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Back in March, Congress passed the CARES Act, and a number of people received a stimulus check in the mail. If you were one of those people, you might have put that money toward an immediate need, like a mortgage or rent payment. Now that there’s a second stimulus package, you might be thinking: How can I make the most of it? You could put it toward debt repayment, an emergency fund, or more immediate household needs — but where would it be most effective?

The Associated Press spoke with Ally’s deposits and consumer strategy executive Anand Talwar about how to make the most of a second stimulus check (or any unexpected cashflow, really).

What is the best way to set realistic savings goals and create a budget to reach those goals — for instance, saving for a wedding, your child’s education or a new home?

The simplest way to budget is to begin with any amount. Just getting started is more than half the battle. Once you’ve found success, you will crave more. Here are a few steps to follow:

  1. Start by assessing how you’re spending money.
  2. Take a good look at where those dollars are going.
  3. Reduce or eliminate things that don’t match your newfound priorities.
  4. And then apply any extra cash toward your goal.

Taking the time to establish realistic, tangible goals and determine what you need to do better and differently is vital. People are most successful when they visualize their savings goals. This can be as simple as writing it down and placing it where you can see it regularly. That reminder will serve as motivation to stick with your plan.

If there’s another stimulus check, what should you do with that money? Pay off debt or save?

What you do with it depends largely on your own financial situation. For those who can, it may make sense to pay down things with high-interest debt, like some credit cards. For others, they may need to apply much of it toward everyday household needs. The key, however, is to keep your eye on the ball when it comes to savings. History has shown the best way to successfully grow an emergency fund or save for a future expense is to steadily add to savings, even if it’s only in small increments.

With interest rates low, how can you maximize your savings?

Research shows success is multiplied when you personalize and visualize your goals — whether that is to lose weight, run a 5K, or build savings. Luckily, there are new online tools that make it easier than ever to do that with savings. Ally Bank’s Online Savings Account includes smart tools like ‘buckets,’ which let you name your savings priorities, and Surprise Savings, which analyzes your spending patterns and automatically transfers any extra dollars from your checking account into savings.

Even in today’s climate, our smart savings tools have allowed customers to save over 10 times more than with interest alone.

What is the most important savings advice you would give?

The best advice I can give is to follow these three practices: Make it personal. Make it automatic. Make it incremental.

When you clearly identify what you are saving for and give it a name, it’s a lot harder to walk away from it. By automating things like a recurring transfer, you build up your balance without even having to think about it. Also, size isn’t everything. Even the small amounts add up over time.

One additional tip: Be sure to find a bank that cares as much about your priorities as you do and makes your money work smarter by providing a competitive interest rate and removing unnecessary fees, which can cut into savings more than you realize.

Learn more about the smart savings tools in our Online Savings Account.

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Headshot of Anand TalwarAnand Talwar is the deposits and consumer strategy executive at Ally, responsible for leading retail deposits and consumer payments business, including product management, pricing profitability, and operations. In addition, he leads analytics, innovation, and strategy across Ally’s consumer products. Prior to his current position, Talwar led the acquisition and integration of Tradeking, now rebranded as Ally Invest, the company’s online brokerage and wealth management business. He joined Ally in 2009 as director of finance and subsequently, held key leadership positions in technology transformation, analytics, and deposits pricing. Talwar holds a B.S. in Business Administration with a concentration in Finance from Boston College’s Carroll School of Management.