Small Investments With Major Returns

The Wall Street Journal

There's no such thing as a hot stock tip right now, but these small investments could add thousands to your bottom line.

Everybody wants a hot tip. At this time of year the media's filled with forecasts and recommendations. Hope springs eternal.

Meh.

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History says few people ever beat the market consistently. And even those who do don't beat the market by much.

So what's the best you can expect? Wall Street's best year, as measured by the Dow Jones Industrial Average, was 1915. The index rocketed 82%. The second best year was 1933. It jumped 66%.

Any tip that comes close to that would have to be remarkable. Here are seven that will do better. Yes, they will produce a greater return on investment than Wall Street's greatest boom year.

And, unlike your typical investment tip, these returns are pretty much guaranteed. What's more, you won't have to call your broker to make any of these moves:

  • Buy a bread maker. You can buy one for $55. If it saves you just $4 a week on store-bought bread, that's $208 a year. A 280% return.
  • Get a credit card with a great sign-up bonus. Like the AirTran Visa card. Cost: The $40 annual fee. After your first purchase you get enough reward miles for a free flight, saving maybe $250. Then cancel the card. Return: 525%.
  • Take out a local library card. Cost: Nothing. If it saves you $10 a month on books, that's $120 a year. Return: Infinite. Note: Some libraries now let you borrow electronic books over the Internet as well.
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  • Replace your premium cable package with a Netflix subscription and a $100 set-top box. You can download movies and TV programs as well getting DVDs through the mail. Cost: $100 for the cheapest set-top box, plus $17 a month for a three-movie subscription. If it replaces a $50-a-month cable package, that's a 98% return on investment.
  • Order a packet of seeds and plant them in a window box or garden. Growing your own herbs, spices, and even vegetables – depending on the amount of space you have – is a great investment. If you spent just $10 on seeds and saved a mere $50 in the year, that's a 400% ROI.
  • Switch to a prepaid cellphone. Cost: $20 for the phone, and maybe $100 a year for minutes. Move the rest of your talk-time to free Internet calls, and stop hemorrhaging $60 a month on a cellular plan. ROI: 500%
  • Start making your own coffee to take to work each morning. Cost: $20 for a Thermos, $10 for a filter and papers, and $60 a year for ground coffee. Then skip the $4 a day drive-thru. If that saves you $1,000 a year, the return is more than 1,000 %.

Write to Brett Arends at brett.arends@wsj.com

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