Many Americans allowed themselves to fantasize about large-screen TVs, European vacations and other luxuries when they learned of the federal rebates they'd be getting this spring and early summer.

Or maybe — shh, don't tell the president — they'd pay off a credit card or set the rebate aside for a big purchase in the future, notwithstanding Washington's intentions that they pump it immediately into the flagging economy.

But, as an Associated Press story on Page M3 points out, reality has interfered, in the form of ever-climbing food bills and $4-a-gallon gasoline. While some consumers got their dream TVs, as confirmed by a spike in April retail sales in anticipation of the payments, day-to-day living costs have sopped up the checks for many others and spoiled their rebate fantasies.

Based on a broadly diverse group of consumers who tracked their rebate spending in detail, there was no mass rush to the malls for shopping sprees after the payments started showing up in May.