From college bills to cosplay, how some Missourians are spending their stimulus checks

In late March, the federal government approved the CARES Act, which meant millions of Americans received stimulus checks of up to $1,200 to help them cover expenses during COVID-19. Now, lawmakers are negotiating over another coronavirus relief bill, and another round of $1,200 direct payments is on the bargaining table.

So, what have Americans done with those initial $1,200 checks? Data from the U.S. Census Bureau offer a detailed look at how the payments have been put to use.

The last round of direct payments meant many people got a sudden influx of cash they wouldn’t normally have, and Missourians chose to spend theirs in a variety of ways. Some opted to spend the money on bills, others put it in their savings, and others spent the money on fun — anything from vacation to cosplay.

Here’s a sampling of how some Missourians spent their initial stimulus checks, and why.

‘My children have to have an education’

Kristen Kinney, 41, was working as a database administrator for a small private school in Independence when the pandemic hit. She was laid off in late April, partly because the decline in enrollment at the school caused budget shortages that would no longer support her position.

Kinney had to apply for unemployment for the first time, along with thousands of Missourians in similar circumstances. Her husband died in a motorcycle accident, so when her two kids came home from college as the pandemic hit, she knew she would have to find a way to support them on her own. She applied for unemployment, but it was eight weeks before she was approved.

“Definitely that eight weeks was, it was really hard because, you know, you don’t get a lot of answers,” Kinney said. “I had to end up reaching out to all of my legislators, and I actually reached out to the lieutenant governor, and that’s how I ended up getting mine passed through so quickly.”

However, even with unemployment, Kinney said money is still very tight, much more so than usual.

“It’s something that I am not accustomed to, really having to triple-think everything and really plan down to the dime on all of our expenses,” Kinney said.

Kinney is one of the millions of Americans that received a stimulus check from the CARES Act. But even though Kinney said money was being stretched thin, she did not choose to spend hers on bills. Instead, she used it to help pay her son’s tuition fees.

Her son goes to Truman State University, and though he receives financial aid, it does not cover all his expenses. Kinney said there was a balance left on his account, and she decided to pay it just to make sure his education would not be compromised.

“His education is priority,” Kinney said. “My children have to have an education in this world.”

Kinney said she is glad the stimulus checks went out, but that they were sent near the beginning of the pandemic. She said people may not have expected how long they would be unemployed and spent the money unwisely.

“That was pretty early on in this whole situation,” Kinney said. “I don’t think a lot of people realized how bad it was really going to get and for how long.”

Kinney does not regret spending her check on her son’s education, but also said she thinks for many people the road ahead is going to be difficult. Kinney used her free time while unemployed to take a few classes that allowed her to earn new certifications for her work, and she has already accepted a position at another company, but she knows she is one of the lucky ones.

Doubling down on dressing up

Since the pandemic started, Lynne King, 32, has been working overtime.

From Columbia, she and her partner were briefly worried they would be among those laid off, but then they heard that the sandwiches they help to make and package for convenience store chain Break Time would be some of the only food still in production. Plus, some of the food machines normally used in storeswould not be allowed during the pandemic.

“We can’t have the roller grills going, so our workload actually doubled from that,” King said.

Since King and her partner both have been able to work, King knew she could afford to spend her stimulus check on something she enjoyed — cosplay.

“One of the things I like to do during the year is I go to different conventions, such as just general nerd conventions,” King said. “I do cosplay, and I had decided to go ahead and start getting into that a little professionally … so I went out and bought myself a few supplies to make that easier.”

King bought a rotary drill, a heat gun, a kit to go with the drill and a sewing machine so she can make her own props and costumes. She hopes to compete in cosplay competitions, as well as eventually sell props that she makes online. She said in the long run this will help her save money, and hopefully one day even make money.

“Before, I was just buying the stuff, and in the long run it actually costs you more to buy outright those props in those costumes,” King said. “Whereas if you make it yourself, yes, it takes more time, but in the long run you’re not spending as much.”

King said she knew immediately that she would want to spend her check on equipment to help with her cosplay.

“It was my initial plan because I had gotten my little workshop set up and I was like, ‘Man, I need a couple different little tools and things,’ and then the stimulus came up,” King said. “I was like, ‘Well, hey, I’ll use that to get the tools and materials that I need.’”

Right now, cosplay is something King does for fun, but she said the stimulus checks have encouraged her to take her hobby to the next level.

‘Put it back in the economy’

Christopher Smith, 25, is a member of the Army National Guard, a realtor and full-time student normally based in Columbia. He recently finished a class in Maryland with the National Guard, and is waiting to see if the pandemic will affect his ability to refocus on his business now that he is back in Columbia.

When the coronavirus first became a concern, the course Smith took had to be temporarily postponed and life on the Army base changed.

“In the base area we’re not allowed to go off post because of COVID,” Smith said.

Those living there have been ordering food off delivery and getting necessities at commissary, Smith said. The barber was closed, so they had to rely on each other for haircuts.

Since Smith is still employed, when he got his stimulus check he had more options when deciding where to spend it.

“I was pondering about that for a while, and I figured, you know, just put it back in the economy,” Smith said. “I just bought a laptop for myself and a couple of computer monitors and accessories that came along with them to be able to finish my homeschooling and also work on my business at the same time.”

Smith said he also considered saving it in order to make other real estate purchases in the area, since he rents out properties as part of his business, but ultimately he opted for the computer because it would help him be able to communicate with clients and develop his media presence more effectively.

“I’m trying to be a web developer in my spare time, and I’m also trying to do coding for fun and practice,” Smith said. “I’m trying to build a website for my rental properties.”

Paying household bills, waiting for ‘normal’

Brandie Pineiro, 24, is a caregiver and a part-time student studying public health in Fulton. She and her boyfriend are both working, but she said money is still a big concern.

“It’s been very stressful, the financial situation is horrible,” Pineiro said. “You couldn’t get certain products. We went weeks without hamburger meat.”

Pineiro said in addition to shortages, she noticed that prices on some goods have gone up. She said this has made the pandemic hard on her household.

Then her mother had to get surgery, and Pineiro was not allowed in the hospital to see her.

“The worst part of it had to be that I couldn’t go see my mom and dad,” Pineiro said, “and knowing when my mom was in the hospital I couldn’t go see her and she couldn’t have my dad with her on her overnight.”

Pineiro received a stimulus check, and most of the money went to paying bills, but she and her boyfriend were also able to purchase some important household items they had not had the money for. They used some of it to buy a used washer and dryer.

Pineiro said the washer and dryer were important because the couple had to give away their last ones and they do not have reliable means of transportation, so it can be difficult to wash clothes.

The stimulus check also helped her and her boyfriend move out of the house they were staying at with some of his family.

When the pandemic is finally over, Pineiro said she is looking forward to going on a real date with her boyfriend, finally being able to see her family all together, and “just for things to be ‘normal’ again.”

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