9 Ways to Help Family and Friends Without Digging a Hole for Yourself

A grandchild uses social distancing while visiting grandparents during the coronavirus pandemic.
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We could all use a little help these days — maybe more than ever. Chances are we also have loved ones who need assistance too.

Here’s all of our coverage of the coronavirus outbreak, which we will be updating every day.

While it’s noble to want to help family, friends and neighbors out of a tough spot, you have to be careful not to overextend yourself — especially if you’re not in a stable position. Paying an overdue bill for someone or loaning money when you’re struggling yourself will only spread the pain.

But even if you’re short on funds, there’s still plenty you can do. Here are nine ways to help loved ones without spending money.

1. Go Grocery Shopping for a Loved One at Risk

If you have a family member or friend who can’t or shouldn’t go out to the store, offer to take their list and cash and do the shopping for them. Or you could talk them through placing an online order, and then pick up the goods for them.

If your shopping lists are fairly similar, another option is to buy larger quantities and split your haul. Buying in bulk generally results in a cheaper deal. Just make sure you have enough empty containers for storage.

2. Share Hard-to-Get Items

Giving someone toilet paper is not a gag gift these days. It’s a sign of love. 

With stores facing shortages of common items, you can help someone out by sharing what you have a surplus of — whether it’s extra antibacterial wipes for a friend or literally letting your neighbor borrow a cup of sugar.

If a loved one can’t get their hands on a face mask, you can offer to make a mask using items you have at home.

3. Send Meals or Organize a Meal Train

If you know someone who’s sick — whether it’s from COVID-19 or another illness — or someone who just needs assistance preparing food, drop meals off on their doorstep so they don’t have to struggle cooking over the stove.

To sustain this assistance, ask others to join in and commit to delivering meals. You can organize the meal delivery using a platform like Meal Train or Take Them a Meal or simply track things on a shareable spreadsheet or calendar. 

4. Check on People Living Alone

Loneliness and social isolation can cause your health to suffer — especially in older people. Reach out to loved ones who are quarantined solo to let them know they’re not alone. 

Catch up over the phone, plan to do your essential shopping together or chat sitting on lawn chairs six feet apart.

5. Video Chat With a Loved One’s Kids

Parents are being stretched thin trying to work remotely while keeping their kids occupied and playing the role of teacher. 

Take a half hour to read books to your nieces and nephews or to chat with your best friend’s preteen about funny videos on TikTok. Their parents will appreciate the break.

6. Serve as Tech Support

Technology has helped us adapt through these challenging times, but it’s not easy for everyone to catch on to apps they’re not familiar with.

Share your know-how with others who may not be as tech savvy. Talk your aunt through how to set up video conferencing on Zoom. Chat with a neighbor about your favorite apps to shop online.

7. Assist Someone Looking for New Employment

If someone you know has been laid off during this pandemic, you can assist them in their job hunt by forwarding them employment leads or connecting them to any relevant contacts you might have. 

You could also serve as a second pair of eyes to look over their resume and cover letter. Play the role of a prospective employer in a mock job interview, so they feel comfortable answering common questions and get accustomed to the video conferencing system they’ll be using if the interview is remote.

8. Help Them Get Through an Important Call

It can be nerve-wracking to call up a landlord, service provider or creditor and explain that you can’t make an upcoming payment. Help a loved one navigate these tough calls by volunteering to be on the call with them to serve as support.

You can be another voice to advocate for an alternative payment plan or simply listen and take notes so your friend has someone to help them discuss pros and cons with as they’re figuring out their next move.

9. Direct Them to Free Personal Finance Help

Sometimes it takes professional advice to help someone bounce back from financial decline. Accredited financial counselors, certified financial planners and credit counselors are offering free financial advice in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

You can also encourage troubled family members or friends to submit their money questions to The Penny Hoarder’s Dear Penny advice column by filling out this form or emailing [email protected]. Our on-staff CFP, Robin Hartill, shares her sage advice as the voice behind Dear Penny.

Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.