BY JAIA PETERSON LENT, GENERATIONS UNITED
Since your 5- and 7-year-old granddaughters unexpectedly came to live with you last summer, your Social Security income and small pension has barely covered your living expenses, food, school clothes, and fees. Now, the holidays are approaching. Because the children can’t live with their parents, holiday traditions seem more important than ever, but where will you find the funds for presents? Will you have the resources to host a celebratory meal with the family?
More than 1 in 5 grandparents raising grandchildren are likely to struggle with these questions. About 21 percent of the 2.7 million grandparents raising grandchildren are living below the poverty line. While 58 percent of them are still in the workforce in full- or part-time jobs, 37 percent are retired, and 25 percent have a disability elevating the challenge of providing for the growing needs of the grandchildren in their care.
A recent report by Generations United and the Corporation for Enterprise Development found that, while similar in many ways to other lower-income American households, grandfamilies often face additional challenges that set them apart:
- They often take on the care of the children unexpectedly with little or no time to plan.
- They suddenly need to find ways to increase their income later in life (one of the hardest times to do this), making it especially difficult to make ends meet.
- They are experienced and often savvy household managers, yet they still face significant barriers to achieving financial stability.
- They often forgo their own financial dreams to care for their grandchildren.
They have also shown an extraordinary capacity to creatively do more with less. Whether you are grandparents who have suddenly taken on the care of grandchildren or a traditional grandparents looking for frugal yet festive ideas, here are a few ideas for celebrating on a budget:
- Offer Simple and Shared Food. Holiday meals don’t have to be elaborate sit-down dinners to feel festive. Most children (and plenty of adults) will enjoy fun-cut carrot sticks and snowman-shaped cheese sandwiches over a pot-roast any day. If you do want a sit down meal, invite your friends and family but encourage them to bring a dish to share.
- Get Crafty. From Etsy to Pinterest, the Internet is bursting with low-cost ideas for presents, décor and entertaining, even for those who don’t fancy themselves a Martha Stewart.
- Decorate with Mother Nature. Decorate your tree with strings of popcorn, your front door with branches and leaves from your yard, or make an artful centerpiece using acorns and stones.
- Give the Gift of Time. Promise to do a chore for a friend or family member, gift a foot rub or massage, or even a night of your undivided attention to play a game of his/her choice with each of your grandchildren.
- Connect with a Caring Community. This season communities often abound with food and holiday gift drives to help families needing a little boost. Find out what is available in your community and how to sign up, if it’s a good match for you.
Jaia Peterson Lent is Deputy Executive Director, and Alan King is Communications Specialist, of Generations United (GU), home to the National Center on Grandfamilies, and a leading voice kinship caretakers.