Best Holiday Gifts for Financially Struggling Families

Updated on August 31, 2017

These are the kinds of gifts that would be most appreciated by families who are going through tough financial times.

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.

For my family in particular, we are what they call "house poor." The definition of "house poverty" is this:

"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 eats 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 present, 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.


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! Free books for the Kindle.

Gift cards? Sure!

It's especially good to give a gift card that will cover spending that they already needed 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.

  • Maybe a gas card!

    One year for Christmas my aunt gave gas cards to everyone she knew. I loved it!

  • Or 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.


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.

Share your gift suggestions!

This area is not the guestbook. Please leave regular greetings in the guestbook at the bottom of the page. This space is for gift suggestions, so any comments here that are not gift suggestions will be deleted.

Big THANK YOUs to all the folks who have left such great ideas in this space. Keep 'em coming!

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    • profile image

      dilun 2 months ago

      h i

    • profile image

      I am trying to get my mother something special 2 months ago

      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

    • profile image

      I am trying to get my mother something special 2 months ago

      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

    • profile image

      precious 3 months ago

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

    • profile image

      Joni 3 months ago

      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!

    • profile image

      Cashjocky 14 months ago

      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.

    • profile image

      Ester 15 months ago

      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.

    • HeyHuJiao profile image

      Wong Seng Wee 3 years ago from Singapore

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

    • favored profile image

      Fay Favored 3 years ago from USA

      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 profile image

      Kappygirl 3 years ago

      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!

    • velzipmur profile image

      Shelly Wyatt 3 years ago from Maryland

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

    • CCGAL profile image

      CCGAL 5 years ago

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

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      great lense, thanks for sharing!

    • profile image

      cheapconfessions 6 years ago

      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 profile image

      goo2eyes lm 6 years ago

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

    • curious0927 profile image

      curious0927 6 years ago

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

    • inutzza21 profile image

      inutzza21 6 years ago

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

    • Board-Game-Brooke profile image

      C A Chancellor 6 years ago from US/TN

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

    • flinnie lm profile image

      Gloria Freeman 6 years ago from Alabama USA

      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 !!

    • profile image

      nursecraft 6 years ago

      Bless you for this lens! Wonderful job here!

    • LoneMeadowLark profile image

      LoneMeadowLark 6 years ago

      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 profile image

      imolaK 6 years ago

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

    • skefflingecho profile image

      skefflingecho 6 years ago from Tobermory Ontario

      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!

    • profile image

      fullofshoes 6 years ago

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

    • LadyCharlie profile image

      LadyCharlie 6 years ago

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

    • markettrol profile image

      markettrol 6 years ago

      Great lens....some really good ideas

    • profile image

      BePanicFree 6 years ago

      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 profile image

      TopToysForKids 6 years ago

      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 profile image

      pacrapacma lm 6 years ago

      Congrats on LOTD! This is great advice!

    • DecoratingEvents profile image

      DecoratingEvents 6 years ago

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

    • Mishael A Witty profile image

      Mishael A Witty 6 years ago

      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)!

    • BarbRad profile image

      Barbara Radisavljevic 6 years ago from Templeton, CA

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

    • profile image

      2bestcheap 6 years ago

      Wonderful Lens Thank for share.

    • Stacy Birch profile image

      Stacy Birch 6 years ago

      Nice lens.

    • lasertek lm profile image

      lasertek lm 6 years ago

      Thank you so much for sharing.

    • profile image

      WhitePineLane 6 years ago

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

    • profile image

      gesmarketman 6 years ago

      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 profile image

      KandH 6 years ago

      Thanks, this is just brilliant!

    • Keeah profile image

      Keeah 6 years ago

      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 profile image

      MyTimeAlone 6 years ago

      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.

    • profile image

      flyingpuppy 6 years ago

      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.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

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

      Best wishes to you and your family, Joan!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      A very thoughtful lens

    • profile image

      Mart903 6 years ago

      Congratulations, _Joan_, on this truly exemplary LotD!

    • emmajowebster profile image

      emmajowebster 6 years ago

      great lens !

    • Niche-Diva profile image

      Niche-Diva 6 years ago

      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!

    • canoz profile image

      Heather Bradford 6 years ago from Canada

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

    • profile image

      Presence09 6 years ago

      thanks for these tips!

    • gypsyman27 lm profile image

      gypsyman27 lm 6 years ago

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

    • inlakech lm profile image

      inlakech lm 6 years ago

      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!

    • profile image

      LasgalenArts 6 years ago

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

    • profile image

      AlleyCatLane 6 years ago

      Terrific lens idea and valuable information. Blessed!

    • profile image

      GrowWear 6 years ago

      Congratulations for LOTD, Joan!

    • NightMagic profile image

      NightMagic 6 years ago

      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 profile image

      clouda9 lm 6 years ago

      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.

    • jptanabe profile image

      Jennifer P Tanabe 6 years ago from Red Hook, NY

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

    • Retro Loco profile image

      Vicki 6 years ago from USA

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

    • NoYouAreNot profile image

      NoYouAreNot 6 years ago

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

    • BunnyFabulous profile image

      BunnyFabulous 6 years ago from Central Florida

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

    • Dee Gallemore profile image

      Dee Gallemore 6 years ago

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

    • heehaw lm profile image

      heehaw lm 6 years ago

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

    • ajgodinho profile image

      Anthony Godinho 6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      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 profile image

      ltraider 6 years ago

      What a great idea for a lens. Kudos!

    • profile image

      dking82 6 years ago

      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)

    • HomeArtist1 profile image

      Wendy Hughes 6 years ago from Charlotte

      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 profile image

      modernchakra 6 years ago

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

    • profile image

      KarenCookieJar 6 years ago

      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 profile image

      InSearchOf LM 6 years ago

      Very nice lens. Great ideas.

    • profile image

      DesignZeal 6 years ago

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

    • lollyj lm profile image

      Laurel Johnson 6 years ago from Washington KS

      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.

    • CrossCreations profile image

      Carolan Ross 6 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      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.

    • profile image

      veebarber 6 years ago

      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 profile image

      norma-holt 6 years ago

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

    • flycatcherrr profile image

      flycatcherrr 6 years ago

      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.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Thanks for the great ideas -

    • mySuccess8 profile image

      mySuccess8 6 years ago

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

    • fugeecat lm profile image

      fugeecat lm 6 years ago

      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 profile image

      traveller27 6 years ago

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

    • DesignedbyLisa LM profile image

      DesignedbyLisa LM 6 years ago

      What great ideas! Congrats on your LOTD!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

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

    • DreamingBoomer profile image

      Karen Kay 6 years ago from Jackson, MS

      Great ideas Joan! Congrats on LOTD!

    • Faye Rutledge profile image

      Faye Rutledge 6 years ago from Concord VA

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

    • Faye Rutledge profile image

      Faye Rutledge 6 years ago from Concord VA

      These are great ideas.

    • Frischy profile image

      Frischy 6 years ago from Kentucky, USA

      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 profile image

      talkies lm 6 years ago

      Congrats on LOTD!

    • GonnaFly profile image

      Jeanette 6 years ago from Australia

      What a great lens worthy of LOTD! Congratulations.

    • menskincaretips profile image

      menskincaretips 6 years ago

      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!

    • profile image

      ScamsOfTheHeart 6 years ago

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

    • Kiwisoutback profile image

      Kiwisoutback 6 years ago from Massachusetts

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

    • LaurieKristensen profile image

      LaurieKristensen 6 years ago

      Truly great lens, I shared it on Facebook!

    • dustytoes profile image

      dustytoes 6 years ago

      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.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      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 profile image

      Ann Hinds 6 years ago from So Cal

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

    • SunnyDaze LM profile image

      SunnyDaze LM 6 years ago

      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 profile image

      IngridA1 6 years ago

      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 profile image

      TEAhug 6 years ago

      Great lens, Congrats

    • KathyMcGraw2 profile image

      Kathy McGraw 6 years ago from California

      Joan you have some great suggestions here, and I loved how you stated that just because someone is having a hard time doesn't mean they are starving. Heck even many of the homeless have food thanks to food stamps. But like you said, paying a bill, or giving something that they need on an ongoing basis is very helpful, I know :) *blessed* and congrats on a great LOTD.

    • profile image

      Testy2 6 years ago

      Fantastic lens! Congratulations on a well-deserved LotD!!dogmeow

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 6 years ago from Colorado

      This article really brings an important perspective to Christmas. I am very appreciative of this honest and true message about the realities faced by a huge number of families at holiday season and beyond. Let us all act with generosity. Congrats on LotD! May you and your loved ones know many blessings this Christmas.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago