Years ago I used to get no-fee, 0%-interest convenience checks from credit card companies. I cashed them for the maximum allowed and deposited this free money in an online high-yield savings account that paid 4.5% interest.
Interest rates have fallen, but, as explained previously this kind of credit card arbitrage is still possible. And it’s just one example of many unusual investments you can make.
Maybe you have a taste for uncommon investing strategies. I know I do.
In fact, I have personal experience with six of the dozen investments detailed below. And I might try one or two of the others now that I’ve researched them for this post.
Besides being more interesting than traditional options, uncommon and unusual investments often offer higher returns, or at least the possibility of higher returns. So if you’re interested in how to invest in wood furniture, prize-linked savings accounts, and ten other uncommon assets, keep reading…
1. Comic Books
TheStreet.com recently reported that rare comic books, as an investment, were doing better than gold or the stock market. They say, “Every time a comic book movie makes hundreds of million of dollars, a comic-book owner’s collection gets a little more valuable.” That hints at a great investing strategy.
Start with a look at movies in production (or even movies in pre-production), and find one based on a comic book. Then go shopping for the earliest issues of that comic. Buy one or more and wait for the movie makers to ramp up marketing efforts as the film’s release date gets closer. With luck, the value of your investments will rise, especially if the movie is a hit.
Check a comic book price guide to make sure you don’t overpay. You can sell on auction sites like MyComicShop.com or eBay. You can also bring your investments to local comic shops for faster sales, but they probably won’t offer you the best price.
Until you know the ins and outs of how to sell comic books, keep your investments small. Often, if the first issue of a comic is pricy, you can invest a lot less in a later issue. Work your way through the relevant titles and issue numbers until you find ones that fit your investment budget, and also let you diversify a bit (don’t put everything into one comic book).
Finally, search your closets, basement, and attic. You might discover that you already have some of these uncommon investments.
2. Wood Furniture
My wife and I used to go to rummage sales and buy quality wood furniture. When we moved we discovered we could sell our purchases for a profit, even years later.
I had read the book The Millionaire Next Door, and I remembered the authors mentioning that many millionaires bought used furniture for their homes. Specifically, they invested in antiques that held their value or even went up in value. We did something similar on a smaller scale.
For example, we bought an oak coffee table for $20 and, after a couple years of using it, we put it in a consignment shop, where it sold for $80. Our share was 60%, or $48 — not a bad return on a $20 table. We had similar profits on a bookcase and a vanity desk.
Other items went in our own rummage sales, or were sold via Craigslist. For example, the bar stool we bought for $1 sold for $8 at a rummage sale, and a junk-picked kitchen table sold for $50 on Craigslist in one day.
To make investments like these work you need to buy low. If you see similar bookcases selling for $40 to $50 at rummage sales and on Craigslist, you need to buy one for less than half of that.
We stuck with solid wood furniture because it’s easier to sell and maintains its value over the years. That means you can furnish your home and invest at the same time.
3. Personal Loans
I’ve made a lot of personal loans over the years, and always at a decent interest rate. I figure that even family and friends should pay interest, since you miss out on what you would have made investing the money elsewhere.
You’ll have your own rules/criteria, but for me I want the borrower to have a good purpose for the money (I wouldn’t loan anyone money to go gambling, for example). And a reasonable repayment plan should include payment amounts and frequency, but also an understanding of where the money to repay the loan will come from.
With more questionable borrowers I’ve held collateral, like a lien on a car title one time, and a TV in the case of a small loan. But there are many people I feel I can trust without collateral. I like to make a small loan first before trusting a borrower with more, and I always make it clear that I never loan again to anyone who doesn’t pay on time.
How much interest should you charge, and what should you put in the loan agreement? There are some good articles on the legal aspects of personal loans on RocketLawyer.com, but I wouldn’t loan money for less than 6% annually, and I want closer to 6% monthly on small, short-term loans.
4. Virtual Items in Games
You may remember the story of Ailin Graef, a former school teacher who, more than a decade ago, became the first virtual millionaire by investing in properties in the game Second Life. The “Linden Dollars” she earned by developing and then renting or selling virtual real estate, are converted into US dollars at a floating exchange rate.
It’s arguably more difficult to get rich investing in virtual real estate now, but trading items in video games is a $50 billion industry. A virtual outfit (yes, clothing) can sell for hundreds of dollars in some games, and a virtual planet sold for a record-breaking $6 million. G2G.com has a list of games where players invest heavily in-game items.
You can just buy things and hope for an increase in value, but that’s speculation, not investing. Two safer strategies are to buy items that have been rising in value, or buy properties with rental potential.
For an example of the latter, consider a virtual store, It generates revenue even when you’re offline, and that “gold” or in-game currency you make can be exchanged for real-world money.
Some games have a rule against sales involving real money, but they may have little control over such transactions. In fact, there are a number of platforms like GameFlip.com for selling in-game items.
5. Used Car Flips
I drive a 2015 Hyundai, but I don’t even know what model it is. The point is that I hardly know anything about cars, but I’ve still made money flipping them.
I always partnered with someone who does know about cars. I put up the money to buy used cars that were sold for a profit, which we split. If you handle the buying and selling yourself you get to keep it all, but that’s more like a business than an investment.
The key is for you or your partner to have a clear idea of what a car can sell for, and pay at least $1,000 less than that. You get that low price by buying a car from a desperate seller, or buying one that needs cleaning or minor mechanical work, or just doing a lot of shopping.
Each state has its own laws about when you need a dealer’s license. Michigan law, for example, says if you buy and sell more than four cars annually you need a license. In that case, you and a partner could title four cars in each of your names, for a total of eight per year, without needing a license.
6. Billboard Properties
When you think of real estate investing, billboards probably don’t come to mind. But these may be some of the highest-return investments around, and you don’t have to deal with renting them to advertisers.
Billboard property investor Frank Rolfe says you can expect to make a 20% return investing in and operating a billboard. Or, if you find the right location, you can invest a small amount in a ground lease and permit, and then sell that lease and permit to large billboard company for anywhere from $5,000 to $100,000.
7. Cemetery Plots
There is relatively little information on how to invest in cemetery plots, but the potential for good returns is there. NPR reports that Hugh Hefner paid a private owner $75,000 for the burial vault next to that of Marilyn Monroe, and the Guardian reports that cemetery plots in England are “the new safe investment.”
Be sure you have a desirable location where plots are likely to be in short supply. Ask the cemetery operator about any fees to hold onto the plot (you might wait years for the right buyer), and what expenses you’ll have when selling.
8. Commission Advance Loans
If you know and trust any real estate agents, consider making commission advance loans. For example, if an agent needs money now, and has a $6,000 commission coming when a deal closes in 45 days, you might loan $3,000 and collect it all at closing, along with the loan fee or interest.
How much can you make? Ecommision.com, which makes these loans, charges a fee of $430 on a $3,000 advance (the agent pays a total of $3,430 at closing). That’s a pretty good return.
Ecommission.com says, “On average, 90% of single family residential sales close as expected.” Be sure that you have a plan for sales that don’t close. This can include partial payments over time or a claim against any future commissions. And put all it in writing, of course.
9. Cuba’s Future
Investopedia explains that it isn’t legal to invest directly in Cuba, but there is a way to bet on a Cuban comeback. It’s the Herzfeld Caribbean Basin Fund, (CUBA) which “is comprised of about 60 securities of non-Cuban companies that have exposure to growth in Cuba.”
The price of this closed-end fund as of this writing is $7.04, so 100 shares will run you a bit over $700 with a commission. It’s price over the last five years has been as low as $5.48 and as high as $11.75.
10. Domain Names
I once bought a domain name for $100 and sold it a few months later for $700 (www1040.com — note the lack of a dot after “www”), but bigger investors have bigger stories to tell. Succeed.com has a list of 123 domain names that have sold for over $1 million.
Investopedia explains the basics of how to make money with domain names, but there are many strategies. For example, you can buy names related to movies that aren’t yet made, hoping they increase in value when the movie is released. Buying people’s names is another strategy. Sadly, I let StevenGillman.com expire before realizing there are at least 30 other Steven Gillmans in the US who might have paid something for it.
You can also invest in domain names that get consistent traffic, and have them forwarded to a domain parking website to generate income (they give you a share of advertising revenue). Some of these names can make a decent return even if they never sell.
11. Hard Money Loans
“Hard Money” loans are short-term loans (usually less than a year) to real estate investors who need a fast closing and/or can’t get the necessary funding from a bank. For example, I used to loan money at 10% annual interest to a house flipper, who typically repaid the loans in three or four months.
PrivateMoneyLendingGuide.com has information on how to become a hard money lender. Using a lawyer is a good start (and less expensive than you might think). I would never loan without a first mortgage on the property, nor loan more than 70% of the ARV, or “after repair value,” which is your best guess of what the property will sell for when done.
12. Prize-Linked Savings Accounts
Instead of offering higher interest rates, some banks and credit unions randomly award cash prizes to holders of savings accounts. The Motley Fool says there are currently 20 states that allow these types of accounts.
SaveToWin.com has a search feature you can use to locate a credit union near you that has prize-linked accounts. Prizes range from $25 to $5,000 and are awarded monthly and quarterly if you meet the relatively simple criteria (like depositing at least $25 each month).
The odds of winning are low, making this a bad investment for large amounts of money. On the other hand, the chance to win thousands of dollars makes these accounts a good investment for an emergency fund or any money that might otherwise be in a zero-interest checking account.
If you know of some unusual investments to add to this list, please share them with us below… and keep on frugaling!