The holiday season is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, but for members of the country’s working poor it can be an excruciatingly stressful time of the year as they struggle to come up with the money to make their kid’s Christmas happy.
Parents do a number of things to try to come up with enough cash to buy their kids gifts, pay for dinner, the Christmas tree and all of the other things that come with Christmas. I remember being so broke one Christmas that I cried because I had literally no idea what I was going to do and I only have one child.
So with this in mind, I asked readers some of the desperate things they have done to pay for Christmas and composed a list.
Here are 12 things people did to pay for Christmas:
12. Moving Christmas
I once had friends who would actually tell their kids that Christmas was a week or two after the 25th because they knew that they could buy marked down stuff after Christmas. So, while everyone else celebrated the holiday in December, they’d celebrate in January because it was their only option.
11. Taking out credit cards
Credit cards can be both a blessing and an absolute curse when you are struggling to survive. While it is nice to have an emergency card to charge stuff to when you do not have the money to pay for things right away, it really sucks when you get slammed with the interest and fees. Unfortunately, sometimes that is the only choice parents have. One reader said:
This year, for whatever reason, I’ve been qualifying for credit cards. So I took full advantage of that and now have a Kohl’s, Dress Barn, Peebles, Capital One MasterCard, some other Visa card, and another MasterCard.
This is probably one of the most common ways parents buy things for Christmas. They put hundreds of dollars of stuff on layaway in the months leading up to Christmas, and then pray that they will be able to keep making the payments to get the stuff out — sometimes people can’t completely pay it off until Christmas Eve.
I remember when my son was about eight years old, I was laid off from my job and on unemployment. I went to K-Mart and put about $300 worth of toys on layaway. For the next several weeks I took money out of my grocery fund to pay the minimum payments. Now imagine having three kids and going through that; the stress must be unbearable.
9. Skipping bills
Oh yes, I remember this vividly. I used to lay my bills out and front of me and try to determine which of them could wait until the next month. Or call the companies and beg for extensions. What was worse, was getting an extension but realizing that it would land on the day just before I got my check and then I’d pray that the company would show me mercy.
8. Pawning your belongings
This always f*cking sucked. I cannot tell you the number of times my wedding ring sat in a pawn shop for months because I needed quick cash. This one is not something that happened just around the holidays, but often during the year when something unexpected popped up and I needed emergency cash. People will judge me, but you know what? When you are living hand to mouth there is no such thing as emergency savings. Millions of people in this country live on wages so low it is literally impossible for them to save money.
7. Borrowing money from family, friends or check cashing places
Ahhhh, the dreaded payday advance. Not everyone has friends and family they can borrow money from, so they are forced to go to companies like Amscot to get an advance on their pay. These companies usually give you until your next check to pay them back and tack on fees for their services. Payday advance companies make millions (maybe even billions) of dollars in profits every year off of the backs of poor people.
6. Handmade gifts
Sometimes handmade gifts can be really cool, one of my readers said he has done this for his children. He’s an artistic kind of guy, but if you are like me and have no artistic ability what-so-ever this is not an option. My kid would probably open his gift and ask me if Santa’s elves needed to go to rehab.
5. Ordering from magazines and not paying the bill
Another one of my readers said:
One Christmas, a loooong time ago, I got a whole bunch of stuff from the Fingerhut catalog because I had no money…but then I couldn’t pay the Fingerhut bill….so…I didn’t.
I wish I’d known about Fingerhut when I was struggling.
4. Returning items at home for store credit
If you live in a constant state of horrible poverty, you’ve probably done this. You look around your house and think about what can be returned to the store so that you can get enough store credit to buy Christmas. This really sucks when you return something that you love because you want your kids to have a nice Christmas.
3. Cashing gift cards after Christmas to survive January
What’s probably worse than the months leading up to Christmas, is the month afterward when you have to now pay for everything that you put off. My family would sometimes give me Walmart gift cards or cash and I could never actually use that to buy something for myself. Instead, I would go to the store and use the cards to buy groceries.
2. Committing crimes for presents
This was surprisingly the most common thing people told me they have done. One reader said:
I garbage picked a coat rack that was new but broke from a fight at a house party down the street, took it back to the store I seen one just like and returned it to buy gifts for my kids lol and I have bought things at yard sales and Salvation Army stores with tags and returned them to stores for store credit to purchase Christmas items.
I went to a store and changed the bar code on something expensive for something cheap bought it, then turned around and took the code I put on, off, and returned it for the expensive price.
1. Not having money to buy gifts
This is perhaps the most heartbreaking of all. Millions of kids will go without gifts this year because their parents cannot afford it no matter how much they try. Some will say,”Christmas isn’t about gifts!” and yes, technically, that is true. But when your children have to go to school and hear all about what their friends received and they didn’t get anything, it’s so sad. As one reader said,” Kids are resilient, but it is absolutely heartbreaking for their parents.
Millions of people do these things during the holidays and, seriously, it just really, really sucks. I am fortunate enough to have a really good job now and thanks to my awesome liberal bosses, I’m paid very well, so I didn’t struggle this year. However, that panicky feeling that I used to get when I was poor and paying for something has still not gone away.
So, if you have some extra cash to spare, please consider helping a family in need this year. It could mean the world to someone.
If you are able to give, here are some helpful links:
Featured image via Jumpedoffabridge