It is the toughest advice I ever had to swallow but one I think I benefit from each day.
My baby boy was just a baby, 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 When You're Broke
- Time and talent: I always try to remember that in our church they talk about gifts of time, talent and treasure. (Note the treasure is last!) 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; 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 I have recently realized that 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. 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.
Helping Loved Ones Who are Financially Struggling
- Don't be afraid to ask what they need...and gently encourage them to share. Do the kids need new shoes? PJs? 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 experience gifts for the kids. My mother one year bought the kids soccer and dance lessons at the parks department instead of toys. She likely even saved money, but more importantly, the kids felt a little more "normal" and for once weren't turned down when they asked to do an activity.
- Take the focus, if you can, off money. Invite them 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 it, it's also hard to receive. Being in a position of constant worry is difficult, and it's hard to learn to receive gracefully.