15 Ways to Give to Charity That Fit a Holiday Budget


Would you like to do something good this holiday season, but worry your budget may be holding you back? You can easily spread the holiday spirit without emptying your wallet. Here are a few economical or free ways to help this year and feel good in the process. (See also: How to Give Back During the Holidays)

Donate Your Stuff

A good way to be charitable on a budget is to donate items you already have. Whether you are doing a big cleanup or just looking to be generous, there are plenty of organizations that can put your items to good use.

1. Winter Clothes

The holiday season is a great time to locate your gently used winter essentials and donate them to your local Goodwill, homeless shelter, Salvation Army, or drop-off clothing bin. The One Warm Coat organization also helps you locate where to donate winter coats, including which retailers, like the Container Store, are hosting holiday coat drives.

2. Airline Miles

If you have some frequent flier miles hanging around, you can donate them directly to charity. Make-A-Wish Foundation uses donated miles to help kids and families travel to their wish destinations. Or, the airlines usually have an online option to easily donate miles to a number of well-known charitable partners.

3. Food

Why not make or buy a little extra food as you prepare your holiday meals this year to help those in need? Every year I stock up on some extra canned goods, bread mix, and other items to make a holiday basket, which I drop off at my local food pantry. Or, to keep expenses low, check to see if you can drop off a basket of extra baked goods or dessert goodies you make. (See also: Unique Holiday Gifts You Can Bake)

4. Furniture and Appliances

Perhaps you are toying with the idea of selling some of your used furniture or appliances online or on consignment. You can get into the holiday spirit and donate them instead. The Salvation Army and the Purple Heart are great places to donate such items, which often provide free pickup services.

5. Toys

Donating toys your kids don't use as much can make a less fortunate child happy and also teach your kids the spirit of giving — not to mention help you de-clutter. Many clothing drop-offs also accept toys, or try Donation Town to find a local charity accepting toys in your area. (See also: Local Charities That Could Use Your Stuff)

Small Amounts Go a Long Way

Many reputable charities run holiday campaigns around this time of year. And the best part is that it only takes a small donation (think spare change up to $20) to make a difference.

6. Salvation Army

Santa's ringing bells and red donation buckets are sure signs the Salvation Army has kicked off this year's Red Kettle Campaign. This famous holiday drive runs from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve, and helps collect spare change nationwide to raise money for meals, shelter, and services for the needy. Keep an eye out for the collections in your area. You can even start your own online red kettle to raise funds for the charity.

7. Toys for Tots

The U.S. Marine Corps Reserve's well-known Toys for Tots Program collects and distributes toys for less fortunate children. Starting in October and running through December, collection boxes are set up where you can easily drop off a new, unwrapped toy. Stores, like Toys R Us and Babies R Us, restaurants, and other local businesses have collection boxes, or get your own school or office to start their own drive. (See also: Easy Ways to Support Charity)

8. Make-A-Wish

You may be familiar with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants wishes to those children with life threatening illnesses. You can support the cause by purchasing the well-known Make-A-Wish holiday cards this season. Card packs start at a $20 donation for 20 cards, and many customizable options exist at higher price points.


UNICEF works to better the lives of children around the globe through initiatives like immunizations, clean water, nutrition, disaster relief, and education. They also sell a selection of beautiful holiday cards, but another way to shop for the cause is through the UNICEF online shop, where you can find some nice holiday gifts for under $20.

10. Christmas Spirit Foundation

The Christmas Spirit Foundation's Trees for Troops program gives free Christmas trees to U.S. armed forces members and their families at holiday time. You can make a small donation directly on the site, or help the cause by purchasing the children's book, A Tree's Christmas, for around $10 or Trees for Troops teddy bears through the Christmas Spirit Foundation's online store.

Volunteer Your Time

Volunteering your time is a nice alternative to giving money this holiday season. You can find great opportunities in your area through local searches or check out Volunteermatch.org to find an area cause that's right for you.

11. Environmental Cleanup

Make the holidays a good excuse to get involved in an environmental cleanup day. The Nature Conservancy can help you locate local opportunities or find ideas for earth-friendly activities you can organize on your own. For those feeling charitable during their holiday getaways, you can always participate in volunteer eco-travel vacations. Try Responsiblevacation.com or The Daily Green's guide to eco-friendly volunteer vacations for trip ideas.

12. Arts and Crafts

If you are a crafter or artisan, you can spend some time doing what you love and donating your work. For knitters or sewers, there are lots of clothing, accessories, and blankets that can be made and donated to local shelters or clothing collections. If you're an artist or crafter, you can contact a children's hospital or nursing home to offer some donated holiday crafts and décor.

13. Start Your Own Collection Drive

Arrange your own drive to collect canned goods and much needed personal care items (toothbrushes, soap, combs, etc.) by making up fliers and passing them out to your friends, neighborhood, or other organizations you belong to. Collect your goods leading up to the holidays and donate them to your local shelter or pantry for use after the holidays are over, when donations drop off.

14. Animal Shelters

Animal shelters can use help all year long, but if you have some extra time over the holidays and are an animal-lover, then pitching in at your local SPCA or animal shelter can do a lot of good. You can help with anything from animal care to office work, or look into the ASPCA's s top ten ways to help your local shelter.

15. Food Pantry/Soup Kitchens

Food pantries and soup kitchens tend to get an influx of holiday volunteers, but they still need help beyond preparing and serving food. You can unpack and sort items, clean, or do clerical work. Contact your local soup kitchen or pantry or use Feed America's Food Bank Locator to see what opportunities exist around your area.

What are some of the budget-friendly ways you are making a difference this holiday season?

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