printshop, Inc.

American dinner table rules are simple and standard: Don’t discuss religion, politics, or money. Money is especially lewd. Money makes people evil, petty, wretched. Still, we want it. We like seeing pictures of Beyoncé on her yacht. We like that fabulous diamond chain that is mysteriously attached to her bikini. We bop around to “Royals” by Lorde and think, Lorde’s right, we don’t want that yacht. But what if we want a house?

Money is confusing. But little in American life is simpler and more symbolic than a single George Washington. Say you had a buck in your hand: What would be the best way to invest it?

 

Dev Aujla, Founder, DreamNow, New York City

I would travel to an American post-industrial town, find a boarded-up theatre, and buy it from the city for one dollar. Working with friends, I would rally the community together, raise money, and open it independently. This is what happened in the town of Cohoes, NY, and it can happen anywhere across the country. It just needs you and, of course, one dollar.

Rev. Winnie Varghese, Rector at St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery, New York City

Invest in a federal credit union. You can support fair banking and micro loans at home for you and your neighbors. If your community doesn’t have one, start one!

Xanthea O’Connor, Street Performer, Perth, Australia

A single dollar will get you pretty much nothing these days, but a crowd of dollars can mean a street performer making a decent living. I get down off my crate after a few hours as a living statue certain I’ve brightened the day of countless passersby. Invest that dollar in something that makes you happy or captures your imagination.

Place the dollar bill out in front of you and sit and look at it. What does it communicate?

Chris Maddox, Creator of The Wild Woman Project, West Stockbridge, Mass.

Since you can’t buy much for a buck these days, a worthy investment could be to use a dollar as an object of meditation. Place the dollar bill out in front of you and sit and look at it. What does it communicate? How does it feel to you? Does a memory arise? During this practice, you may get a great insight or idea, learn something about the economy or yourself, even. At the very least, you will have been still for a few minutes, and that is certainly worth more than the dollar you put into it.

Serena Keith, Director of Product at Lovely, San Francisco, Calif.

I’d buy a (cheap!) cup of coffee for someone I admire and pick his or her brain for a half hour. Right now I’m focused on hiring and managing smart people, so I’d ask for advice, which I think would be worth far more than one dollar and the lessons of which I could pass on to many more people.

Daisy Freund, Senior Manager of the Farm Animal Welfare Dept., ASPCA, Brooklyn, NY

I’d invest in a packet of perennial vegetable, fruit, or herb seeds: asparagus, sorrel, rhubarb, Jerusalem artichokes, horseradish, lavender, and thyme. These are hardy, ancient, unfussy, and unapologetically feisty edibles. Not only are you planting once and getting delicious returns on that investment for years, some perennials are increasingly hard to find, like skirret and oca and hyssop. They’re too bitter or ugly or weed-like to appeal to modern American palettes, but will buy you all kinds of street cred with the hipsters and make you feel like a preservationist.

Jessie King, Social Worker, Boston

To your average, middle-class, employed college graduate, one dollar isn’t much, but even within our country’s borders, one dollar can help those in need. Think of all those fundraisers at grocery stores and CVSs, where the cashiers ask the customer to donate a dollar to various causes. When pooled together, they end up with a large total for a good cause.

Phillip Stockton, Filmmaker, New York City

I would bury the dollar in the most beautiful place I could find. I would then create an elaborate map to the dollar. I would hope someone would discover this map years from now and have an adventure to go on.

Mike Merrill, “World’s First Publicly Traded Person,” Portland, Ore.

Having played a lot of role-playing games, I think of money as mana, the resource a wizard uses to cast spells. The more mana you have, the more powerful magic spells you can cast. Spending money releases energy and the skill of spending money is not just about the amount but how you best focus that energy.

The greatest reaction you’ll get from a dollar is burning it front of your friends. Penny for penny, there is no bigger statement a dollar can make than its own destruction. This is a chance to have a conversation about money, a subject which is traditionally taboo. (Don’t worry about the legality.)

Penny for penny, there is no bigger statement a dollar can make than its own destruction.

As in any investment there is risk. You’ll find yourself repeating this act at BBQs, camp-outs, and bars with candles. As the thrill of burning a dollar wanes you’ll move on to a five, maybe even try a twenty.

Extracting a crisp new $100 bill will cause someone to say, “No!” but your own heart will beat a little faster. This is no longer a symbolic gesture. Will you burn a hundred? I hope so.

Hal Ross, Retired Hedge Fund Manager, Palm Beach, Fla.

I don’t encourage anyone to invest, not even a dollar, unless they have a strong economic background and experience in business. Most of the guys on Wall Street might have some education, but they don’t have any background in economics nor do they have any real business experience. I would tell people to find someone they know with those skills and ask them to invest it for them.

Stefin Pasternak, Educator, New Orleans

I think the best investment in the world is in trees. Bear fruit, build soil, sequester carbon, filter clean water, increase biodiversity, collect solar energy, produce biomass, provide shade, habitat, protection from inclement weather, boon to enjoyable weather, and the list goes on. Spending one dollar to buy you seeds of a favorite tree or two would make your home, neighborhood, and world a better place.

Patrick Martinez, Admissions Manager at Columbia University’s School of General Studies, New York City

Often when you go to a small restaurant or bakery that’s family-owned and smells like fresh-baked ingenuity and entrepreneurship, you’ll see above the cash register an old one-dollar bill that’s proudly displayed in a frame. It’s not in use, it’s not even in circulation anymore, but it is an investment. It’s the very first dollar that little shop ever made, and to show the value of investing in your own dreams, it’s now a symbol and an inspiration to keep going. Investing in the human spirit… the very best way to invest a dollar.

The more you invest in a stripper, the less you get free things from that stripper.

Erin Markey, Musician/Writer/Performer, New York City

I don’t have any awesome ideas for how to invest a buck, unfortunately. That is my weakness. My first instinct was to invest it in a stripper’s G-string or a barista’s tip jar. But I’m not sure how that translates as investment. I do know that the more frequently you visit/tip a barista—your neighborhood barista, who does not work at a Starbucks—the more often you are treated like family and you get free coffee. I think that the more you invest in a stripper, the less you get free things from that stripper.

Rena Singer, Communications Director at Landesa, Seattle

A dollar can help a girl in West Bengal, India participate in The Girls Project. Through a partnership between the Government of West Bengal and Landesa, more than 40,000 girls participating in the project attend bi-monthly meeting where they learn about their rights to attend school, to not be married as a child, and to one day inherit land. The girls also learn intensive gardening skills and grow a kitchen garden on any spare land in their compound. Many of the girls grow gourds on the roof of their house, mushrooms under their beds, and leafy greens along the perimeter of their homestead. The food boosts nutrition, helps redefine what the girls are capable of, and often helps the girls pay school fees. It costs about one dollar per participant per year.

Emily Bryngelson, Fashion Designer, Brooklyn, NY

I often find the perfect specifications or details from a Goodwill item for one dollar, and can reference it for years in my designs. In the same way a simple object can tell a story and inspire day-to-day life, postcards or trinkets are not trash if they inspire you.

Ben Harrison, US Marine, San Diego, Calif.

In my travels, I’d say what people need most besides security and education is access to clean drinking water. So, if I had a dollar to invest, it would be in a non-profit or tech company that provides water sources to communities in need. I saw 40 to 50 people travel 25 miles hanging from a pickup truck in East Timor for water after their village was destroyed in the late ’90s. A simple well with a solar powered pump might have met their temporary needs. These very wells were the highest priority humanitarian relief project for military engineers in the Horn of Africa when I worked in Djibouti, Kenya, and Ethiopia between 2005 and 2007. The most attractive aspect of these wells to the population affected is that they control the water, not a government or any other controlling interest.

Rob Friedman, Risk Associate, New York City

Buy a newspaper. Not the tabloids, but a credible source of news. It’s cheap, it’s informative, and staying current will help you strike up a conversation with people who could help you advance your career.

It is almost always the case that you can have more fun with four quarters than a dollar bill. So: Get change.

Robin Sloan, Author of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore, Berkeley, Calif.

I think it is almost always the case that you can have more fun with four quarters than a dollar bill. So, first step: Get change. Second step: When I think quarters, I think arcade games. Unfortunately, many arcade games will consume your whole dollar, or sometimes ask for more, and they’re not even as good as the ones you can play at home. If you go all the way back to the classics, though, you will find games that are still cheap, and still way more fun to play in a stand-up cabinet than an emulator window. So, if it was my dollar, I would find one of those old games—this will likely be a whole adventure on its own—priced at $0.25 a play and I would shoot aliens until my quarters ran out. Galaga’s my favorite, but I’m not too picky.

rAndom International, Design Studio, London

Random International would invest their dollar in an awesome and innovative idea like The LIX 3D printing pen, investing in the ability to draw, three-dimensionally, in mid-air.

Tom Henske, Partner at Lenox Advisors, New York City

I can’t say how to invest one dollar for any given person. There are many life events that can happen which could potentially alter where someone’s financial focus should be. Having said that, the most common themes to address in a financial plan typically include:

  1. Retirement: Make sure you don’t run out of money. That’s a nice way of saying “make sure you don’t outlive your resources.”
  2. College costs: For those who are parents, there is often nothing more important than their children. And for many of those parents, they see it as their obligation to support (often financially) the educations of those children.
  3. Emergency reserves: In today’s world, things happen when we least expect them. And when they do, having a very liquid emergency reserve can make an enormous difference to calming that storm.
  4. Taxes: A famous quote goes, “It’s not always what you make, it’s what you keep.”
  5. Lawsuits: In today’s increasingly litigious society, it’s important for those who have accumulated assets to protect them.
  6. Disability rendering: Where would your financial plan be if you were too sick or hurt to work? If the answer is not what it needs to be, this should be at the top of the priority list.
  7. Death: Same as above.
  8. Health issues: Hard work can sometimes be negated by an unforeseen change in health, causing a family to dip into retirement and college funds for assistance. This is often thought to happen at an older age, but that isn’t always the case.
  9. Market crash: Having the proper diversification in one’s investment portfolio is crucial for long-term accumulation success. It helps clients stay the course when markets dip (which they inevitably do), but to also see growth in their financial assets.


Laura Lee, “Scotland’s Premier Escort,” Glasgow, UK

I would draw an A4 poster and write on it, “Everything you think you know about the sex industry is wrong. Call me for details.” Use the dollar to pay for photocopying and disperse it far and wide, on foot through doors and online. If that dollar could change the minds of just two people who would continue to debunk myths in a ripple effect, then it’s a dollar well spent.

Filip Marinovich, Poet/Occupy Wall Street Participant, New York City

Give it to the next person
who asks for money on the subway:
disobey the robot Adam
telling you “not to give.”
You are not Eve.
You are Marvelous.

TMN Editorial Fellow Melissa Batchelor Warnke is a writer, researcher, and editor. She is a 2014–2015 Fulbright researcher, studying memory culture and foreign direct investment in Rwanda. More by Melissa Batchelor Warnke