Saturday, November 29, 2014

When someone you love needs help at the holidays

"To learn to give, you have to learn to receive," I was told by a wise nun years ago.

It is the toughest advice I ever had to swallow but one I think I benefit from each day.

Gift giving and spreading holiday joy when someone you love is struggling financially. Charity begins at home,  but it does not have to feel that way.
I had a baby and a three year old, my husband was out of work, and the Great Recession was in its beginnings. Everyone was scared. And so was I.

This was the year that Christmas came from loved ones - and many secret Santas I'm still grateful for. They blessed us with diapers, clothes, toys for the children. I spent that Christmas day in half tears, devastated by the fact we ourselves couldn't provide things for our family. The Kroger gift card - giving us a week's worth of groceries - drove the point home. Never intended, but our situation was too raw.

I learned my "lesson" that year and despite our financial situation tucked away a few things over the year (clearance summer clothes, etc.), determined not to be empty under the tree. But it took even longer for me to learn the real lesson.

Whatever we have - no matter how little - is a gift from God, and we always have the chance to grace others and share blessings.

Here are some ways we've learned to bless others - and some tips for friends and family who are on the "other side" wanting to help: 

Blessing Others When You're Broke

  • Time and talent: I always try to remember that in our church they talk about gifts of not just treasure - but also time and talent. (Note that you'll often hear "treasure" last of these tree!) Gifts of time and talent can make such a difference - whether it's donating time to a charitable organization or making an upcycled gift.

    In the last few years, while we try to recover from our financial upset, we have redoubled our efforts to help, whether it's at school, scouts or church. Not only does it provide needed volunteer support, but my children will remember that mom and dad were there! Maybe you can't donate to the Angel Tree, or perhaps you yourself are benefiting from it; instead, can you help wrap gifts or deliver them?

    The gift of time is simple too. While I don't do gifts for friends, we do invite them for cookie making - treasured time when everyone is so busy! Or offer to babysit one night for a dear friend.
  • Use ExtraBucks wisely. As we don't have a lot of extra money right now, we are very careful in what we can donate. But those ExtraBuck deals can bless others. Now I buy nearly free diapers for our Gabriel Project at church or free foods or medications for the church food pantry. Every bit helps.
  • Reach out and ask how you can help. I believe people naturally want to help others but sometimes we need to give them the opportunity. A woman at church knew a family whose home burnt. She certainly couldn't help them in all the ways they needed, so she reached out. And we reached out. A few phone calls later and I had not only clothes for one daughter from us but also clothes for a son and decorations for a Christmas tree I had heard was being donated to the family. 

When Your Family Is Financially Struggling 

  • Don't be afraid to ask what they need...and gently encourage them to share. Do the kids need new shoes? Pajamas? Maybe they need diapers (or maybe cloth ones they can reuse?) or gas cards?

    Be specific. Saying to let me know if you need anything, or asking what I can do to help may not get you far.
  • Help meet emotional needs. While you're not a therapist, even something as simple as movie tickets and an offer to watch the kids for a night can give parents the emotional break from the constant worry of a situation.
  • Be practical without feeling"practical." Sure you could buy groceries, but you can also buy a basket of locally made spaghetti sauces, breads and salad dressings (for example) from the winter farmers market or buy a gift certificate to a local produce delivery service. It makes the ordinary - cooking and worrying about feeding the family - feel a bit more decadent.
  • Consider gifts of experience instead of stuff for the kids. One year, my mother bought the kids soccer and dance lessons at the parks department instead of toys. She likely even saved money than when she bought stuff, but more importantly, the kids felt a little more "normal" and for once weren't turned down when they asked to do an activity. We've tried to continue this tradition when we could, asking for a drawing class through Girl Scouts, for instance.
  • Take the focus, if you can, off money. Invite a family for a popcorn and Christmas movie night at your house, take them to a free or low-cost Christmas event, go caroling or looking at the Christmas lights, or invite the kids out for an afternoon of sledding.
  • Remember, while they appreciate any assistance , it's also hard to receive. Being in a position of constant worry is difficult, and it's hard to learn to receive gracefully.
Please help others help their loved ones! Share your tips below.


  1. Blessing others is mostly about looking for ways to love them. Sometimes it means being able to pick up the phone when they need to talk. I've been blessing a needy family at church by asking her to babysit for us. I need the adult time, she needs the money. It is a blessing for her and doesn't feel like charity, because it is important to be mindful of people's feelings about needing help.

  2. What a great post with practical ways to help. We did not have much money growing up either, and my mom would be the one to bake cookies for the class or to give her time. She said she couldn't give money, but she could help in some way. Many times that is appreciated more as that is what is really needed.

  3. There are some really great ideas here. Thanks so much for sharing. We have been in similar situations.

  4. Wonderful ideas! Your transparency about your past and current situation makes this post even better! Christmas has become so materialized, but's not about the stuff. The time and talent, as you mentioned, is worth so much more.

  5. Such an awesome post, appreciate the hints, tips and ways to help others in the holiday season and year round!

  6. Over here from Home Matters Linky Party.
    Great ideas! This year, I've had to accept not being the one giving, and it's very hard for me. But God is still good!

  7. These are all great ideas! Thanks for linking up at the #HomeMatters Linky.