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Best Holiday Gifts for Financially Struggling Families

For families struggling to make ends meet, some gifts are more useful and appreciated than others. Here are some of my suggestions.

This article will list many different practical gifts to get for families that are struggling financially.

This article will list many different practical gifts to get for families that are struggling financially.

Thoughtful and Practical Gifts

There are many families in America who may not be homeless or starving, but they're struggling. Meeting the needs of providing a normal family life is a strain.

If you have friends or relatives who are having financial troubles, choose a holiday gift that will make their life a little better all year long. The gift ideas below are things that would be wonderful for families like mine.

I'm Not Starving, But . . .

People already have ideas about what to give to the very poorest of the poor. Those who have no food in the refrigerator, and maybe no refrigerator at all. But that's not the situation for me and many other American families. We have a home, and we're surviving—but keeping everything together is difficult.

My family, in particular, are what they call "house poor." The definition of "house poverty" is:

"Someone who is house poor dedicates so much income to housing, he or she may have difficulty meeting financial obligations and discretionary income is usually limited." — wiseGEEK

In our case, it's not mortgage payments; it's rent. Rent and utilities for a place in Los Angeles that will accommodate our whole family eat up most of our income, and covering the rest of life's expenses is a juggling act.

Families like mine don't quite need blankets and a box of canned goods, but we don't really want a spa day, either. (I mean, it would be fun, but when we get back from it, our day-to-day existence will be just as hard as it was before.)

When the holidays come around, that family you know that's having money troubles will really appreciate a present that makes maintaining a normal life a little easier.

Here's What We Really Want

Nice Clothing

Especially clothes for the children. Grown-ups can often go a long time without buying any new clothes, but children have this habit of growing. Every time we turn around, they're bursting out of their things again. We always need new clothes and shoes for them.

Note: Children's clothing should be given as Mom's or Dad's Christmas presents, not the children's. Give the children toys or games for the holidays. The Little Match Girl would be thrilled to get shoes and socks for Christmas, but your niece and nephew want Legos, just like any other kid.

If you decide to get clothing for an adult, choose something that will last for a long time. Look for sturdy fabrics (machine washable, please!) and classic styles that won't go out of fashion next week.

Give Something the Family Uses a Lot

Some items always get used up quickly. I'm a choir director, so something I go through a lot of is blank CDs (and CD sleeves). What is your friend or relative always running out of? Giving them a hefty supply of it leaves them with one less thing to keep up with.

Low-Maintenance Toys

For children's toys and games, you want to get something that won't break easily and will provide long-term fun without additional expenses. The ideas below are things that have been really good for my kids.

  • Building toys like K'nex and Legos are great.
  • My mother bought my boys Razor scooters, and they've lasted a long time.
Practical and useful kitchen gear can be a welcome gift.

Practical and useful kitchen gear can be a welcome gift.

Helpful Kitchen Gear

Food is one of the biggest expenses for any family, and cooking from scratch is a big money-saver. But cooking from scratch also requires a lot more time and effort. A person who may be working multiple jobs can find it difficult to muster up the energy to do a bunch of cooking.

But a nifty time-saving kitchen gadget can make things a lot easier. Consider kitchen items that can help a family trim their food budget and improve the nutritional quality of their meals.

  • Bread maker
  • Juicer
  • Rice cooker

Mom or Dad Might Like a Kindle

Farther down on this page, I talk about being careful not to give a gift that will bring additional expenses. But there are lots of titles that are available for free on the Kindle, so this could be a really abundant gift for the parents or even the kids!

Gift Cards? Sure!

It's especially good to give a gift card that will cover spending that they already need to do. Think necessities, not luxuries.

Other Gift Ideas

  • Fix or replace something that's broken: When finances are tight, it's hard to pull together the cash to repair broken items (as I write this, my oven is not working, and I'm not sure when we'll be ready to get it fixed). Take care of that malfunctioning appliance or patch up that hole in the wall.
  • Get their car serviced for them: This is something that people will often procrastinate when they're low on money.
  • Pay a utility bill: If someone is always racing to stay ahead of disconnections, getting a bill paid current can be a godsend.
  • Give them a gas card: One year, for Christmas, my aunt gave gas cards to everyone she knew. I loved it!
  • Get them a bus pass: Passes for the Metro in Los Angeles are expensive, so not everybody would be able to give a gift like this. But anyone who did would be giving a serious blessing to someone who relies on public transportation.
  • Buy them a savings bond or some stock: When they're struggling to take care of routine expenses, they don't have much opportunity to put money towards the future.
  • Start (or donate to) a college fund for their kids: Again, look toward the future.

Give Us Something That We Can Re-Gift!

When the holidays come, families who rarely buy anything but necessities for themselves face the prospect of spending their meager cash buying presents for others. Being relieved of some of that burden is a blessing in itself.

To give someone an item they can re-gift, you would have to give it to them before the holiday actually comes. If you're close to the person and they know that you know their financial situation, it won't feel uncomfortable, and it will be appreciated.

If you're in a position to be really generous, here's an idea for a perfect hat-trick holiday gift:

  1. Give them a present for themselves that they will really love.
  2. Give them another item that they can use as a holiday gift for someone else.
  3. Brainstorm with them about what gift they should give you that you would really value but doesn't cost money. Help with a project? Babysitting services? There's probably something that they're really good at that you're not so good at.
Try to avoid gifting something that will just create more bills, such as a smartphone.

Try to avoid gifting something that will just create more bills, such as a smartphone.

Avoid Giving a Gift That Will Lead To More Bills

Don't give them something that they will have to spend money to use.

Will that fancy phone require them to upgrade to a more expensive service plan? Better to pay their current phone bill for the month.

Will the gym membership mean spending money on gas, babysitting, and "appropriate" workout clothes? Give them some home exercise equipment instead.

Will the game system for the kids cause them to beg Mom and Dad for every new game that comes out? Buy a drama-free toy.

Welcome to the guestbook!

Julie on February 23, 2020:

When my kids were young and we had no discretionary income, my dad used to buy us a family membership every year -- one year to the local zoo, another to a science museum, another to the aquarium. One of the best things about this is that most organizations like these have reciprocal memberships that can be used at a lot of places. The science museum near UC Davis was less than $100 for the whole year -- and we used it at a dozen other places for free admission. Great presents that lasted the whole year long!

Maggie Matshazi on November 09, 2019:

Hi i would love to give kids in a shelter toys and school shoes, if anyone can help i will be thankful.Looking forward to hear from you.

annabell on December 25, 2018:

I give a board game, or card game for christmas gifts. I as them to open them now and play the game with that person or family. My real gift is my time.

George felix on December 09, 2017:

This year I've been going though hardship with being out of work lost my apartment .Because I could not afford it living shelter .With my spouse and fine children would really like to get them all Christmas presents and a nice meal for all of us . So if there anyone willing to help us out . Though these hard times would really appreciate it very much .. Season Greatings to everyone .

dilun on November 28, 2017:

h i

I am trying to get my mother something special on November 26, 2017:

I need to be able to get her around I have no car an my legs are bad she has cancer an I won't to spend as much time I can with her

I am trying to get my mother something special on November 26, 2017:

I need to be able to get her around I have no car an my legs are bad she has cancer an I won't to spend as much time I can with her

precious on November 22, 2017:

Looking for any kind of job in order put food on the table for my we event sleep days with no food on table

Joni on November 12, 2017:

Spot on! Thank you! I would also add to the list food that you can't usually afford. Like, sugar cereal, cheese ball and crackers, chocolate. Also, some type of frivolous, small thing like a game or tickets to a movie...a gift card for an ice cream place. Basically, anything out of the ordinary and mundane that make you feel just the tiniest bit of added cheer. Even a plate of homemade cookies or a fresh loaf of bread given by a neighbor or friend make things feel festive. I remember one particularly difficult Christmas someone brought us pinecones, peanut butter and a loaf of bread and then sat down with us to make pinecone treats for the birds outside. We smeared them with the rancid peanut butter that was no longer good for consumption and rolled them in bread crumbs and dry oatmeal and then had so much fun going outside to hang them up in the neighborhood trees for the birds so they could have a merry Christmas feast. I loved your article. Everything you said was just spot on! Thank you!

Cashjocky on December 10, 2016:

I have several family members that are always needing help. But, I refuse to give them cash for fear it will be spend on beer, cigerettes or the like. I always give them gift cards to places where those items are not part of the inventory. So they have to buy food, gas, clothing etc.

Ester on November 23, 2016:

Christmas is not about gift, we already received our gift on Christmas day, is our Lord Jesus Christ. Everyone made it so commercial and gifts giving. Truly, Christmas is all about being happy with family, and friend etc... We have to be Thankful for what we have. I used to think so much like everyone but realized about holidays and teaching my 5 year old son about holidays too.

Wong Seng Wee from Singapore on January 05, 2015:

I think most of the gift items you mentioned above are big ticket items. Any more suggestions for gifts for housewarming party?

Fay Favored from USA on December 19, 2014:

You have so many good suggestions Joan. One thing I like to do is to start a small Christmas Club fund at their local bank in the amount that the family can manage each week. My aunt always opened two Christmas club accounts. One for Christmas and one for her taxes. She never had large tax bills because of that extra Christmas club account.

Kappygirl on December 06, 2014:

Great ideas! I have had instances where I wanted to give to someone struggling but didn't want to offend. This helps a lot. I never would have thought of giving something they could purposely re-gift. That's genius!

Shelly Wyatt from Maryland on November 30, 2014:

What wonderful suggestions! I love this hub, thanks for sharing this.

CCGAL on October 20, 2012:

This really IS the most practical and useful gift ideas lens I've seen.

anonymous on October 08, 2012:

great lense, thanks for sharing!

cheapconfessions on December 26, 2011:

So right, paying off some bills can be a godsend to a family. Especially in the winter when electricity or gas bills can be huge. Great ideas!

goo2eyes lm on December 21, 2011:

thank you for sharing this lens. it is a very touching lens.

curious0927 on December 20, 2011:

Bless you for thinking this much needed idea together so well!

inutzza21 on December 20, 2011:

Lovely lens. IT is so thoughtful to think even about those in need. God bless you and happy holidays.

C A Chancellor from US/TN on December 19, 2011:

A good reminder to give what a person really wants (or needs) to receive rather than what we want for them.

Gloria Freeman from Alabama USA on December 17, 2011:

Very nice lens,I enjoyed reading it.Lot of helpful info for gift to give.If a family is in need or any time.This is great ,bless you !!

nursecraft on December 15, 2011:

Bless you for this lens! Wonderful job here!

LoneMeadowLark on December 15, 2011:

This lens is so touching. I have been on both sides of this situation. I've been the one in need, and I've been the one at a loss as to what would be most wanted and helpful to others who are struggling. Thank you.

imolaK on December 15, 2011:

I find a lot of helpful ideas in your lens. Blessed!

skefflingecho from Tobermory Ontario on December 13, 2011:

What a great lens with wonderful ideas. We loved gift cards back in the day, it was a real treat to be able to go and "spend" them. Blessed!

fullofshoes on December 11, 2011:

wonderful reading, thank you. Even the second time around :) Thanks.

LadyCharlie on December 09, 2011:

To me this is Christmas spirit and how about those home knitted hats and mittens for the northern winter kids. Blessed

markettrol on December 09, 2011:

Great lens....some really good ideas

BePanicFree on December 07, 2011:

This is a really great lens, full of practical ideas for gifts and covering a great range of prices and something to suit everyone, well done!

TopToysForKids on December 06, 2011:

Excellent idea and execution for a lens. Often it isn't the expensive gifts we remember, but the times surrounding. For instance: singing together or sipping hot cocoa.

pacrapacma lm on December 06, 2011:

Congrats on LOTD! This is great advice!

DecoratingEvents on December 05, 2011:

These are excellent, thoughtful gifts Joan. We should all think through our gift choices for family and friends. Congrats on LotD!

Mishael A Witty on December 05, 2011:

Congrats on LoTD. This is a great lens. Now I'm going to check out your lens about kitchen appliances. Gift cards are the best (speaking as one who used to be house poor but is now baby poorer)!

Barbara Radisavljevic from Paso Robles, CA on December 05, 2011:

A very timely lens that I'm sure many families will appreciate. Your suggestions are very practical.

2bestcheap on December 04, 2011:

Wonderful Lens Thank for share.

Stacy Birch on December 04, 2011:

Nice lens.

lasertek lm on December 04, 2011:

Thank you so much for sharing.

WhitePineLane on December 04, 2011:

This is one of the best lenses I have seen in a long time. Congrats on LOTD - well deserved!

gesmarketman on December 04, 2011:

Wonderful lens. Great idea and good advise. God has obviously blessed you with a nurturing and caring spirit. Thanks for sharing that gift with us.

KandH on December 04, 2011:

Thanks, this is just brilliant!

Keeah on December 04, 2011:

Some great tips. I would not have thought of giving copy paper or toner as gifts but why not? Very practical something everyone uses now.

MyTimeAlone on December 04, 2011:

My kids and I read 'Little House on the Prairie' together recently. The two girls received a penny and a piece of candy at Christmas. It is a far cry from our world today. Thanks for writing a thoughtful lens that reminds me of what is really important.

flyingpuppy on December 04, 2011:

Great ideas, Joan! I wrote a piece on 10 gifts you can make yourself--including how to change the oil in a car (one of your suggestions). See for a detailed tutorial on the ten gifts.

anonymous on December 04, 2011:

What a wonderful lens, it will help me out tremendously this holiday season.

Best wishes to you and your family, Joan!

anonymous on December 04, 2011:

A very thoughtful lens

Mart903 on December 04, 2011:

Congratulations, _Joan_, on this truly exemplary LotD!

emmajowebster on December 04, 2011:

great lens !

Niche-Diva on December 04, 2011:

I love the idea of NOT buying a gift that will lead to another bill.....also someform of travel gift (or gift that pays for travel expenses) would be VERY helpful!

Heather Bradford from Canada on December 04, 2011:

I think many of us can relate to this situation. It's very timely. Thanks for bringing it to attention so well.

Presence09 on December 03, 2011:

thanks for these tips!

gypsyman27 lm on December 03, 2011:

Thanks for sharing this much needed information. See you around the galaxy...

inlakech lm on December 03, 2011:

Sometimes the most useful and thoughtful gifts cost nothing, but your time. Why not offer to help someone this holiday season? You can offer to babysit, cook them a meal, do yard work or household repairs, or just keep them company. Letting someone know you care? Priceless!

LasgalenArts on December 03, 2011:

Terrific lens. This gives me much to think about for those who are house poor in our family. Thank you.

AlleyCatLane on December 03, 2011:

Terrific lens idea and valuable information. Blessed!

GrowWear on December 03, 2011:

Congratulations for LOTD, Joan!

NightMagic on December 03, 2011:

You deserve Lot-D for this lens. I've been here before when I was a single mother. Your suggestions are great especially the re-gifting one. I would always feel so terrible when I couldn't buy presents for anyone but my kids. I'm sure glad thing have become a lot better than that time in my life.

clouda9 lm on December 03, 2011:

Congrats to you on LOTD, certainly deserved. This is a well thought out lens about how to truly give during the holidays. I think your list of other gift ideas is brilliant. *Blessed today because this is going to help a lot of people through a rough time of year.

Jennifer P Tanabe from Red Hook, NY on December 03, 2011:

Excellent ideas and how wonderful to suggest gifts that will be really appreciated! Blessed

Vicki from USA on December 03, 2011:

Congratulations on LOTD! You have some great Christmas gift ideas for families who are struggling financially! Great topic for a lens.

NoYouAreNot on December 03, 2011:

Something that we could re-gift is a wonderful idea. It really sucks having to go empty-handed to places!

Erin Hardison from Memphis, TN on December 03, 2011:

What an incredibly helpful lens! Congrats on a well-deserved LOTD!

Dee Gallemore on December 03, 2011:

Came back to extend congrats on LOTD . . . well deserved!

heehaw lm on December 03, 2011:

congrats of being selected as LOTD. this lens should be blessed often :))

Anthony Godinho from Ontario, Canada on December 03, 2011:

Wonderful lens with practical gift ideas that can really help struggling families during these challenging economic times. Wishing you and yours a Blessed and Wonderful Christmas / Holiday season...blessings! :)

ltraider on December 03, 2011:

What a great idea for a lens. Kudos!

dking82 on December 03, 2011:

This is a wonderful lens, especially these days when a lot of us are struggling in this economy (and you can't really tell your kid that Santa is a little poor this year)

Wendy Hughes from Charlotte on December 03, 2011:

The service voucher is most valuable. Folks who have very little often can't afford to fix things once they wear out. I have a small window pane that is broken; it looks terrible from the street. I called and the prices quoted are out of my reach; hence an offer to fix it would be better than any gift I could receive, right now.



modernchakra on December 03, 2011:

Wonderful Ideas and totally on the right side of the this holiday season. Thank you for bringing attention to those in need.

KarenCookieJar on December 03, 2011:

It's sad when people feel pressure and the need to exchange gifts during the holidays. If a family is truly struggling, I don't think they should exchange gifts, rather do something together as a family like share a day out or take a trip somewhere or create a memory that will last a lifetime, rather then giving gifts that they won't use 6 months later.

InSearchOf LM on December 03, 2011:

Very nice lens. Great ideas.

DesignZeal on December 03, 2011:

Beautiful lens, written with lots of love and compassion. Congratulations on LOTD, well deserved!

Laurel Johnson from Washington KS on December 03, 2011:

What a wonderful, heart warming lens!! THESE are the sorts of gifts I believe in because they represent the true meaning of Christmas. LOTD is well-deserved.

Carolan Ross from St. Louis, MO on December 03, 2011:

The lens has warmth, compassion and sincerity written all over it. A bright needle in a haystack of endless sales pages, these words are from the heart REAL! Bless you, Joan.

veebarber on December 03, 2011:

hey well done Joan. This reminds me of the saying ""it's not the gift but the thought that counts"".Keep on inspiring.

norma-holt on December 02, 2011:

Congrats on LOTD, Joan. Now featured on Squidoo LOTD Lenses.

flycatcherrr on December 02, 2011:

What a terrific lens - such practical suggestions for things to give that actually might help someone! I'll be sharing this one around. Thank you so much - the Lens of the Day is well deserved here.

anonymous on December 02, 2011:

Thanks for the great ideas -

mySuccess8 on December 02, 2011:

I like the idea of re-gifting by sending gifts earlier. Thanks for a wonderful lens.

fugeecat lm on December 02, 2011:

The advice about not giving gifts that will cost them something is excellent. I don't think a lot of people think about that.

traveller27 on December 02, 2011:

Great idea for a lens and congrats on the LOTD. Blessed by a traveling angel.

DesignedbyLisa LM on December 02, 2011:

What great ideas! Congrats on your LOTD!

anonymous on December 02, 2011:

Congratulations on Lens of the Day. Very well written lens with a ton of great gift giving ideas!

Karen Kay from Jackson, MS on December 02, 2011:

Great ideas Joan! Congrats on LOTD!

Faye Rutledge from Concord VA on December 02, 2011:

And meant to say, Congratulations on LotD!! Great job!

Faye Rutledge from Concord VA on December 02, 2011:

These are great ideas.

Frischy from Kentucky, USA on December 02, 2011:

Wonderful lens, Joan! I have been in the same situation for many years. First I was house poor with two children, now I am health poor with one child. Medical bills can cause this kind of poverty as well. Your suggestions are perfect and very timely in our current economic climate. Blessed!

talkies lm on December 02, 2011:

Congrats on LOTD!

Jeanette from Australia on December 02, 2011:

What a great lens worthy of LOTD! Congratulations.

menskincaretips on December 02, 2011:

Very useful tips, these are great gift ideas and in the end what matters most is the love that goes into the gift! Thanks for sharing!

ScamsOfTheHeart on December 02, 2011:

Good lens idea! I am going to share this with others.

Kiwisoutback from Massachusetts on December 02, 2011:

Excellent work. This might just be the best gift themed lens I've seen this year. Well deserved LOTD, blessed!

LaurieKristensen on December 02, 2011:

Truly great lens, I shared it on Facebook!

dustytoes on December 02, 2011:

I hate that the holidays make us feel like we have to spend money in stupid ways - these suggestions are so helpful, and money is always a very good gift to someone in need.

anonymous on December 02, 2011:

What a lovely thing to do for those who are struggling this year! Your ideas are excellent, and your LOTD is very well deserved. Thanks for caring about those in need.

Ann Hinds from So Cal on December 02, 2011:

Congratulations of LOTD. The message here is so important and I am so glad that this lens get the attention that it deserves. .

Angie G from Southern California on December 02, 2011:

Congrats on LOTD. Well-deserved. I think many more people are in this situation than anybody realizes, including me and several members of my family. It is such a struggle to make ends meet sometimes. Even when both parents have good-paying jobs. Budgets are tight all over. Then Christmas comes along and stretches things even further.

IngridA1 on December 02, 2011:

Firstly, a huge congratulations to you! I'd never heard of house poverty before however I can say we sure are in that boat! Your lens is very creative and really gets to the bare bones of what is really needed. I should send your lens as a hint to my family members!

TEAhug on December 02, 2011:

Great lens, Congrats