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Site Inspection: You and Your Rebate Checks

Scott Vogel

It's no secret that many Americans are ambivalent about the stimulus checks they're receiving from the government. (Ambivalent, that is, about how well the checks will jumpstart the American economy. Most are not ambivalent about receiving money in the mail.) But the situation is even more complicated for check recipients who want to spend their rebates on leisure travel. Some might want to go to California (GOOD FOR U.S. ECONOMY), others may well opt for that long-anticipated trip to Italy (BAD).

Or is it really that simple? We've been told often enough that we're supposed to spend the stimulus checks, not save them (VERY BAD), but the government's offered precious little guidance as to what sorts of purchases would stimulate the economy best. For a snapshot of where this confusion has led, you have only to visit a Web site called How I Spent My Stimulus. There, in the Travel & Vacation section, ordinary folks have posted pictures and messages from the trips they have taken (or are going to take) courtesy the U.S. Treasury.

Don't miss the photo of the guy in the bubble bath, partying the night away in Puerto Vallarta (title: "Stimulated the Mexican Economy"); or the postcard pic that Allison from Boston used to advertise her upcoming trip to Fiji; and especially Tiffany from Pittsburgh, whom we see posing in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. She writes:

We spent our check touring Italy! Since I was laid off in January, money has been tight, but luckily we were able to travel with some help from the government! Thanks U.S. government for giving us money to spend in another country!

Hmm.

To be fair, there are definitely a few photos of trips to Vegas and Disneyworld in the bunch, but on the whole, if this Web site is any indication, don't expect our economy to experience much, um, stimulation in the upcoming months.

What's going to happen when that stimulus check lands in your hot little hands? And what's your opinion of the travelers' decisions at How I Spent My Stimulus?

By Scott Vogel |  June 2, 2008; 10:17 AM ET  | Category:  Scott Vogel
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I know we're encouraged to spend the stimulus money, but isn't it indicative of our bigger problems that some people on the site mentioned they were unemployed and still spent the money traveling for fun? If I was unemployed, I would be using it to pay bills while I looked for a job. Some folks seemed to have a good balance - a short trip along with taking care of some more pressing expenses.

We're not doing anything we hadn't already planned on, but the extra money will mean we can either pay down the car loan faster or give our emergency fund a boost. It irks me, however, that we'd be better off (both personally and as a country) if we *hadn't* gotten the extra money but rather if the administration had better economic policies and no war to fund.

Posted by: E | June 2, 2008 11:27 AM

We are taking a vacation here in the US. We would have gone anyway, but the money is a nice bonus.

Posted by: RT | June 2, 2008 11:49 AM

So exotic - we're excited because it means we can put drywall up in our garage.

Because here in Wisconsin, it's really cold to have a garage that's only sheet-rocked where it touches the house. So we'll save money on our utilities...

Posted by: Chasmosaur | June 2, 2008 12:01 PM

After taxes were taken out, it wasn't much of a stimulous for me (single, no kids). Barely covered about 3/4 of my recent car repair. I was planning on using it to cover gas/tolls for a planned road trip to Long Island in August. I'm still going to LI, but with my savings instead!

Posted by: WDC 21113 | June 2, 2008 12:36 PM

Sigh. Apparently spouse and I make "too much money," so our "rebate" is a whopping $172! I think I'll go grocery shopping!

Posted by: Falls Church | June 2, 2008 1:12 PM

Funny! But I bet at least some of those international travelers gave their rebate checks to U.S. airlines. If that makes you feel better.

Posted by: h3 | June 2, 2008 2:09 PM

What check?

Hope you folks enjoy the tax dollars I paid that the government is redistributing.

Posted by: Rich | June 2, 2008 2:47 PM

Rich, sorry, you're wrong. My $600 came back from the taxes I paid, which were significantly more than $600. If you paid less than $600 in taxes, then you didn't get the full $600 back.

That said, I'm going to Seattle for a week. I found super cheap tickets, am staying with friends and am planning on doing mostly free things, so other than gas and the car rental, the stimulous check should cover most of it.

Posted by: Liz | June 2, 2008 2:51 PM

Im not unemployed but I am paying some of my bills.
So no, im not spending the money as I am 'supposed' to. Its my money, i'll spend it how I want to.

F Bush

Posted by: btoek | June 2, 2008 6:05 PM

How best to spend the money to stimulate the economy? Other than shopping for food and traveling domestically ( dining out, hotel stays and tipping) it is very hard to see where the economy would be stimulated. Very few goods are actually produced in the US anymore. Part of my money will go toward some needed goods. I need to get a new pair of shoes ( no car so I walk alot) and a couple of pants need to be replaced. The rest of the money will be spent during a trip to NYC and Vegas.

Posted by: rja112 | June 3, 2008 12:36 AM

btoek: Your comment: "Im not unemployed but I am paying some of my bills.
So no, im not spending the money as I am 'supposed' to. Its my money, i'll spend it how I want to.

F Bush"

Whether your 'supposed' to or not, you still spent it. It was the Republican Prez Bush who authorized the Stimulus check. Otherwise you, and the rest of us taxpayers, whether Republican or Democrates, would not have received the money.

How come the Democrates in Congress didn't authorize Stimulus checks?

F Democrats

Posted by: Anonymous | June 3, 2008 4:05 PM

No Check for Me.
In December 2007 I unexpectedly found myself awash with mutual fund capital gain distributions, pushing me over the limit.
I don't quarrel with anyone's right to spend or not spend money as they see fit, but this refund scheme seems poorly designed for it's stated purpose.

Posted by: LNB | June 5, 2008 5:34 PM

I didn't get a chance to spend my stimulus money, Uncle Sam just held on to mine and subtracted what I owe him. I became unemployed last year and had to collect unemployment. Since they don't take taxes out of unemployment monies I owed even more money. Why would they even tax unemployment compensatiion, isn't the fact that your out of work enough all ready???

Posted by: MR. B. | June 5, 2008 6:12 PM

We simply paid off debt that we owed. I guess you can say that we had pre-stimulated the economy.

Posted by: Billie | June 10, 2008 12:53 PM

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