Your little windfall from Uncle Sam has either arrived or will soon. You may choose to save or invest your economic-stimulus tax rebate as much as $600 per taxpayer, $1,200 per couple and $300 per each dependent child and that's OK by us. But it won't help the economy much (at least not right away). So we came up with some great ways to spend so that you and the economy will benefit.
No one can argue the restorative power of some great R&R, especially if the attractions are in the U.S. and preferably close by, so you don't have to spend too many petrodollars to get there. Chug through the Rockies in Durango, Colo., on the narrow-gauge (3 feet between rails) Durango & Silverton steam railroad, then tour ancient sandstone cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde National Park. The Rails to Trails package from Mesa Verde (800-449-2288) costs about $650 to $700 for two.
Or sail into the sunset on a $580, two-night trip for two from the Brewster House, a bed-and-breakfast in Freeport, Maine (800-865-0822). Take an antique schooner around Casco Bay, then give the economy a direct injection with a $100 credit to shop at the nearby L.L.Bean outlet store. How about unlimited access to roller coasters and water slides all summer long? For $480, a family of four can use Cedar Fair's Platinum passes, which include parking and are good at all of its amusement and water parks.
Now is a great time to replace appliances that are energy guzzlers. Buy American and you'll support the U.S. economy as well as save money. Whirlpool, based in Benton Harbor, Mich., makes refrigerators in Evansville, Ind. Refrigerators can claim 12 percent to 20 percent of a family's annual power supply, but Whirlpool's Energy Star-rated models, including 15 that sell for $1,299 or less, consume about as much as a 60-watt light bulb.
Want to help your hometown economy? Spend on services. "They're more locally rendered," says Ken Mayland of ClearView Economics, in Pepper Pike, Ohio. Buoy neighborhood property values at the same time by having your house painted or landscaping freshened. If you donate your rebate to a community foundation, it will channel the money to charities in a specific region, and you can deduct the gift from your 2008 taxes. Find a foundation near you via the Council on Foundations' directory, at www.cof.org/locator.Fund a family member's mortgage at VirginMoneyUS.com. Or put your own financial house in order. Rates for financial planners in the Garrett Planning Network average $150 to $300 an hour; get a once-over for $800 to $1,500.
Anne Kates Smith is a senior associate editor at Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine. Send your questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.