Spread Holiday Cheer Without Spending Holiday Cash


There are so many ways to spread the love this holiday season that don’t involve racking up credit card debt or taking out an ill-advised personal loan.

Every year, you’ll hear people talking about how over-commercialized Christmas has become. They’ll say that in our rush to buy our friends and family all the best, hottest new gifts, we’ve lost sight of the true spirit of Christmas.

And sure, people who go on and on about this can pretty annoying … but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong.

First of all, focusing too much on buying the best gifts can lead to overspending and going into debt. You shouldn’t be taking out a loan for Christmas shopping or racking up credit card debt. For some folks, overspending on Christmas could mean falling behind on other bills, forcing them to take predatory bad credit loans and no credit check loans.

And besides, the holiday season isn’t really about buying stuff. It’s supposed to be about giving back to our family, our loved ones, and our communities. And while giving awesome gifts is a great way to do that, there are many other ways to give back as well.

Plus, there are tons of ways to give back that don’t require spending a dime! You may think that charity is something only for the rich, but even folks with a tight budget can participate. With that in mind, here some free and low-cost ways for you to give back this holiday season.

Donate blood or platelets

We talked to the good folks over at The American Red Cross (@RedCross), who had a number of great ideas for helping your community and folks in need over the holiday season:

“For those who are looking for the perfect holiday gift, there’s an extremely valuable one that doesn’t cost a thing. The American Red Cross encourages individuals who are looking for a new or different way to give back this holiday season to consider donating blood or platelets. Life is a gift. Help us give more of it.

“Blood and platelet donations decline from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day as people become busy with holiday-related activities and travel, but patients don’t get a holiday from needing blood. Generous blood and platelet donations will ensure lifesaving blood products reach those who need them including accident victims, heart surgery patients, and those receiving treatment for leukemia, cancer or sickle cell disease.

“Make an appointment today by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting redcrossblood.org, or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).”

Donate your stuff

Most people have extra stuff around the house that they don’t need anymore. If you have kids, they probably have clothes that they’ve outgrown or toys they no longer play with. And while these items may seem like junk to you, they could make a huge difference to families and kids in need.

Tom Bognanno is the President and CEO of Community Health Charities (@healthcharities), a nonprofit that helps health charities nationwide connect with employees through workplace initiatives and programs. He says that to great low-cost ways to give back is to “Give your gently used clothing, kids’ clothing that is too small, jewelry, toys, books, movies, and household items to Salvation Army—you can even schedule a convenient pick-up.”

“Many other charities accept in-kind donations as well: American Cancer Society runs Discovery Shops that accept clothing, accessories, and household items; St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital accepts children’s toys; Easterseals recycles old laptops, cell phones, and other technology; and American Textile Recycling Service has donation bins around the country for used clothing, shoes, and household items.”

“If you don’t want to donate your goods,” says Bognanno, “sell them on Craigslist or eBay and donate what you make to charity or use eBay’s charity shop to donate a portion to charity as a seller.”

When you sell your old stuff online, you’re not gonna be making off of it. So why not donate? The warm and fuzzies you get from giving back will outweigh the few bucks you would have otherwise made.

Donate through your workplace

Now, this will obviously depend on whether your company has a charitable giving program. But if you’re lucky enough to work at a place that matches charitable donations, that’s a great way to help fund your favorite charities while also literally getting to giving away other people’s money.

“Thousands of companies across the United States (and internationally) offer matching gift programs—a corporate charitable donation that matches an employee’s donation,” says Bognanno. “Don’t miss out if your company matches charitable giving or volunteer hours. If you’re federal or military, give to the Combined Federal Campaign.”

That last option isn’t free—as your employer will only match what you’re already donating, but it’s a great way to make a little bit of money go twice as far.

Here at OppLoans, we have a great way for our employees to donate. It’s through a program called OpptToGive, where employees nominate each other for going above and beyond the call of duty and for best embodying our company’s core values. Every quarter, the employees with the most nominations get $1,000 to donate to the charity of their choice. Pretty cool, right?!

Help map high-risk communities

When natural disasters hit, the Red Cross is always one of the first groups on the scene. We wrote earlier this year about ways you could help after Hurricane Harvey, and since then we’ve seen Hurricane Maria and Irma plus wildfires rip through California. And that’s just in the United States!

If you are unable to donate to disaster relief right now, the Red Cross has other ways that you can assist responders and aid organizations:

“Each year, disasters around the world devastate millions of people. But many communities are missing from the maps that responders use to deliver lifesaving aid.

“To help get relief into people’s hands, the American Red Cross depends on OpenStreetMap—a free-editable map of the world built by volunteers. Thanks to the generosity of volunteers around the globe, American Red Cross and its partners in the Missing Maps project have put millions of people from high-risk countries on the map since 2014.

“Updated maps can expedite the delivery of emergency supplies, determine where help is needed most, and even track the spread of diseases like Ebola. Accurate maps can also help neighborhoods prepare for emergencies and make them less prone to natural disasters.

“Anyone with a computer and an internet connection can help emergency responders around the world through one simple task: making maps. People can volunteer at home, attend a mapathon or host one with family and friends. Visit redcross.org/maps to learn how to get started or to find a mapathon event.”


This is an oldie but a goodie. Volunteering is the lifeblood of so many charities and organizations. Without it, they would cease to function.

If you want to volunteer for organizations in your neighborhood, that’s a great way to start. Just start searching around for organizations working in your community. Ask your friends if there are charities and causes they donate their time too. If you belong to a church or other religious organization, check out the work they’re doing or start a program of your own.

To get involved locally, Bognanno recommends using this Volunteer on the Spot toolkit from Community Health Charities “for easy, fun in-office volunteer activities like creating hygiene kits, making blankets or cards for children in the hospital or veterans, or holding office supply drives.”

“Or, use our volunteer opportunity locator to find volunteer opportunities by zip code or keyword. Great for those who can’t leave the office to volunteer or want to do something at the business location. When everyone pitches in, you can have a much bigger impact,” he says.

We can guarantee that there is a charity or aid organization nearby that could use your help. And if you want to volunteer for the American Red Cross, you can join the nearly 300,0000 Red Cross volunteers nationwide by visiting redcross.org/volunteer.

Other ways to give back 

Lastly, Bognanno had a number of other, smaller suggestions for ways you can give back and spread Christmas cheer while keeping your costs to a minimum:

  • Sing carols at the nursing home or veterans hospital. Take your kids.”
  • Wear an elf hat while running errands or read at your child’s school to give the teacher a break and the kids a special treat.”
  • Bake cookies for your neighbors. (I did this early on when I was first married and didn’t have a lot of money—would take cookie plates wrapped in red cellophane to all our neighbors). They loved it! Personal touch. You can also give jars with dry cookie ingredients and a recipe card.”
  • Rake leaves or shovel snow for a neighbor or senior citizen. Do a random act of kindness.”
  • Send holiday cards focused on thankfulness—why you appreciate someone and why you are thankful they are in your life.”
  • Be inclusive. Invite coworkers, friends, college students, singles, and neighbors to join your family holiday meal. You can hold a potluck, play games, etc.”

While giving gifts is great, the holiday season is about much more than that. It’s about bringing joy to the people around you and making the world a brighter place. Even if you don’t have a ton of money to give to folks in need, we hope these suggestions will help you spread the holiday cheer.

What are some free or low-cost ways you like to give back during the holidays? We want to know! You can email us or you can find us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Thomas G. Bognanno is the President and CEO of Community Health Charities (@healthcharities) and has worked in nonprofit health leadership for more than 35 years, with American Diabetes Association and American Cancer Society.
American Red CrossThe American Red Cross (@RedCross) shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation’s blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org.

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