So, you received your stimulus check from the government. That’s great! You’ve gotten over the first hurdle. Now what to do with that $1,200? (if that’s how much you received). That amount isn’t very much—less than a month’s rent for some people. You want to be smart about the money and make sure you’re not dipping into stimulus check funds unnecessarily. Here are a few tips on how to stretch that money and save:
Become a Plant Mom
Even if you don’t have a green thumb, plant a small herb garden. You can make a little one that fits on your windowsill or use your deck if you have one. It doesn’t have to be big to yield and it won’t cost that much to set up. Plant a few herbs like basil, mint, chives, rosemary, sage, or thyme. You’ll appreciate saving money on buying them for recipes at the grocery store, and it might help inspire some creative meals. People are growing more food at home and finding ways to do so even without outdoor space. It’s time to become a plant mom.
The Gift of Time
Although we aren’t going to crowded parties or events, there are still many birthdays happening over Zoom. Just because an event has become virtual doesn’t mean you aren’t exempt from gift-giving, but think about ways you can give time instead. As more places reopen, treat your birthday-girl friend to a socially distanced hike or a walk along the waterfront. Or maybe sync up your favorite movie and watch along together from your respective homes. We’re all craving personal interaction, and your friend will probably appreciate time with you—even if it’s just a long phone call—more than a new book right now.
Stop Buying Stuff You Don’t Need
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Stop buying unnecessary stuff. You don’t need that $30 candle or another pair of lounge pants or some earrings just because they’re on sale. Grocery prices are up, and it’s easy to think you’re stocking up but end up wasting food because you didn’t use it all. Plan meals and learn how to substitute ingredients while cooking, so you’re using what’s already in your refrigerator and keeping your grocery list to what you need. Many of us are anxiously online shopping right now, but you’ll burn through your stimulus check quickly if you keep clicking “complete purchase.”
Straight to Savings
The second you receive your stimulus check, put it straight into your savings account and don’t touch it. Don’t think of your check as spending money. It’s not. If you do, then you’ll be tempted to spend frivolously. Instead, treat it like any other monthly payment you receive from work. This is survival money. This is money you need for rent or health insurance, and you should file it away for those uses. Your stimulus check is an emergency fund to be taken seriously. It’s not birthday money for new shoes.
Walk It Out
When gyms closed, a lot of people signed up for virtual workout subscriptions and paid Livestream yoga classes from preferred local studios. Know what’s less expensive? Getting outdoors-unsubscribe and go for a run instead. Being outside is also beneficial for your mental and emotional health. If you’re paying for mindfulness apps or other services, try taking a break from those and meditate outside without technology. Save some additional money by putting a hold on expensive supplements and sitting in the sun to get your Vitamin-D. Summer is coming, take advantage of all that outside has to offer.
It would be best if you only were spending your stimulus check on Essentials (remember the three E’s: Essentials, Endgame, and Extras). That’s what it’s for and how you should treat it. $1,200 won’t get you very far anyway—especially if you’ve been furloughed or laid off—so you’ll need to continue to save in other ways. Starting a garden or getting outside to exercise are not just money-savers, but activities that will boost endorphins and help you find some solace during this time.
A version of this article was originally published on Forbes.