Part I of a 2-part series
What would you buy with $500?
Whether the money comes via a Christmas bonus, a tax refund, a gift or just an extra paycheck from one of those wonderful five-Friday months (such as January 2015), the idea of spending a small windfall can lead to paralyzing indecision. Especially when you’ve been completely focused on other people’s gifts.
Assume that that you don’t have to slap that windfall down on post-holiday debt. What would you buy that would last, be unforgettable, pay intangible dividends long into the future? Here are a few of our ideas.
Anniversary getaway with great meals
Given that the premise here thoughtfully bars me from having to do anything altruistic with the $500, I would take my wife for a night at the St. Julien Hotelin Boulder on a winter weekend and book a room facing the Flatirons. In a just universe, snow will be sifting down in fat flakes.
The St. Julien is a lovely boutique hotel at 900 Walnut St. Because it’s a swank kind of place, you don’t even have to mess around finding a parking space. That’s what the valet is paid to do.
While the hotel boasts a lovely restaurant — Jill’s Restaurant, to be specific — come evening we would hit the bricks and walk down to Oak at Fourteenth at 1400 Pearl St. Granted, we would be dodging sundry trustafarians and drum circles along the way, but I would be secure in knowing restaurant co-owners Steve Redzikowski and Bryan Dayton would have a great meal awaiting. With any luck, perhaps Dayton himself would be behind the bar, concocting one of his signature craft cocktails.
Then back to the hotel to luxuriate on a bed with Italian linens, all this without a couple of cats yowling at the door for entry. Away, you beasts — for one night, at least.
The next morning: breakfast across the street at Brasserie Ten Ten. Yes, their biscuits and gravy are excellent, but I would order the soft egg scramble with smoked salmon and mascarpone cheese. A cup of coffee, too, which always arrives in a French press, even if you’re dining solo.
I could always steal a bite of biscuit off my wife’s plate. After all, I just sprung for a $500 soiree in the Gateway to Nederland. — William Porter
Fabulous fitness reboot
When a last minute refinance put an extra $500 in my pocket I decided I wanted to invest it in me. My workout routine had become, well … routine. My diet had gravitated towards sandwiches and frozen food.
Enter Shawn Austin. She works as a personal trainer at the Colorado Athletic Club where I’m a member. She has a background in nutrition, is in charge of the club’s yoga program and she’s a long distance runner. Exactly what I wanted.
Austin asked me a lot of questions about my lifestyle, current training schedule and goals. She did a body comp analysis, followed by a strength and flexibility test, then asked me to keep a detailed and honest food and activity log for a week.
Using this information Shawn makes nutritional recommendations—no more packaged or overly processed food—sends me recipes and guides me through some innovative (and challenging) personalized workouts. Because of an autumn deal, I was able to book 12 sessions with Austin for my $500 (I did have to be a member to score this price). We meet about twice a week to talk about food and train.
A month later I’m five pounds lighter and my body fat has decreased by 2 percent. I’m running faster, I feel stronger and leaner than I have in a long time. I’m making healthier choices in my diet and I’m learning new workout and nutrition skills that will last me lifetime. The bottom line? Money well spent. — Dean Krakel
Jaunt for four to Mesa Verde
Give me $500 and a four-day weekend, and I know exactly what I’d do — go on a Colorado adventure, destination Mesa Verde National Park.
Home to 600 ancient cliff dwellings, Mesa Verde is one of the most stunning and unexplored parks in the U.S., according to Country magazine, and right here in the southwest corner of our state.
Just $15 gets a carload in the front entrance, with the admission valid for seven days. From there, it’s four miles to Morefield Campground. Morefield hosts more than 250 campsites, open seasonally from May-October, and $120 would cover the cost of three nights of tent camping for four people (because you should always bring friends when adventuring).
The main attraction, obviously, is the cliff dwellings, built by the ancestral Pueblo people who made this landscape home 1,400 years ago. For $32, four people can take two of the most popular ranger-led tours — Cliff Palace and Balcony House — which, by the way, is the only way to access most of the dwellings and archeological sites. You could also swap out one of those 60-minute tours for a 90-minute tour of Long House.
Unplugging from city life, chatting around a campfire, soaking up some starlight, hiking and reading a good book in a camp chair (or hammock, if you’re really lucky) — all those things come free, or at least no more than the cost of some local firewood.
The remaining money would be plenty to cover the gas to and from Denver and some quality camping eats and drinks. You might even have enough left over to buy everyone a refrigerator magnet to commemorate the trip — not that anyone would need a reminder. — Emilie Rusch
Doing good for yourself, others
Honestly, if I had $500, I’d conscientiously apply it to my college freshman’s ever-mounting tuition bill. But let’s say this is a magic $500 whose goal is to make the world — or someone’s world — a little better. Here’s how I’d divvy it up.
Sponsor someone for the Center for Digital Storytelling‘s one-day Snapshot Workshop. I took the three-day CDS workshop a few years ago, and the lessons of storytelling, focus and vision changed my life. Cost: $200, and it’s a bargain.
A dual membership at the Denver Art Museum. (Actually, I’m already a DAM member, which is fun to say.) So this would be another giveaway, but with strings attached: The recipient must agree to attend Untitled on the final Friday of each month. It’s three hours of make-and-take, lectures and surprises, and it’s easily is one of Colorado’s most consistently innovative, energizing events. Cost: $75.
A monthly donation to Warm Cookies of the Revolution, Evan Weissman‘s ambitious civic activism project. In 2015, the Warm Cookies crew is reaching out to underserved neighborhoods with its unique mix of goofiness and genuine social change. Cost: $125, slightly more than the suggested minimum of $10 per month. It comes with awesome swag, including two tickets to a Buntport Theater production and a free scoop of delicious Sweet Action ice cream.
The remaining $100 goes to the scholarship fund for the nonprofit Global Livingston Institute, to help one of its College Track students go on an international exchange trip to east Africa. But the student has to promise not to sing “I Am Africa” from “The Book of Mormon,” the musical. — Claire Martin
Furry new family member
In 2005, I got my dog a present: Another dog.
Cassie, a 45-pound terrier-heeler mix, became a devoted wrasslin’ buddy to 85-pound Bo the Alaskan husky until he died. Now she’s a spry 13-year-old and seems to want a new canine sibling, one who won’t knock her around, but might put more life in her years.
Granted, $500 is just the down payment on what a dog will cost over its lifetime. It doesn’t cover the new fence pickets and vacuum that I really need to buy, new dog or no new dog. But it will likely take care of $200 to $300 in adoption fees from a breed rescue organization, (there’s a list of them at allbreedrescuenetwork.com) spay or neuter costs, a secondhand crate and some obedience training.
Adopting from breed rescue groups is a great way to go because the dogs are often in foster homes, where they’re observed interacting with other pets and humans. Age, special needs and medical status are usually known. There are great pets waiting for you at shelters, too — that’s where I found Cassie.
Some spending decisions should be all about math and returns on investment. But at least some should be about love and leaps of faith. — Susan Clotfelter