Helping Neighbors in Tough Economic Times

We are less than 3 months into 2009 and already financial challenges have visited many American households. The challenges have come in various forms. For some Americans, finding a job has become a monumental task as many companies are in hiring freezes. For others, losing a job or having hours significantly reduced has impacted their finances. A number of people reaching retirement age are finding that much of their savings has been wiped out due to fluctuations in the stock market.

All of these are incredible challenges for the American people, yet we can find ways to cope that are beneficial to us all. Fifty years ago, having good, supportive relationships with your neighbors was simply a way of life. When new people moved into a neighborhood, you would find established residents bringing over food and offering to help the family get settled. Things have changed over the years.

When given a choice, our houses are far enough apart so that we never have to see our neighbors, much less help them get settled in the neighborhood or offer support in a difficult time. Even when we live in close proximity to the neighbors (such as in an apartment building) most of these relationships consist of the basic pleasantries we exchange with the cashier at the grocery store.

Tough financial times can help us become stronger emotionally, but only if we let them. Building relationships with others strengthens each of us emotionally, whether these relationships are at home, at work, or at our child’s soccer game. Realizing that a neighbor is struggling financially is the first step towards a stronger relationship with them, and helping them will build each of us up as individuals.

If we make an effort to be neighborly as our parents and grandparents were, then I think we will easily help our neighbors without making them feel insulted. If you are a stay-at-home mom or have a flexible schedule, offer to watch your neighbor’s children after school. If they have been paying for after-school care, this will greatly alleviate stress on their wallet. Or perhaps your neighbor is also a stay-at-home mom and needs to take a part-time job in the evenings. You could help by simply saying that your home is available if the kids want to come over a couple nights a week. Or bring them dinner once a week.

What about other basics, such as cutting their grass or just bringing over cookies to put a smile on their face? We have to realize in tough financial times that helping with finances is not always the only way to help someone. Emotionally this can be a difficult time for people, and just knowing that someone cares is a huge step towards overcoming the obstacles in their way. Invite a couple of neighborhood families over for dinner every so often. Establish this in your schedule each week or month so you will be planning on it. The more inclusive you make your assistance the less likely it is that anyone will be insulted.

On the other hand, your neighbor may require more help than dinner a couple times a month. Their house may be in foreclosure, or they may be in such dire straits financially that they cannot feed their family. I have found that gift cards are an excellent way of helping people put food on the table. Buy a gift card to your local grocery store and mail it to them anonymously. Or leave it on their door when you know they aren’t home. How can they feel anything except blessed when they suddenly find they are able to buy food for that week! It’s almost impossible to be offended by a gesture when you have no idea who was behind it.

My strategy for helping neighbors who are dealing with tough financial times is simple in nature. First, fall back on the tried and true neighbor relations of the early and mid-20th century. And then revise your help according to the modern times we live in. Building relationships with your neighbors is not something you will regret, and you may find yourself in need of their help at some point. Whether it is emotionally or financially, supporting our neighbors is something this country was founded upon. Let us keep the tradition alive.