How to Invest $50k in 2021

October 15, 2021

Financial comfort looks a little different for everyone, but a stray $50,000 landing in your bank account goes a long way for most people. The trick is figuring out how to invest that money—not just figuring out how to sidestep Uncle Sam’s slice, but also figuring out how to use that cash if you’re used to investing in smaller increments.

The key is taking a measured approach—which includes dodging the assumption that all the money must go to the same place. Chances are, you have a lot of financial goals, and a crisp $50k can give you a great head start on several of them.

The right investment choices look a little different for everyone. Here are a few general options that work well for most people.

Build Your Emergency Fund

Did you know that 51% of Americans have less than three months in emergency savings? Or than just 31% of Americans could pay off a $1,000 emergency expense? Worse, 40% of Americans don’t even have $400 in reserves for emergencies, and many Americans don’t have emergency savings at all.

If you’ve got a spare $50k sitting around, now is the time to fix that.

The trick here is that there is no dollar amount that works universally. The right emergency fund total for you depends on how much you spend. In general, you should have at least enough funding to cover all expenses for three months, preferably six if you can manage it. You’ll arrive at the number by adding all your critical monthly expenses, including:

  • Housing
  • Utilities
  • Health care (including health insurance)
  • Transportation
  • Food
  • Debt
  • Personal expenses

For example, let’s say you pay $1,000 per month in rent, plus $50 per month in utilities, $100 per month for Internet, $100 per month for health insurance, $200 per month for your student loan, $200 for public transportation or your car, and $200 per month for food. That means you need at least $1,850 to break even each month, which means you need at least $5,550 in emergency savings for three months or $11,100 for six months.

Remember, be realistic and round up. You won’t do yourself any favors if your calculations include less than you realistically spend each month.

Max Out Retirement

For most of us, our biggest investment account is retirement. And if you have a spare $50,000 to invest, that may well be a full year of living expenses in retirement (or more, depending on how well your money grows).

If you have an employer-sponsored 401(k) plan and you’re not already making the maximum contribution, your $50k can help you get there. You can’t make lump-sum contributions, but you can set the maximum allowable withholding from your paycheck and repay yourself from your $50k. Plus, you can take advantage of employer matching contributions, which is basically free money.

If you don’t have a 401(k) plan, an individual retirement account (IRA) is your new best buddy. Even if you have a 401(k) plan, it’s a good idea to add an IRA—you can legally hold both accounts, and an IRA gives you a lot more freedom to choose your own investments. This is especially useful if you’re already making the maximum contribution to your 401(k) plan, since you can continue making contributions to your IRA and get double the retirement bang for your buck.

Add an Index Fund

Now, let’s say you want to strengthen your portfolio against market shocks (hey, we get it, 2020 was a rough year for the world). If you’re comfortable with stocks and willing to drop some of your liquid cash on diversification, index funds are a great choice.

Most investments try to beat the market. Index funds try to be the market (a segment of the market, anyway). An index fund tracks or mirrors the performance of a specific industry, commodity, or subset of the market. The Standard & Poor 500 Index, for example, tracks the performance of the 500 largest publicly traded companies in the United States.

Index funds are a great choice for rapid diversification because when you buy into an index fund, you purchase shares in every company in the index. That means instant diversification and insulation against shocks from any individual company. Here are some of the best index funds to try.

Diversify with Alternatives

Remember, there’s a whole wide world of investment options out there. In fact, you should be investing in more than just stocks and bonds—this helps hedge against market volatility.

Welcome to the wonderful world of alternative investments, which is basically any investment that isn’t a stock, bond, or cash. This can include anything from hedge funds to derivatives to peer-to-peer lending to high-end wine, but in general, alternative investments have a few features in common: they’re complex, they have low stock market correlation (meaning they can hold value independent of the stock market), and they’re relatively illiquid.

Our favorite alternative investment is fine art. Like other alternative investments, art holds value independently of the stock market, and has long been used by high-net-worth individuals as a value store. You make a profit off art like you would a stock—by holding it until it accumulates value and selling it after growth.

The trick is that art is most liquid at the highest rungs of the market—blue-chip art, I.e. multi-million-dollar art by heavyweight names with proven auction track records. Fortunately, you don’t need to drop your whole $50k to participate anymore. At Masterworks, we allow members to purchase shares in multi-million-dollar artwork and collect dividends when we make a sale, kind of like owning a stock.

Regardless of your preferred alternative investment, the key is achieving the right portfolio allocation. No matter how open you are to risk, alternatives will never be the majority of your portfolio—you’ll need to allocate 10% to 20% of your portfolio to see a difference, but don’t go higher than that. This percentage will also shift as you age. A financial advisor can help you strike a good balance.

Masterworks is a fintech company democratizing the art market. Our investors are able to fractionally invest in $1mn+ works of art by some of the world's most famous and sought-after artists.