The financial fallout of the last several years has left many Americans struggling to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. Government assistance programs have provided some relief, but millions of individuals and families have found themselves turning to charitable organizations for additional help.
Fortunately, Americans have continued to make donations to charity, despite the economy’s slow recovery. According to a June 2012 report from the Giving USA Foundation, Americans gave nearly $300 billion to charitable organizations in 2011.
When your finances are tight, it can be hard to fit giving into your budget. However, it’s important to remember that giving back to your community doesn’t always mean giving money. There are plenty of ways to support causes that are near and dear to your heart but don’t involve laying out large amounts of cash.
Ways to Be Charitable on a Tight Budget:
1. Give Your Time
While charitable organizations need money to stay up and running, they also need people who are willing to pitch in and help with day-to-day operations. Your budget might not allow you to write a check to your favorite charity, but it won’t cost you any money to give your time for a good cause. Volunteer opportunities are virtually everywhere, including food pantries, hospitals, schools, senior centers, libraries, and religious institutions. Websites like VolunteerMatch are an excellent resource for finding volunteer opportunities in your area.
If you’re not sure where you want to volunteer, make a list of the issues and causes that most interest you. When you’re considering offering your services to a particular organization, ask yourself what skills you have to offer. Figuring out where you can be the most useful can ensure that your time as a volunteer is well spent.
But you don’t have to align with an organization to make a positive difference. You can look for opportunities to help others right in your own neighborhood. For example, if you have an elderly neighbor who has trouble getting around, you could volunteer to do their grocery shopping or help with simple household chores. If you have a specific skill or talent, you might consider offering a free class to share what you know. The gift of your time and attention could end up being more valuable than any amount of money you can give.
2. Turn Your Clutter Into Donations
Take a look around your house – what do you see that you can do without? Cleaning up your attic, basement, or even the hall closet can yield a wealth of items that you can donate to someone in need. While gathering things to donate, take the time to make sure each item is in relatively good condition. Check clothing for stains and tears, and test electronics and appliances to make sure they work properly. If you’re donating children’s toys or games, make sure you have all the pieces or parts. If you’re planning to donate items from your pantry to a local food bank, make sure that the expiration dates haven’t passed.
There are a number of places that will accept donations of used items. Goodwill and the Salvation Army are two of the most well-known places to donate used clothing, toys, furniture, computers and electronics, and household appliances, but there are other options if you don’t live near one of these organizations. For example, women’s shelters always need donations of clothing and personal hygiene items. Books and magazines can be donated to your local library or neighborhood school. You can also give away items by posting them on a site like Freecycle, which is essentially a virtual community swap meet.
When donating items to charity, be sure to get a receipt listing each item with its estimated value. You should also get a receipt for any cash donations you make. When tax time rolls around, you may end up getting a tax deduction for your charitable donations, but you need receipts or other documents to prove your claim. In some cases, the deduction for donated goods could end up being worth more than you could get if you’d sold the item.
3. Make a Medical Donation
Just because you don’t have any spare cash or used goods to donate doesn’t mean you have nothing to give. The Red Cross is the largest blood collection agency in the country, and one of the organization’s primary functions is to supply blood to hospitals around the world. According to Red Cross statistics, someone needs a blood transfusion every two seconds in the United States. If you’re in good health, giving blood is a great way to help others without spending a dime. Donating plasma is also an option, although the process is a bit more time-consuming. On the plus side, many plasma donation centers pay donors for their time, so you could end up earning a few extra dollars for your good deed.
If you don’t like needles, you have other options for giving a piece of your self. For example, nursing moms can donate breast milk to the National Milk Bank, which provides milk to babies who are premature or critically ill. You can also help sick kids by donating your hair to the Florida-based charity Locks of Love. Locks of Love uses donated hair to make custom wigs for children who have lost their hair because of a medical condition, such as alopecia, or as a result of cancer treatment. Hairpieces can cost as much as $6,000 but Locks of Love offers them to needy children at no cost.
Giving back can be extremely rewarding, for both the giver and the recipient. Even if you don’t think you have the financial resources to give, there’s still plenty you can do if you’re willing to take a creative approach. Whether it’s your time, your extra stuff, or yourself, there is a way for you to give a lot without spending a lot.