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ten best!: things to do with Obama’s $13 a week

by Brian Clarey

Basics

Of the $787 billion in President Obama’s stimulus plan, $116.2 billion is tagged for an income tax credit for people making less than $75,000 a year. It’s a 6.2percent kickback, and most recipients will see it as about $13 a week extra in their paychecks this year. And while plenty have been scoffing at the incremental amount — What the hell can you buy for $13 a week? — many families will see it as an extra $50 a month which will readily be absorbed by essentials: a tank or two of gasoline (if the current price holds), a couple bags of groceries, shoes for the kids. Fifty bucks a month is a godsend to families on the brink.

Telephone

You can get a pretty decent cell phone plan for $50 a month, and most carriers will throw in a free phone with a two-year contract. Or, $50 a month will cover land-line service if you’re still into that kind of thing. Don’t overlook — or take for granted — the importance of being connected, both socially and professionally. For example, you shouldn’t even bother to apply for a job if you don’t have a telephone contact.

Splurge for cable If you couldn’t afford cable television before the stimulus, you’re a lot closer now. And face it: If you like to sit on your ass and watch TV, then you need cable, and if you can hook yourself up with a DVR receiver, all the better. It’s a quality of life thing. Because of my DVR, I only watch what I want to watch, and I haven’t seen a commercial in years. And if you already have cable, then you should go for a premium channel. HBO, in my opinion, is particularly awesome. Get hi-speed internet

Here’s a fact: There are the information rich and the information poor. The information rich generally make more money, get better jobs, have more status and, you know, know what the hell is going on. The information poor are still wondering why their rabbit-ears don’t work. These days in the online world, you can apply for jobs, bank and pay bills, earn a degree, get crucial news and research just about anything you can imagine. Also, you can play Second Life, which I hear is a nice escape.

Join a gym C’mon, tubby, peel yourself off the couch and sweat off some of those Fritos. Regular exercise is, of course, the single best way to maintain good health. It is good for your heart. It is good for your metabolism. It is good for your nervous system. Plus, your pants will fit better. Many gyms are offering great specials these days; $50 should cover a monthly membership easily.

Invest it

Uh, maybe not. But if you’ve got the grapes for it, now is absolutely the time to get in. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, for example, is the lowest its been since 1997. Dropping a grand right now on a DJIA index fund, with a monthly $50 reinvestment, could pay off incredible dividends within 10 years. And then, it might not… at which point you cry for a bailout. Risk/reward accountability is for suckers!

Save it

Okay, I’m probably not supposed to say this as everybody knows a stimulus does not stimulate until it’s pumped back into the economy. But I wouldn’t blame you if you took that $50 a month and put it in your retirement account or in a savings account. I also wouldn’t blame you if you converted it into cash and buried it in coffee cans in the backyard.

Go to lunch

Thirteen bucks buys a nice lunch just about anywhere in the Triad (alcohol not included, but who drinks at lunch anymore?). If you’ve been brown-bagging it for a while, maybe you feel like splurging once a week on a decent, sit-down lunch at a place with menus, waiters and water glasses. Or you could buy a whole mess of bologna and white bread and just go to town at your desk.

Play the lottery

There is a theory, espoused by my late Uncle Art who was a transit cop in the Lincoln Tunnel, that all found money should be gambled. Uncle Art wasn’t much of an economist, but he had moderate success with the ponies at Belmont Park. Since we have no racetracks or OTB, no sports books or casinos, a sensible alternative is the NC State Education Lottery. I like the scratch-offs. And you’d think that 10 bucks’ worth a week over a year would eventually pay off. Disclaimer: It probably won’t.

Plant a garden

Presuming you already have the dirt, you can take your $50 and head over to a garden store and set yourself up for a whole spring and summer of cukes, peppers, snap beans and tomatoes. Your weekly $13 bonus should cover all the upkeep, and you’ll have more fresh produce than you could possibly eat.

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