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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Smart Money: Holiday Good Deeds for Free

The holidays are a perfect time to do some good deeds. Money is always tight this time of year, so I'm going to share some good deeds you can do for free (or almost free). 

Volunteer

I'm kind of a volunteer junkie.  Between Scouts and church, and stuff through work, I generally do several hundred hours of volunteer service every year.  Why do I do it?  Well, for one thing, it's a lot of fun.  Didn't expect that, did you?  Serving meals to the homeless - fun, working at the food bank - fun, singing in the church choir - fun, camping with the Boy Scouts - fun.  

Image courtesy of Sommai / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Yeah, it's hard work sometimes, and there are always a few parts you don't enjoy that much, but for the most part, it's usually pretty fun. Especially if you do it with a big group of family and friends, you can have a ball and come home with a good feeling. Give it a try.  

Give Stuff

To me, decluttering your house and donating some of your "stuff" is a clear win-win.  You get less stuff cluttering up your house, and people get stuff they can use.  OK, technically it's not free because you originally paid for the stuff, but at least it's not out-of-pocket money and it is tax deductable.  Coats and warm clothing are particularly in demand during the holidays.  

Give a Hand Up

I have been partnering with Kiva.org microfinance for years now.  They give small loans to people in poor countries who couldn't otherwise obtain financing for their small businesses and needs.  Let's say a small farmer in Uganda needs $200 to buy a new breeding sow.  They take eight $25 loans from people like us, and combine them.  Then the recipient pays the loan back in small amounts every month until the balance is paid off.  Once you get repaid, you can either withdraw your money or relend it to another borrower - your choice!  They have like a 99% payback rate. The best part is that your first loan is free.  Here's your invitation to help.  

Just Give

OK, this one technically isn't free, but it's kind of a wash. We have lost many loved ones - both sets of parents, all our grandparents, most of our aunts and uncles.  These are all people we would have bought gifts for, so instead we choose to honor their memory by taking the money we would have spent on their gifts and use it to do something that would have pleased them.  My Dad liked dogs, so we make a donation to an animal shelter.  My Mom had a soft spot for homeless people, so we use it to buy a box of socks, hats, and gloves.  If you hit the sales, you can find them for as little as $1 a piece.  Be creative - if you can't afford money, maybe you could do a good deed in their name instead - bake cookies for a neighbor, or watch the kids so a busy Mom can do her Christmas shopping.  

Give it a shot and see how you can spice up your holidays.  

PS:  I can't believe I almost forgot another easy one.  When you travel, be sure and snag all the hotel soaps and shampoos at the end of your stay.  Even if they are slightly used, they are very much in demand for hygiene kits at the homeless shelters.  I just keep a shoebox in my closet and when it gets filled up, I send them down to the shelter where they are very happy to get them.  


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