Anyone who has lived on the margin has likely felt the anxiety that comes with having just about enough to get by. That's why I'd like to suggest a holiday present that can make a short- or long-term difference in someone's life -- the gift of breathing room. Got a barely-afloat friend or family member or one who is inching toward the red side of the ledger? Even a small amount of leeway could be extremely helpful (maybe even life-changing) to unemployed or underemployed friends and relatives, single parents, retirees or recent college grads. The freeing-up of even $20 from someone's budget could become seed money for an emergency fund, an extra payment toward consumer debt, the sneakers her kid needs for gym class. I included workarounds for those who are themselves on budgets. But the higher-end suggestions could be good collective presents if need be. Suppose you and your parents chipped in on a breathing-room gift for a sib who graduated with deep student debt and a starter salary?
Gimme shelter1. Lend the initial deposit for someone's apartment. 2. Pay a week's worth of rent (or more.) 3. Offer to let the giftee stay with you for a couple of months as they save money for a place of their own. Budget-friendly workarounds: Help a newbie find the best housing deal or offer your help (and your truck/van) for the move. Fill a bag with cleaning supplies and foods from your pantry and call it an "apartment starter kit."
Lights, water and the rest4. Lend the amount of any utility deposit(s). 5. Upgrading your still-decent cellphone? Give it to someone on your list. 6. Offer $25 toward the electric bill. 7. Does the recipient use a pay-as-you-go? Buy some minutes. Budget-friendly workarounds: Put the person on your family cellphone plan. Help weatherize a drafty home. Offer to install a clothesline.
Going places8. Pay for a bridge/road toll sticker for a month.
9. Put a gasoline gift card under the tree. (Your money will go a little further at a discounted gift card website.)10. Live in a bike-friendly region? Lend/give that old fat-tire you're not using. 11. Gift a monthly transit pass. 12. About to buy a new vehicle? Weigh the few hundred dollars' worth of trade-in you might get vs. the difference you can make in someone's life. Not having a car payment is huge. Budget-friendly workarounds: Offer to let the recipient ride with you without asking for gas money. If you are good at bike maintenance, tune up someone's wheels. Shade-tree mechanics could teach minor fixes like oil changes.
The shopping list13. Give a supermarket or drugstore gift card (again, from the secondary market). 14. If you do batch cooking, propose a swap where the person helps once a month and goes home with meals. 15. Do you garden? Suggest an apprenticeship and pay in veggies/fruits. You don't have to work as hard and the other person learns a useful life skill. 16. Gift a membership to a warehouse store. 17. Teach him or her how to coupon. The CouponMom.com website matches cents-off deals (including electronic ones) to specials at drugstores, supermarkets and dollar stores. 18. Invite the giftee to dinner once a week. Budget-friendly workarounds: If you belong to a warehouse club, bring the person along. Couponers can offer some free products; gardeners can give extra produce.
Family matters19. Offer to spring for piano lessons, sports/scouting fees or whatever parents can't currently afford. 20. Pay for a week (or more) of child care. (This makes a good everybody-chip-in present.) 21. Gift a family pass to the YMCA, a local museum or some other fun place. 22. For families without wheels, offer a twice-a-month trip to the library.
23. Got skills? Offer to help with basic homeowner issues.Budget-friendly workaround: Pass along your kid's outgrown clothing/toys. If you work at home/don't work outside the home, offer to take a child on the next in-service day or school holiday.