It’s probably no surprise to readers that many Americans spent their last stimulus checks on video games, flat screens and smoking weed. We see this sort of behavior every year when tax refunds come around. Moreover, all the conspicuous consumption makes perfect sense if you imagine the spenders starting their shopping sprees by smoking the weed they bought first.
Nonetheless, in all seriousness, here’s the point: $1200 really isn’t enough to make a dent in the financial problems of most people. Instead, it tends to act as a sort of temptation. With all the stress of lock-downs, layoffs and police beat downs, for example, it feels good to waste it on toys and a bit of fleeting fun.
Moreover, while $1200 will buy necessities and pay some fraction of the rents or mortgages for people in the most dire circumstances, it won’t solve core problems people have with managing their money. Money management (and mismanagement) is psychological, not financial.
Behavioral science, however, can offer some hope.
The science suggests you might be able to use your stimulus money to gain greater personal resilience, mental strength and ultimately, greater self-control. All these qualities of mind will not only prepare you to work better and earn more, they will help you better manage the money you earn—by guiding better decision-making.
Indeed, there are a few specific ways of investing the stimulus money that could actually make you more productive, with the all the other psychological qualities following suit. Here are 3 of them:
- Buy plants for your home workspace or office. Plants make us happy, and happier workers are more productive—or so scientists tell us. University of Exeter researchers, for example, have found plants in an office space can raise productivity by as much as 15 percent. And if 15 percent sounds like a minor improvement to you, consider it this way. 15 percent of an 8 hour office day is roughly 1 hour and 12 minutes. That’s akin to leaving an hour early every day, plus having another 12 minutes to chit-chat around the water-cooler or move around the office at a calmer pace than everyone else. Another way of seeing what this means is to consider how that time you save could add up. An hour a day is 5 hours a week or nearly one extra day. In turn, that’s 4 days per month or 36 days per year. And all because of a few rhododendrons! That’s a great investment you can make for far less than $1200.
- Get some exercise equipment that you’ll actually use. Many of us have the routine of exercising before or after work. Yet, with the distancing measures and remote-working, exercise in the middle of the work day is now more possible. In fact, according to researchers, exercise during the work day could be a powerful mechanism for increasing productivity. In a Swedish study, for example, nearly 700 workers reported that work-day exercise substantially boosted their productivity and moods. Unfortunately, the exact extent of the boost is unknown and potentially exaggerated, given this was a self-report study. However, the point is that $1200 spent on some exercise equipment that might be fun to use—and not another treadmill like the one you now use as a coat hanger—could at least make your work day more enjoyable. That, by itself, is something.
- Improve the quality of food you eat. My mother was a nutritionist for nearly 35 years before retiring. The science suggests her tireless efforts to get people to improve their eating habits had real productivity benefits to everyone who followed her advice. I know this because, in study after study, better nutrition increases productivity by decreasing absenteeism and improving worker stamina, positivity and attitude. Healthier workers generally enhance the workplace environment. Nonetheless, better nutrition can sometimes come at higher financial cost—and that’s where your $1200 comes in. One way to use it is to slightly increase your monthly food budget so as to accommodate replacing plastic-laced food with food and water not packed or injected with additives, preservatives and bio-hazardous chemicals. For example, selecting fresh food over microwaveables and instants could be done in many places for as little as an extra $200 a month. With $1200 in your pocket, that means 6 months of better eating and a lifetime of more aware, better eating habits and more productive health. That’s a fantastic return for a small investment!
While $1200 isn’t a fortune and it’s tempting for many people to indulge themselves by spending it on toys, games and drugs, those aren’t necessarily the best ways of using the money. Instead, investing the stimulus cash in the ways outlined above could lead to greater productivity and self-control. And judging by the way many people spent the last stimulus checks, greater productivity, financial discipline and self-control could be precisely what most Americans need.