What would you do for a million dollars? Well, a silly set of questions posed by Buzzfeed in 2018 found that 15% of respondents would live in a sewer for a month and 67% would scrounge through a rat-infested garbage bag for the money.

Fortunately, few of us will ever have to do such things. Some, in fact, will simply receive $1 million in a windfall. If you suddenly received a million dollars, what would you do with it? Here's a look at what many Americans said they'd do, along with some tips on how you might realistically amass $1 million -- without a windfall.

A young couple is very happy as dollar bills fall around them.

Image source: Getty Images.

The Schwab 2019 Modern Wealth Survey asked respondents what they'd do with $1 million, and here are the results.

21%: Save

About a fifth of those questioned said they'd save the money. That's an excellent thing to do -- especially if you don't already have a stocked emergency fund.

Most of us need to have such a fund, which would be full of three to six months' worth of living expenses -- if not a little more. A job loss can happen at any time, as can a costly health setback or even an expensive repair that's suddenly needed for your car or home. Be sure to have access to enough money to keep your roof over your head, food on your table, your taxes paid, the lights on, and so on.

You probably don't need to put the entire million dollars into an emergency fund, though. Putting much of it in investment accounts, such as those earmarked for retirement, is a top-notch idea, as well.

23%: Invest

About a quarter of survey respondents said they'd invest the money, which is one of the most powerful things you could do with it -- because the more money you have, the more you can grow. Here, for example, is the kind of table you might see that shows what you can amass over time socking away meaningful sums each year:

Growing at 8% for

$5,000 Invested Annually

$10,000 Invested Annually

$15,000 Invested Annually

10 years




15 years




20 years




25 years



$1.2 million

30 years


$1.2 million

$1.8 million

Source: Calculations by author.

That's great, but if you suddenly had a million dollars -- or even just half of it, see how it could grow over time:

Growing at 8% for

A one-time $500,000 investment

A one-time $1 million investment

10 years

$1.1 million

$2.2 million

15 years

$1.6 million

$3.2 million

20 years

$2.3 million

$4.7 million

25 years

$3.4 million

$6.8 million

30 years

$5.0 million

$10.1 million

Source: Calculations by author.

It's much easier to get really rich if you start out with a lot of money. Still, let the first table remind you of what you might accomplish without any windfall at all -- just some determination. It's hard to beat the stock market for building long-term wealth. (Hint: Using index funds is the simplest way to go about it and is perfect for most of us.)

28%: Pay down debt

More than a quarter of respondents said they'd use their million-dollar windfall to pay down debt, and with a million dollars, most people with debt should be able to pay off all of it. This is a very smart move and arguably the best use of your money if you're carrying any high-interest rate debt, such as that from credit cards.

Note, too, that you don't need a windfall to get out of debt, even if you owe many thousands of dollars. There are a bunch of effective strategies, such as earning more money, spending less, consolidating debts, targeting your highest-interest rate debts first, and using balance-transfer cards.

54%: Spend it -- on a house, car, or travel

Finally, more than half of the respondents said they'd spend the money -- on a home, a car, and/or travel. Those are great uses for a windfall, but only if you have:

  • No high-interest rate debt
  • An emergency fund with three to six months' worth of expenses
  • Retirement accounts on track to provide what you'll need in retirement
  • Sufficient assets to cover other important financial goals, such as college

A million dollars is a lot of money, so you may be able to use it to tackle a bunch of the above -- get out of debt, set up an emergency fund, invest a lot of it for your future, and then... perhaps make a down payment on a new home, buy a new car, and take a big trip!