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Major U.S. money drop begins

Some say Americans will wind up using those checks to cover the rise in gasoline and food prices. That's still consumer spending, and that's what the government wants.

The federal government has begun a massive airlift of money to all of us.

I haven't gotten my check yet, but the IRS says it has sent out $27 billion in economic stimulus payments so far.

Remember, the goal of the stimulus plan hatched early in the year was to flood the U.S. economy with cash to help avoid a recession.

Each person gets $600 and then goes shopping, not only spending that government check but even more. Dollars course through the commercial sector. The economy gets jolted out of its slump.

But as gas and food prices began to ratchet higher this spring, some criticized the $165 billion program, saying the U.S. would just wind up sending the money to OPEC or the Ack-a-Me.

Maybe so. That's still consumer spending, however.

And let's not forget that the federal government isn't generally in the habit of returning your money to you. (Tax refunds don't count. That's a loan you shouldn't have made in the first place.)

I'm talking about "found" money. That $600 you get either by direct deposit or paper check is two car payments. A household of two parents and two kids gets $1,800, and that's a mortgage payment.

Billionaire Warren Buffett told CNBC if he owed money on a credit card charging 15 to 18 percent interest, he'd use his stimulus check to pay down that debt.

For him, the decision is a no-brainer: Most of us aren't going to find an investment that's going to earn a return of 15 to 18 percent.

The point of an economic stimulus program is to get lots of people to spend, spend, spend. That's why supermarkets and other stores are offering a 10 percent match when you buy a $300 gift card. Nonprofit organizations are even appealing to you not to shop but to donate for a good cause.

But as I've written before, you should use the money to get your household finances in order. Pay down some debt. Start a college fund for your daughter. Put the cash into a certificate of deposit.

Consider this government check the catalyst for you to begin to change how you finance your lifestyle.