Chances are, someone on your holiday gift list is one of the 1.9 million U.S. workers laid off this past year.
You may be tempted to buy them a set of inspirational flash cards ("Tomorrow is a new day!") or a motivational coffee mug ("Dare to reach for the stars!").
Your laid-off friends and family members don't need cheesy platitudes. Nor do they need a cheery, new holiday sweater. They need work, and they need it now, before their unemployment benefits run out and the debt collectors come calling.
Unfortunately, looking for a job costs money -- money that someone living on unemployment checks or credit card fumes isn't likely to have.
That's where you come in. Give the pink-slipped people you know something they can put to good use in their quest for gainful employment, and they'll be eternally grateful.
Herewith, my holiday gift recommendations for those in your life without a paycheck.
A Free Ride
Sure, paying $2 a gallon for gas is a huge improvement from the $4 a gallon drivers shelled out earlier this year. But filling the tank four times a month to race to interviews, job fairs and meetings with recruiters is still a big financial hit for those living close to the bone.
So do your unemployed loved ones a favor and buy them a gas card. If they don't drive, get them a week's worth of bus or subway passes.
A Free Lunch
Interviewing often means eating and caffeinating on the run. No matter how careful the budget-conscious candidates are to pack a Thermos of java and a bag of peanut butter sandwiches, there will always be an interview that runs long, leaving them drowsy, ravenous and too weak-willed to pinch pennies. Don't let your pink-slipped pals spend a small fortune fueling up at Starbucks or Subway. Get them gift certificates to their preferred purveyor of fast food and beverages.
One of the perks your paycheck-less friends may be missing is the free magazine, newspaper and Web site subscriptions their former employers purchased for them. Whether your allies are into Wired or Waste Handling Equipment News, a subscription not only helps them stay current on industry trends, it gives them something other than celebrity gossip sites to read.
If you, too, are short on cash, not to worry. The Web is rife with offers of free business and trade magazine subscriptions. Your friends will still appreciate that you were savvy enough to sign them up for a year's worth of reading material.
500 Business Cards
There's nothing more humiliating than meeting a recruiter at a job fair or networking event and having to scrawl your personal e-mail address and phone number on the back of the business card your former employer issued you.
Don't let this happen to your unemployed cohorts. Visit one of the many online printing companies offering bargain-basement prices on business cards and give the gift of dignity. If you're broke yourself, you can still nab a pal 250 free business cards from VistaPrint. All you'll pay is shipping and handling.
A Visit to the Resume Doctor
We all know we need to update our resumes to land a new employer, yet so few of us know the best way to go about it. Compounding the problem, many of us are too embarrassed to ask for a hand. That's where a professional resume writer comes in.
To find one for an out-of-work friend, check the Professional Association of Resume Writers or the National Resume Writers' Association. As always, check references and beware of scams. Resume writers, who are often career coaches too, don't come cheap. You'll be lucky to find one who charges as little as $200 to $300 for a CV makeover. If this is out of your league, buy your friend the book "Resume Magic" instead, which retails for less than $20.
The Ability to Leave the House
You know that friend who swore she'd never get an iPhone or a BlackBerry and now desperately wishes she could afford one (and its accompanying service contract) so she'd have a better way to check e-mail while out pounding the pavement?
Peek, the sleek e-mail device that Time magazine called the "top gadget of 2008," might be the perfect interim solution. Although it looks like a BlackBerry, all the Peek does is e-mail.
Consequently, the device costs only $100, and the monthly service for unlimited e-mail access is just $20, with no contract required. Just be sure to clear this purchase with recipients first. Much like puppies, new gadgets that require monthly fees are something you don't want to spring on an unsuspecting, cash-poor pal.
A Way to Track All Those Blasted Job Leads
Remember how the last time you went job hunting you had a spreadsheet to track all the jobs you applied for, another to track all the contacts you tapped for job leads and a 6-inch stack of business cards you collected along the way?
This is the special kind of administrative hell your out-of-work chums now reside in, only with social networks like LinkedIn and the half-dozen job sites they're using thrown in. Enter JibberJobber, the Web tool that helps job seekers store all this info in one nice, neat spot, much like a spreadsheet on steroids.
Your $10 a month gets your buddies the ability to store details on all the companies, contacts and job boards they want. If you're on a tighter budget, sign them up for (and show them how to use) a somewhat pared-down $5-per-month or free account.
A Way to Blow Off Steam
More than anything, your laid-off cronies need a way to vent that doesn't involve drunk dialing the board members of their former employers or slashing the tires of their ex-managers.
The stress release afforded by gag gifts like dart boards and voodoo dolls is far too fleeting. What your unemployed comrades need is to throw some punches and to work up a sweat in a kickboxing or Taekwondo class. At the very least, it gets them out of the house and out their bathrobe for a few hours.
This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.
Michelle Goodman is a freelance journalist, author and former cubicle dweller. Her books — "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube" and "My So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire" (October 2008) -- offer an irreverent take on the traditional career guide. More tips on career change, flex work and the freelance life can be found on her blog, Anti9to5Guide.com.