Giving to Charity on the Cheap

To give or not to give? It might be the unspoken question of this holiday season. Americans normally have a reputation as a generous bunch. We give twice as much as the next charitable country (Britain), with somewhere between 70-80 percent of U.S. households doling out dollars each year. And the giving frenzy speeds up during the holidays, when we’re feeling extra warm and fuzzy.

But, no mistaken, this time is different. Our wallets are a little (OK, a lot) thinner, our morale a bit lower. Most of us are struggling to figure out how we’ll pay for our own Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas gifts this year—let alone for people we’ve never met. It sounds stingy, but I know I can’t afford to donate a 15-pound turkey, cough up the registration fee for our city’s annual 5K charity run, or buy a fancy toy to stuff an anonymous child’s stocking this year. Come December, I’ll be slinking guiltily by the bell ringer at the supermarket.

So, what’s a well-meaning but on-a-budget person to do?  It depends. Your No. 1 priority is your family’s well-being. Don’t feel obligated to give if doing so would jeopardize that. It’s your money, it’s your life. That said, there’s no denying the benefits of philanthropy. Like mom and dad always said, there is always someone worse off than you. Along with helping someone have a happier holiday, donating is also potentially tax-deductible and sets a good example for the kids.

While cash is the preferred currency of most charitable organizations, it’s not the only one—and it’s not very realistic during hard times. Here’s how I plan to donate on the cheap this year:

Give your time

People say time is money. But giving up a little bit of your weekend or down time to help someone less fortunate won’t cut into your bank account the way writing a check will. Contact your local volunteer center to find out where you can help. You can even get started this Thursday, when most communities have a Turkey Day feed. Yes, it’s work on a holiday, but what would you do on Thanksgiving morning anyway—sloth around in your PJs watching the Macy’s parade on TV, resting up for the big meal? Here’s a tip—those giant balloons are always the same. So get outside, roll up your sleeves and scoop some mashed potatoes for the hungry. Believe me, your own feast will taste even better later.

Give your stuff

Help others and clear out some space in your house by donating clothes, linens, toys and other stuff you know you won’t use again. Have the kids outgrown their shoes? Is your linen closet overflowing? Would your rather eat paint than wear the sweater grandma bought you last year (you know, the one with the dancing cartoon reindeer on)? Put it in a box and drop it off at your local shelter, thrift store, or church. Especially needed as the weather turns are warm coats and blankets.

Give as a gift

You’re going to spend money on Christmas gifts anyway—why not make some small donations in the names of friends and family? It might not work for everyone, but I find it’s the perfect present for hard-to-buy-for groups like co-workers.


Besides feeding your conscience, helping others keeps your mind off your own worries. Instead of thinking about what you don’t have, you’ll see what you do have—and how you can use it to make a difference. Looking for more ways to get your mind off money? Pledge to start the new year fresh by conquering debt, holding on to your house if you're facing foreclosure and starting a savings plan to stay financially secure into the future. In the spirit of giving, DebtStoppers is offering a free one-on-one debt analysis. Consider it a donation, courtesy of our debt relief and bankruptcy attorneys. And remember, it’s good to help others—but don’t forget to help yourself.

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