Giving Necessity Gifts During the Holidays

For many of us, shopping for gifts is fun to do when we can afford to do it. When money is an issue, specifically the lack of money, then it can quickly turn from being fun to being stressful and depressing.

When there is very little money to go around, it is natural that our approach to how we spend that money changes from buying a gift that we only hope the person will use, to one that we know that they will use.

A necessity gift will usually fall under one of these categories:

  • An item or service that solves a problem.
  • An item that the gift recipient must buy soon.
  • An item or service that is practical and that will be used regularly.
  • An item or service that the gift recipient needs, even if it is not necessarily something they like.

When giving practical gifts, it is important to think about how the person receiving it will feel about the gift. What follows discusses the different situations that can arise when a person receives something that they need, rather than something they only want.


Teenagers are the most difficult group to accept that gift-giving might need to change when financial issues become paramount. If they have always in the past received the latest trendy item at Christmas, or in the past were given almost every item on their wish list, then that is what they will expect every Christmas. To avoid your teen experiencing a Christmas meltdown as they open their gifts under the tree, why not give them a head’s up early by organizing a family meeting to talk about how things will work this year.

Some parents do not want their children worrying about family finances, but you shouldn’t underestimate their ability to understand the problem. Very few people can remain stress-free when they know the bank balance is getting low. Why risk transferring that stress to the children? If they are brought into the loop, most kids will deal with it and some will even rally behind it by demonstrating their ability to be thrifty. (RELATED: Ways to be frugal and save money)

Let children know that not only will there be spending limits, but also limits on where the money will be spent. Tell them how many gifts they will get this year. Ask them to make a list of five things that they really need, not just want.

What gifts they end up getting may depend on what is on their list, but here are some ideas if you want to add in a few surprises.

  • If they have a driver’s license, and they borrow your car, give them usage of it every other Saturday afternoon in January.
  • Follow that up with a gas card.
  • A box full of their very own personal care products.
  • A nice assortment of new socks or underwear.
  • A check for a school trip that they want to go on.
  • A new hairbrush and comb.

Not being able to give your children as many things as you have in the past should not ruin their holidays. In fact, if you make a point to have more family time together and spend it doing fun things, it might turn out to be the best Christmas ever.

College Students

Older children who are living away at college will be much more accepting of necessity gifts, and some will probably prefer them. If they live on their own, even with an allowance and in a dorm, they have a better understanding of money and how quickly it can disappear. Getting stocked up on things like personal care products and gas for the car will save them a lot of money when they go back to school.

Here are some other ideas:

  • A box stuffed with their favorite snacks.
  • A laundry basket filled with laundry products. Include a jar of coins for the laundromat.
  • Pay their car insurance and make it their big present.
  • Batteries or a battery charger.
  • Gift certificates at the campus bookstore.
  • Gift certificates for pizza or a fast food restaurant.
  • New socks and underwear.
  • A file box of coupons for products that they use.

Most college students live on tight budgets and will appreciate most anything that they receive.

Older Relatives

If you ask relatives who are seniors what they would like for Christmas, the first answer is usually that do not need a thing. But even if they have all the robes, slippers, cardigan sweaters and a fairly new coat, there are probably still things that they need, but not what you would normally consider giving them as a gift.

It is likely that if your relative is living on a fixed income, then they have done without some necessities because of the cost. Without making it sound like you do not think that they have managed their money properly, gently try to urge them to tell you the real things that they could use:

  • Paying a utility bill is always a big help.
  • Agree to pay the monthly cost of a home alert system.
  • Hire someone to install and later remove their storm windows and doors.
  • Do they enjoy having a fire in their fireplace? Buy a stack of wood and stack it by their back door.
  • Is their refrigerator empty? Stock it with frozen meat and seafood.
  • Buy them several bags of their favorite warm beverage (tea, coffee).
  • Do they struggle with trying to get things that are out of reach? Get a few “reachers” and place one in the kitchen and one in their bedroom.
  • Are they getting behind on housework? Offer to spend a day helping out.
  • Take their car and have it serviced and fill up the gas tank.
  • A book of stamps can be a welcome gift.

The very best gift that you can give to a senior citizen is your time. Spend it doing whatever it is that they like to do.

Young Children

We don’t know about you, but we’ve never seen Santa with stacks of toothbrushes in his gift bag to distribute to the children, unless he is greeting kids at a dentist office.

Necessity gifts for children really are not gifts, because a necessity gift could never be a toy. A young child will not enjoy getting a box of diapers. They won’t understand why it is being disguised as a gift with bows all over it.

They will have plenty of time later in life to learn about appreciating the non-material things around us. Once the Christmas tree goes up, all they want are toys under it. With that thought in mind, you also do not have to get them everything that they say they want. Keep within your budget. If there is something that you do need for your child, figure it in the budget, but do not give it to them as a gift.

Stuff the Stockings With Necessities

There is nothing like a Christmas stocking that is so overstuffed with surprises that it will not hang up anymore. Stockings are the perfect place to put small necessity gifts, along with the traditional candy, fruit, and nuts. If you have the time, go ahead and wrap up the stocking gifts. It will make it that much more fun to dig through.

Most of us already know what treasures we like to put in the holiday stockings. It is one of those things that are passed on through family traditions. But here are some things that come to my mind:

Girls, Young Women:

  • Chap Stick or lip balm
  • Fuzzy socks and footies
  • Hair accessories
  • Nail polish
  • Perfume
  • Novelty jewelry
  • Body pouf
  • Phone case

Boys, Young Men:

  • Chap Stick or lip balm
  • Slipper socks
  • Nail clipper
  • Comb
  • Cologne
  • Charger for Electronics
  • Razor
  • Key ring
  • Phone case


  • Stickers
  • Soft toy
  • Character toothbrush
  • Bubbles
  • Small toy car
  • Tub markers
  • Novelty night light
  • Tub toys

How to Handle Kids That Don’t Like Necessity Gifts

When money and material things seem to dictate how much your children are going to enjoy Christmas, then you might want to consider signing up for a family volunteer day. It is a great way to teach kids, especially those who feel entitled to get what they ask for, what the Christmas season is really about. Teach them that giving is a lot more rewarding than receiving.

After spending the day serving food to people who are destitute, your children may come home feeling grateful for not only having a home to come to, but also about the gifts that they will receive. A lot of parents start teaching gratitude to children at a very young age, by having them select toys to give to a charity. In other words, if they receive five new toys, then they pick out five of their old toys to give away.

Necessity Gifts and Building Family Traditions

The holiday season is a time for families to be together and establish traditions that will be handed down to the next generation. Having children involved in those traditions, no matter what age, is what builds the memories that keep the traditions intact.

If there will be fewer gifts under the tree this year and you are worried that your children will feel disappointed, think of things that you can do that can help make it an enjoyable holiday for them, despite the number of gifts that they receive.

  • Have a family movie night with popcorn and other movie treats. Choose a classic movie that always plays at Christmas.
  • Decorate the house, and put a small tree in each bedroom.
  • Make hot chocolate, turn on holiday music, pile in the car and drive around looking at Christmas decorations.
  • String popcorn to put around the tree.
  • Have a game night and play board games.
  • Let the children help bake cookies for Santa and set them out with a note.

Before you know it, Christmas will be over and the kids will be back in school. The designer jeans that they couldn’t live without, but did not get, will be out of style by Easter and they will be wanting a different pair. The coolest jacket ever, that your son had to have and did not get, will be hanging in the closet because the warm weather arrived early.

And when the kids talk about “last” Christmas, it won’t be about what they got or did not get, but about the day that they spent volunteering, or when the cat jumped in the tree, or about how sweet Julie was when she put out the cookies for Santa.

And as for you? Pat yourself on your back for a job well done.