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4 parents share how they're spending the child tax credit

From groceries to savings accounts for college, parents give us a peek at how they're spending the first payment, which hit bank accounts on Thursday.
Illustration of coin with the face of a baby
Most U.S. families, depending on their incomes, will be getting monthly payments of $300 for each child under the age of 6, or $250 for each child between 6 and 17 years old, through the rest of the year. TODAY Illustration / Getty Images

Millions of parents across the country received the first advanced payment of the child tax credit on Thursday — and many already know exactly how they'll spend the extra cash.

From groceries to back-to-school clothes to rising gas prices, there's no shortage of expenses for most parents today, and that's how many are choosing to spend the payment. Yet others are stashing away the money for the future, putting it into stocks or savings accounts for college tuition, for example. (If you're a parent unsure of how to spend the money, NBC News senior business corespondent Stephanie Ruhle has some suggestions here.)

To be clear, the child tax credit isn't new. Parents typically get the credit as tax refunds. What's new is the advance payments, which will be distributed on a monthly basis to eligible parents through the end of the year, with the rest of the credit coming at tax time. The credit amount is higher this year, too, with the maximum a family can receive per child being $3,600, up from $2,000.

Four families shared with us exactly how they're spending the money. Here's what they had to say.

The dad who's investing in the stock market

"We're looking at college expenses coming up in about seven years and we want to make sure (our son) can get the degree that he wants. We're behind on saving for college so the best use of the new cash version of the child tax credit for us is to invest that in the stock market, which is growing rapidly right now.

"My wife and I both graduated college and were lucky enough, through scholarships and a little family help, to have zero debt, which has really set us up to be successful. We're not rich, but we're able to afford the things we need. We want to give our son the best opportunity to at least be as close to having minimum debt as possible." -Tim Wagner, 47, father of an 11-year-old, and a digital marketing manager in Kerrville, Texas

The professor whose childcare costs more than his mortgage

"My wife and I are both on 9-month contracts; that's the way the university system works. So we don't have income in the summer. This will go directly to child care. Good early childhood education is very important. Being someone who works in education, I know just how important it is. Both of my children go to an early childhood center in the Lansing area. If we pull them out for summer, they'll lose their spot. And they need to socialize and interact with their peers. It's critical for their development.

"We're paying around $1,800 a month now. It's more than my mortgage. It's the single highest reoccurring expense that we have. We don't carry a lot of debt. We're really lucky to be in that situation. But I think about that being a pretty substantial payment every month." -Matthew Brodhead, 37, father of two toddlers, and a professor in Lansing, Michigan

The stay-at-home mom who's paying her son's medical expenses

"We just got back from the appointment (with the pediatric neurologist) 20 minutes ago. As far as I'm aware, we are decidedly middle-class. My husband works for JPMorgan. We have the best insurance we can get through his work. But our deductible and monthly premiums are still sky-high.

"We still can't always afford to go to the doctor when we need to. We have to be choosy. My 9-year-old has ADHD, but we suspect there's some other things going on and have wanted to get him evaluated for a while. It's nice to have this credit now and know that when the doctor bill comes in, we're going to be able to cover it without having to worry, or without sacrificing something else.

"I'm by no means saying we need this money to put food on the table — that's just not our situation. But when you're paying $700 health insurance premiums every month and you still have a $6,000 deductible, and none of that even covers mental health, it's super frustrating."

-Kristi Robertts Murillo, 42, mom to a 3-year-old, 9-year-old and 13-year-old in the Chicago area

The mom of 7 who's letting her kids take extracurricular activities

"My 16-year-old daughter is taking a creative writing and critical thinking class at a local college this summer. Writing that check, we didn't have to think, 'Is it in the budget? Can we afford it?' That's her monthly stipend. Being able to give her opportunities like that, to try things out before going to college, is great. Before, signing up for a $300 or $400 class just to see if she's interested in something probably wasn't possible.

"Being able to say, 'Everyone should take swimming lessons! Everyone can take gymnastics!' — that's what the money is for. I've always been a really frugal person. We need to be cautious and careful about our finances as a country, but we also need to invest where it's important. You put money into your children because their future is important." -Annie Tillberg, 40, a high school teacher and foster mom in northwestern Illinois whose kids range from 9 months to 16 years

These interviews have been edited and condensed.