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I’ve Been Unemployed Since March – Here’s How I’m Gifting This Holiday Season

Angela Henderson  |  December 11, 2020

My husband and I were both laid off. Things haven't been easy, but I'm excited to celebrate our holidays with more love and less materialism.

I’ll spare you any “2020 bingo card” jokes and get straight to the point. My year was tough. Like, really, tough. Mid-March, like millions of Americans, I found myself laid-off for the first time in my life. And like millions of Americans, my job — and industry — has not come back

While the CARES Act helped for a while, let me tell you, living in Los Angeles is not cheap. Though my husband and I only split a one-bedroom apartment and it is just the two of us, times are tough. We’ve been making it work by moving around our savings, working side-gigs, and stretching our unemployment checks (yes, he was laid off too).

And before we knew it, we were here. It’s DECEMBER. It’s THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR. My personal favorite time of the year.

Or so I thought.

Last year, I bought everyone in my family several gifts and we were able to travel back to the East Coast for nearly a month to spend the season with our families. But this year we’ve had to recalibrate our expectations — on so many levels. 

So, here’s how I’m managing going from queen gift-giver to, well, still queen gift giver – just unemployed and with a lot less money to spend. If you’re like me this Christmas, hopefully something below will inspire you to still have yourself a Merry Little (unemployed) Christmas. 

First, Manage Your Loved One’s Expectations

If you don’t live in the same city or state as your loved ones, you may have already had “The Christmas Conversation” a la this incredible skit on Saturday Night Live. You know, the one where you tell mom or grandma or my younger sister that you won’t be flying home for the holidays. 

But it’s important to manage their expectations about where you are financially as well. A rule for me this year: If they don’t know what’s been going on with my life (i.e., my unemployment, my hardships) they are not close enough to me to be on my Christmas list. Well, at least not beyond a Christmas card. The upside to being unemployed? No office white elephants or struggling to find the perfect gift for my boss this year.

Seriously though, gently let anyone in your immediate gift-giving circle know about your unemployment, and if they belong in your gift circle, they will understand.  

Second, Focus on Thoughtful Gifts

Look at this as an opportunity. Some of the best gifts I’ve ever gotten have hardly cost anything, yet I’ve kept them way longer than a Coach bag or designer shoes that will inevitably go out of style.

Here are a few low-cost, super thoughtful gifts I’ve given or received:

A Box of Affirmations:

Box of Affirmations

You can buy a cute box from a dollar store or thrift store and type out a bunch of affirmations such as “You are beautiful,” or something more profound, like inspiring quotes or bits of life philosophy, and stick them inside for the recipient to open all year round. We all know we’re going to need as much good energy as we can get in 2021.

A Poem or Heartfelt Note in a Frame:

My husband gifted me this for a birthday once and I still look at it every day. You can get a cheap frame at all the usual places: Dollar Tree, Target, Goodwill, you name it. And all you have to do is put your own words on the page and voila! Personalized holiday magic!

Books With Handwritten Messages Inside:

Most people love a good book. And being unemployed, I’ve had a lot of time to read, which means I have a lot of lightly loved books I’m looking to re-home. Books make great gifts, especially when personalized with a handwritten note, and especially when you know the recipient will appreciate a specific story. Gifting a book you’ve read will give you and your friend something to talk about at your next Zoom happy hour. 

It’s The Thought That Counts 

I know it’s cliché, but it’s true. I love when someone sends me something random like a funky coffee mug from their local gas station, or a silly plush toy at Dollar Tree that reminds them of an inside joke we share. Those gifts are so meaningful. The most important thing is that no one goes into debt to spread joy, especially during these hard times. Remember if the shoe was on the other foot, you wouldn’t want your loved ones to be stressed over their finances either.

And if you have a few extra dollars, try to shop local and sustainable… Small businesses are struggling like we are. 

READ MORE: HerMoney’s Holiday Favorites Gift List (Featuring Our Favorite Small Businesses!) 

Lastly, Whatever You Do: Don’t Spend on Wrapping

I’m not going to get into the debate of how much of our recycling is actually recycled, but we can probably all agree that endless wrapping and tissue paper is a lot of waste – for the planet and for our wallets. 

You can always go the old newspaper route, but I’ve been expanding my wrapping options as I’ve been cleaning out my closet.  

I have so many clothes I never wear, and now thanks to COVID, a lot of donation centers nearby aren’t even taking clothes at the moment. Especially not my summer tank tops now that it’s cold out. Earlier this year, I started cutting off the bottoms of old shirts (as pictured below) and tying them as ribbons for birthday presents. You can do this with old blankets, clothes or any fabric to make your presents look simple and elegant – and to repurpose and keep textiles out of landfills.

First, I find an old shirt I no longer wear: 

Then, I cut at the bottom to make strips (aka “ribbons”): 

Then I use the strips to wrap up my gift and add any finishing touches:

And there you have it! This unemployed gal’s attempt at cute (cheap) wrapping. But seriously, the lavender I added was part of a boutonniere my husband wore at a wedding – I’m not that Pinterest-y. You can wrap for cheap, too.

Most Importantly

Year after year, Americans go into debt trying to create that perfect holiday experience. But like many things in 2020, it’s OK to let that go, especially if you’ve lost income this year. The best gift you can give yourself and your loved ones is the opportunity to start next year without added stress and added debt. They love you. I promise they’ll understand.

(And if they don’t, they’re definitely not getting a lavender sprig on their book.) 

MORE ON HOLIDAY SPENDING FROM HERMONEY: 

JOIN US: How are you handling the pressures of holiday spending? Join us in the private HerMoney Facebook group and share your money saving tips — and pick up a few new ones!

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