No Money for the Holidays? You Can Still 'Show the Love.'
Strapped for Cash
It's Christmas and you can't afford gifts. It's Valentine's Day and you can't afford chocolate (but oh how you wish you could.) It's Father's Day. It's Mother's Day. It's the 4th of July.
There's scarcely a holiday out there that doesn't ask for the money you may not have in order to show the love you've certainly got.
We may rail against a culture where we shop around for ways to say we care, but few are immune to that deep-seated sense that we're falling short in some way if we can't pony up.
The lack of presidents in your back-pocket is not a rarity today. Besides the 18 million people out of work and another 7.5 million collecting disability, the jobs that are out there are increasingly 'part-time' or low paying. To say nothing of servicing debt.
Automation is going full-tilt, with self-driving cars and taco-copters about to slash another 5 to 7 million from the books. It's the future and we're all the Jetsons (except the personal prosperity part has been edited out.)
What that amounts to is that at least 1 in 10 people are having great difficulty with holiday expectations. Higher if you're under thirty. Thus, even if you only celebrate with your immediate family, the chances are nigh absolute that you or your siblings are facing a daunting task. It's just comforting to know that so is the rest of the Western World.
How to Show the Love?
If there's no money to be had (and let's face it, your family is probably paying for your travel so that you can attend.) That leaves us with the one thing that's always ours: labour.
The handy among us will knit scarves and booties for the dog, and that's often the recommendation you'll hear: 'Take the skill you excel at and use that to pay it forward.' But a barista son or landscaping daughter may be hard pressed to put that skill to use. Moreover, even if your poetry rivals Poe, it's hard to shake the feeling that your hand-made Christmas card doesn't share lineage with a folded peace of printer paper and a terrible shade of crayon.
Step One : Be the Grunt
Holiday's are notoriously stressful. People need designated drivers, food needs cooking, ingredients get forgotten and have to be picked up. Clean up is monumental and most households go into a frenzy preparing the place for guests and family. A Christmas without a hitch would be a true holiday miracle.
So if the economy's given you the short straw this year? Throw yourself into the breach. Ask every attendee what you can do to ease the event for them and take it upon yourself to do the the work. In this way you can show your love despite the hard times.
Be there early to help prepare, and stay late to help clean up. Think:
Ask yourself what these roles take on (or in the realm of possibility, what you already do for pay,) and use the answers to be pro-active. Mothers may refuse help and Father's may suffer in silence, so it's up to you to make the moves and go the extra mile.
Step Two : Think Twice about Your Skills
The internet is heavily populated with somewhat 'unimaginative' recommendations, the kind you'd come up with yourself anyways when on the spot. If you're a writer, they say, write a poem about mom. A painter? Paint a portrait. But the bottom-line with those suggestions is they often only take half the equation. They ask: 'What you can do,' and don't think: 'what would they want?'
So what's better than a handful of IOUs for doing dishes that are unlikely to ever be cashed in?
Turn your skill to their passion (or barring that, their job.) An artist with a real estate agent for a mother might ask her what house is doing poorly on the market but really deserves to be sold - then he would go paint a wonderful future version of that house. A gift for whomever buys it.
If your father is in tourism and you're a photographer - wouldn't it be great to take fresh photos of their offerings and destinations? If you write, maybe you pen a piece based on some place they're promoting and offer it cheap to a travel magazine.
My brother is a traveling chemical engineer with an unrivaled love of food. I may not be a fancy cook - but I can prepare a national dish based on the next place he's headed.
At every step we send the important message we really want to get across - monied or not. We care about our family and want to give something meaningful to them. Something that makes their day to day a little brighter and a little more colourful.
Are finances tight for your holidays?
So Ask Yourself
- What do you love doing.
- What would make life easier/brighter for that special someone.
- Something that keeps giving even when your work is done.
My brother's meal will remind him of home once he's gone and eating similar food. The house painting goes on to a homeowner. The travel article brings in some business. And your gifts? Whatever they are, however you got a hold of them, will be appreciated.