The Top 9 Ways Americans Are Spending Their Stimulus Money

Advertising Disclosure: When you buy something by clicking links on our site, we may earn a small commission, but it never affects the products or services we recommend.

Woman shopping for groceries in a mask and gloves
Hananeko_Studio /

Earlier this year, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress approved stimulus payments to citizens across the country through the CARES Act. It’s one of the many ways the government is attempting to help people during the coronavirus pandemic.

So, how did people spend their stimulus? The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics conducted a household survey to determine how recipients spent or planned to spend their stimulus money.

Respondents were allowed to choose more than one option for spending their stimulus check. Here are the most commonly cited ways Americans are using their stimulus money.

9. Savings or investment

A woman in a mask holds a piggy bank at a bank
Phoomrat /

The survey reports that about 16% of respondents used or will use their stimulus check for savings or investment.

Survey respondents with incomes of $100,000 to $149,999 were more likely than respondents of other income levels to say they put at least some of their money aside to save. Members of the silent generation — those born 1928-1945 — were much more likely than younger generations to say the same.

So, where are people investing amid the pandemic? One recent survey found stocks are most popular, as we detail in “Americans’ 6 Favorite Long-Term Investments in 2020.”

8. Clothing

A woman shops in a store that requires masks
Thanakorn.P /

Even though clothing sales have slowed dramatically in the time of the coronavirus, 17% of respondents still spent or will spend their stimulus checks on clothing.

However, this trend hasn’t been enough to help with clothing sales. Indeed, the Census Bureau reports sales at clothing shops were down 36.5% in the first seven months of the year compared to the same period in 2019.

For help saving money on apparel, check out “These 9 Dumb Clothes Shopping Mistakes Will Cost You.”

6. Mortgage (tie)

home costs exceeding savings
pogonici /

For those struggling to maintain their housing, the stimulus payment provided a way to help with the mortgage payment: 23% of respondents in the Bureau of Labor Statistics survey reported using or planning to use the stimulus money to keep up with the mortgage.

For some homeowners, however, refinancing their mortgage amid the pandemic might save more money in the long run than making an extra mortgage payment, especially as mortgage interest rates have been falling.

Stop by our Solutions Center to find the best rate on a mortgage refinance.

6. Vehicle payments (tie)

man driving a car
mimagephotography /

As with mortgage payments, 23% of respondents reported that they used or plan to use their stimulus check for vehicle payments.

If you’re struggling to make your own payments due to the pandemic, the Federal Trade Commission suggests contacting your lender to make arrangements, such as deferment. You might even be able to refinance your auto loan to make payments more manageable.

5. Paying down debt

Gay couple using a laptop
Fergus Coyle /

Twenty-five percent of respondents report using or planning to use their stimulus check to pay down debt. In fact, the Federal Reserve reports that total household debt decreased in the second quarter of 2020 — for the first time since 2014.

Creating a debt repayment plan can help you stay on track, and one way to improve your efforts is to take windfalls like the stimulus payment and put it toward your balances.

Or, if you need professional help for anything from credit card debt to student loan debt, you can find a reputable expert through the Money Talks News Solutions Center.

4. Rent

Couple on the balcony of their home
F8 studio /

Those with mortgages aren’t the only people using stimulus money to cover housing costs. In fact, 28% of respondents said their stimulus check went to or will be put toward paying rent.

However, renters who can’t make their payments as a result of the coronavirus pandemic have eviction protection through the end of the year, thanks to a recent order issued by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

3. Household supplies and personal care

Woman cleaning her kitchen sink
Dragana Gordic /

For those looking to get the household supplies and personal care items they needed, the stimulus money was a help. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics survey, 47% of participants used or plan to use their money for these costs.

Indeed, demand for household cleaners skyrocketed in the first couple of months of the pandemic, according to Nielsen. Demand for hand sanitizer spiked by 229.2% and aerosol disinfectants saw demand increase by 245.2%. Other household cleaners and supplies, like toilet paper, also saw large increases in demand as consumers rushed to stock up.

To learn about the best cleaners for your money in the age of COVID-19, check out “5 Household Disinfectants That Can Destroy the Coronavirus.”

2. Utilities and telecommunications

Man using a smartphone
fizkes /

One of the biggest uses for the stimulus money was for utility and telecommunications payments, with 50% of respondents saying that they spent or plan to spend at least some of their check on those costs.

Even with some of that stimulus money going toward utilities, though, concerns are mounting about looming shutoffs. In cities like Philadelphia, unpaid utility bills are on the rise as a result of the pandemic.

1. Food

Mother and child grocery shopping in masks
FamVeld /

For most people receiving a stimulus payment, food was one of the main things purchased: 66% of respondents said that they used or will use their check to buy food.

Even with this one-time stimulus payment, though, issues surrounding food insecurity persist. The nonprofit Feeding America reports that food banks in its network have seen, on average, a 50% increase in the number of people needing help during the pandemic. Between March and June, about 40% of those who visited food banks hadn’t used these services prior to the pandemic.

Get smarter with your money!

Want the best money-news and tips to help you make more and spend less? Then sign up for the free Money Talks Newsletter to receive daily updates of personal finance news and advice, delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for our free newsletter today.