Where the Rebate Money Went

Like this summer’s vacations, the economic-stimulus rebate checks that arrived in people’s mailboxes earlier this year have become a distant memory. So, where’d the money go? A Harris Interactive report released last week took a look at the matter — comparing people’s April predictions of how they’d use the money with their August reports on what they really did with it. Perhaps chastened by the economy’s travails, Americans were more prudent in their use of the money than they’d expected to be.

For instance, while 20 percent of the April respondents said they’d use at least some of the money to take a trip “for leisure purposes,” just 11 percent of the August recipients said they actually did so. Likewise, 16 percent in the earlier poll predicted that they’d spend rebate money on dining out, while 12 percent in the new poll reported doing this. And the 10 percent who said in April that they would spend on entertainment events or devices dwindled to the 5 percent who (according to the later poll) ended up doing so.

On the other hand, 21 percent predicted they’d spend rebate money “on other things they wanted to buy,” matching the August number who reported doing this. And the 38 percent who predicted they’d use the money for paying off bills and other non-mortgage debt were a close match for the 36 percent who said after the fact that they did this. Five percent vowed in April to pay down mortgage debt, and 5 percent said in August that they did so.

With inflation siphoning off some of the money, there was a shortfall between those forecasting they’d add the money to their cash savings (35 percent) and the number who ended up doing so (29 percent).