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If you're encouraged by your bank balance after the latest stimulus check hits your account, Suze Orman urges you to remember the promise of the new funds.
"This money is to stimulate your faith and hope," the money icon, 69, tells PEOPLE.
You may be tempted to make up for sad pandemic birthdays or buy a new couch, but instead, Orman advises that you think of the money as a security blanket to ease financial stress.
"Every single person has a list of what would make them feel secure," she Orman, host of the Women & Money podcast.
Write down your list, and along the way, keep in mind Orman's stimulus-spending guidelines below.
Do: Stock Your Pantry If Times Have Been Tough
If you spent the pandemic staring at an empty refrigerator, worried about feeding your family, buy canned foods, Orman says.
"Take a lump sum of this money and buy as much canned food as you possibly can," Orman says. "At least you can have food to feed your kids."
"Buy like $600 worth of canned food," she says, "so that you never face hunger again — at least for a long time."
Do: Create a 12-month Emergency Fund
If you don't already have a 12-month emergency fund, use your stimulus to check to kickstart one.
"I would not have called it a stimulus check, I would have called it an emergency fund check," says Orman, whose book The Ultimate Retirement Guide for 50+ is out now.
Maybe you won't lose your job because of the pandemic, she says, but you might fall ill and not be able to work for a year.
"Anything can happen to you — forget about COVID, let's just talk about real life," Orman says. "Things go wrong. You are never secure unless you have a 12-month emergency fund."
Do: Prioritize Your Bills
If you let your health insurance lapse because you lost your job and couldn't afford Cobra, use the stimulus check to get health insurance, Orman says.
"That's no joke," she says. "You can't go without that."
Then pay your cell phone bill.
"You need to be able to communicate, and call an ambulance," she says.
Next, pay your electricity, water and sewage bills.
"And then, if you can, you have to pay your rent or your mortgage payment — if you're not on forbearance," she says. "You have to pay your car payment, or they're going to repossess your car."
While Orman hates credit card debt, if you lost your job, and you aren't optimistic about prospects, right now make the minimum credit card payments and save as much money as you can, she says.
"I would hold on to every single penny like it was my life preserver," she says.
RELATED VIDEO: Suze Orman Says Her Spinal Surgery for a Rare Tumor Was 'a Journey to Hell and Back'
Don't: Blow It All on Stocks
Inspired by newly minted GameStop success stories, Orman worries that people will gamble their entire stimulus check in the stock market.
"That was not the goal of the stimulus check," she says. "A stimulus check is to stimulate the economy. How do you stimulate the economy? You stimulate the economy by having enough money to go and buy food."
Do: Invest in a Roth IRA
If you are someone who is doing okay financially during the pandemic — you still have a job; you're working from home; you're saving money you'd normally spend on commuting, dry cleaning or lunch with coworkers — things are looking up. Perhaps your essential bills are covered, you have no credit card debt and you have a 12-month emergency fund. That means now is the time to consider investing your stimulus check in a Roth IRA.
If you've already maxed out your Roth contribution and you still want to invest more money, instead of buying pricey individual stocks, Orman recommends remembering that the market is uncertain and your best bet might be an investing strategy known as dollar-cost averaging, where you invest the same small amount each month.
"Watch what happens to the stock market. As soon as people see the stock market going up, if that happens — and there's no way for me to know — everybody's going to jump in," she says. "I would just be careful."
Do: Pay Down Student Loans
Have a college-age student whose federal loans are currently not racking up interest? You could use that stimulus check to make an extra $1,400 payment, depending on what makes sense with your payment plan.
"Take advantage of that," she says. "Pay down your student loan debt while it's at 0%. So when you do have to start paying the student loan payments again, you owe less money."