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Stimulus Checks: To Spend, Save or Invest?

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May 20, 2008

Duluth, MN – Economic stimulus checks are showing up for hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans. Whether the payments actually stimulate the economy remains to be seen, but Minnesota financial planner Jody Anderson, with Lutheran Social Service, says they can be a big help to those who receive them, and she encourages families to think through their priorities before making spending decisions.

"If they're saddled with extreme debt, that may be where they want to put those stimulus checks. If they have past-due bills, like rent or car loans, that may be the place."

She says others who are not in debt may wish to invest the payment, or spend some of it - not all - for a night on the town. Anderson says every family has different needs for the checks, which range generally from $300 to $1200.

Anderson says families without immediate financial needs could use the checks to lower future expenses.

"With the cost of fuel right now, it might make sense to spend some money to bring your home into a state of more energy efficiency, so you're not spending so much for fuel oil or natural gas or electricity. Another way to save some money might be to pay down some secured debt: Make an extra mortgage payment, pre-pay your car loan."

Anderson says families facing a financial pinch have some good options on making their money go as far as possible.

"With the rising cost of energy, many people are going to have to take a look at what they can do to get their home ready, so they can spend less on those bills. Maybe make a repair to their car so it runs more efficiently. If they have delinquent bills, because late charges are becoming so exorbitant, it may make sense for them just to bring their debts out of delinquency, so what they're paying on them goes to principal."

Another idea: set up a "rainy day" fund with several months' income, to cover emergencies or unexpected expenses. Or, put a few more dollars into your retirement account.

Jim Wishner/Chris Thomas, Public News Service - MN