Burning a hole in our pockets

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 3, 2008

You ever find five bucks in your jeans pocket on wash day and knew neither its origin, or what to do with it?

This so-called government stimulus check that is coming to most Americans — starting today for some — is much like that: We’re not really sure where it comes from and don’t really care that much, but we struggle with what to do with it.

Apparently, flim-flam artists out there have a few ideas (they must have an incredible marketing department, by the way, because they’re never at a loss for coming up with ideas for new self-improving revenue streams). National retailers, naturally, are gunning for their slice of the pie.

Even this newspaper is rallying the troops, hoping that people spend their newfound booty in this area, which makes a lot of sense.

But not everyone lives in this area, and some of those people have their own ideas how to unload the windfall.

According to Gerri Willis, who writes a column for the CNN.com, there are at least three areas in which to look:

n Retailing. Among the many ideas is that retailers are offering gift cards worth 10 percent more than their face value if bought in huge increments, say, $300 or $600, which is, ironically, the amount of the some of the government checks. Now, a cynic must suggest that some gift cards go unused (none in my back pocket, mind you) so I’m guessing retailers think there’s a no-obligation, big-profit deal to be had.

– Your own stimulus plan. A lot of folks out there think this is all about “found money.” So, you may be compelled to go out and spend it, but the most responsible thing you can do is to shore up your own finances. She suggests putting the money toward paying off high credit card balances.

– (Here’s one I hadn’t thought of): Shore up your job. During a recession, your job security is Issue No. 1. So, think about taking some of your rebate check money to upgrade your skills.

First, browse all the Help Wanted ads in your field and see what new skills or experience is required.

Then, look into programs at your local community college or check out some online learning programs.

Well, that could keep the money at home, eh?

Gerri has some good ideas, I think.

It must be made clear that I’m a long run from being a finance guy, so I’m still unsure about the benefit of this check. Will this check actually help stimulate the economy, or is it some perverse plan to saddle the next president with an incredible national debt, making the 2012 election difficult to win?

Sometimes, this stimulus payment sounds suspiciously like wearing a “WIN” (Whip Inflation Now) button that was proposed in 1974, although those buttons did not cost hundreds of dollars. Those buttons were the brainchild of President Gerald Ford, the most recent president never to have been elected to that office.

But in the meantime, I’ve heard of a few ideas for spending the money.

Knocking down credit card bills is a favorite.

Putting the money into a large-ticket household item is another.

I wouldn’t mind getting the check in time to get my car tuned enough so as to not completely pollute both the Blackwater and Nottoway rivers before Independence Day.

I’m sure drivers of low-mileage vehicles are looking at the 150 gallons of gasoline that comes with a $600 check.

One friend is thinking about upgrading the bathroom by modernizing the bathtub.

Another friend, who is not Catholic, developed a case of the guilts and might ask family members to pony up their checks to buy their mother a more suitable headstone for her cemetery plot.

There are lots of choices out there.

Paul McFarlane is the Editor of The Tidewater News. His e-mail is paul.mcfarlane@tidewaternews.com.