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President Joe Biden’s massive $1.9 trillion stimulus package has just been signed into law, providing much-needed financial relief for many Americans. Two of the most notable provisions include extending unemployment benefits and disbursing a third round of direct payments (also known as stimulus checks). For many, these stimulus payments are more of a lifeline than a windfall, as the pandemic has decimated the incomes and livelihoods of millions of Americans.
But, with the new legislation, a family of four could qualify for the largest amount of aid yet, receiving as much as $5,600 in stimulus payments. While it may not be a long-term solution, it can help ease the burden on cash-strapped households.
This round of checks will phase out completely at lower income levels than the previous two rounds of stimulus checks to better target low-income households, but some high-earning households will still qualify for some aid.
If you’re not in dire financial straits, you may wonder what’s the best way to use this windfall. Here are 50 ideas to help make the most of your stimulus check.
1. Pay your bills. Paying down a credit card balance or getting current on overdue bills can feel tremendously relieving. If the amount in the next check isn’t enough to cover your most pressing needs in the short-term, reach out to your landlord, mortgage company and/or utility companies to work out a possible pause or delay of your payments.
2. Start an emergency fund. There’s never a bad day to build up a stash of savings. Aim for at least three to six months of living expenses in an emergency fund to help tide you over in case of any unexpected expenses.
3. Pay down your mortgage principal. Every little bit you put toward the principal part of your loan can help reduce the amount of interest you pay over time and may even help you pay off your loan early.
4. Save for retirement. No one ever says they wish they saved less for retirement. Because your stimulus payment won’t be taxed, putting it in a Roth IRA makes it triple tax-free: You’ve never paid taxes on it, it grows tax-free and you can withdraw it tax-free.
5. Purchase school supplies. With the expenses of retrofitting for social distancing and extra sanitizing measures, schools are more cash-strapped than ever. Whether your kids are attending class online, in-person or some combination of the two, you could use your stimulus money to invest in school supplies or a laptop.
6. Tune up your vehicle. If your car has been mostly sitting in the garage because your activities are limited or you’re no longer commuting to work, it might need a refresh at the mechanic to operate at its best. Know that routine maintenance is not covered under a car repair insurance policy.
7. Remodel a room. Tired of looking at the same four walls? Use part of your stimulus check to create a home office. Buy a comfortable place to sit, painting supplies, a new can of paint and some fresh artwork to create a space you’ll enjoy.
8. Feed others. Consider giving all or a portion of your check to a local or state food bank, or other charities. A site like Charity Navigator is a great resource for checking out your charity of choice to make sure it’s legit.
9. Do some home improvement. Spending more time at home means more wear-and-tear on your house. Replace an aging appliance, handle that repair you’ve been putting off or invest in an upgrade that makes you feel better about nesting at home. Bonus: In a red-hot real estate market, these upgrades to your home can make it more valuable if you decide to sell.
10. Stock your pantry. If your income has decreased, consider taking your extra cash to a warehouse club or discount grocery and stocking up on non-perishable items to help stretch your dollar further at mealtime.
11. Donate to a youth center. Kids need socialization and with schools still shut down throughout the country, a place like the Boys & Girls Club of America or similar can be a haven from isolation and provide much-needed mentorship during a stressful time.
12. Rethink your outdoor space. CDC guidelines still recommend social distancing as much as possible, particularly if you’re unvaccinated. Sales on outdoor furniture and accessories can yield affordable finds. For those in colder climates, an outdoor space heater or firepit can make being outside more appealing when the weather is brisk.
13. Add to a college savings fund. Use the money to start or shore up an existing college savings plan like a 529 plan, or if your state offers it, a prepaid tuition plan.
14. Make wishes come true. The Make-A-Wish Foundation helps fulfill the dreams of terminally ill children. Here’s what the non-profit can do with a portion of your stimulus check: For $50, your money can purchase a photo book that will preserve happy memories from a child’s wish; for $200, you can buy a sparkly saddle blanket and all the necessary unicorn accessories; for $500, you can provide a limo so a wish family can have a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
15. Snag a travel deal. Now could be a great time to get a rock-bottom price on a future trip to see family, visit friends or just plan to see something different than your own home. Many airlines and hotels are still offering generous cancellation and rescheduling terms too. With the CDC lifting some of the restrictions on travel for those who are fully vaccinated, you might be able to venture out of your bubble a bit. Be sure to purchase travel insurance in case your plans—or the rules—change.
16. Soothe your soul. Consider adding some items into your life that can help you find peace in these uncertain times. A mindfulness app like Calm or Headspace or a yoga video subscription can help you find balance in your day.
17. Stage a concert. Spice up at-home entertainment with equipment that takes it to the next level. Try a karaoke set to sing along with your favorites, a microphone to record the results and your cell phone camera to record it, all TikTok-style. If performing isn’t your thing, look into watching one of the pay-per-view streaming concerts popping up from the comfort of your couch.
18. Add to your mortgage escrow. It might not be as much fun as planning a future trip or treating yourself, but making practical money moves feel a lot better than coming up short at property tax time. Give your future self a break by setting aside your stimulus funds to bolster your escrow account. This account allows you to accumulate funds so that when your property tax and insurance bills are due—which can run into thousands of dollars a year—you aren’t shocked with a huge expense.
19. Shop local. Don’t just go online to Amazon. If you feel safe, patronize your neighborhood businesses. Most retailers can use all the customers they can get right now and will probably welcome your in-person appearance. But if that’s not the right choice for you, many local businesses have created or beefed up their online presence, allowing you to support them from home.
20. Give your wallet a gift. Set yourself up for a future treat by paying a bill in advance, like your Spotify or Netflix account or even put a credit on your utility bill. It’ll be a nice surprise later when you don’t have a balance due for that month.
21. Support your favorite restaurant. Dining establishments, cafes and bars are still struggling. Order takeout if you don’t feel safe dining in person. You can also help your favorite spot by buying gift cards for future meals or contributing to the restaurant’s GoFundMe if they have one established to help their employees.
22. Invest in your future self. Use a portion of your stimulus check to improve your professional skills. Try an online training or certification class to learn a new skill or master one you’ve been working on.
23. Improve someone’s time at home. Do a good deed for someone close to your heart who should be sheltering at home as much as possible due to their age or another high-risk factor. Ease the sting on their wallet by treating them to a grocery delivery service subscription or a streaming entertainment platform to help pass the time.
24. Plan a splurge. It’s OK to do something nice for yourself. If keeping your eyes on some future post-Covid-19 prize helps keep you sane, then it’s a valuable option.
26. Donate PPE to a local school. Teachers and students may not be able to afford or source enough protective equipment to keep them safe.
27. Examine your mental health needs. The past year has taken a toll on everyone. If you’ve struggled with loss–whether it’s related to losing a loved one, a job or simply the loss of “regular” life–it may make sense to seek professional help. Or, if you’re fortunate enough to already have the support you need, consider donating to an organization that provides free or low-cost counseling services to those who cannot afford it.
28. Buy discounted gift cards for travel. Even if you don’t have any future travel on the horizon, you can still save money now by buying discounted gift cards for use in the future. You can also look for discounted gift cards on gift card reseller sites.
29. Plant some flowers. Anyone willing to roll up their sleeves can probably tackle some major yard improvements. But those flowers aren’t going to plant themselves. You can improve your immediate surroundings by visiting a local home improvement store or garden center and use your stimulus funds to get the tools and the foliage you need to spruce up your outdoor aesthetic.
30. Invest in an underserved community. Several platforms, like Kiva and Kickstarter, help raise funds for various entrepreneurial efforts. There are dozens of campaigns that are seeking support, and many rely on these sites as their primary source of funding.
31. Open a savings account for your child. It’s never too early to learn good financial habits, and teaching your child how a savings account works and about banks, in general, is a great life lesson.
32. Support your local bookseller/record store/thrift shop. Spending a few dollars at a place that may not be set up for online sales and might rely solely on foot traffic can help support your community and keep that business alive. Consider buying a gift card if you don’t see anything that catches your eye right away.
33. Support the arts. Some regional and national theater companies are offering streamed performances for a fee. Broadway Direct has a list of some of the biggest acts and WatchStage, a streaming service, offers an array of programming from well-known productions to original series. Or make a donation to the ActorsFund, which supports out-of-work entertainers sidelined by the pandemic.
34. Pay your estimated taxes. If you’re self-employed, send it to Uncle Sam toward your 2021 estimated taxes, which are so easy to underestimate or accidentally skip. It’s simple to pay your estimated taxes online.
35. Plan a date night. You can wait for a time when dining out doesn’t feel like a gamble or you can bring the feast to your house. Treat it like a special occasion, take out the china and order an upscale feast you’d never cook for yourself. Bonus points if you take yourself to a movie on the couch afterward.
36. Gift your hairstylist. You may not see them as much as you used to, so consider purchasing a gift card from your hairstylist and then tuck it away, without redeeming, as a gift to them during the disruption in their business.
37. Gift your facialist/nail technician/trainer, etc. If you’re someone who had a regular rotation of people that helped you look and feel your best, know that your generosity and acknowledgment that business hasn’t been the same is sure to be appreciated.
38. Tip extra. The next time you order food to eat at home, make sure you tip if you haven’t been doing so already. And if you have, consider tipping a few dollars extra. A little kindness on your part can go a long way.
39. Create thank-you packages. Buy stationery and write thank-you notes with inspirational messages to distribute to hospital staff, health care workers, Covid-19 testers and vaccine administrators who may be feeling overwhelmed by the pandemic.
40. Gift your local first responders. You can call your local hospital, firehouse or police station and ask if you can deliver or have a meal sent to the staff.
41. Meet with a financial planner. Use the money for the fee portion of meeting with a fiduciary financial planner, who will charge you flat fees for their services and aren’t allowed to collect commissions from products they sell you.
42. Pay your insurance premiums. It might not be the most exciting use of your money, but some of your biggest policies, like life insurance, homeowners insurance and auto insurance may offer you a significant discount if you pay it upfront.
43. Advance purchase clothing for your kids. If you’re a parent, you know your kids grow out of their clothes almost as fast as you can buy them. Stock up now on sale items in a few sizes bigger than what your kids currently wear. Jeans, tees and other staples will still be in style next year and beyond and you can save yourself a frantic trip to the store because something no longer fits.
44. Sign up for a cooking class. We’ve all been spending more time in the kitchen than usual. Improve on your chef skills and sign up for online cooking classes to make your made-at-home meals even more appealing.
45. Spruce up your workspace. With more people working from home than ever before, it’s time to invest in your workplace workspace and make sure your computer is in tip-top shape and that you have a comfortable place to sit and take Zoom calls. Buy a new laptop, spring for a standing desk, or whatever it takes to make you feel like you can be at your most productive.
46. Help others weather the storm. Managing through a pandemic is hard, managing through a pandemic and a deadly winter storm is nearly impossible. The start of 2021 unleashed ice and snow across much of the U.S. and brought blackouts and destructive weather that hammered much of the Southeast. You can donate money directly to an organization that provides food, shelter and other necessities to those who have been displaced by the storm, or buy the items yourself and donate them to an organization that’s distributing supplies.
47. Sponsor or adopt a pet. Maybe you’re not ready to make a commitment to a furry friend. You can still support the efforts of volunteers who rely on donations to care for lost and rescued animals until they find a forever home. The adoption fee for a new cat or dog is typically up to a few hundred dollars. Pay it forward and cover that fee for a stranger.
48. Celebrate your community. Want to create massive amounts of goodwill and community bonding with your neighbors? Treat everyone to a visit from an ice cream truck or other type of food truck and you’ll be the hero of the block. Just make sure everyone stays six feet apart.
49. Donate to your school’s alumni fund. With many colleges and universities likely to see steep declines in enrollment due to a reduction in both international students and on-campus matriculation, it’s also likely that some scholarship or endowment funds could be affected. Help keep your beloved alma mater afloat with a donation.
50. Help vulnerable populations. You can support refugees, people with disabilities, children and older people with donations to groups that provide direct assistance to those affected by Covid-19. Humanity and Inclusion is one such group, along with Doctors Without Borders, the American Red Cross and many more.