RCF December 2016: An Unexpected Gift


Seriously awesome!! Your friends and the work they do sounds amazing. Super idea to have that family pay it forward! Now let’s talk cinnamon rolls…I live in Chicago and have never heard of this place! Everyone always says Ann Sather has the best but I wasn’t much of a fan. I’ll have to look up this Baker Miller you speak of. :slight_smile:


Another dog lover . . . I have no great love for dogs (ducks behind chair), but I love that you found something close to your heart to help out with December’s gift!


Hmmm - not a dog lover. That would definitely count as a strike against you but since you can bake cookies I will let it slide. Now, if you say you don’t like pizza then you’ll definitely want to find a chair to hide behind.


Does it count as Strike 2 if I love pizza, EXCEPT for Chicago deep dish?

Used to work right by Piece, and . . . meh


I hate deep dish. I’m pretty sure it exists just to be able to charge tourists $25 for what is essentially a heart attack by the slice. I have only been to Piece once and I concur with your review - the only deep dish I would consider is Pequods and ONLY if I had out of town guests that insist on doing deep dish. Therefor, based on further review and including this new revelation, you are still holding firm with 0 strikes. Yeah!!


Hi guys,
I sent the card to Sherry, who blogs at Blind Not Invisible. Here’s the result, in Sherry’s own words:

Christmas 2016 was looking pretty bleak. With three out of four of us out of work, we’d spent the year limping by on my self-employed husband’s income. Then, due to a miscommunication about the scope of the work, he’d massively underbid a major project.

Our emergency fund, already anemic, took a hit. We managed to stretch his billing to cover almost all of December’s expenses, but in the end we had to decide between groceries and the cell phone bill - and we were afraid we might have to use the credit card for gas or groceries before the end of the month.

Things weren’t the worst they could be. We had the house, we had our health (more or less) and we had each other. One way or another, we’d have food to eat. But it didn’t look like there was going to be much of a celebration, either.

We agreed not to exchange gifts, except to send out a couple that had already been planned. I didn’t mind not receiving any presents, but though they are adults, it hit me hard not to be able to give my kids a Christmas.

We debated setting up the Christmas tree, but nobody had much enthusiasm for the project, so we gave that a pass, too. The Christmas CDs stayed on their shelf, unplayed.

I think my lowest moment came in church. Members came forward to offer up items and monetary donations to fill gift bags for individuals in halfway houses and shelters. I sat in the pew while my husband brought up the two dollars he’d happened to have in his pocket that day and our reverend spoke movingly about the importance of giving to those in need.

“Im on the wrong side of this equation,” I thought. Any other year, I’d have been first in line. Now we’re living below the poverty line for the second year in a row. I can’t even give my kids a Christmas. Why isn’t someone making a gift bag for me?"

It was an unworthy thought, and I knew it, but the sentiment was hard to shake.

A day or two later, I got an email from Donna Freedman.

J Money of the Rockstar Finance Forums had given several people $20 gift cards, on the condition that they give the card to someone in their life as a holiday gift and tell the story of what that person did with it. Would it be all right, she asked, if she gave hers to me?

I hesitated. Despite my earlier thoughts, I knew our family was in a better position than many. But Donna had offered it to me. I emailed back and told her I’d be glad to accept.

And then I had to decide what to do with an unexpected twenty dollar gift.

One of Donna’s suggestions was that we could add it to our emergency fund. A very sensible idea, and one I considered carefully…but that didn’t make for much of a story, did it?

Had the offer come a week earlier, the twenty dollars might well have gone into the church’s gift bags. But it hadn’t. I’m sure I could have found another good cause. But, perhaps selfishly, I wanted to do something special for us.

Yes, us. My family might have understood, or even encouraged it, but there was no way I could justify spending that money just on myself.

I could have split the money four ways, or divided it between our sons. I could have bought everyone some little present to open Christmas morning. But nothing seemed quite right.

And then it hit me.

Things have sometimes been plenty tight in years past, but in our worst years, Christmas has been a time of abundance.

When the boys were small, my parents would send us a Christmas check shortly after Christmas every year. One of our traditions was to use that money to renew our Sam’s Club membership, then to pick up a few items we didn’t normally indulge in: Big bags of chocolate chips and walnuts for baking well into the year. Tubs of pitted dates. Monster jars of Greek olives.

In later years, when I’d let the Sam’s Club membership lapse, there were other treats. Plastic candy canes filled with miniature Reese’s cups. Holiday-colored M&Ms. Homemade cookies. Nuts.

With the food budget so tight, those little indulgences had gone by the wayside. And it just wasn’t Christmas without them.

I’d been hankering for summer sausage. It’s available year-round, but for me it’s always been a Christmas treat. But of course this wasn’t just about me. I polled the constituency.

“Cashews,” my husband said. “And, of course, egg nog.”

“White chocolate peppermint M&Ms,” our older son said, because he has very specific tastes.

“I don’t know,” our younger son said. “I’m good with anything, really. What about muffins?”

And there it was.

Now, let me tell you what kind of person Donna Freedman is. When I reported back to her with this information, she unsealed the envelope she’s already prepared for me - and stuck in a coupon for $1.50 off two bags of M&Ms. Because she’s that good.

Donna’s card arrived the Tuesday after Christmas. I suppose I could have given my husband a list and sent him shopping, but part of the fun for me was getting out of the house, so we waited until Friday afternoon and made an excursion of it.

We wound up at Wal-mart, because they were the most likely to have all of the items we wanted. We started in the snack aisle.

A 12-oz can of cashews was $5.48. A 24-oz container was $7.98, only $2.50 more. After some discussion, we agreed that the nuts would keep well and would definitely get eaten, so we opted for the larger size, deciding that we could supplement Donna’s gift with some household grocery money if we had to.

Our son had warned us that the M&Ms he’d wanted didnt’ seem to be available and had switched his request to a big bag of pretzels and a packet of ranch dressing mix to make flavored pretzels. Pretzels, also in the snack aisle, were $1.98 for a big bag.

We tracked down the summer sausage ($4.98) - and the ranch dressing mix, $1.49.

That left muffin mix. I could have made muffins from scratch, but wanted the greater variety of flavors a mix would provide. Our son hadn’t specified a type, but after some discussion, my husband and I settled on two packets of mix, apple cinnamon and strawberry cheesecake, at $.98 each.

Our running total was roughly eighteen and a half dollars ($18.39 to be exact, but I didn’t have a calculator on me)plus tax, and we’d gotten something on everyone’s list.

We added a half-gallon of milk and some other grocery items like tortillas and cheese that we needed anyway and hustled home with our loot.

All in all, Christmas 2016 didn’t turn out so badly after all.

I might mention that Donna’s gift turned out not to be the only one we received. My aunt and uncle sent a small check that we used to celebrate our son’s birthday with a movie matinee and dinner at home. My mom sent a check that not only paid the phone bill - before it was due! - but left enough over for each person to have a little bit of personal money. And one of my husband’s clients surprised us with a bottle of wine and a spiral-sliced ham.

But Donna’s was the first, and for me the one with the most emotional impact. It wasn’t just the money or the chance to enjoy a few holiday goodies when it seemed as though the joys of the season were passing us by - though those sure didn’t hurt!

It was the feeling of knowing that someone out there was thinking of me. That someone I’ve never met in person cared enough to send a little cheer my way in hopes it would help me enjoy an otherwise lackluster season.

Thank you, Donna. Thank you, J Money and Rockstar Finance forums. Your action meant the world to me and my family.



100% this.


Smiling hard right now :slight_smile: Love that you passed over coupons too, @DonnaFreedman haha…


I took this opportunity to teach my 2 girls about the “true meaning of christmas”. We found a local “Angel Tree” (Christmas tree with ornaments that have names of people in need and what they are needing) through our church. My girls picked the ornament of a family that had 2 little girls. They were so excited to go shopping for them and picking out clothes and toys that they thought they would like. It was a very humbling experience and made us grateful for the things we have. This christmas my girls were more excited about giving to this family in need than they were for receiving their own gifts.
Hopefully in years to come we can eliminate most of the gift giving within our family and just focus solely on helping those less fortunate than us.

Thank you for this experience.


Once a frugalist, always a frugalist.


So glad you guys did this. Thanks again for letting me take part.


Awesome story - thanks for sharing!

This thread is amazing.


It really is - thanks for contributing so much to it, man!

Next one coming out next week, look out for it…


I had several ideas of what to do with the card prior to getting it in the mail. None of them ended up being what really happened.
First I thought of the guy I see standing at the corner with his sign - but he wasn’t there when I drove by.
Then I thought of standing in the dollar store and just paying for some people’s purchases.
I drove to Canada to visit my family the day before Christmas and I thought maybe I’d give $20 at the toll booth to pay for the next number of cars behind me. The toll is $3 which doesn’t divide nicely into 20 so I decided not to.
The holiday season included a plan for my wife and I to drive my daughter to College Station TX, pack up her belongings there and drive her to Athens GA. She’s transferring from doing her grad studies at A&M and going to UGA. I figured I’d find someone along the trip that needed the help so kept the card with me.
The trip was done in a ‘new to us’ motorhome, making its maiden voyage for us.
In Illinois the starter went, in the evening at a rest area along the interstate.
A mechanic sent by AAA came and managed to get it going again so no need to tow the vehicle to a repair shop. Maybe he should get it, but he didn’t.
Then a mechanic/shop owner in Henderson TX was helpful in getting a new starter put in on short notice. But he didn’t get the card either.
My daughter’s mailman in TX drove by as we were loading the UHaul, but he didn’t get the gift.
A man approached me in the parking lot of a visitor center in Vicksburg MS with a sob story and was willing to sell me one of his rings for a tank of gas. But the casino I could see over his shoulder seemed a more likely culprit than car repairs, so he didn’t get the card.
Driving through Mississippi on Sunday evening, New Year’s Day, we had a tire blow on the RV.

We managed to make it to a gas station at the next exit (about 4 miles) as it was one of a pair of rear dual tires. Sheriff deputies Kenny and Danny saw us there and tried to help out, making some calls to people in the area they knew that may be able to give on site tire repairs. They even offered to make a run to get us some fast food or something once it looked like we were spending the night in the parking lot. I thought maybe I should get the card to the sheriff’s office (not sure I should be giving gifts directly to them, bribing law enforcement is frowned upon). So that was running in my head.
The first service man that could come out in the morning was friendly and helpful, didn’t have the necessary jacks to work on an RV, he only worked on big rigs. “You can crawl right under them, no need to jack them up”.
After a couple of hours of more waiting, Henry arrived. Monday was the observed holiday so he been called at home to come out and make this service call. He was polite, he was cheerful, and he didn’t complain even when it started raining.

He was almost done the work when I thought of the card in my pocket. I pulled it out and my wife instantly agreed that this was the correct recipient. Once he was done and said we could get back on the road I gave him the card. I explained that I was part of a group of people looking for those to whom we could bestow a gift. He almost cried and his only response was “I needed this”.

So here’s to Henry, from somewhere in Mississippi, who may feel like he received a lovely gift, when I know it was really me who was blessed.
Thanks group for giving me the opportunity and the reason to find someone to give this card to.


Hello and Happy New Year, kind people!
Loved reading all these wonderful posts. Sorry I’m a little late to the party.
Every year on Christmas Eve, we go out to eat as a family (and sometimes with a few friends) at a local restaurant. After the meal, we give our server an envelope filled with cash and thank them for working on the night before a major holiday. I always imagine those folks getting home very late and very tired on Christmas Eve.
Every year, the response is the very best gift we could ever RECEIVE. Its always full of hugs and sometimes tears. This year was no exception. I tucked my $20 gift card in with the other money. Our server, Aaron, was very surprised when we explained that we had a gift for him at the end of the meal. He kept saying “You don’t need to do this!”. He walked around the table and hugged each of us, kissing us on our cheeks, telling us each in his thick accent, “God bless you! God bless you!” with his hand on his heart.
Our Christmas Eve dinner tradition is our children’s favorite meal of the year and they are giddy all the way home, recounting that moment of pure human joy and kindness. It was such a sweet time of human connection in the busyness that is New York City living and I am grateful for the extra money from this group to help bless Aaron and his family even a little more this year.


Thanks for the story, @SteveB. I often forget how privileged I am, and that $20 can mean so much.


Keeping the card in your pocket throughout your road trip, thoughtfully considering every helpful person you came across, finally giving it to the person you knew was right, and in the end knowing that YOU were the one who was blessed . . . this is exactly why @J.Money and I are setting up the project this way. For people like you, my friend. Much love.


Well obviously I don’t have to tell YOU about who’s the real beneficiary in this setup :wink: Thanks so much for participating . . . we’ll get together next time I’m in NYC again :slight_smile:

(For all you following along at home, Robyn is the founder of The Birthday Project: http://www.thebdayproject.com/)


This was so amazing to be a part of. My neighbor lost his job a few months ago. He’s been putting in a ton of hours driving for Uber in order to make sure his bills are paid. His has a passion for baking and makes amazing cookies (which we get to share in because he passes his confections over the balcony to our apartment). We have the advantage of being on the inner corner of an “L” in the building, meaning we spend a lot of time chatting. We seriously lucked out on having Brian as a neighbor. I wanted to surprise and delight Brian with something fun to enhance his passion and bring a smile to his face.

I headed out with this little card in hand, making two stops to find the perfect items for this gift. At home, I put my mad wrapping skills to work.

I told Brian that Santa had left something at our house for him. He protested, saying that Santa hadn’t been to his house yet and how could he possibly have left something with us for him.

I waited (impatiently) as he opened his gifts. He was shocked and completely excited. The cookie scoop (one of the most awesome kitchen tools ever) was something he’d been wanting for a while and didn’t even know they made. The cookbook was a total bonus and he’s looking forward to expanding his repertoire and trying some of the cookie bar recipes.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to take part in RCF December 2016 and brighten Christmas for someone unexpectedly.


A man who knows how to bake cookies is a man who’s okay in my book. Did you know that I also pass cookies to my neighbor from my balcony? Unfortunately, she’s on the ground floor below me, so I should probably walk them down, but I do so enjoy flinging them down in their little baggie, so I continue doing it :wink:

I think this was a thoughtfully perfect gift!