The Economic Impact Payments (EIPs), or stimulus checks, offer a unique opportunity for consumers to reach their financial goals. With four-figure payments being delivered directly to taxpayers, it’s time for Americans to beef up their emergency funds, pay off high-interest debt or invest in the future. However, the widespread distribution of the checks has also spawned a number of ideas on how to spend the money, and not every idea will lead to long-term financial success. Here are a few ways not to spend the EIPs.
Empty the Shelves at The Local Supermarket
With the pandemic going on for more than a year, retail stores have had plenty of time to improve their distribution chains. Toilet paper, soap and disinfectant wipes are readily available, as are canned foods, bottled water and all other household supplies. Spending hundreds of dollars to stack packages of toilet paper to the garage ceiling is not a good use of EIPs.
Overlook Emergency Funds
One of the most important steps in establishing personal finances is creating an emergency fund. This type of fund should be in cash or an easily accessible bank account and should cover three to six months of expenses. An emergency fund provides peace of mind and helps consumers avoid high-interest loans after lay-offs. Using the EIPs to set up an emergency fund is a smart plan, especially for low-income Americans who may struggle to save even one or two months of expenses. Creating a new bank account isn’t as thrilling as buying new furniture or paying off a credit card, but an emergency fund is the foundation to a strong financial future.
Prioritize Interest-Free Debt
It’s tempting to use the EIP checks to tackle debt, but oftentimes bolstering an emergency fund is a better long-term move. Many financial institutions are offering payment forbearance or lower interest rates on outstanding loans. For example, federally backed student loans currently have a zero percent interest rate, so there’s no financial benefit to repaying those loans ahead of schedule.
Halt the Hustle
While some politicians have called for monthly checks for every American, so far, only three rounds of EIPs have been delivered. The checks have helped taxpayers stay afloat in difficult times, but they can’t replace regular income, especially as the pandemic continues to cause economic uncertainty. It’s okay to take a night or two off after receiving an EIP, but it would be a risky financial move to quit a job or side hustle and rely on more EIP checks being distributed.
Ignore Local Businesses
Small businesses are suffering from the impact of COVID-19. Even with the Paycheck Protection Program and other resources, many locally owned businesses have had to furlough staff, cut services and even consider closing permanently. Part of the purpose of the EIP checks is to help stimulate local economies, so consumers should set aside part of the funds for spending at local businesses instead of retail giants.
COVID-19 has had a tremendous toll on the world’s mental health. People are anxious about contracting the virus, being laid off at work and losing loved ones. Even worse, stress-reducing activities like traveling, socializing and exercising have been severely limited. While it would be unwise to spend an entire stimulus check on frivolous purchases, it would be equally short-sighted to not invest a little money into personal well-being. Households should budget around ten percent of EIP checks towards fun activities, whether that means getting food delivered, splurging on a new videogame or ordering something silly online.
Invest in the Stock Market
With GameStop dominating the news cycle as individual investors drive up the price of the company’s stock, it may be tempting to use stimulus money to buy individual stocks. However, the stock market generates just as many losers as winners. A smarter move would be investing in a tax-advantaged retirement fund, such as an IRA or 401k, and choosing mutual fund options. This lets consumers save on income taxes and avoid the riskiest aspects of stock market investing.
Very rarely will Americans receive thousands of dollars with no strings attached. This is particularly true for middle-class taxpayers who don’t benefit from the Earned Income Tax Credit. Because the stimulus checks provide such a large chunk of money all at once, it’s important to make wise decisions on how to spend or invest the funds.