There’s no shortage of financial gurus out there who will remind you — repeatedly — that you need to invest for the future. Letting your savings grow and compound over the years is one of the only ways you can get your nest egg to the size necessary for a comfortable retirement. However, once many people begin the actual process of investing, they might discover that the sort of low-risk, static approach to investing that’s best for your retirement fund is really, really boring.
So, while really boring is exactly what you want for the vast majority of your investments, it can also be a good idea to set aside some portion of your portfolio as “fun money.” After all, all something needs to have to be “investable” is a value that changes over time. Whether you’re talking about Beanie Babies or an apartment building in Wichita, Kansas, if you can earn income and/or potentially sell for a profit later, it’s an investment. And if you’re really turned off by the dull stock and bond investments, putting a small slice of your portfolio into something you really enjoy keeping track of can be a good idea. Even if you have some losses, investing 1% of your money in something that really interests you might be worth it if the end result is that you’re more engaged with what’s happening to the other 99%.
So, here are a lot of really fascinating investments that you most likely didn’t realize were an option — and that you might have a lot more fun with.
The ETF is a fund that compiles precisely the right balance of stocks or other assets to match the returns of a certain index or other economic markers. And that can mean some ETFs get very specific in order to give investors a chance to make very specific bets about which parts of the economy will perform well.
And one great example of this is the Global X Social Media ETF (SOCL). It tracks the Solactive Social Media Index that is made up of the largest social media companies available on the market.
One very simple way to get into the advertising game in a very scalable, manageable way is by purchasing billboards. And before you scoff at the idea of such an old form of communication being worthy of investment in the digital age, think again: Outdoor advertising raked in nearly $40 billion just last year. The typical billboard can rent out for anywhere from $250 to $15,000 a month. Just be very careful and study the local market before investing in anything as a billboard could just as easily end up being a money pit if you choose the wrong one.
You likely have to be fairly knowledgeable about computers before this will make a lot of sense. Prebuilt crypto mining rigs cost a great deal, so it’s much easier to turn a profit by building your own system. However, once you have your setup in place, your computer can run continually, gradually compiling more and more tiny fractions of cryptocurrency that you can eventually trade for money.
Just be very careful. You need to ensure that the cryptocurrency you mine will still be worth enough to at least cover the increase in your electricity bill. That seems like it should be easy, but with the ever-shifting sands of cryptocurrency markets, you could get caught out-mining at one price before having to sell at a much lower one.
Your Own Stock
Options are, for the most part, only the realm of big-time stock traders who actually understand how to use them. However, while many options strategies are as risky as they are complicated, there’s at least one that any basic investor can use to make extra money from stock they already own: The covered call. If you’re a retirement investor sticking to a strict “buy and hold” approach, selling options contracts — contracts that give someone a chance to buy or sell a stock at a certain price within a set window of time — can give you a chance to make money off of speculators without taking any major risks yourself.
In practice, it works like this: You might own a few hundred shares of stock in a company trading at $10, so you sell an option to someone that gives them a right to buy 100 shares from you at $15 a share at some point in the next three months. In every scenario where the stock doesn’t hit $15, you pocket the cost of the contract and your portfolio is otherwise unaffected. Granted, if the stock goes to $20, you’ll still have to sell at $15 — that’s what the other investor is betting on. However, any investment strategy where the worst-case scenario is selling for a big gain that’s not AS big as it could be is one with very little downside.
Granted, the process of snapping up domain names and then selling them to businesses or people that really need them isn’t nearly as lucrative as it was in the early days of the internet. You can no longer simply claim a host of domains and wait until someone needs one. Most domains are probably already owned, and the sort of corporations and celebrities you might actually get a decent payday from are now in the habit of buying up domains they might need.
However, you can absolutely still get lucky if you happen to own the domain name that matches the name selected for a big new project launch from a major company. So, while it’s a lot harder to find good opportunities to turn a profit, there is still a potential for making money by speculating on domain names.
Other People’s Failure
Anyone who read (or watched) “The Big Short” is probably aware that you can make investments that perform better when someone else’s investment goes bad. In stock trading parlance, if you own shares you’re “long” that stock, but if you’re betting that they fall, you’re “short.” And while some like to villainize the “shorts” for their pessimism, they can play an important role in reigning in the wild optimism that can take hold of stock markets.
A basic “naked” short is an extremely risky proposition where your losses are potentially unlimited, but for a safer way to short a stock, options are a good, ahem, option. You buy a “put” option — i.e., one that gives you the right to sell a stock at a certain price — then you wait until the stock’s price falls below the “strike price” in the contract, buy the stock on the open market and then use the option to immediately sell the stock at the higher “strike price” for a nifty little profit. And if you’re wrong and shares rise, hold steady or just don’t drop enough, you’re only out the price of the contract.
And for the ETF investor, there are a number of “inverse” ETFs that produce the mirror opposite of an index’s performance. So, if you think a recession is imminent, you can buy shares of an inverse S&P 500 ETF that will gain value as the rest of the market plunges.
Anyone who’s spent much time living in a major city knows just how valuable parking can be. The right space might be worth thousands of dollars a year to some people, and that makes investing in parking spots a real option. You can acquire them simply for an additional income stream in your portfolio, or you might be interested in speculating on which spots are about to become more valuable and try to flip them for a profit. A 2017 New York Times article profiled one Houston woman who paid $37,000 each for three parking spots, for which she now collects about $700 a month apiece without the hassle of managing an apartment building.
Buying a salon might seem like a really bizarre choice for someone with no experience cutting hair, but it’s not if you understand how freelance stylists operate. Maintaining their own list of clients, many people working at a salon are simply looking for a chair that they can rent. This allows them to stay in business without having to deal with the cost and hassle of owning an actual storefront, and they can be willing to pay you for handling the logistics or even work out a commission-based plan with you.
One solution for reducing greenhouse gases is what’s known as the “cap and trade system.” This essentially sets a limit on how much pollution is produced in a given year and then auctions off the right to pollute up to that cap. Not only does this set a hard cap on carbon emissions, but it creates a marketplace for ways to reduce pollution and for the credits that allow a company to pollute. So, if you’re an enterprising investor, buying up some of those pollution rights could mean later selling them off to an oil company or trucking firm that needs them to do business. As of March 2019, a metric ton of carbon pollution sold for $15.10, though it might be a challenge to find buyers as there are only so many companies in need of them.
The Local Team
Anyone who follows hockey or baseball knows that the NHL and MLB are just the tips of the iceberg. Those professional teams also have a number of minor league teams spread across the country developing their stars of the future — most MLB teams have at least four or five minor league affiliates. And that’s not including the great-many sports teams that are in various independent or semi-pro leagues. All told, that means you have an abundance of opportunities for sports ownership once you look past the highest level. If you have the money — less than the 10-figure price tag for a top-level club, but still pricey — turning around attendance for a flagging minor-league team could prove very lucrative.
The right stock photography can be pretty valuable. After all, someone is getting paid for the rights to pictures like, well, the one right above this. And if you own the rights to a picture that ends up in use a lot, you can turn a nifty profit. Or, you can try to cut out some of the overhead by simply taking your own stock photography and selling it.
So, this is clearly not quite the market it used to be, but there’s still a dollar value you can attach to a taxi medallion. As such, you can buy and sell them, either trying to speculate on prices rising or gathering income by renting them out. Who knows, given the uncertainty surrounding the regulation of ride-sharing apps, you might even be lucky enough to be holding taxi medallions when a city bans Uber or Lyft from its streets — likely netting you a pretty nice profit. But don’t hold your breath. While you can invest in taxi medallions, many of the people who did so in recent years are currently regretting their decision.
Used Golf Balls
In the event that your yard is just a bit too close to the local driving range, you might actually be sitting on a stream of income. Or, you could just be a middle man, practicing golf-ball arbitrage by purchasing balls on the cheap from ball hunters and then selling them to driving ranges or golf courses at a premium. Given the price of new golf balls, there should always be an abundance of businesses and golfers interested in finding a source for cheap balls.
One of the wilder indices out there is the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), better known as the “fear index.” The VIX measures market volatility by tracking the options being sold at the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE) for the S&P 500 index for the next month — essentially showing when traders are anticipating (or seeing) big swings in the market. And while that should, in theory, mean the VIX rises when markets are swinging up or down, in practice, it generally just jumps when markets are falling. So, if you see a lot of chaos in the market in the near future, investing in a VIX ETF could be a good idea.
Yourself (as an Investor)
If you’re a really great investor, maybe reading this for a few extra ideas, you might consider starting your own fund. Granted, there are some regulatory hoops you need to jump through, but once you’re official, you can start investing other people’s money for them and charge them a fee for doing so. Now, you do need to show real results to keep your clients, but your fund could just be limited to close friends and extended family if you want to keep it at a manageable scale.
The Rest of the World
America is not the only country with a stock market. In fact, most countries have one, meaning you can absolutely try investing in stocks from foreign lands. What’s more, because emerging economies are often growing at more than twice the rate of developed nations, their stocks can have the potential to produce larger gains than their American counterparts. Granted, it also comes with a lot more risk, including having to gauge the success of a company operating in an entirely different country, but devoting at least some portion of your portfolio to “emerging market” stocks is something many financial advisors preach.
What’s more, if you have no idea which country — let alone which company — to consider for an investment, you can rely on one of the many emerging market ETFs that offer a diverse basket of stocks from a variety of different emerging economies.
You might have noticed a trend: There seems to be an ETF out there for almost anything. And that is largely true. Whatever economic trend you might see in your crystal ball, there’s probably an ETF out there tracking it. Like, for instance, the Obesity ETF (SLIM) that tracks Solactive’s Obesity Index. The stocks in the index consist of healthcare companies developing treatments for obesity across the globe, meaning you’ll benefit financially from investing in companies that are helping people lose weight.
Few things can prove as lucrative in today’s economy as predicting what millennials will like next. After all, Facebook went from not existing 20 years ago to being a company worth more than $550 billion on the open market. But you could go bonkers trying to find specific stocks to take advantage of the power wielded by this generation’s tastes.
Fortunately, you can simply rely on the Global X Millennial ETF (MILN), which tracks the Indxx Millennials Thematic Index. The index focuses on stocks that are focused on marketing and selling products to millennials.
Whatever Is Trending
Understanding cultural trends has gotten infinitely more precise since the dawn of social media. Things that might otherwise have required years of polling to provide information can now be spotted in fractions of a second by keeping an eye on Twitter, Snapchat and Facebook, et al. The good news for investors is it’s easier than ever to spot trends that are likely to ripple out into the stock markets.
And one great way to try and capitalize on social media trends is the Sprott Buzz Social Media Insights ETF. The fund tracks the Buzz Social Media Index that identifies the 75 large American companies that are currently getting the most positive mentions on social media sites and invests in them.
Our Future Robot Overlords
It’s no secret that a lot of people are starting to invest with artificial intelligence. Robo-advisors that use algorithms to manage money can execute trades instantaneously and at a fraction of the costs associated with funds managed by people. And if you buy into the AI Powered ETF (AIEQ), you’re getting a robo-advisor powered by IBM’s Watson Artificial Intelligence. Yes, that’s right. If you’re so inclined, you can let the computer that beat Ken Jennings manage some of your money.
The iShares MSCI Kokusai ETF (TOK) is one of the strangest investments you can make. At first blush, it certainly doesn’t sound that way. The ETF is built to give investors a broad range of large and midsized companies from developed nations across the world — EXCEPT Japan. And while that might feel really mean to Japan, if you’re looking for a way to make a broad bet on the success of the global economy but specifically exclude them, this would have to be the ETF for you.
2 or 3 Times Something
While the wild gyrations of the stock market do a lot to scare a lot of people away from investing, for others it’s simply not enough. Some investors are hungry for action, and they’re ready to accept much bigger losses for a shot at much bigger gains. For them, the leveraged ETF is a great tool.
Leveraged ETFs — which will often signify that they’re leveraged by putting “Ultra” or “Ultra Short” in their name — will track an index but double or triple its returns or losses. So, if a good year for the S&P 500 nets your typical ETF investor a 15% gain, that same investor could have made 45% with the Ultra S&P 500 ETF. Of course, if the market drops 15% they’re out 45%, but that’s the risk you take with leveraged ETFs.
A Better Future
You can change up your investing in fundamental ways without necessarily relying on collectibles or other instruments you barely understand. Sometimes investing in the same stocks and bonds with a different perspective can make a big difference. And in that case, there’s a wide variety of funds that are committed to investing in companies that are dedicated to being good corporate citizens. It goes by many different names — “impact investing,” “sustainable investing,” “ESG investing” — but the principle tends to be the same.
You can even probably find funds focused on a specific issue that matters to you. You can find a fund that focuses on the most environmentally friendly companies or that focuses on good corporate governance. Either way, you can use investing for your future as a great way to invest in everyone’s future.
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About the Author
Joel Anderson is a business and finance writer with over a decade of experience writing about the wide world of finance. Based in Los Angeles, he specializes in writing about the financial markets, stocks, macroeconomic concepts and focuses on helping make complex financial concepts digestible for the retail investor.