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5 Ways to Help on a Tight Budget

Guest post from Courtney of Blessed by Brenna

“What can I do to help?”

For many, this is the first thought that comes to mind when you hear of a family who has just welcomed a new baby, someone who is battling health issues, or a family who is grieving in the midst of a death. However, it can be difficult to know how best to help a family in need, especially when there is not much extra money around.

When our daughter was born in December 2011, with a life-threatening skin condition, our community leaped into action to aid in whatever ways they could while we dealt with many health problems during her first year.

From that experience, we gained a much better understanding about what can be very helpful during a time of crisis or need. And assisting a family in need doesn’t have to hurt your tight budget, especially if you get a little creative.

1. Take charge and put your time to good use.

If you are close to a family in need, think about what you would want done in a similar situation, whether it’s a new baby or a health emergency. Gather a group of friends to clean a family’s home or let someone know you are going the store and ask what you can pick up for them, so that they don’t feel they are inconveniencing you to request groceries.

Or, tell the family when you are available on a certain day or time period, so that they know it’s not an inconvenience to ask for help during that time.

2. Organize meals.

There are online tools for this, such as, that alleviate any stress of coordinating, as people who want to bring food can simply sign up with what food they are bringing. You can also tailor it for the family’s schedule, so that if getting meals every day is too much food, you can limit it to two or three days a week.

Creating a meal is a frugal way to make a positive difference to a family who doesn’t have time to worry about cooking and grocery shopping.

When it comes to food, you might also keep a couple of things in mind:

  • Consider preparing a frozen meal instead of fresh. When a family has a new baby, they are likely getting a lot of food right away. With a frozen meal, they can put it away to enjoy at a time when the food supply has died down but life is just as hectic. Be sure to tightly wrap the food with foil and Saran Wrap and to label what it is, the date it was prepared and any cooking instructions.
  • Breakfast and lunch items can be just as helpful as dinner items, and are often less expensive to prepare. Baking a batch of freezer-friendly muffins or bringing over deli sandwiches and soup is extremely appreciated by families who are likely getting only dinner meals.
  • Package all your food into containers or Ziploc bags that can be thrown away when done, so the family doesn’t have to worry about returning a nice casserole dish to you.

3. Give a gift card.

If a family is in the midst of a health emergency and you want to help financially but can’t afford to give cash, consider giving a gift card to aid with meals, gas or groceries. You can utilize your Swagbucks points or other rewards systems to “purchase” a gift card for someone at no cost to you out of pocket.

For months, I was unable to clip coupons, shop around for the best prices, or meal plan, so being able to use a gift card to run into a single store or order a pizza was a huge relief on our budget and our emotional state.

4. Consider the container.

If you are bringing a gift to a family, such as for a new baby, “wrap” your presents in a decorative basket or storage container instead of spending the same amount on a large gift bag. Containers can be put to good use to help store toys, craft supplies or other household items whereas a gift bag will likely just be thrown away!

5. Send thoughts and prayers.

If your budget is really tight, don’t hesitate to simply reach out to someone and let them know that you are thinking of them and praying for them. Sending a heartfelt message with prayers can mean the world to someone who is trying to cope with a big change in their lives, good or bad.

Courtney Westlake is the author of the blog Blessed by Brenna, where she shares the challenges and triumphs of her family after her daughter Brenna was born with Harlequin Ichthyosis, a very rare and severe skin disease.

photo source

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  • Jessica says:

    There are other ways to help too.
    *Offer transportation if they need it, such as returning their library books or picking up their dry cleaning.
    *Offer to help with before/after school childcare needs
    *Help with yard work or other manual labor like hauling out their trash and recycling bins to the curb on pickup day
    *Ask about special dietary needs if bringing a meal. A family from my daughter’s school has a child with a life threatening illness, so a bunch of us from the PTO signed up to bring meals. The family made us aware that one of the parents is diabetic and the other is a vegetarian. That really changes what I would have otherwise brought for them!

  • Beth says:

    In this season of life (with small children and husband’s crazy working hours), I’ve decided that taking people a meal is one of the easiest and most practical ways I can give back. I typically take Breakfast for Dinner — some kind of breakfast casserole, cut up fruit, and maybe muffins. It’s a cheap meal to make, and it usually deviates from the usual pasta and chicken dishes people receive. (not that there’s anything wrong with those!! I have LOVED receiving those kind of meals as well!)

  • Hey Courtney, I just stopped by and checked out your blog and just wanted to say, I was overwhelmed. Your story is so inspiring. Keep up the awesome work…

  • Excellent suggestions!

    When my husband was deployed and I was at home alone with our four young children, I was immediately swamped with many generic offers of “if you need anything, let me know how I can help,” just a day or two after he had left. I didn’t need any help that soon, and I was too proud to accept it, anyway. Later, when I really could have used both their help and friendship, many of these same people who had offered had disappeared. You really learn who your true friends are during times like this.

    One friend knew how proud I was about receiving help. We got together regularly in town, and would occasionally say something like, “Hey, why don’t you bring your kids over so our kids can have some fun together.” When I got there for the play date, she would ask me to go pick up some items for lunch, for which she would reimburse me. She was essentially watching my kids so I could shop for groceries in luxury (in other words, alone), all while making it look like I was doing her a favor. Looking back, I know I was too proud and too sensitive about feeling like a charity case. She knew how to get through all of that.

    • Christie says:

      How amazing that you are able to look back with such perspective and what a great idea for those with friends who hate to accept help!

  • Jennifer says:

    Receiving frozen meals was very helpful to me after my daughter’s birth. As the article pointed out, we were able to thaw and reheat after the initial flood of assistance died down. I have tried to do the same for everyone I know (whether going through birth of a new baby, death of a family member, etc.) ever since.

  • Julie says:

    These are great ideas! Going one step further….families of children with special needs also would LOVE these. I am a mom of a very special little guy, and never ask for help! However, if it shows up on my doorstep, I won’t refuse it 😉

    • Jennifer says:

      Julie, thank you for mentioning your situation. I’m ashamed to say that it never occurred to me that someone in your position could use the same sort of helping hand now and then. I will definitely be more attentive. Thanks!

    • teresa says:

      Absolutely! My little guy was born with brain damage, and its
      bn a struggle from day one. He’s now 2 1/2 and so incredibly
      precious! But, without help and support from our church family,
      we wd not hv made it. (Our families live far away.)
      One thing that has helped a lot for me is that my friends have
      bn so understanding. They hv bn so gentle even about everyday
      things…even when I goof up something and I obviously shd hv known
      btr. They understand that with my special needs boy, an infant girl, and
      a full-time job, I’m beyond stretched to the max.

    • I completely agree! Our daughter is 18 months old now, but there are a lot of ups and downs. There is an incredibly thoughtful woman who still goes out of her way to bring us a meal (more like a feast!) once a month, and I usually try to schedule that on days with doctors visits, etc. It really means the world to me when people still offer assistance, because life can be difficult with a special needs child.

  • Laurie says:

    Hi Courtney: I am an avid reader of your blog. You have such an amazing faith and you are a great mom.I love all of your ideas. We pray for your family often.

  • Rachel says:

    I especially appreciated #5. When our family went through some truly traumatic events, the love and care poured in. I was surprised though, when I found that a simple “I’m praying for you today” text message or phone call meant just as much to me as the casseroles and lengthy visits. EVERY gesture of LOVE meant a LOT.

    I try a lot harder now to just do SOMETHING, whatever I can manage, even if it’s as basic and simple as sending someone a meaningful text message.

  • Denise says:

    Our church does “Car Care” each quarter and changed oil for widows and single moms and other people in need both in the church and the community. Since my husband is a mechanic he helps with this service the church provides whenever he can! Doesn’t cost us more than the gas to get to the church and helps a LOT of women out!

    If your church doesn’t already do something like this maybe you could help organize something. They buy the basic oil by the drum and the filters in bulk!

    I think volunteering is my favorite way to give 🙂

  • Amie says:

    I love these ideas. I remember when I was a young teen and my mother had oral surgery. She was a single mom with 4 kids. My younger brother and sister were school-aged. People from our church took turns bringing by dinners. It was unexpected and so appreciated. I need to freezer cook some meals for when my baby is due. My mother-in-law gave us a few frozen meals when my first son was born and it was such a treat not to have to worry about dinners. With my second son, my husband would come home from work and make convenience dinners… I’d had a bad epidural and was still having migranes and got a breast infection so taking care of a newborn and a two year-old was all I could do. I appreciate my husband’s help but, I don’t want Hamburger Helper 3x a week ever again… in fact, I don’t think I’ve purchased Hamburger Helper since that time, even with coupons and sales. lol.

  • A friend of mine drove a child home from daycare for a mother who needed an extra helping hand for a while.

    Another friend did minor home repairs (straightening shutters, cleaning gutters, etc.).

    Personally I’ve done housecleaning, laundry washing and ironing, garden weeding and babysitting for a few people who needed an extra helping hand from time to time. I don’t mind (and even enjoy!) doing some of these things and they appreciated the help!

    Great suggestions!

  • Stephanie says:

    I know that when I came home from the hospital we were SO grateful for all the freezer meals people brought. We ate those on my bad days and when my husband had to work late. When I was no longer able to drive, other parents brought our daughter to/from preschool so we wouldn’t have to pull her out midyear and friends have brought the girls to the zoo, park, etc for outings that we can no longer do easily. Our budget is blown from medical expenses but when a friend lost their job we were able to give them two sizes of girls clothes for their kids (they had mentioned a few days before the layoff the kids needed summer clothes) for the summer and fall. After having so much ongoing help from others it was nice to help someone else for a change.

  • Anna says:

    My favorite tip is packaging food in disposable containers. That really shows love! It’s a gift with no expectation of return, literally! Plus, you won’t stress about when So-and-So is going to get that pyrex back to you. My second favorite tip is the labeling one. When my last baby was born the church collected meals for us. We got many frozen meals and really appreciated the thought. BUT, some of them had no labels, and everything looks oddly similar when frozen. We had no idea what to do with some of the dishes, and consequentially some of it went to waste.

  • Guest says:

    What a helpful and inspiring post. Thanks for all these great ideas! Regarding the meals, make sure to ask what people need or if they’re shy about asking for help, be observant about what they need. Our neighborhood planned meals for a family that had a baby. When I went to drop off the meal, the grandmother was staying for several weeks and had already filled their freezer with meals. It was clear no one had asked if they needed meals but just coordinated it to be nice and/or the family felt awkward saying no.

    The other thing I would say is that, with people you know well, sometimes you just have to say I’m going to do something and that’s that. I recently had a situation with a friend where I knew they needed help and I told her I was either going to do A or B, wasn’t going to take no for an answer so she should pick which one. 🙂 It’s sad but our society seems to have gotten to the point where people are embarrassed or afraid to admit they need help.

  • Kemi Quinn says:

    This happened in our church a year ago. We helped with meals but what really helped was when we went to the hospital and relieved the family members so they could get some rest, a bite to eat, or even take care of personal matters. The relief was palpable. You never know what can help.

  • Marie says:

    I just wanted to say mealtrain is an awesome tool! The great thing about it is you can put in dietary needs and also see what others are bringing so the person doesn’t get 5 lasagna’s. And you can also specify about visits and what times are good for visiting or dropping off meals etc. We’ve used it a few times for people in our church.
    My last pregnancy was horrible and I was mostly bed-ridden, had a PIC line in and on drugs they give cancer patients, which most days did nothing for the nausea or throwing up. It was soo debilitating and at the same time my husband was laid off. I needed him just to “help hold my head so I could throw up” because I was that weak.
    My multiple’s club arranged meals through Also there were many who sent gift cards. These gift cards were sooooo helpful. Frozen meals were great.
    I also know that sending a note can be very encouraging. A friend of mine just went through breast cancer and she created a book with all the cards people sent and on her bad days would find encouragement by this book of cards and notes.

  • Heather says:

    When a friend is moving, I like to offer taking care of their kids while the movers are there getting the boxes and furniture loaded. That way, Mama can direct traffic and Daddy/movers can do the heavy lifting without kiddos underfoot.

    Also, I when a friend has a baby, I like to offer to take care of their older child(ren) for them so that Mommy can just focus on the newborn, and/or get some rest.

    Also with a new baby, one of the best ways I’ve found helpful is gifting the family with not only dinner, but maybe muffins for breakfast the next morning. Mornings are always a bit hectic (never mind adding a baby into the mix and some sleep-deprived parents), so it’s nice to have something that can be eaten quickly (and with one hand, so the other arm can hold baby!).

    Another thing that I like to do with a friend that has a new baby, or somebody who is moving, I like to gift them with some paper products (paper towels, plates, napkins, plastic silverware), toilet paper, toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap and shampoo. These items can often be found on sale (even at the dollar store) and/or in readers’ stockpiles. In the hub-bub of moving, I can’t tell you how many times I (and friends!) forget to keep out the essentials for when you get to the new place and are so exhausted to go rummaging through the boxes to find the necessities, quickly.

  • Elana says:

    Donate blood and/or platelets!!

  • Linda Garrison says:

    All excellent and doable, even on a tight budget ($ or time).

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