Frankly, I didn’t think this was even going to be an issue.
Happy not to qualify
I made more than $75,000 last year. (Hopefully, this doesn’t come as a shock. I’ve tried to be at least semi-transparent about my high salary.) So I thought I wouldn’t have to worry about it. (I’ll get to why I say “worry” later.)
Unfortunately, it turns out I misread the information. Not only does the bill use adjusted gross income, it simply prorates the amount you get based on how much more than $75,000 your AGI was.
So… Apparently, I’m getting $1,185.
And let me be very clear: This actually frustrates me to no end. Because I do not deserve it.
I’m the wrong demographic
This money is supposed to go to people who need it. Who are out of work — either unemployed or furloughed — because coronavirus concerns have shut down so many stores and other businesses.
I’ll admit that COVID-19 has caused a shakeup in my company’s industry, but I’m pretty sure things will go back to normal within six months.
Meanwhile, I have plenty in savings. I was actually a little startled when I did the calculations. Between my main savings account and emergency fund alone, I have about 10 months’ worth of expenses on an emergency budget. Add in my other savings accounts (car fund, vacation fund, etc.) and I have about what I’d need to survive at least a year if my job went away completely.
So I’m frankly a little annoyed that people like me are also getting the funds. I truly wish they’d had the time to set up a means test so that only the people who really needed the money would get it. If that had been the case, I think it’s possible that there would have been enough for a second monthly payment to those in need. Because, let’s face it, this lockdown isn’t (or at least shouldn’t) be going away any time soon.
But of course, there isn’t time to means test because people are hurting right now. They’re in danger of eviction or otherwise unable to cover their bills right now. So we’re left with this vastly imperfect solution.
The other purpose
Yes, yes, I know that some of you will say that the funds are also supposed to enable us to put money into our currently-flagging economy. But I’m skeptical that’ll work.
I’ve seen a number of frustrated tweets from people sick of seeing people crow about how their savings and emergency funds are just fine, so the stimulus is going directly into investments or an extra mortgage payment. So clearly a fair number of folks — at least in the personal finance blogosphere — are planning on holding onto the money.
Meanwhile, a lot of people are struggling to cover basic bills. Which means they’re not going to be out on the town (or, given the lockdown, on their computers) spending freely.
Luckily, I’ve seen tweets — mainly from the same Twitter users complaining about the other type of tweets — about how they’re planning on using the funds for good. And that inspired me to do the same.
Why this is hard
I said earlier that I was happy not having to worry about the stimulus check. That’s because I knew I’d have a tough choice to make if I got the funds. And I didn’t want the struggle, frankly.
See, I’m my mother’s daughter. My first — and very visceral — instinct is to bank the funds to keep myself safe. After all, there’s always the chance my job could go away, and it’s highly unlikely I’d find another work-from-home customer service job. Meanwhile, I think I’d suck as a virtual assistant, and making a living freelancing personal finance articles would be tough for me.
My other knee-jerk reaction is to put the funds into retirement. Given that I’m 41, I’m pretty behind on my savings compared to a lot of people — especially people in the personal finance blogging community. The check presents an opportunity to beef up my accounts. Which are, it should be noted, taking something of a beating at the moment.
So I have plenty of reasons and a very, very strong desire to help myself with these funds.
But that’s not the point of the money, is it?
Doing the right (for me) thing
So I’m going to overcome my anxiety, and I’m going to put the money where it most matters: the community and charities.
I’m going to get a $50 or $100 gift card from my favorite takeout place. I’d get one from my favorite pizza place too but a) I don’t need the encouragement to get more cinnamon sticks and b) it’s a very large chain, even if it is only a local one. And since it offers delivery, so I think it’ll do just fine during this time.
I’m going to purchase $100 to $200 worth of gift cards for massages. And I’m going to text the woman who performs some beauty services for me to see if I can prepay for a few appointments.
The rest is going to charities that will be hardest hit during this time. Feeding America, which works with foods banks around the country, will probably get the majority of the funds. Food banks are, I’m sure, getting stretched thin, especially now that kids are home for all three meals.
Unfortunately, I’m kind of stumped as to what other charities should get some funds. Maybe some pet shelters? Apparently, a lot of people bought into that stupid rumor about dogs carrying the coronavirus and dumped their dogs. (So much ugh.)
Anyway, feel free to throw out some charity suggestions in the comments below.
Everyone has a different path
Please understand that I’m not trying to judge how you spend your stimulus check. Obviously, everybody is going to use the funds a little differently.
If you and/or your spouse are out of work, definitely use the money to take care of your own finances. If your emergency fund is low or non-existent then by all means, bulk it up. If you’re fine financially but have severe anxiety surrounding finances in this uncertain time… Do what you gotta do to feel secure.
But to those of you doing at least okay financially, remember that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. A fair number of people on Twitter (those not bragging about plans to bulk up their investment accounts, anyway) plan to split the funds between savings and either local businesses or charities. I think that’s a great solution for anyone feel even remotely unsure about finances. Even one $25 gift card could help out a struggling local business, if enough of us buy them.
But I hope those of you who are financially comfortable — even if you feel the need to bank most of the money to feel safe — can see your way clear to putting at least some of the money where it’s “supposed” to go: local businesses, people you know who are hard hit by recent events and/or charities that will help folks struggling to pay bills/feed their families. Hell, even the large retail stores are suffering; so arguably it’s downright patriotic to go buy those boots you’ve been eyeing.
As someone with severe financial anxiety, I completely understand if you can’t do it — even if technically, you can afford to. Still, I hope enough of us (those of us who can swing it financially/emotionally, anyway) are able to put some stimulus money into the hands of people and businesses who need it. Even if it makes us feel a little nauseated (good, but yeah, a little nauseated) to see that money leave our accounts.
One non-check stimulus
Last week, my tenant emailed me to say that her job had notified her that employees were going to be furloughed for 40 hours in May. Potentially again in June. (And let’s face it, with the way things are going… It’ll happen again in June.)
She was concerned about rent and her car payment. I told her we’d work something out and to prioritize not losing her car. I should note that this wasn’t entirely selfless. Phoenix is a very difficult city to be carless in, and if her job got cut entirely, being carless could affect her ability to get another job, hurting her ability to pay rent. But mainly I just don’t want her losing her car.
Besides, a few weeks prior I’d thought a lot about what would happen if she got laid off or was otherwise affected by the pandemic’s economic impact. So I already pretty much had a plan. Which is why, the day after her text I wrote up a signed and dated letter that waived May’s rent.
Don’t worry: I kept a copy for my records, and the letter is very clear that the rent is waived only for May 2020 and future rent would be expected to be paid per the lease agreement.
Her immediate response (besides “Oh, thank you!”) was that the furlough had been cut down to 24 hours, so she could pay me something if I wanted. (Proof that she’s a tenant worth waiving the rent for.) I thought about it and was honestly tempted. But then I told her that we have no idea how long this is going to go on and she should keep the money for the future.
I got some applause on Twitter when I mentioned this, which is always nice. But I hope people remember that, like distributing the stimulus check money, this costs me nothing. Well, besides opportunity I guess.
I don’t depend on her rent to pay bills. Instead, I use it to pay extra principal on my mortgage. It won’t hurt me to make a slightly smaller (but still more than the minimum) mortgage payment for a month. Meanwhile, it gives my tenant a chance to build up a little financial padding, which she seems to desperately need.
So yeah… This gesture on my part isn’t all that impressive. Honestly, I should do more.
I know some conservative readers will disagree (and that’s their right), but I firmly believe that those of us who are financially well-positioned owe help to people who are struggling. Especially those of us for whom luck played a role. Obviously, we work diligently and make actual efforts to save, but a lot of people are lucky enough to have good health, were adept at skills that led to well-paying jobs or, in my case, a very generous boss.
My belief that we need to help others means that I still need to put some of my own money where my mouth is and use at least a little of my paychecks to help out. I’m going to work on that in the coming months.
What are your plans for your stimulus check?