PFD time: Better than Christmas

Businesses feel the swell in sales after dividend checks are mailed to Alaskans

Posted: Tuesday, October 17, 2000

So, you've received your Alaska Permanent Fund dividend and now comes the wonderful dilemma: What to do with your $1,963.83 windfall.

A vacation on a sunny beach, perhaps? But you might feel bad about frittering away your kids' college education on cold drinks sipped from a coconut shell. Maybe a giant screen TV set? Those pesky bill collectors would probably frown upon that.

Some people are able to find a nice middle ground, a blend of impulse spending mixed with responsible financing to soothe the conscience. For instance, purchasing a snowboard at Boarderline in the Nugget Mall would satisfy one's need to carve up Eaglecrest, while leaving enough money to pay a few bills.

Apparently, that's the mindset of many.

"It's been insane, I can't even breathe," said Jake Liska, manager at Boarderline. "We're stoked. This is our best year yet."

"Because that snow came right before the dividends came, that helped. And this is almost our second year in the mall (after moving from their downtown location) so everyone finally knows we're here."

He noted that lots of money is being spent on footwear and outerwear too.

"We sell lots of shoes. They're just casual wear, skate shoes," he said. "There's a lot of new styles. The Nikes are starting to look too spacy, they (kids) like the casual look."

Busiest time of the year

Scott Jensen, owner of Lyle's Home Furnishings, said many of his customers are able to buy big ticket items while paying off some debt at the same time.

"It's definitely a productive time of year for every retail business in Southeast," Jensen said. "A lot of times they (customers) buy new, but also they might pay off outstanding balances."

He said PFD time is the busiest time of the year for Lyle's. One would think that would be reserved for Christmas.

"Actually, it's not," Jensen said, though he admitted housewares probably sell better around the holidays. "The PFD time is much better as far as our large-ticket items. We sell furniture and we do see a lot of buying of new appliances."

A cure for our bills

Many people use the PFD for their own financing, such as catching up on bills. Though not as glamorous as a new living room set, using the PFD to make a huge credit card payment can make us feel good in a more responsible way.

Nancy Usera, senior vice president for corporate development at Alaska USA Federal Credit Union, said PFD time turns her office upside down.

"There's no doubt, the permanent fund distribution day is the busiest day of the year," Usera said.

"Ordinarily, we see a fairly healthy payoff, not just on credit cards but on all installment loans," she said. "And then, during the course of the year, those balances go back up."

She said that's not a bad thing, as long as people are living within their means. A lot aren't, she admitted.

"The savings rates haven't kept up," Usera said. "If there's a moral to the story about what to do with the dividend, probably all three legs of the stool make sense pay some debt, put something aside in savings for the future and treat yourself."

Many people interviewed said they sensed more dividend money is being saved and invested these days.

Clark McDermaid, assistant sales manager at Honda Hut, Team Toyota, GMC of Juneau, is one. He's noticed only a slight increase in business recently.

"Not really a huge jump," he said. "A lot of people are looking at specials, like matching permanent fund (dividends), that's what we did. Or, we had large discounts."

For instance, McDermaid said, on select models the dealer is offering a $500 to $700 discount if a person uses two PFDs as a down payment. He said, in his estimation, people aren't spending their PFDs as much on cars as they used to.

"It used to be a big deal. I noticed in the last couple of years it's declined a little bit, I'm not sure about the other dealers. I think a lot of people are investing more, or getting into home computers and stuff like that. They'll use the PFD as a down payment on a new car, but as far as saying, 'I want to buy a car, here's two permanent fund (dividends),' normally I don't have a car in that range."

He noted they could buy a new car, "depending on how many kids they have," he said with a chuckle.

Gwen Rivas, spokeswoman for Alaska Pacific Bank, said there's lots of action in her bank these days, but how the influx of PFD money will be spent whether or not more people are investing remains to be seen.

"We get an onslaught of customers, but it may take a while to find out what they're going to do," Rivas said. "They may put it (the PFD) in checking or savings, then it takes a few days to see if they'll leave it there or if they'll move it into an investment account."

She said a popular account for the past few years has been the educational certificates of deposit. Saving for the rising cost of college is apparently weighing on people's minds.

Treating one's self to a trip out of Alaska or even just out of Juneau has always been a popular way to spend one's PFD. While that remains an option for many, Alaska Airlines has curtailed the deals it used to offer.

"In general, over the years the permanent fund dividend program has been diluted by the fact that we have more and more fare specials throughout the year," said Jack Evans, spokesman for Alaska Airlines.

"It used to be the PFD special was, if not the best, then one of the best (deals). In more current years we've tried to offer specials addressed to people's specific needs for travel. In some cases we honestly admit it might be better to take advantage of other specials."

A charitable notion

So you don't need a couch or a car or a trip and your debts aren't too high. How about giving your PFD away to your favorite charity? That's an option you don't hear people talk about very much, yet that's what Larry Persily does.

Persily, the Department of Revenue deputy commissioner, said he began doing that seven or eight years ago.

"I can afford to. I don't make a big deal out of it. I don't need it for college or to feed myself," Persily said. "Some people donate time to charities or to church. I travel so much I don't have the time, but I have a little extra money. The dividend is a good opportunity."

 

He said he banks his check, then looks for causes over the course of the year to which he can donate funds. He gives often to Big Brothers-Big Sisters. A couple of years ago he contributed to the Pipeline Skate Park.

"It's not like I'm holier than thou. I'm single and have a good job and no bad debts. It's easy for me to give it away," he said. "I think there are a fair amount of people who give theirs to charity."

That's debatable.

"We would strongly welcome that," said Marsha Riley, director of the United Way of Southeast Alaska. "Historically, I don't know if that's happened. I know we've experienced a couple of nice contributions (recently), but whether or not that's attributable to the PFD, I have no earthly idea."

She said most people contribute to the United Way out of each paycheck, making it hard to track those dollars to the PFD.

So what's it going to be for you? A charitable donation? A sandy beach in some exotic location? Debt reduction? An investment toward retirement?

Think of it this way you're $1,963.86 ahead of where you were a couple of weeks ago.

"It allows us to afford things we normally wouldn't be able to purchase," Jensen said. "It's a blessing that we all get and hopefully will receive for generations to come."



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