From paying with a credit card to buying a Vespa, how did we spend our stimulus money?


CLEVELAND, Ohio – A backyard fireplace. Braces. An oven. A computer.

Like many Americans, readers say they spent their last federal stimulus checks quite wisely – paying off debts and increasing their savings, donating to charity, investing in their health, and improving their homes.

The American rescue plan includes the most important payments of the three stimulus bills, giving up to $ 1,400 per person, plus an additional $ 1,400 per eligible child. And unlike previous stimulus payments, which many households used primarily for daily expenses like food and shelter, economists say it’s given Americans more cushion.

“It’s almost like found money,” said Jonathan Ernest, assistant professor of economics at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University. “They have waited so long to undertake these activities. You feel like it’s a one-off shock. You don’t feel quite the same responsibility to put that money aside for a rainy day. “

Consumer spending has increased about 7.5% since January, said William Hauk, a professor at the University of South Carolina, who has studied stimulus payments with his business classes.

“People were just home for most of a year,” Hauk said. “Now that things are opening up, they feel free to go out and spend.”

So what did we spend it on?

I ordered three stained glass windows from a local artist and booked a trip to Ohiopyle, PA for July. asked readers via our text messaging service how they spent their stimulus checks.

The answers were varied.

Some have paid off their debts, whether it was credit cards, college loans or mortgages. Some put it in their bank accounts to spend on daily bills or save for the future. Some donated to food banks and others to struggling nonprofits. Some gave it to family members in need. Some have paid for health procedures, like dental crowns. Some have hired local contractors to renovate their kitchens, consolidate their porches or install a new shower.

They bought new tires, a much needed washing machine, a dishwasher, a treadmill to keep their families in good shape. A few have invested in new cars and a red Vespa. One traveled to California to see family members separated since the start of the pandemic. We’re saving for a wedding.

“It helped pay for things we would have bought anyway and helped our savings,” one reader said.

Of the more than 130 responses we received, no one said they booked a trip to Hawaii or had a big pandemic end party.

While spending is undoubtedly on the rise at crowded restaurants and tourist destinations, Hauk said the money probably wasn’t coming directly from stimulus checks. Dining out and vacations are mostly the result of pent-up demand and money saved over the past 15 months, when people have largely stayed at home.

the Brooking Institute predicts that by the end of this year the economy will be boosted “above its maximum sustainable level”.

Federal unemployment benefits, the additional $ 300 a week in unemployment benefits that will end in Ohio this month, play a bigger role in personal spending than the three stimulus checks, according to the the conservative Peter G. Peterson foundation.

Stimulus payments have reached about 85 percent of U.S. households, according to the foundation. He analyzed census data to conclude that nearly three-quarters of American households planned to spend the initial stimulus payments of $ 1,200 last year mostly on regular expenses. The second and third payments were more likely saved or allocated to debt.

Either way, savings can lead to expenses in the future.

“Even if you save a lot of your stimulus… if your financial situation is a bit more stable, you might feel better about going out and spending in the future,” Hauk said. “You will likely see demand stay quite high for a while. “

Laura Johnston is cleveland.comcontent director of, who occasionally writes about navigating modern life with children.


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