You might have heard the disturbing news: Thanksgiving is in danger of extinction, with many big retailers planning to open their doors on Thanksgiving Day itself.As The Washington Post reported this weekend, the tradition of “Christmas creep,” or the trend toward holiday jingles and Christmas decorations making their appearance in shopping centres by early fall, has broken a new record this year. “Thanksgiving is under assault,” writes reporter Ylan Q. Mui.
While the holiday was originally tied to the harvest, it has long been considered a prelude to Christmas. In fact, back in 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt attempted to boost holiday sales by moving Thanksgiving up by one week. Americans revolted against that plan, though, and Roosevelt was forced to backtrack.
Today, Roosevelt’s plan might have gathered more steam. Some shoppers are so eager to get started on their holiday shopping that they are already lining up for Black Friday sales, days before they begin. Walmart, Target, and Toys ‘R Us are among the retailers opening their doors at midnight or earlier on Thanksgiving Day itself.
For those looking to reclaim the original spirit of the holiday, which revolves around gratitude, returning the focus to sharing what one has is one way to do it. Giving back need not mean donating huge sums of money; in fact, giving time and even skills can be even more valuable.
So, how to get started without busting your budget? Here are nine money-smart ways to give back this holiday season.
Develop a plan. Many of us give haphazardly throughout the year, donating $30 for a friend’s walkathon and $100 at a school auction. But Lisa Endlich, author of Be the Change, says that’s a mistake. “It doesn’t make you an effective giver. You don’t know how the giving is being used, and it’s not something that’s integral and important to you,” she says. “People do their best giving when they focus on what matters to them the most.”
Instead, Endlich recommends that people ask themselves what one or two things matter most to them and what will affect others most. Inspiration can come from almost anywhere, including movies, a conversation with friends, or a magazine article. When you give to those priorities, you won’t spend any more money than you already did throughout the year, but it will be in a way that better reflects your values.
Learn everything you can about your chosen cause. Bill Gates shared this advice for would-be philanthropists with the New York Times: “The key thing is to pick a cause, whether it’s crops or diseases or great high schools…. Pick one, and get some more in-depth knowledge” by travelling, reading, or volunteering. Studying up on your cause doesn’t need to cost much money, but it will make you a more informed—and more effective—giver.
Give of yourself—literally. Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project (and blog of the same name), says signing up to be an organ donor or giving blood can boost your own mood, especially in a recession. “If you’re feeling impoverished … a way to counteract that feeling is to do something generous,” she says. It’s a way of convincing yourself that you have something to give, adds Rubin.
Investigate close-to-home options. Local organisations often arrange gift drives. Instead of doubling your own shopping bill, talk with family members about putting the money you would have spent on each other toward gifts for a family in need. To make the decision even more affordable, join up with friends to share the cost of gifts.
Give time. Volunteering at a hospital, making dinner for a sick person, or working in a soup kitchen are all ways to donate your resources, and they don’t cost much. To make it more fun—and even more affordable—sign up with a friend.
Make sure your money is being used wisely. If you do decide to donate money, you want to be sure it’s being spent wisely. One helpful site is
Charity Navigator. Just type in the name of the organisation and see what pops up.
Clean out your closet. Many nonprofits and shelters are constantly looking for used books, clothes, CDs, and other items. Spending a few hours cleaning out your house could result in several bags of goodies—and you’ll have a cleaner house.
Find power in numbers. Giving circles, in which a group of people pools money and jointly decides where to put it, are one way to do that. They function almost like book clubs,but the focus is on group donations. The website www.givingcircles.org helps connect people to local giving circles.
Feel good about your hard work. Basking in the pure enjoyment that giving back brings can inspire more of it, even during tough times, says Rubin. If your salary is frozen, volunteering at a shelter or becoming someone’s mentor can generate a feeling of personal growth. “If you’re feeling impoverished … a way to counteract that feeling is to do something generous,” she says. It’s a way of convincing yourself that you have something to give, adds Rubin.
Here’s to reclaiming the original spirit of the holiday this season.