My son has five gifts so far for Christmas. He’s one and I think they are things that he will love, he doesn’t really need a lot anyway [he’s ONE]. We are doing other fun Christmas traditions like mini gift countdowns, book countdowns, gingerbread houses, Christmas cookies, etc.
Do I wish I could give him more than five gifts? Sure. Am I extremely thankful that I’m able to get him those five gifts? Absolutely.
The reality is that many military families can’t afford gifts for their children. They can’t afford a big feast or even a Christmas tree. If you are finding yourself in that position this year, I want you to know that you are not alone. You haven’t let anyone down; you are doing your best. There are simply other priorities (like paying rent!) to worry about than decking your house out in lights or spending a ton of money on ornaments because yours broke during your last PCS.
If you are a military family looking for a little help this Christmas (or if you know a military family that could use some help) here is a list of programs to look into! Some of these programs are set up specifically to help military families in need during Christmas. Others are for any military family as a way to say “thank you for your service”!
If you are interested in donating to any of the causes, nominating a family, or applying yourself; follow the links provided.
Stick around to the end of the article! You will find budgeting tips to help you stay organized and on track for next holiday season!
Programs to help military families during the holidays
Decorated Family Program
This program is set up specifically to help military families that are dealing with their spouse being deployed during Christmas. Christmas Decor has offered to decorate the houses of families that are trying to prepare for the holidays without their loved one. Learn more here.
Trees for Troops
Trees for Troops donates Christmas trees to help military families at participating bases. The program works like this: families will purchase a Christmas tree from select locations, which are then loaded on a truck and brought to military bases to be donated to military families at no cost. If you are in need of a tree, or you are looking for a good way to help a military family, you can learn more here!
Operation Holiday Joy
This program (initiated by the Armed Services YMCA) allows military families to choose from a toy for their children or a basket of food. Families can participate in this program during both for Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons. Learn more here.
Coalition to Salute American Heroes
During Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, they distribute checks to wounded veterans and their families so that they can buy food or gifts without having to worry about struggling further with their finances. Not only does this program help during the holiday season, they help military families in need all year round. Find out how to qualify for help here.
Freedom Alliance Presents For Patriots
Whatever your problem may be; maybe your spouse is deployed, maybe they returned home and struggles with PTSD, or maybe you are just dealing with severe financial hardships, this program is here to help you. They will work with you to ensure that each of your children receives a special gift at Christmas. Learn more here.
Full Circle Home
This organization helps deployed servicemembers send holiday gifts or even just handwritten notes to their loved ones at home. Learn more here.
Homefront America Christmas Store
Homefront America has set up a Christmas store where military families can shop for their children at no cost. While parents shop, their children can have lunch with Santa and his elves, and enjoy activities such as face paint and arts and crafts. You must apply for the event, and it is only located in CA. Learn more here.
Operation Christmas Spirit
Run by Operation Help a Hero, this program is set up to help provide gifts to military families in need. They also sponsor gifts and crafts at on-base holiday parties for children and they “adopt” single Marines and Sailors (who otherwise wouldn’t receive any holiday cheer) to provide them with gifts. Find out more about their program here!
Operation Homefront Holiday Meals For Military
Operation Homefront provides holiday meal kits for military families around the country. The kits include a turkey, gravy, cranberry sauce, stuffing, vegetables, plus additional food for a holiday breakfast. Find out more here (and be prepared because the story of how the program started will make you cry if you have pregnancy hormones like me)
Operation Saint Nick
Operation Ward 57
This program donates Christmas and Hanukkah gifts to families of wounded service members and gold star families. They also provide gift cards for grocery items. Find out more here.
Soldiers Angels (Adopt-a-Family)
For military families that can’t afford to provide their children with a Christmas, this program helps them afford presents and food. Businesses, volunteers, and sponsors will sign up to “adopt” a family and will donate gifts and visa gift cards (for groceries) to families in need. Find out more here. P.S. Soldiers Angels also has several different programs dedicated to military families in hardship and will help with a variety of situations such as pregnancy, deployment support, wounded/ill service members, etc.
Toys for Tots
This is one of the biggest gift-giving charities during the holiday season (I’m sure you’re familiar with it!). You will frequently see gift bins at both large and small businesses for people to donate unopened toys to families in need. If you need to request a toy for your child, you can sign up here.
The USO has a holiday care package program that will provide holiday care packages to deployed service members. They also work with military installations to provide free meals, entertainment, and toys for military families.
Several military installations (depending on location) will work with other programs and businesses to provide their military members with things such as:
- Food baskets
- Holiday meals
- Toy donations
These things are generally available for all of the members at that base. For example, my husband’s base was giving away free “stocking stuffers” this season. He brought home several hats, gloves, and small toys for our son (a few bouncy balls, a nerf football, and a baby toy)
Military installations will usually donate to their members throughout the year, so always keep an eye out. I believe my husbands base also gave away food at Thanksgiving and also free school supplies in August. Check with your base!
Holiday Budgeting Tips for Military Families
- Planning ahead is the best way to budget for the holidays. If you set up a separate savings account and put money aside (even a small amount) all year, then you will be better prepared to have that extra expense in December.
- Borrow from your TSP (Thrift Savings Plan). If you could set anything aside all year and really can’t find anything in your budget for gifts or food during the holidays, you can always borrow from your TSP and pay yourself back. This is different from a loan because it is your money that has been deducted from your service members pay. However, it does need to be replaced! If you don’t have a TSP- I highly recommend setting one up, it is great for retirement and also for unexpected expenses down the road.
- Buy all year round. Buying one item each month will greatly reduce the expense at the end of the year. I actually do this for my sons clothes. I try to buy one or two things each month for the NEXT season. That way, I already have everything he needs and I don’t have to try to come up with the money for an entire season of clothes all at once.
- Look at your budget and figure out different areas you can cut to save money (like saving money on groceries!)
- Sell some stuff that you don’t use regularly, it’s just more to pack the next time you have to PCS anyway.
- Get a side gig! If you need extra money quickly, you can always pick up a side gig- you can even do this from home! Things like becoming a virtual assistant, freelance writing, or blogging can give you extra money every month (If you want to find out, step by step, how to create a blog- read this article… don’t worry it’s super easy!)
- Shop at places that provide military discounts! BONUS: I’ve done all the work for you on this one… you can get a free comprehensive 50+ page military discount guide full of coupon codes and special instructions when you sign up for our email list. (Sign up below!)