Best Holiday Gifts for Financially Struggling Families

Updated on September 27, 2019
joanhall profile image

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. | Source

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

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.

Practical and useful kitchen gear can be a welcome gift.
Practical and useful kitchen gear can be a welcome gift. | Source

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 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:

  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. | Source

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

Questions & Answers

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      • profile image


        6 weeks ago

        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!

      • profile image

        Maggie Matshazi 

        4 months ago

        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.

      • profile image


        15 months ago

        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.

      • profile image

        George felix 

        2 years ago

        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 .

      • profile image


        2 years ago

        h i

      • profile image

        I am trying to get my mother something special 

        2 years 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 years 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


        2 years 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


        2 years 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


        3 years 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


        3 years 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 

        5 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 

        5 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


        5 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 

        5 years ago from Maryland

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

      • CCGAL profile image


        7 years ago

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

      • profile image


        7 years ago

        great lense, thanks for sharing!

      • profile image


        8 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 

        8 years ago

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

      • curious0927 profile image


        8 years ago

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

      • inutzza21 profile image


        8 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 

        8 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 

        8 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


        8 years ago

        Bless you for this lens! Wonderful job here!

      • LoneMeadowLark profile image


        8 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


        8 years ago

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

      • skefflingecho profile image


        8 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


        8 years ago

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

      • LadyCharlie profile image


        8 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


        8 years ago

        Great lens....some really good ideas

      • profile image


        8 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


        8 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 

        8 years ago

        Congrats on LOTD! This is great advice!

      • DecoratingEvents profile image


        8 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 

        8 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 

        8 years ago from Templeton, CA

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

      • profile image


        8 years ago

        Wonderful Lens Thank for share.

      • Stacy Birch profile image

        Stacy Birch 

        8 years ago

        Nice lens.

      • lasertek lm profile image

        lasertek lm 

        8 years ago

        Thank you so much for sharing.

      • profile image


        8 years ago

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

      • profile image


        8 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


        8 years ago

        Thanks, this is just brilliant!

      • Keeah profile image


        8 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


        8 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


        8 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


        8 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


        8 years ago

        A very thoughtful lens

      • profile image


        8 years ago

        Congratulations, _Joan_, on this truly exemplary LotD!

      • emmajowebster profile image


        8 years ago

        great lens !

      • Niche-Diva profile image


        8 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 

        8 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


        8 years ago

        thanks for these tips!

      • gypsyman27 lm profile image

        gypsyman27 lm 

        8 years ago

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

      • inlakech lm profile image

        inlakech lm 

        8 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


        8 years ago

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

      • profile image


        8 years ago

        Terrific lens idea and valuable information. Blessed!

      • profile image


        8 years ago

        Congratulations for LOTD, Joan!

      • NightMagic profile image


        8 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 

        8 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 

        8 years ago from Red Hook, NY

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

      • Retro Loco profile image


        8 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.

      • profile image


        8 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

        Erin Hardison 

        8 years ago from Memphis, TN

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

      • Dee Gallemore profile image

        Dee Gallemore 

        8 years ago

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

      • heehaw lm profile image

        heehaw lm 

        8 years ago

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

      • ajgodinho profile image

        Anthony Godinho 

        8 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


        8 years ago

        What a great idea for a lens. Kudos!

      • profile image


        8 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 

        8 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


        8 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


        8 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 

        8 years ago

        Very nice lens. Great ideas.

      • profile image


        8 years ago

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

      • lollyj lm profile image

        Laurel Johnson 

        8 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 

        8 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


        8 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


        8 years ago

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

      • flycatcherrr profile image


        8 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


        8 years ago

        Thanks for the great ideas -

      • mySuccess8 profile image


        8 years ago

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

      • fugeecat lm profile image

        fugeecat lm 

        8 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


        8 years ago

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

      • DesignedbyLisa LM profile image

        DesignedbyLisa LM 

        8 years ago

        What great ideas! Congrats on your LOTD!

      • profile image


        8 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 

        8 years ago from Jackson, MS

        Great ideas Joan! Congrats on LOTD!

      • Faye Rutledge profile image

        Faye Rutledge 

        8 years ago from Concord VA

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

      • Faye Rutledge profile image

        Faye Rutledge 

        8 years ago from Concord VA

        These are great ideas.

      • Frischy profile image


        8 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 

        8 years ago

        Congrats on LOTD!

      • GonnaFly profile image


        8 years ago from Australia

        What a great lens worthy of LOTD! Congratulations.

      • menskincaretips profile image


        8 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


        8 years ago

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

      • Kiwisoutback profile image


        8 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


        8 years ago

        Truly great lens, I shared it on Facebook!

      • dustytoes profile image


        8 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


        8 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 

        8 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

        Angie G 

        8 years ago from Southern California

        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


        8 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


        8 years ago

        Great lens, Congrats


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