A stock market winner

Question: My wife and I are in our mid 30s and we decided to take a gamble back in Jan 09 when everyone said the world was coming to an end. We took $20,000 out of our savings and plunged it into an established travel company we used to work for that was trading below its all time low (lower than after 9-11). Well the world did not end, and 9 months later we're sitting on a handsome sum of money thanks to a 4x growth in stock price. My question is what should we do with the money? Popular ideas are to slowly work the money into a Roth IRA or other investments, or to pay off our $120,000 7.2% 30 year mortgage (25 years remaining), which would free up $1200 in expense monthly.

I appreciate your help and love the program. Jonathan, Miami, FL

Answer: I love your story. We all know that being a contrarian investor is smart, but it isn't easy. As John Maynard Keynes famously wrote eight decades ago, "Worldly wisdom teaches it is better for reputation to fail conventionally than to succeed unconventionally."

What would I suggest doing with the money? You could always refinance your 7.2% mortgage with fixed rates to 5% these days. And then you could use the money to build up a broadly diversified portfolio. But, assuming you like your home and neighborhood, I'd lean toward taking advantage of your windfall to live debt free. Imagine, you're both in your mid-30s and from here on out you could live well off your income from work, add to your savings, and avoid borrowing. Being debt free at your age will give you a lot of financial flexibility and personal freedom down the road.

About the author

Chris Farrell is the economics editor of Marketplace Money.

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