Give to Charity when You Have Debt
When you give money to a charity when you have debt, you may feel guilty. You may feel like your money would be better spent paying down your debt. But at the same time, you may feel guilty for not giving at all – especially if you feel a religious duty to donate. Budget your money wisely and look for other ways to help that don't involve money. You can even plan donations for after your death. You may have to get creative, but it is possible to give to charity when you have debt.
Making Alternative Donations
- Volunteer your time. Many charities and nonprofit organizations rely heavily on work done by volunteers. Your time is just as valuable as a monetary donation. Ask about volunteer opportunities available at a charity you want to support.
- You typically don't need any special skills to volunteer. Most charities have simple tasks that anyone can do, such as stuffing envelopes for a membership drive or serving food at a soup kitchen.
- Make your volunteering a part of your regular weekly schedule. For example, you might decide you want to walk the dogs at your local animal shelter. Commit to doing this two or three days a week, either on your way to work or on your way home.
- Donate unwanted items. There are many nonprofit organizations that take donated items and sell them in a thrift store. You also may be able to donate gently used items for use by the charity or nonprofit itself.
- For example, if you want to support your local homeless shelter you might donate old pots and pans, or sheets and blankets. Contact the shelter to find out what their donation needs and requirements are.
- You also may be able to donate food or other perishables. While you'll have to buy these things separately, you are helping people more directly than if you donated cash.
- Cut your hair. If you have long hair, you may be able to donate it to a charity that creates wigs for cancer patients who've lost their hair after undergoing chemotherapy treatment. This is a way to donate to charity without spending a dime (other than the cost of the haircut.)
- These charities have a minimum length of hair they will accept, and they may have other guidelines. For example, they may not accept hair that has been color-treated. Check these rules before you start growing your hair so you can donate it.
- Give blood. Donating blood is a good way to give to charity when you have debt. You typically must be in good health and over the age of 16 or 18. Keep in mind they also may not accept your blood if you are involved in risky activities, such as unprotected sex or use of intravenous drugs.
- You can set up regular blood donations. Organizations such as the Red Cross also have blood drives whenever there is a natural disaster or other emergency.
- Take up sewing. Especially if you live in a colder climate, you may be able to make simple items such as scarves for people in need. Generally, buying materials and making something yourself is cheaper than buying new items.
- If you don't know how to knit or sew and want to learn, find out if there are free classes available in your community. For example, your local community center may have a class you can take or a group you can join.
- You also might consider befriending an older person who can teach you how to sew or knit. This way you can make a new friend and help improve your local community.
- Help someone in need. You don't necessarily have to go through an established charity or nonprofit organization to improve people's lives and your community as a whole. Find someone who lives near you that could use some help, and volunteer.
- For example, suppose your next-door neighbor is a single mother. You could volunteer to watch her kids a couple nights a week. That would enable her to go out and do something nice for herself, or maybe pick up a couple of extra shifts at work.
- For just a little money, you can buy the ingredients for simple sandwiches. Make sandwiches and wrap them up to give to people who are homeless and in need.
- Never disregard the power of simply talking to someone. Visiting a nursing home and talking to some of the patients there will make them feel loved and cared for.
- Organize a benefit. If you have strong planning and organization skills and a lot of connections in your community, you can set up an event. Even if you don't have the resources to create your own event, there may be others in which you can participate.
- For example, many charities and nonprofit organizations have walks or runs to raise money. You typically don't have to pay anything yourself to participate, you simply get friends, family, and others to sponsor you by pledging a certain amount of money per mile you complete.
- When you organize or participate in a benefit, you can give to charity without necessarily having to contribute any of your own funds.
Setting Up Future Donations
- Name a charity as a beneficiary. If you have a life insurance policy or retirement account, you probably have the ability to name a beneficiary who will inherit the money in that account after your death. You can name a charity or nonprofit organization as a beneficiary.
- Talk to your banker or insurance agent to find out how to change the beneficiary and what information you'll need. The process may differ depending on the type of account.
- You also may need to contact someone at the charity to make sure you have the correct contact information to name the charity as a beneficiary.
- Write a charity into your will. If you have a will or trust to distribute your estate after your death, you can give to charity when you have debt by listing the charity in your will to receive all or part of your estate.
- If you haven't yet planned your estate, look for an attorney in your area who specialized in estate planning. They can look at your circumstances and help you construct the plan that will best suit your needs.
- Check with your charity to make sure you have the correct information in your will. Many larger charities have information on their websites specifically addressing donations made through wills or trusts.
- Become an organ donor. Your national government typically provides a fairly simple process by which you can sign up as an organ donor. When you donate your organs, you can be directly responsible for saving someone else's life.
- Don't be discouraged by popular myths about organ donation. For example, you may have heard that if you are listed as an organ donor, hospital staff will prioritize other lives over yours for that reason. This is untrue.
- If you're concerned about whether organ donation is consistent with your faith, speak to a trusted religious leader about it.
Managing Your Budget
- Determine what you have available. If you're determined to give money to a charity, design a detailed budget so you know how much money you have available. Look at where your money goes and see if there's anything you can do without.
- For example, if you get a cappuccino with a coworker twice a week, you could drop one of those meetings and use the money you would have spent on those cappuccinos to donate to charity.
- You also can save money within your budget and give what you've saved to charity each month. For example, if you have $200 budgeted for groceries each month, but one month you only spend $170 on groceries, that gives you $30 that you can donate to the charity of your choice.
- Meet your obligations. Particularly if you're a religious person, you might feel guilty if you don't donate to charity on a regular basis – especially if you're in the habit of doing so. If you don't have enough money to cover your required payments, though, you have nothing to give.
- If you have debt, you are required to make payments on that debt. Don't forego a required payment to give money to charity.
- You also want to avoid racking up more debt through charitable donations. If you make a donation with a credit card, make sure you have enough money to pay that off immediately.
- Plan specific contributions. You can set aside an amount within your budget if there are particular events or causes that come up every year. For example, maybe your kids' school has a fundraiser every year.
- You also might want to set aside money for emergency or crisis situations that might happen nearby – especially if natural disasters are more common in your area.
- Earmark cash donations. Especially when your donations are limited, you want to make sure your money is actually going to support the cause, not to pay for operating expenses of the organization.
- Before donating, ask a representative from the organization if you can specify how your money will be spent. They will let you know what you need to do.
- Take tax deductions if appropriate. When you donate to charitable organizations, you may be able to deduct all or part of the amount you donated on your income tax returns. If you have the ability to do so, you can save money on your taxes.
- Don't worry that taking the tax deduction will lessen the meaning of your donation. Taking any tax deduction available to you is part of responsibly handling your money.
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