Readers share their favorite payoffs.
A Student Loan
My son was in college and raising a family at the same time. I put $700 into his account every month for two years until he finished school. After four years, he had become so successful that he wrote me a check for twice the amount I had given him. I put the money into a college fund for his son.
House and Home
I used to buy furniture without thinking about how long it would last. As I've gotten older, I've learned that investing in quality pieces and antiques saves me money in the long run. They are classic and stand the test of time.
The most practical investment I've made was in a good chef's knife. Slicing vegetables is not a chore when you don't have to saw through them with a dull knife.
New York, New York
Now that I have a large upright freezer, I can buy foods in bulk, like bread, ice cream, fresh fruit, meat, poultry, and fish.
I love my family's hot tub. It provides the perfect atmosphere to relax, enjoy good conversation, and reconnect at the end of a long day.
I frequently buy new running shoes. They're as important to me as a retirement fund.
I bought a machine that shampoos my carpet. It's easy to use, I save money by not having to hire a professional service, and I no longer panic when I see my two-year-old son walking across the room with a cup of juice.
My husband and I never used our gym memberships, so we bought quality workout equipment for our home. It's always available, nobody changes the TV or radio station, and best of all, there are no mirrors.
Work and Education
Making Japanese lessons inspired me to live abroad. I became fluent in the language, made wonderful friends, immersed myself in a new culture, and gained the confidence to try new things.
When I decided to start a career in information technology, I bought an instructional book that cost $90. The information I got from it helped me land a job that paid $2,200 a month.
Lou Lou El Hajj
Finances and Assets
I bought a life-insurance policy when I was 24 years old. After several years, I was able to borrow against it to buy my first house, and once I paid myself back, I did the same to buy my second house. And through it all, my family has been protected.
Walnut Creek, California
I traded my sport-utility vehicle for a small, fuel-efficient car. I'll save up to $2,600 during the next five years on fuel and car insurance. On top of that, my new car cost $5,000 less than the SUV and gets around 50 miles to the gallon. I'll be rewarding myself with a king-size bed.
Instead of investing in the stock market, my husband and I buy two- and three-family homes and rent them out. This strategy has increased our monthly income and our net worth. If we sell the properties one at a time when we retire, the gains will be taxed in a lower bracket.
Clothes and Accessories
I spent an exorbitant sum on a designer handbag. It is beautiful, practical, and durable, it adds instant class to any outfit, and I even get better service while shopping.
I bought a $10 vintage black velvet coat from Goodwill that is in perfect condition. People always ask where I got it and are surprised to hear how little it cost.
Alice O. Alldredge
My husband bought a tuxedo for our wedding, which was held out of town, instead of renting one for the several days we would be away. He wore it again on New Year's Eve. The tuxedo has paid for itself―two lengthy rentals would have cost more than what we spent on it.
Secaucus, New Jersey
When I graduated from college 10 years ago, I bought a sewing machine. At the time, I suffered from severe buyer's remorse, but since then I have made curtains for every apartment and house that I've lived in, quilts for friends and their babies, and tons of new clothes (as well as repairs to the old ones).
In the summer of 1995, I paid $200 for a pair of hiking boots as a high school graduation gift to myself. To this day, they keep my feet warm and dry―especially now that I live in Alaska.
Travel and Leisure
As a parent, I am grateful for TiVo. My husband and I record the shows that we prefer our children watch, and then we fast-forward through commercials. We watch television when we have time instead of making time for it. And the bonus is that I can get my husband's attention while he's watching sports, because he can just pause the game.
Rye, New York
I travel up to 300 days a year, so a good suitcase is a necessity. Mine has several pockets that make it easy to stay organized. And it came with a lifetime guarantee, so I can replace it at no cost.
Keego Harbor, Michigan
About four years ago, my husband and I invested in a group that brought a minor-league baseball team to our city. The team is now an overwhelming success with an excellent record. The games have been well attended, we made new friends in the stands, and I feel proud to see families enjoying themselves.
Family and Friends
My husband and I set our hearts on having our wedding at a beautiful inn on the Hudson River, but we couldn't afford to book it. We're musicians, so we spent $900 on sound equipment and set out on what we called our Wedding Tour, playing acoustic sets at any venue that would hire us. We were able to pay for the inn six months after the tour, and in the 10 years that we've been married, we have exceeded every financial goal we've ever set for ourselves.
Wappingers Falls, New York
My young son's child care costs more than our budget allows, but the love and attention that he receives from his nanny is worth every penny. We consider her part of our family.