Many would use stimulus checks to vacation yet experts say not so fast

Almost half of all Americans would consider booking a vacation if they got a second stimulus check, a survey has found. Financial advisors, however, say that’s probably not the best way to spend the money — unless you’ve already crossed all your “t’s” and dotted every “i” when it comes to your finances.

To that point, 49% of Americans surveyed said they’d be more likely to book either their first or second vacation this year if they receive another stimulus check from the federal government, according to financial services firm IPX 1031. That compares to 20% who are already planning a trip and 27% who’ve already vacationed since the pandemic began. (The company, which focuses on 1031 tax-deferred exchanges, surveyed 2,207 Americans ages 18 to 79 in early July.)

The federal government sent out stimulus payments of up to $1,200 per adult and $500 per dependent child under age 17 earlier this year, based on income levels, to help Americans impacted by the pandemic and ensuing economic downturn. Negotiations between Democrats and Republicans in Congress on a second round of such payments as part of a broader relief package are currently deadlocked, although it’s said both parties support more checks in principle.

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Certified financial planner Doug Boneparth, president of Bone Fide Wealth in New York, said he found the survey findings “interesting,” considering that stimulus was designed “to make sure people can pay their bills.”

“If my clients were receiving a stimulus check, I would recommend that they keep it in cash if they need to shore up liquidity and feel good about a very uncertain future,” he said.

Charleston, South Carolina-based CFP Tim Maurer, director of advisor development at Buckingham Wealth Partners, said he recommends the following three money moves to clients in this “time of heightened uncertainty”:

  1. Delaying major purchases;
  2. Hoarding cash; and
  3. Expanding lines of credit.

“Those are three solid recommendations, if it is safety that you seek in these uncertain times … and not included in them is going on vacation,” he added.

On the other hand, if you have not been negatively impacted thus far — i.e., haven’t lost your job or had to dip into savings — and don’t anticipate needing the stimulus payment for essentials, use your best judgment, Boneparth says.

“Ultimately, I would encourage anybody coming into any sum of money to understand what their financial goals are so that they can best allocate that money towards them,” he said. “If that’s a vacation or spending related to staying sane during these crazy times, there’s an argument to be made about vacations, but there certainly are health risks to consider.”

For his part, Maurer agreed that after months of lockdown at home, personal mental health considerations like “blowing off a little steam or decompressing with some vacation time” might be as worthy as financial ones.

“Perhaps there’s a merger of the two: Maybe you were planning to go on a vacation that was already budgeted for and it was necessarily canceled — so you plan another vacation that isn’t quite as expensive and save some money in the process,” he said. “Your mental health is just as important as your physical health — wear your mask — and your financial health.

Considering the inherent uncertainty of the times we’re living in, I highly recommend slimming down your vacation … so that you can also have a bit more sleep-at-night peace.

Tim Maurer

director of advisor development at Buckingham Wealth Partners

“So who am I to judge if you choose to spend some of that second stimulus check on a vacation?” Maurer added.

That said, IPX 1031 found that, these days, increased mental health might not be the end result of a vacation, after all.

“Covid-19 has certainly altered how Americans have vacationed this summer,” said IPX 1031 spokesman Collin Czarnecki, with many more wary and stressed out before, during and after a trip. “Taking a vacation … can become counterproductive when businesses or attractions are closed and social distancing is always on your mind.”

IPX 1031’s surveyed revealed that, due to Covid-19, among those who traveled:

  • 20% weren’t able to fully relax.
  • 27% felt stress during vacation.
  • 62% regret taking vacation.
  • 83% spent less on vacation.

Among survey respondents who still plan to travel, IPX 1031 found that:

  • 58% worry they won’t be able to relax.
  • 62% will spend less vacation.
  • 71% worry about stress or anxiety on vacation.

The firm also found that 43% worked on vacation or planned to, 59% have checked work e-mail while away or plan to, and 85% with a vacation home have worked remotely from there — hardly a recipe for relaxation or a good return on holiday money spent.

“Now, more than ever, people are expendable at their jobs, with many companies either laying off or furloughing large chunks of their workforce,” said IPX 1031 spokesman Matt Zajechowski. “So I feel like this is driving more people to have issues disconnecting from their job, even on vacation.”

In the end, Maurer urges caution and prudence — even to the point of staying home. “Considering the inherent uncertainty of the times we’re living in, I highly recommend slimming down your vacation — perhaps even to a ‘staycation’ — so that you can also have a bit more sleep-at-night peace, with some additional cash to buffer you from that which we can’t predict.”

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