9 Free or Low-Cost Ways to Give Back for the Holidays

There are ways for you to give gifts and make your community a better place for the holidays that don’t involve shelling out tons of dough.

At the end of A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge has had a change of heart and transformed from angry miser into a generous and warm-hearted patron. And while that’s a great story and all, most of us find ourselves more in line with Bob Cratchit then we do with ol’ Scrooge: When we’re looking to give back for the holiday season, we don’t have an overstuffed bank account we can dip into.

No, we need to get a little more creative. So if you’re looking to spread some holiday cheer and goodwill over the coming weeks, here are some things you can do that won’t require a lifetime of bitterly hoarding money and a well-timed visit from three Christmas ghosts to afford.

1. Volunteer for a local organization.

Take the old saying that “time is money” to heart this holiday season and donate some hours to a local organization that needs volunteers. “The holidays aren’t just about donating material items. It’s a time to help other people have a holiday experience they won’t forget,” said Holly Zink, a lifestyle expert for Kiwi Searches (@kiwisearches).

“The easiest way to do this is to volunteer at your local soup kitchen. See how you can be of use, whether it be helping make plates for visitors or coming up with the holiday entertainment or decor.”

If you’re having trouble picking an organization to volunteer with, try choosing one based on the passions and interests of your loved ones “Perhaps your friend or family member is passionate about pets. Why not spend a morning or full day volunteering at the shelter?” offered Holly Wolf, Director of Customer Engagement for SOLO Laboratories (@SOLO_labs). “Love to cook? How about serving a meal or making a meal together for the soup kitchen. It’s that together time you enjoy and it’s for a good cause.”

Accredited Financial Counselor Shari Evans (@iTithe) even suggested turning this into a new family tradition, adding that “Serving others less fortunate is a great way to realize how fortunate you are.” Even if you don’t have money to donate towards a good cause—or even towards gifts—this is one way you can donate something quite valuable, free of charge.

2. Donate your time.

If you’re strapped for cash and need creative ideas for gifts, you can also take that volunteer’s mindset and apply it to your friends and family. “One thing you can do that won’t cost you a penny is to donate your time,” said Justin Lavelle, Chief Communications Officer at BeenVerified.com (@BeenVerified).

“Help your family out with some work they might not enjoy doing. For instance, you could mow the lawn for them, watch their pets for them during a vacation, help them clean out a closet, wash their car, etc.”

“Help a friend make meals ahead of time so she’s not so stressed during the week—assuming you like to cook,” added Wolf. “Help a friend or relative declutter a basement, an attic. That’s a real gift.”  If you have loved ones with overloaded schedules or limited mobility, helping them out in this fashion will likely be a much better present than an Amazon gift card.

4. Donate your unused items.

An oldie, but a goodie. Donating your old clothes, toys, and extra stuff will serve a double purpose: Those items will go to someone who needs them for more than you do, all the while helping to reduce your home clutter.

“The holidays are a great time to donate clothes and toys to families in need,” said Zink. “Whether you’re just donating yourself, or want your family or co-workers to join you, this a free way to give back during the holidays.

“However,” she specified, “make sure the clothes and toys are in good condition before donating them.”

5. Re-gift your old stuff.

Once again, you can take the logic of donating your old, unused goods and turn that generosity back on your friends and family members. So long as you’re open about the re-gifting, this can be another win-win situation!

“Give away your treasures” Wolf advised.  “That snow globe that your niece admires. Those candlesticks that your friend loves—give them away.  If they aren’t important for you to keep, share the item and write a note about how you acquired them and the story around them.  This is really great if you have family heirlooms.”

Evans also suggested going one step further and letting a friend shop in your closet. “If you have a close friend that you’d like to give a gift to, but it’s just not in your budget this year, invite her over to pick one item from your closet,” she said.

6. Donate your talents.

Everybody’s good at something. So why not take what you’re best at and turn that into a gift?! It can be something you give as a present to your loved ones or a service that you donate to local organizations.

“Maybe you are a crafty person and you make things as a hobby? Give some away to friends and family,” said Lavelle. “If you are a good cook, host a dinner for your loved ones. Or bake cookies to give to them. Perhaps you’re an art or history buff. You could support your local museum as a volunteer tour guide and help people learn about the subject as well!”

“I believe one of the most valuable gifts you can give is to offer knowledgeable insight and advice, especially to those who own a business, run a side hustle or are considering starting something new,” said business coach and best-selling author Amanda Abella (@amandaabella). “If you have expertise in an area, share it. Write up a nice little ‘gift certificate’ for time with you that will be your undivided attention where you can share, brainstorm and laugh together.”

7. Organize a charity event.

Volunteering for a community organization is one way you can give back, but you could make an even greater impact if you donate your time and effort to organizing a larger charity event!

“Having a food drive where you work is always a great and low-cost way to give back,” said Zink. “You can set-up a box in the front of your office where you and your co-workers can place non-perishable food items. Make sure to have a game plan as to where the donated food can be given to, such as a local shelter.”

Lavelle also suggested hosting a charity yard sale: “You can do this with your whole neighborhood or just on your own. Gather up everything you want to sell, and donate all the proceeds to a charity close to your heart.”

8. Shop local.

Lavelle had one last suggestion, which was that you help your community by shopping locally. “Supporting the small, family-owned businesses in your community is an amazing way to give back,” he said.

“Not only are you keeping a family employed, but you are also contributing to more than just a million dollar conglomerate that usually doesn’t cater to each individual they sell to. Flea markets, weekend farmers markets, and ‘hole in the wall’ restaurants are all important to support while also being cost-efficient,” he said.

9. Add some extra thought.

Lastly, you can bring a lot of holiday joy to your loved ones by simply taking a little extra time and putting in a little additional effort to make them feel special. Here are three great ideas that Evans had to offer:

Send homemade holiday cards. You’ll need construction paper and finger paint to paint everyone’s hand in a different color. Make handprints on the paper, write the name under the handprint and include a holiday greeting.”

Make a video greeting card. This year set aside some time to make a video greeting card for the special people in your life.  Choose a quiet (at least quiet enough for a good recording) but festive location and send your video by email or one of your social media platforms.”

Write letters this year. I know everyone loves the family holiday cards with pictures, but if they’re not in your budget this year, prepare to write traditional letters. You’ll need time to write meaningful letters, but they will surely be priceless gifts treasured for years to come.”

You might be surprised to find just how far a little bit of thoughtfulness can go! To learn more about how you can minimize your holiday costs, check out these related posts and articles from OppLoans:

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Featured in Forbes, The Huffington Post, Inc, and Business Insider, Amanda Abella (@amandaabella) has created an online community where millennials can learn how to make money online and actually enjoy their financial journeys. Amanda is a certified professional coach who has undergone several trainings including the IFC accredited International Coach Academy. In 2014, Amanda launched her Amazon bestselling book, Make Money Your Honey: A Spirited Entrepreneur’s Guide to Having a Love Affair with Work & Money which has been featured in Yahoo! Finance and Seventeen Magazine.
Shari Evans, AFC ® and Founder of iTitheFirst, LLC (@iTithe) is a personal financial counselor and freelance contributor. Her individualized, judgment-free and client-focused approach to money management has helped clients around the world reach their financial goals. Shari is a retired US Army Officer, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, a Military Spouse, and mom of energetic little girls. Her motto is “one dollar at a time” and she can be reached at shari@iTitheFirst.com.
Justin Lavelle is a Scams Prevention Expert and the Chief Communications Officer of BeenVerified.com (@BeenVerified). BeenVerified is a leading source of online background checks and contact information. It helps people discover, understand and use public data in their everyday lives and can provide peace of mind by offering a fast, easy and affordable way to do background checks on potential dates. BeenVerified allows individuals to find more information about people, phone numbers, email addresses, and property records.
Holly Wolf is an executive with over 30 years experience in banking and healthcare.
Holly Zink is a tech and security expert for Kiwi Searches (@kiwisearches). She is up-to-date on the latest security issues, from online scams to identity theft.

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