“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest,” Benjamin Franklin pronounced grandly in one of his 275 most famous proverbs. Thanks loads, Ben! But in today’s topsy-turvy, thrill-a-minute financial markets, most people are desperate to gain something a bit more tangible from their invested dollar—namely, a few more dollars. Lots of them, in fact—in ever-multiplying increments.

For a generation, housing was considered the go-to source for a rock-solid return on investments. But the past decade held some rude awakenings for people who thought their nest eggs were safely invested in their home. 401(k)s? They also suffered a few gut punches. And the past few months have disturbed many who put their faith—and their cash—in the stock market.

So it led us to wonder: Where is the best place to park your cash?

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And that prompted another question: Just how much do you like to gamble?

Because there are investments and then there are investments. Hot on the heels of the housing crash came the rise of the flippers, making what looked like easy money out of cheap real estate and some design know-how. But, as one popular TV show notes, there are flips and there are flops. The corporate route? Well, If you’d plunked down $1,000 on Apple stock right after its 1980 IPO, it would be worth well over $350,000 today. An investment of a thousand clams in, one of the hottest Internet tickets of ’90s? You might just as well have fed it to the dogs.

And then, of course, there are the weird speculations—the odd collectibles that down the road can become gold … or garbage. Last year, a 1952 Mickey Mantle baseball card in mint condition sold for $528,500. But remember Beanie Babies? At least 60% of American households in the ’90s had one of these squishy, creepy “limited edition” plush toys, and for a time some were superhot commodities on eBay. Today, the forlorn survivors are worth about 50 cents apiece, according to Fortune.


So when it comes to investment, timing is key. We (sadly) can’t predict the future, but wedo have historical data to help you get a rough picture of a variety of options. How do home investments compare with, say, bitcoins? We tracked the one-year return and three-year annualized return of nine top investment choices using market indices (returns are through March 2016 unless otherwise noted) to see what have turned out to be the best bets. Let’s put on our speculator’s hats and take a gander, in reverse order of return:

1. Gold

3-year annualized return: -8.5%

1-year return: 3.5%

Gold has been mined, traded, chased, cherished, or stolen since antiquity. But in the U.S., it’s long been on a roller-coaster ride. And in the past few years, gold prices have been declining because of the stronger dollar and investors’ waning interest. Once among the most stable of assets, it’s no longer an essential—or even advised—part of most investment portfolios, says NerdWallet investing expert Arielle O’Shea. If you truly can’t resist the glitz and the bling, make it less than 10% of your holdings. And you probably want to buy it through gold exchange–traded funds, rather than having bullion at home.

2. Art

3-year annualized return: -8.2% (as of January 2016)

1-year return: -25.2%

After years of insanely surging prices in the fine art market—driven largely by hot-to-trotnouveau riche collectors, particularly from China—the hype seems to be cooling off. In 2015, Christie’s International, the world’s leading auction house, reported a 5% decline in annual sales, ending five straight years of growth, Bloomberg reported.

Even the greatest artists of the 20th century have seen their currency slip, as evidenced by the recent sluggish numbers from the Artprice Global Index. In February this year,Picasso’s 1935 oil painting “Tete de Femme” sold for $27.6 million, a far cry from the $39.9 million that the owner had paid a little over two years ago. Bad Pablo! An Henri Matisse drawing that was sold for $383,500 also incurred a nearly 20% loss to the seller.

3. Fine wine

3-year annualized return: -4.1% (as of February 2016)

1-year return: 0.7%

In November 2013, a mystery buyer (whom we’d seriously like to be friends with) paid a record $476,405 for a 12-bottle case of 1978 Romanée-Conti grand cru in Hong Kong. Investing in wine is hardly a new phenom, and despite such high-profile wins, the wine market also has its highs and lows of late. According to the Liv-ex Fine Wine index, which tracks the 100 most sought-after vintages, the market hit a peak in 2011, followed by four years of declines and one year of stabilization. As of February 2016, the index stood 0.7% higher than last year.

Some of the most in-demand investment wines are fine Bordeaux, grand cru Burgundy, as well as Napa cabernet sauvignon and tête de cuvée Champagne, according to Wine Folly. What’s the biggest difference between wine investment and others? In the worst-case scenario, you can drink it. Cheers!

4. U.S. Treasury bonds

3-year annualized return: 2.1%

1-year return: 3.0%

You want steady? U.S. Treasury bonds are considered supersafe investments, assuming the government doesn’t default on its debt. The three-year annualized return of U.S. Treasury bonds is about 2%, according to Barclays aggregate bond indices. No, they’re not exciting. But you likely won’t go broke, either. You want exciting, go see “Deadpool.”

“You are not going to get a high return from it, but at least you know the money is coming back,” says Ira Fateman, a financial adviser in San Francisco. “The pain of losing money is greater than the satisfaction of making money.”

But will your money always come back? Laura Varas, founder of Hearts & Wallets, says an interest rate hike could cause the bonds to lose some value. Remember the ’90s bond crash? We do!

5. Stamps

3-year annualized return: 2.7% (as of December 2015)

1-year return: 2.0%

Nerd alert: In 2014, a British Guiana One-Cent Magenta postage stamp from 1856—the only one of its kind—sold for a record $9.5 million. According to Stanley Gibbons’ GB250 Rarities Index, the top traded 250 stamps have never fallen in value over the past two decades. During the stock market crash of 2008, the index actually gained 17.7%. Let the bullies at work call you names. Keep collecting those stamps!

6. Real estate

3-year annualized return: 6.8% (as of February 2016)

1-year return: 4.4%

A house is not just a home—it’s a crucial part of your wealth. (And, of course, your life.) Nationally, consumer households’ net equity in real estate, including principal residence and additional real estate, takes up 46% of their total investable assets, according to data from Hearts & Wallets.

The U.S. market is coming back strong after the housing bust, posting a 6.8% annual growth in median sale price of existing homes in the past three years, according to theNational Association of Realtors®. Real estate is once again an excellent hedge against inflation, should the dollar lose purchasing power, while renting is an inflation trap. You’ve heard about real estate tycoons, but not renter tycoons.Why do you think that is?

“Most buyers finance their purchase with a mortgage, which provides leverage on the real estate investment with tax advantages,” says Jonathan Smoke, our chief economist. “The mortgage also acts as a forced-savings vehicle, as each payment covers the interest and pays down principal. So collectively, home buyers build wealth over time and enjoy the utility of having shelter.”

7. Stocks

3-year annualized return: 11.8% (with dividends reinvested)

1-year return: 1.8%

We’re only one quarter in, but 2016 has already been one hell of a turbulent year for the stock market, taking many investors on a sometimes thrilling, sometimes nauseating Cyclone-like ride.

“Over time, your investment [in stock] will produce good returns, but you need to be in it for a long time frame,” O’Shea says. “If you’re going to panic when the market goes down, or if you need your money soon, it’s probably not a good investment for you.”

The key to success in the stock game is having a diversified portfolio, analysts say (over and over). And in today’s market, it’s way safer to invest in well-performing funds that allow you to have a basket of stocks, rather than investing in individual companies, Unless, of course, you truly believe that the Scandinavian Beard Waxing chain that just announced its IPO is the next Apple.

According to S&P 500 Total Return Index, the 10-year annualized return through March 2016 is 7.0%.

8. Classic cars

3-year annualized return: 23.6% (as of February 2016)

1-year return: 4.8%

Classic automobiles used to be solely a passion of wealthy collectors—now they’re a bona fide asset class. And ever since the market began moving beyond the province of rich-guy car geeks, including Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno, into the (relative)  mainstream, it’s been on a tear. But after years of rapid growth, price surges at the top of the market are finally hitting the brakes, according to the Hagerty “Blue Chip” Index, which tracks 25 of the hottest collectible automobiles of the postwar era. While scads of vintage cars tracked by the index have been relatively stable for years, one Ferrari model is the biggest outlier: The 1958 Ferrari 250 GT California LWB, now valued at  $12.3 million if in good condition, has seen 41% annual growth over the past three years. Seen one at any garage sales?

9. Bitcoin

3-year annualized return: 64.3%

1-year return: 69.6%

Created as a standard of digital currency in 2009 by an inventor who goes by the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto, the mysterious and controversial bitcoin has seen its value climb from nothing to hundreds of dollars per “coin” in just a few years. It may not have physical form, but it is recognized and used as currency. And like stocks, bitcoin has led its investors on quite a dance.

Much like a precious metal such as gold (although way less sparkly), bitcoins have a value that is subjective—it’s determined by how much people will pay on the open market. And that changes all the time. It’s been a speculator’s market right from the start. A Norwegian man bought $26 worth of bitcoin shortly after the currency debuted in 2009, totally forgot about it, and then unexpectedly found out in 2013 it was worth $886,000, the Guardian reported. The bitcoin market saw a crash later that year (2013) when China’s central bank warned financial institutions to steer clear of the digital cash. But then it went up again and it’s been a steady upward trajectory ever since. Although a series of heists have shaken people’s confidence in a currency they can’t actually put in their wallets, a bitcoin is still worth about $415 today, according tocoindesk BPI.

“If you have a little bit of playing money and you want to test out nontraditional investments, go for it. But also be prepared to lose money,” says O’Shea.

So just how lucky are you feeling these days, anyway?