Most Americans are going to get a small influx of money in the next 60 days, due to two separate events. First, the 1.9 trillion dollar COVID-19 bill that is 90% about bailing out Democrat-supporting regions of the country will include some sort of stimulus checks, likely the $1400 per individual. Also, most people are filing their taxes between now and April, and most Americans will get some sort of refund on their taxes.
The thing is, most of this money gets spent without thinking about future consequences. The local used car dealerships always run “sales” this time of year that mention tax returns, and I’m seeing “stimulus check” sales advertisements popping up now. Yet we’re not going into happy times anytime soon. If you watch the stock market and references by the Fed that indicate inflation is going to come roaring back should give us pause.
If you’re not one to care about the Fed, then look more locally. Wood prices at Lowes and Home Depot are well double what they were a year ago, between the boom in home building due to low interest rates and COVID-19 shutting down the lumber mills for a time. Gas is more expensive now. I’ve had more Amazon packages getting delivered late than ever before. Stores are still running out of basic items, and while this is infrequent now, remember that is essentially never happened in the past.
All this indicates we’re in for a bumpy ride for at least two years, if not four. I’m not going to get caught unprepared for this, and you shouldn’t either. I suggest you prioritize spending this way:
- Debt. Get rid of any debt you can. Car almost paid off? Pay it off now. Credit card debts? Pay them off or work a forgiveness plan, an especially good idea now since card companies are also taking advantage of low interest rates.
I would also refinance your house if you haven’t done so. Most people can’t simply pay off their mortgage, but you can make a principle payment to pay it off earlier, and shifting to bi-weekly payments (if your company allows you to) will cut years off the back end.
- Build up supplies. COVID-19 taught us that everything from toilet paper to sweet potatoes will be in short supply. It’s going to happen again. Rather than fight lines at a store, build up a 1-3 month supply of basics that don’t really ever go bad: bottled water, paper products, disposable eating utensils, soap and cleaning supplies. You should also keep about 2 weeks of meals in reserve. I have things like spaghetti and frozen foods that can keep for a long time just hanging out. They occasionally save me when dinner decides to catch on fire, and when the stores were swamped in the initial stages of pandemic, this food let me stretch our groceries further.
- Fix what you can. Americans are pretty handy people, but we also can be lazy. Plenty of homes and vehicles have little things that need repair. Get those done now. Don’t wait forever on car maintenance. The pandemic backed our local dealership up by a month for appointments. Same goes for home maintenance, even if you do it yourself, you may not get the supplies when people buy out the stores.
- Set your investing on automatic. Unless you’re smart on the stock market, you’re best off making long term investments on mutual funds. Whatever your investing strategy, put it on automatic through automatic funds transfers and investments. Too many people get scared when the market comes down and sell, which is the worst time to do that. Putting it on cruise control helps you take advantage of the down market over time.
- Build up your local network. This may not cost much money, but its critical. Do you know your neighbors? Do you know a local electrician, plumber, car mechanic and veterinarian? Remember how even routine house calls for minor issues became a major problem in the pandemic? You avoid this by knowing local people. Now is the time to get to know them and be on good terms, so when you need their help in a pinch, you can get it.
Don’t throw your stimulus to the wind! Set yourself up now to get through the trying times ahead.
This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.