For millions of Americans, the $1,200 stimulus checks sent by the government earlier this year were a financial lifeline.
For others, whose incomes were uninterrupted, it was something else — an opportunity to invest in the markets.
The two sets of circumstances Americans may find themselves in reflect sharp contrasts in the broader economy. A record 57 million initial jobless claims have been filed since mid-March. Last week, initial weekly jobless claims climbed back over 1 million, pointing to a slow recovery.
Some people who are watching the market gains want a part of the action. Research from Envestnet Yodlee, a software and data aggregation company, found that trading was among the more common uses for the $1,200 stimulus cash.
That was especially true for people who earn between $35,000 and $75,000 per year, who increased stock trading by 90% in the week after receiving their stimulus checks. Those with annual incomes between $100,000 to $150,000 increased trading by 82%, while people earning more than $150,000 increased that activity by 50%.
Stock trading app Robinhood also saw an uptick in activity. "What we have seen is an increase in the percentage of deposits equaling $2,100 or $2,400," a company spokesperson said. "This was around the week of April 13, when people first started getting their stimulus checks."
The company did not track more specifics on that activity, including whether the money was kept in cash or invested. Other firms including Betterment and TD Ameritrade said they have also noticed a shift in investing behavior, though they haven't monitored activity specifically related to the stimulus checks.
"Since lockdowns in the pandemic, people have not been able to do other things they would normally do, like watch sports," said Dan Egan, managing director of behavioral finance and investing at Betterment. "There has been some people who are using investing as a form of entertainment."
Many people have used the extra time at home to pay attention to the market, said JJ Kinahan, chief market strategist at TD Ameritrade.
"Our last earnings and our competitors' last earnings show great lift in the amount of people who are participating in the market and starting to get involved," Kinahan said.
Firms saw record trading revenue prompted by lower commission fees, another factor that has also boosted investor activity.
Investor interest in that company comes as some analysts have said it's as much a battery company as it is a car company, leading some people to think it's undervalued, Kinahan said. Many investors are also attracted to the star power of its co-founder and CEO, Elon Musk, he said.
There is the risk that public perceptions can distort the company's stock price, Egan said. Having a very supportive fan base can "constantly put pressure on the price to go upwards," he said.
That highlights one risk investors should watch out for: becoming too attached to company names you love.
Again, it's like sports, Egan said, and the questions of whether you want your home team to win versus whether you think they will actually win.
"If you want to make money, a lot of people should be betting against their home team, but that feels really bad to do," Egan said. "So a lot of people don't actually do it."
When it comes to investing, a lot of lessons are learned after mistakes have already been made.
"The school of hard stocks is a very expensive tuition to pay," Egan said.
Here are ways to steer clear of those high-cost lessons: