Cheap Ways to Give Back at the Holidays

Being generous doesn’t have to break your budget.


Shopping is a national sport. The National Retail Federation estimates that consumers will spend nearly $450 billion during the 2010 holiday season. But our shopping talents can also create seasonal generosity.

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Holiday promotions are gift-wrapped opportunities to provide seasonal cheer for those who have little or nothing. And even if you have a tight budget, there are painless ways to give to others. For example, you can take advantage of sales gimmicks to fulfill your shopping list, while giving to impoverished or homeless families. Donations of time, services or merchandise are appreciated at shelters, nursing homes and other non-profit organizations. (See also Gift Giving Ideas that Can Change Lives.)

Buy-One-Get-One (BOGO) sales

From sweaters to appliances, retail chains, online vendors and mail-order catalogues are filled with two-for-one promotions or other discounts for multiple purchases, which include buy-one-get-one free or half-off sales. Board games, electronic toys and other gadgets are often featured in BOGO sales. Tapping into those discounts provides an affordable way to share new merchandise with others. Buy one for your gift list and donate the free or discounted items to a toy drive, a charitable thrift store or a homeless shelter.

I was inspired by a friend, who purchased Halloween merchandise in November and shared her purchases with a food bank. Her post-Halloween finds included tissue boxes marked down to 19 cents each.

Community Service

Families can dress up the holidays by creating new traditions and adding community service projects to December to-do lists. Family or group projects include distributing baked goods at a nursing home, visiting hospital patients or serving holiday meals at a soup kitchen. Donations of time and energy spread good will and offer parents opportunities to share important values with children. Make sure you check out the charity organizations before you start donating your time. You don’t want to end up supporting groups that do not support your values.

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Space-clearing activities can serve personal and charitable purposes during the holidays. Find closet space for new holiday gifts by using a one-in/one-out system that works like this: For every new item (toy, game, or garment) received, a comparable item from the closet is donated to a thrift store or given away. On an organizational basis, this clutter-busting system reduces the glut of toys and trinkets after birthdays and holidays. But more importantly, recycled merchandise—in good condition —can be valuable to others.

Sharon Harvey-Rosenberg is a special financial news contributor for Wise Bread. She is the author of "Frugal Duchess: How to Live Well and Save Money” and a contributing author to ”10,001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget.”