12 Things to Do with $20

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Money can be tight and extra cash often seems a fantasy. But if you skip that afternoon latte or bring lunch from home once a week for a month, you can have a guilt-free date with Andrew Jackson–you know, that guy on the $20 bill. Where would you go and what would you do? Here are some ideas to get you started.

1. Create a little romance
Parents of five Wendy and Chris VerHague have found the secret to having a romantic date without the expense of a sitter and a night on the town. “I go to the dollar store and get a disposable tablecloth, a candle and a basket,” says Wendy, 30. “Then I buy cheese, crackers, grapes and sparkling grape juice.”She grabs a couple of wineglass from the kitchen, spreads a blanket on the bedroom floor, and once the kids re in bed, she and Chris have a candelit picnic.

2. Give yourself a gift card
Purchase a $20 gift card at your favorite store, but don’t give it away. Instead, tuck it in your wallet, and next time you need a pick-me up or reward for a job well done, take it out and buy yourself a present.

3. Make over a room
You can give your bedroom or family room a whole new look with a coat paint. If the room is paily small (350 square feet or less), you can probably get by with one gallon of medium-grade flat latex $12 to $15). If the space is larger, paint just one or two of the walls a different color to add a little pizzazz.

4. Play Sudoku (endlessly)
If you’re addicted to the logic game Sudoku, you’ll love Sudoku Handheld Game from Techno Source, a touch-screen version with mnore than 100,000 puzzles. You can buy it for $14.99 at any major retailer.

5. Support an artisan
Spend $20 on hand-woven placemats and napkins, hand crafted wooden kitchen utensils, hand-rolled and braided brooms or handmade ceramic mugs made by students in the renowed Student Craft Program at Kentucky’s Berea College. You’ll not only get useful and decorative object, you’ll help provide talented students with a college education. For information or to order items, go to bereacollegecrafts.com.

6. Become an investor
Buy stock for $20? Sure you can. Go to sharebuilder.com to set up an account and peruse the list of companies that not only sell stock (or partial shares) directly to the consumer for as little as $4 a transaction, but also reinvest the dividends so your investment keeps growing.

7. Promote wellness
Make a $20 donation to the Arthritis Foundation and you’ll get a year’s subscription to Arthiritis Today magazine. It’s full of great recipes, fitness tips and wellness articles, you will enjoy the magazine so much that you can’t bear to throw any issues away. Log on to arthiritis.org and click on “Become a Member.”

8. Make your friends’ day
In the age of e-mail, it’s increasingly rare–and that much more of a delight–to find an unexpected greeting in the mailbox. buy and mail “Thinking of You” cards to as many friends as you can for $20.

9. Take your taste buds down memory Lane
If you”re hankering for a favorite childhood treat and can’t find it at your local supermarket, go to hometownfavorites.com. The online grocery store is dedicated to “old-time favorites” and “regionally exclusive foods.” Skybar or fiddle Faddle, anyone?

10. Teach your teen to be thrifty
The best way to encourage your mad-for-the-mall teen to save money might be to instruct her to spend instead. Rob Bennet, author of Passion Saving: The Path to Plentiful Free Time and Soul-Satisfying Work, suggest giving your teen $20 and this challenge: Check out The Complete Tightwad Gazette, by Amy Dacyczyn, from the library, then spend the money using one of the book’s techniques.

11. Get mail (for your kids)
Children love getting stuff in the mail. Pick up a copy of Free Things for Kids!, by Barbara Becker ($4.95, Prime Publishing). It lists more than 300 free and low-cost items kids can send away for. use the remaining money to cover postage and handling (generally very reasonable). The joy on your child’s face when the mailman brings the goodies: priceless.

12. Go sightseeing
It’s not just a cliche that most of us dont visit what’s in our own backyard. Take that $20 and buy a good guidebook to your area. (Look for books with titles that include the words ‘Off the Beaten Path,” “Hidden” or “Best Places.”) Then choose an atrraction and go.

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