Friday, April 22, 2011

How to be generous on a budget, Part 1: Charity

Despite signs that our economy is picking up, times are still tough. Grocery prices keep going up, and the cost of gas is frightening. So, how do you strike a balance between being wise with your money and being generous?
The good news is that it can be pretty easy to give back without having to spend a lot.
1.      Pick up extra. If there’s a good deal on something that you use—say, toothpaste or cans of tuna—(or even something you don’t) such that you can get it for free or with little cost, think about picking up that item to donate.  Food pantries will take non-perishables.  Many soup kitchens will take produce. Women’s shelters are thrilled to receive shampoo, soap, toothpaste, feminine hygiene items, deodorant, shaving cream and the like. And don’t forget out furry friends! A can of dog or cat food can be less than $1 and will allow someone receiving their own meals from Meals on Wheels to feed their pet.
2.      Instead of throwing it out, donate it. Did you know that most animal shelters will gladly take old blankets, towels and pillows? Often they can use old stuffed animals and even empty pill bottles (they use them to send home meds with adopted pets). In Rochester we have a “craft thrift store” which accepts and then resells craft items and unfinished craft projects. Many school teachers are grateful to get craft supplies for their classrooms. Old magazines might be welcome at local medical or dental offices; I take mine to the waiting area at my mechanic’s.
3.      Donate your time.  Charitable organizations need physical help as much as they need monetary and in-kind donations. Habitat for Humanity would not be able to build houses if people did not volunteer their time to lay the foundations and build the walls of those homes. The local poor would not get fed at the soup kitchen if volunteers did not help prepare the food. Yes, it is a sacrifice. But it won’t cost you a cent.
4.      Better yet, donate a skill. If you have a professional skill, a few hours of your time donated to a worthy cause can be invaluable. If you’re a seamstress, you could sew costumes for the local high school’s theater department. Or make pillowcases dresses for little girls in Africa. If you’re an artist, you might make a great docent at the local art museum. Do you know how to repair bicycles? There are organizations that help fix up old bikes for kids whose families can’t afford their own. I knit blankets for the animal shelter using leftover yarn and yarn I wouldn’t use for other projects. Project Linus provides homemade blankets to children who are terminally ill or traumatized. If you can read, then you have a skill that is in demand by Literacy Volunteers.
5.      Does your company match gifts? My employer has policy of matching certain gifts, and also offers a “dollars for doers” program where they will match volunteer hours by employees with a monetary gift to the charity. They also provide two paid volunteer days to full-time employees. Find out if your employer offers any similar programs and be sure to take advantage of them.
If you’re not sure where to begin, try to find a charity that supports what is important to you. If you aren’t sure what charity might be able to use whatever items you have to give, a few Google searches, or looking at local charity “wish lists” might be helpful.

Next up: How to be generous on a budget, Part 2: Gift giving

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