‘Tis the season of giving. Hey, that’s what drives the consumer feeding frenzy that is American capitalism, right? We buy gifts. We give to family, to friends, to coworkers, to teachers, to coaches, to the mailman; we even give to the in-laws. So what happens when you want to go even bigger and give back to the community at large? Time to pony up and open that checkbook. No, wait. There’s not enough left in there…… Better go straight to the credit card.
Sound a little off, coming from a consumer credit counselor? Yeah, sorry. I forgot to use the sarcasm font. While I certainly appreciate a desire to give back and make a difference in the community, I also understand the need to be able to pay the bills in January. After all, nothing says ‘post-holiday hangover’ like getting evicted for not paying the rent.
Are you just out of luck (or off the hook) if you don’t have money to give? Fear not, there is still hope for you. There are a lot of ways to make a difference without having to fork over cash. While we certainly don’t have room for all of them here, this list should at least get your brain waves flowing in the right direction.
So off we go on the journey of making a difference.
Donate Stuff – Most of us have a lot of stuff around. Way more that we really, truly need. Is there any of that stuff that someone else may get more use from than you? It’s not costing you anything, but that stuff lying around isn’t making you anything either. Make a difference and pass it on.
Donate Time – As short of cash as many organizations are, most are just as short on volunteers. You can help build houses, clean up and beautify the community, even simply play cards with people at the retirement home. It may not always be something glamorous enough to post to Facebook, but if they have you doing it, it really is making a difference for them. And that is the whole point after all.
Get Up and Run – So you don’t have money to give, but do other people around you? Many places have fun-runs or walks as fundraisers for their organizations. Get a few sponsors to supply the cash and you supply the effort. AAAAAND you get to work off those extra holiday calories as a bonus!
The Gift of Life – You might think this is more of a thing around Halloween, but donated blood is a year round need. Find your local Red Cross donation center and they will tell you where to go (in a good way). Better yet, if your local Red Cross has a mobile program, work with your employer to organize a company-wide blood drive. Green and red are the colors of Christmas after all. Save your green cash and give your red blood.
Random Notes – It’s the thought that counts, so share your thoughts. Leave anonymous notes around for people you know, civic leaders that make a difference, or just random people. It doesn’t have to be too deep. Reciting their life history in an anonymous note can get a little creepy. Instead, just wish them a merry Christmas or even a good day. As rarely as we hand-write personal notes to people any more, the fact that you took time to do it may make a big difference for someone.
Donate Time Off – No, this is different from the donation of time above. Often, larger employers will allow you to donate some of your paid time off that you have banked. It can be given to specific individuals who may be dealing with a serious illness or family issues, or held in a pool to be available when needed at a later date. A note of caution – PTO is given for a reason, and as a strong proponent of healthy balance, do NOT donate all of your PTO. You need some of it to keep yourself healthy and happy.
Look Local – While these are very general ideas, use them as inspiration and look local. There may be some very unique opportunities in your specific community. For example, one of the communities in our region (the cold region) also has a significant number of homeless and nearly homeless. They also have a number of life-size statues of people in their downtown area. So locals who can, dress the statues with hats and scarves with the understanding that anyone who really needs them, can walk by and claim the items to keep themselves warm. What a great way to offer help when and where it is needed. What programs do you have locally?
So there you go – just a few ideas to get you rolling. But don’t forget that many of these opportunities and needs exist even after the holidays. If you are bored and looking for something to do, this same list can get you going.
If you are reading this because you want to give but are already in financial trouble, give yourself a gift and deal with that too. The counselors at the Center for Financial Resources have seen it all, including people who have simply given more that their budget would allow. You can schedule an appointment online or give us a call at 605-330-2700 and we can help you get that budget back in shape before next Christmas roles around.
But then again, you might like giving other ways so much that you will keep doing that rather than just forking out cash.
written by Breck Miller
Images courtesy freedigitalphotos.net