What will $600 stimulus pay for?

Let’s see what a $600 survival check will pay for, starting with essential expenses:

  1. Rent? Don’t even go there – Apartment Guide offers an average rent in the Atlanta market of $1,969 as being “affordable.” Mind you, this is allegedly an “average” rent for for a single-bedroom apartment (no doubt factoring in $3k+ for some Midtown locations).
    See the article here: https://www.apartmentguide.com/blog/atlanta-neighborhoods-most-least-expensive-rent/
  2. Finding housing? Probably. This one goes hand-in-hand with rent costs due to a high volume of families seeking more affordable housing, and, with application fees ranging from $25 to $50 (to as much as $200 per resident in the household), a single search for housing can result in $600 being reduced to nothing in no time flat. In spite of this high volume of applicants, landlords are now having to be picky due to the rate of tenants falling behind on rents, due to the economic fallout from COVID-19.

    Application fee rates are cited by RentPrep’s data. The application fee is designed to compensate for the time and costs of a background check and is also to trim down applicants to only those who are applying to a limited number of landlords.
    See more here: https://rentprep.com/tenant-screening-news/the-landlord-guide-to-charging-rental-application-fees/
  3. Food? Not for a family with two children, unless they’re under three years old, according to Mint’s budget calculator. With teenagers, the cost rises significantly. And this is with spend-level setting on food stamps program recommendations for budgeting for food.
    See the calculator here, then tweak the settings and wonder why eating out 21 times a week for one person lowers the budget amount to zero: https://mint.intuit.com/blog/food-budgets/monthly-grocery-budget-calculator/
  4. Clothing? Maaaybe. I’ve seen ONE outfit (and these are not even work clothes!) calculated reasonably to cost $25. Coats can run $25 IF you buy cheaper ones. Your money will stretch a LOT farther at places like GoodWill and Value Village.
  5. Utility Bills? Again – huge maybe. Internet can run $80 for a good school-worthy connection, cell phone “unlimited” plans with 5Gb of tethered data cost $50 – and up. And then there is the electric bill. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution article cites an average monthly electric bill of $154, but I’ve seen some bills topping $600 for a family of four.
    See the article here: https://www.ajc.com/news/local/georgia-energy-consumption-costs-are-among-the-highest-america-study-finds/tCn9yaQjSLI8SVyK1WKz9H/
  6. Vehicle insurance? For some, it might cover just a few months. For those owning a new car, insurance can cost $150-250 per month, and up. After an accident, I was quoted over $500 and trimmed it down to $250/month by using an independent insurance sales office. Independent salespeople get a commission and can offer hundreds of options while cutting costs, especially for those with a “complicated” driver’s record. It also pays to be willing to change insurance companies due to “price optimization” (read: the company charges you more if you stay with them and are not likely to change companies).
    The simple 411: https://www.nerdwallet.com/article/insurance/price-optimization
    The complex math: https://www.casact.org/education/spring/2015/handouts/C-21.pdf
  7. Dental work? Yikes, a single tooth pull is being advertised as costing “only” $80 around Marietta, GA. It will barely get you a root canal at the cheapest dentist around. You’re better off contacting the *only* medical school that is 3 hours away from Atlanta if you want to save money on dental costs, and sign up for students to treat you.
    Here’s where you can save money on dental costs: https://www.augusta.edu/dentalmedicine/patientservices/newpatients.php
  8. Medical bills? Not a chance, unless you pay upfront for excellent health insurance, and even then, medical bills aren’t cheap. I am lucky to have a plan that covers urgent and “acute” care services for a $50 copay. Most people aren’t lucky, and a single ER visit can cost $2,000 and up. But maybe you’ll get lucky one day and get a debt forgiven through RIP Medical Debt.
    You can help pay it forward here: https://ripmedicaldebt.org/
  9. Medicine? Maybe not if you’re diabetic and have no health insurance, since I’ve heard of people paying $80 per week in insulin, and that does not include the cost of testing strips (which can be astronomical). For most people on a medicine, who have health insurance, these costs can be from $20 to $100 per month. If you have cancer, this might not cover a week in costs. Pharmaceutical companies are rolling in money; some cancer drugs like Gleevec can cost $145k per year.
    Here, have some sticker shock: https://www.kff.org/report-section/the-out-of-pocket-cost-burden-for-specialty-drugs-in-medicare-part-d-in-2019-findings/
  10. A replacement vehicle? It might help put a mere dent into a down payment. I’ve personally shopped for vehicles and used vehicles can run between $5,000 to an average of over $22k on CarGurus, a website with listings of vehicles for sale. You can expect minimum down payments to be $1200 these days.
    See this article here for more information: https://www.npr.org/2020/10/28/927971920/a-pandemic-sticker-shock-used-car-prices-are-through-the-roof
  11. College textbooks? Very likely can cover the 50-100% of the cost of books and supplies for one semester, if a student buys includes used books in their purchases. During my first semester of college, angry (wealthy enough to afford to do this) students threw their books out into the dorm hallway, effectively abandoning their books. I took a mover’s dolly and recovered a stack of books and earned $400 from the buy-back at the school bookstore. The rest of the books that were not able to be sold back were donated to students at colleges where the books were useful. And that was in 2002.

    The best way to buy used books is to examine the line of students holding books for buy-back for books you need and offer a few dollars more than what the book store will pay that student. Or offer $5 more for that book at the counter. Or check bulletin boards for offers of sale on books that you need. Or better yet, maybe consider renting a textbook. Another option is to find a student who lives overseas, because books bought from abroad can be found cheaper than here in the USA. And yes, you can find teachers’ editions available online as well.
  12. Finally, $600 will cover the cost of filing one civil court lawsuit in federal district court, if service of process is completed on two defendants with plenty of time for service, and there are no complications on service of process requiring any extensive efforts.

Now let’s look at some discretionary costs:

  1. Movies: Forget about that and order in some popcorn and a kettle popcorn cooker. A kettle popcorn cooker plus popcorn might set you back $100, but it literally pays for itself after the first use. Movies nowadays can cost $100 for a family of four if you factor in $10 movie ticket price plus $6 for the popcorn, $4-5 for a large drink, and $4-5 for candy. Six trips to a theatre is what $600 would cover, while you can watch plenty of movies on Amazon Prime or NetFlix at a much, much cheaper cost.
  2. Eating out: Waffle House is a great option for those on a limited budget. I’ve spent $10 per person eating out, not including the tip. And these days, it’s a real scrooge move not to tip wait staff very well. My minimum is between 25-50% and if it’s merely a hot dog or a burger, I will tip the cost of the meal, because I am a human being. As such, “eating out” pretty much means “going to Kroger to get better food” on my limited budget, and I only eat out once or twice a year. But if I do go eat out, I tip well.
  3. Gas station food / energy drinks: This is practically a necessity for me, as I have a job that requires a lot of physical labor. In fact, I’ve lost over 20lbs working retail – it’s fantastic if you really want to lose weight, and you can buff up nicely, too. Energy drinks are much cheaper at certain gas stations, and it can literally pay for itself if you eat before grocery shopping, so those $2.50 two-piece meal deals (two items from the hot roller stand) are definitely a great budget item to include for shopping trips with the family. They are not nutritious, but will fill you up in a pinch, and are a great emergency replacement for lunch while broke.
  4. A home office: If you are a homeowner and do not have a home office, you are missing out big time on tax credits. Also, insanely useful if you are sick and need to work from home, or work freelance. Plus, any business-use equipment can garner additional tax credits.

    Let’s break down some costs. The most essential thing for a home office, besides the computer, is an Uninterruptible Power Supply with protection against power surges. I lost a laptop along with a month’s work during a lightening storm. No home office should be without one. A good model is worth the $200-$300 it can cost, and the more battery power available, the better offer you’ll be, generally. Digital fax service can cost as little as $5 a month, and digital fax service can be a life-saver for litigation paralegals (my pre-COVID job). I’ve drafted and faxed pleadings entirely on my cell phone, so I know it can work just as well as a traditional fax line.

    Let’s look at some equipment… a Brother DCP multifunction laser printer is an absolute champ for a work horse, and is cheaper in the long-run. Mine are several years old and are still running great. Laser printers run from $100 to $350 for multifunction machines that can print for a penny per page in costs, or less. A 28″ monitor can be found for less than $200 if you shop at the right place. 28″ is a minimum if you do document-based work such as paralegal work. Two 28″ monitors is my personal minimum for a professional home office used for software development.

    I’ve also found incredible deals at MicroCenter (I’ve been a customer for… a long time – they can offer some steal-of-a-deal offers and better-quality computers than other retailers, with a ton of options for computers) and BrandSmart (best for furniture, appliances, and accessories). I will warn you: walking into either place without a shopping partner to ground you to reality is not advised, especially if you have ADHD. Both places are paradise for anyone who is inclined towards modern tech. Also let’s not forget OfficeMax / Office Depot. They have killer deals on chairs, and you can find a really good office chair with free curbside delivery for roughly $100.

    Put simply, an upgrade to your home office is possible on a $600 budget. A new home office (like what I had to pay for after I lost equipment during a lightening storm) can cost closer to $3,000 if it includes a business-quality desktop computer, RAM upgrades, a 28″ monitor, UPS, printer, and accessories such as power strips, phone chargers, keyboard, mouse, and web cam.
  5. Home Appliances: Not quite “discretionary” – but definitely useful. A good blender that can handle ice is an excellent way to avoid paying $10 for a smoothie, and the $40 average cost makes it a no-brainer. A clothes washer & dryer can set you back for $600 but you can probably flip an existing set online for $150 or $75 per piece or help pay it forward to a family in need. A juicer can run $50 if you’re shopping the second-hand market. You can find quality models at prices starting at $80-100 on Amazon. They’re great for avoiding expensive fresh vegetable or fruit juice sold at retail prices. Ovens aren’t cheap, and this is the opportunity to buy one. I’ve found them for $100 to $200 on used-item markets.
  6. Game consoles: Yes, these can be expensive, but definitely can help someone wind down or burn off energy while having to isolate as much as possible (they are probably NOT a good idea for people recovering from COVID-19, due to stress effects upon the heart, and yes, sources of stress can come from doing fun things that require intense concentration).

In short, $600 is barely a scratch on a family’s budget, much less a dent.

Arguably, “stimulus” payments should be called survival assistance payments, because that is literally all the money can pay for: to help someone survive an immediate crisis. If you run the math, one payment is not enough to cure the extensive and exhaustive economic damage that the pandemic caused. Without a reliable source of money, financially insecure families will use this money on utilities, food, and rent. It is not a boost for small businesses unless the recipients are in the middle class, making over $25k per year per working family member if there are multiple working people in the household. This is more of a boost for utility companies and large enterprises such as large nationwide chain grocery retailers.

December 22, 2020

About Amy Barnes

Author has extensive experience in Retail, including two years as a supervisor. Educated in Psychology, Financial Accounting, Criminal Justice, and Programming. Work experience in Law Enforcement, Security (IT), Programming (REALBasic, SQL, VB, JAVA), Retail.
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