In 2008, millions of people received checks or direct deposits from the government in an effort to stimulate the economy. The extra cash certainly helped many families and individuals, who, like the banks that received TARP funds later in the year, cushioned their bank accounts and paid off debt. Some used the found money to contribute directly to the economy, but not enough people purchased products and services to prevent the global economy from collapsing. It’s usually argued that one of the strongest aspects of distributing checks of this type to the public is to boost confidence in both the market and those in power.
The economy is now worse than it was when the 2008 economic stimulus payments were sent out. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was recently created to continue the attempts to boost the economy. This time, however, there will be no stimulus checks. Instead there is a new tax credit, the “Making Work Pay” credit, which will allow employees to keep more of the money they receive in each paycheck.
Starting in April, employers will adjust withholding automatically for qualified workers. This will result in $44 additional take-home pay after taxes for individuals, and $89 additional for those who selected “married” on the W-4 employee withholding form. Economists believe this small increase in pay will stimulate the economy more effectively than the equivalent lump sum payment of $400 ($800 for married couples). A lump sum payment is more likely to be saved, used to pay off debt, or spent all in the same place, while a little extra in each paycheck will help families incorporate the money into regular spending, like dining out in restaurants or buying groceries. This helps taxpayers circulate the money in the community rather than hoarding it in a bank account.
But lump sum payments are often better for the individual, even if they don’t stimulate the broader economy as effectively. So here are eight ways you can create your own stimulus check by turning the small weekly or biweekly increase into a larger benefit or by finding other income or savings that can be effectively used to boost your finances.
1. Save the Making Work Pay credit. If you receive a paycheck biweekly, you will be taking home $20 or $39 extra each time. Set up direct deposit to automatically transfer that amount into a high-yield savings account like FNBO Direct. With the interest you earn, by the end of the year you’ll have more than the $400 (single) or $800 (married).
2. Work extra hours. If your boss allows you (mine doesn’t) and if you get paid extra for doing so (I wouldn’t), spend an extra hour a day in the office. Assuming a salary of $40,000 or $20 per hour, and a benefit of time-and-a-half for working beyond 40 hours a week, you could earn an extra $7,500 by working one extra hour a day for one year.
3. Turn your hobby into a business. If you like creating and assembling furniture, building computers, knitting, or making jewelery, consider getting serious about selling your products. These could be things you don’t need to make yourself, as well. A coworker of mine recently started hosting jewelery parties, where she enlists her friends to host their own jewelery parties. I believe it’s some kind of multilevel marketing scheme, but it works for her. With this kind of side job, she doesn’t have to make her own jewelery; she just receives a percentage of what is sold as well as free jewelery.
4. Become a tutor. You can leverage your knowledge by offering to share it with others, perhaps middle school or high school students, for a fee. You only need a few students a week to earn a couple hundred dollars a month. Science and mathematics are always in demand, but you can do well if you have skill with musical instruments, test taking, or a foreign languages.
5. Get your bar tending license. A former coworker found that my company wasn’t providing her with enough income, so she started working in a friendly neighborhood bar on the weekend and one day during the week. With tips, she was able to earn several hundred dollars a night.
6. Sell your stuff. You must have unnecessary items around the house. eBay and the Amazon.com Marketplace come in handy here. Thanks to the websites’ reach, you can find buyers for almost everything. Old books, DVDs, electronics equipment, and games are all items you may no longer want but might be in demand.
7. Cut back your spending. Yes, this is typical financial advice you can find anywhere, good for any economic condition. But if you’re financially struggling right now, it’s time to take this idea seriously. I don’t have to tell you many of the easy ways to quickly reduce your spending, such as reducing your ECRD Factor, cutting back your cable bill, switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs, and reducing your energy consumption.
8. Request your cash back rewards. It’s getting much more difficult to take advantage of credit card offers. Credit card companies are dropping rewards programs, raising interest rates, and lowering credit limits. But if you do use a cash back credit card, claim your rewards. I request a check about once a year for a few hundred dollars from one card, while the business card automatically credits my account once a year. These payments provide me with a “stimulus” that I don’t take into account until I realize it’s time to receive the reward.
What else can you do to find extra money to stimulate your own personal economy?
Updated August 3, 2010 and originally published February 26, 2009. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.