Best Holiday Gifts for Financially Struggling Families
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:
"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
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.
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.
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
- 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 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.
- 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:
- Give them a present for themselves that they will really love.
- Give them another item that they can use as a holiday gift for someone else.
- 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!
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Big thanks to all the folks who have left such great ideas in this space. Keep 'em coming!