Rent. A storm shelter. A fancy robe. A rainy day fund.
Women all across the U.S. are spending stimulus money from the U.S. government. The money comes from a $2 trillion emergency stimulus package aimed to help Americans facing unemployment and economic uncertainty. Over 80 percent of American adults will receive a payment.
A 41-year-old automotive journalist said she put some toward property tax, but also bought a silk robe to lounge around the house. A 54-year-old flight attendant bought herself a KitchenAid mixer so she could bake more. A 24-year-old in Kansas City paid rent and then bought a new TV stand.
Here’s a look at how seven women are spending their stimulus money:
A few days before Coker received her stimulus check, a tornado hit.
A swarm of deadly tornadoes ripped through the South on Easter Sunday. One came just 35 miles south of where Coker’s mother and grandmother lived and where Coker, an editor for a trade publication, had come to wait out the pandemic.
“It was too close for comfort for anyone,” she says. When Coker received her stimulus check the following week, she decided to use it on an idea she’d had since late last year: building a tornado shelter for her mother and her grandmother.
Next came a series of decisions. An above ground shelter or an underground shelter? Above ground, Coker decided, because the house could collapse onto an underground shelter, trapping its occupants. Bigger or smaller? A tornado can last from minutes to a half-an-hour, so a lot of personal space isn’t needed, she reasoned. Cheaper or more expensive? Did the cheaper ones meet safety standards, she wondered.
“It is going to keep me from dying?” she found herself asking companies of the shelters they offered.
Coker’s upbringing in Chattanooga was comfortable; she grew up in a factory town where everyone, including her single mother, worked in a factory “and that’s how it is,” Coker says.
“We didn’t have a lot of money, but we had the same amount of money as everyone living around me, so it’s not like I noticed the difference,” she says.
Coker brings in roughly $2,900 each month from her job and likes to keep at least six months worth of her rent in savings, but often saves more as a cushion in case of unplanned doctor visits or car repairs.
The decision to use the stimulus check to help pay for the six-by-six foot above-ground shelter, which runs about $5,700 with delivery and installation, was a no-brainer. She’s been watching meteorologist reports that estimate tornadoes will continue to intensify in the South in the coming years. Plus, it allows her to give back to the people in her life who spent money on her and brought her up. Her mother is recently disabled and her grandmother, now retired, is on Social Security.
She knows that the only way the shelter will be built if she pays for it and, if nothing else, it gives her the peace of mind that the people who raised her will be safe.
And that makes it worth the investment.
Long Beach, Calif.
Drury, a 31-year-old entertainment journalist, used to spend a little over $40 in gas a week, sometimes stopping for Starbucks or lunch. Now she works from home.
Between her and her husband, a neurology resident at a local hospital, she says they bring in about $120,000 annually. Before the pandemic, their biggest expense was gas and their one-bedroom apartment, which is $2,100 a month. With less money going toward gas every week — her husband is still driving to work — Drury instead is spending more on food to ensure she has groceries to last her at least two weeks, a necessity she feels is worth spending on.
Drury hasn’t gotten her stimulus check yet, but she knows it's coming and knows exactly where it’s going.
The self-identified “massive procrastinator” was struggling to find out when the check was coming using the IRS’s tracking website. Thinking the problem was that she hadn’t yet filed her 2019 taxes, she went on TurboTax and learned she owes a $3,000 in federal taxes. Instead of paying down her $15,000 in credit card debt — incurred from medical bills, late rent checks in her 20s and student loans — Drury says she is putting it toward her taxes.
“The big difference,” she says, “is back [before the pandemic] I still could go out and party and spend money in a lot of dumb ways … now, there’s no way to spend it.”
It’s a joke among Paanio’s colleagues that they’re suddenly busier than ever.
The director of policy and advocacy for a national organization has been working remotely for seven weeks. All the while, Paanio and her team are pushing Congress to include funding and resources for the communities they advocate for in emergency coronavirus spending packages.
Personally, she’s seen her spending shift from transportation costs or going out to lunch to groceries for her home. In some aspects, she says her spending habits have decreased, but at the same time, she’s felt more obligated to support the small businesses in her area.
“There’s a small coffee shop I absolutely love,” she says. She tries to go and get coffee every day since it’s close to her apartment but also because within a few months of it opening, the pandemic happened. Now, she doesn’t know how many employees there have lost their jobs or if the coffee shop will survive.
She’s also watched friends lose their jobs, although she’s remained secure in her own.
“I feel guilt and grief. It’s been hard to witness,” she says, “but it doesn’t compare to folks who are going through unemployment.”
When she received her check in mid-April, she immediately put it away in savings, calling it a safety cushion.
“I’ve been more intentional about putting things away in the savings account just to be able to plan for both expenses planned and unplanned,” she says.
This isn’t the first time she’s watched the economy be jilted off-course either, encouraging her to keep her finances close.
In 2007, Paanio was fresh out of college, working in the nonprofit sector as the housing market crashed. At the time, she was working in legal services on eviction cases and watched as countless people, regardless of race, class, or gender, asked for help. She sees the parallels in her experience then to now.
It’s made her feel even luckier to be able to save her check for those rainy days.
Katherine Kortum knows she can’t fix everything that’s going on, try as she might. Like many other Americans, she is nearly constantly plugged into the news.
One of the more haunting things she has seen on the news are videos of people waiting in long lines to access food banks. One particular video recently caught her attention. Taken by a drone, it showed a long line of cars waiting outside a food bank. Kortum instantly recognized it as a food bank in Pittsburgh.
“That was where I grew up,” she says. “Everything maybe has a little more potency to it when it's in a place that you know, when it's a place that means something to you.”
The 36-year-old is an engineer for the Transportation Research Board. Kortum, who was born in Texas but grew up in Pittsburgh, has lived in D.C. for eight years and says she is comfortable financially. She makes enough that she didn’t receive a full stimulus check.
She’s always been aware of money since growing up with a parent who worked in the natural gas industry. When Texas faced a significant oil bust, the family had to relocate to Pennsylvania.
Kortum says her parents made it clear they weren’t fearful of the financial repercussions of her father’s layoff, but Kortum soon thereafter got her first job at an ice cream shop. It gave her a better sense of financial stability and made her feel like a productive member of the family.
The check she received in March was almost immediately donated, shortly after she saw the food bank photo. “I thought that it could best serve its purpose by actually fulfilling somebody's need, even if it wasn't my own,” she says.
Half of the check went to a D.C. food bank and the other half went to a D.C. diaper bank.
Kortum has watched her friends with children struggle to stock up on diapers and all the costs of “having a small human that’s totally dependent on you.”
Donating the check has helped Kortum feel like she can give back, although she says it’s in the smallest way.
“I wish that we were in a society where we didn’t have to essentially put Band-Aids on this. I wish that people just could afford the basics of life,” she says. “But we’re not there. So I’m trying to help.”
Coddington’s 4-year-old son often tells her, “When I’m five, there won’t be coronavirus.”
She hopes he’s right.
The 37-year-old mom of three feels like she was just getting back on her feet after years of economic turmoil when the pandemic left her again fearful for her financial situation.
It’s hard not to think about how the 2008 recession has impacted her relationship with money. At the time, her husband lost his job when the school he was working at in Florida was suddenly closed.
“We had just bought a house, gotten married and had a baby,” she said. Her husband got a new job, but they had to move and attempted to rent out their house. There were no takers. The final straw was when Coddington’s husband faced high medical bills from an unexpected hospitalization. The couple was forced to declare bankruptcy.
“We’re on such a tight rope because of the recession,” Coddington says.
Recently, Coddington faced another upheaval in her life when she and her husband split up in October. She began to turn over a new leaf, moving with her children to a new home in Ohio in January and working part time transcribing closed captions for television networks, including the Food Network.
But then coronavirus happened. Coddington was driving to finalize child support details with her ex-husband when she got word the courthouse had been closed; no court-ordered child support has been issued since. All of her children are now home from school, including her eldest child, who has special needs.
“I totally lost my team to help me,” she says.
Coddington put her stimulus check toward rent — exactly $1,200 — right away. She can be late on utilities, she reasoned, but not on rent. She can’t be evicted when her apartment is what’s keeping her and her kids under the same roof.
Still, the check is “like filling a cup with water and pouring it over the side of your boat that has a hole and is flooding. It does something but I’m about to drown any minute,” she says.
When she thinks of other countries like Canada, where unemployed people are eligible to receive $2,000 a month for up to four months, she feels frustrated — like the U.S. handed her a life jacket that’s just about to pop.
“If you do a one-time check, you know, okay, that will cover one thing, but there’s no certainty to when this devastation is going to end,” she says. “That’s not going to resolve any anxiety because rent’s due in another couple of days again.”
Huntington Beach, Calif.
These days, Sultan is catching up on things around the house. She cooks a lot more than she used to, no longer having to meal prep on her days off work for the rest of the week. She’s cleaning up boxes in the garage. And she’s ensuring she can care for her family, which includes putting her stimulus check toward health insurance.
The 52-year-old was sent home from work on March 19 after being furloughed from her position as a deputy general manager of a movie theater. That was the last time she received a paycheck, although she now receives unemployment as well. Two years ago, her husband stopped working due to health issues.
“We were not rich,” she says. “But we were making it by the end of the month with no problem and we were feeling blessed at least that we have the money to pay for the bills and everything.”
Since her husband stopped working, Sultan has been meticulous about “watching every single penny.” Recently, she was able to ask one of her credit card companies to delay her payments.
Francavilla and her husband have been ordering delivery and pickup from local restaurants up to six times a week recently. It’s because the 60-year-old mother of three understands what restaurants are facing right now.
Francavilla says the couple is “comfortable, but let’s see what happens.”
The Colorado native is now semiretired after working in student support in higher education; her husband, a veteran, now works at the VA. Francavilla is also a motivational coach for college students.
Between her retirement, side hustle, her husband’s work and military retirement, and three rental units they manage together, they’re bringing in roughly $12,000 a month, she estimates. The couple’s stimulus check arrived in their bank account in April. Francavilla decided to save it all for her children.
Particularly, she worries about her middle daughter, a 33-year-old chiropractor who hasn’t been able to practice and has had to shut her business. She knows her children would never outright ask for the money. Instead, she imagines it could be used in smaller ways, such as buying them dinner.
But most importantly, she wants the cushion so she can help her kids continue to live out their passions.
“I pushed my children to be free spirits, to go out and forge their own way,” she says. That’s different from how Francavilla grew up.
She doesn’t want her children to be fearful because of what happened to the family in the early 2000s. After his military service, Francavilla’s husband opened three seafood restaurants in Colorado. Francavilla was by then a mom and worked full time in higher education.
But 9/11 happened. And the military called her husband back.
With her husband in Afghanistan, she began to remotely manage the restaurants, but between her full-time job, her limited experience in the restaurant industry and caring for her daughters, it was too much, and the restaurants shuttered.
The incident might have made her three daughters, who witnessed their parents’ financial insecurity, better at saving, Francavilla says, and it also gave her an insider’s perspective on how restaurants and young people are faring now. It’s why she and her husband routinely get takeout and why she put her check away for her kids in case they need it.
“It makes me feel extremely bad because most of the stuff right now isn’t really going to affect me,” Francavilla says. “I’ve got this money, but I don’t really need it, so I’m going to give it to someone who needs it.”