The holidays are coming and the mega merchants are eagerly looking forward to the season. Holiday shopping is about 60% of the annual retail income. But, face it, most of the stuff they sell, is made somewhere else and most of us don’t need more t-shirts, widgets, or candles. I will take Steve Jobs advice and think different about gift giving. Take your money and make an impact on your local community and economy.
I have been doing this for the past fifteen years and frankly, it takes away the stress and I feel better. I hate forced holiday giving, I prefer to give to people when the whim, or desire arises. These are the elements:
- Local products and services : if you are going to buy something, find someone who makes it locally. Find a local service that someone would enjoy and get a gift certificate. Farmers markets and other local fairs have great selections of local products. Heck, get someone a gift certificate to clean their gutters, prune their trees, clean their air filters, eat at a local (not chain) restaurant.
- Basic needs: If you have younger people in your family, they don’t need more stuff, give them a card for groceries, oil change, pay for a dental check-up, an annual medical exam. Sure it’s boring, sure it’s not fun, but it goes a long way. And they can use some of their money for the fun stuff they choose.
- Give to charities, use this holiday to establish a giving pattern. Charitable giving has gone down 17%. Who gets hurt? Local food banks, free clinics, programs for children, the elderly, rehab programs, shelters. A lot of people have used up their unemployment and other benefits. Food stamps and “welfare” benefits have gone down in most states. Your gifts can really have an impact.
How to choose local charities there are so many? I like to support local groups that serve basic needs in the community, the areas that faced recent cutbacks in the State and local budgets.
- Find a local charity that provides basic safety net services and arrange a visit. Ask them questions about their work. Where they get their money. Look at their annual report. Work there for a day. Get comfortable with their work. Then arrange for holiday gifts to go to them in your name, or give to people in your family to the charity.
- If you were going to spend $500 for gifts, give it as a gift to the charity and direct your loved ones to give to them instead of giving you gifts.
- Why local? Cause you can be part of the organization that serves your community. You can volunteer, you can participate in their advocacy, you can be there when they have events. Bring other people, help the organization grow.
- Local groups that serve basic needs: food, health, shelter, childcare, rehabilitation services and animal shelters, they are all hurting right now. ( as people lose their homes, they abandon pets)
- On Thanksgiving, when you have your whole family together, make a plan. Do a family charity plan. Bring to the family the name of the group that you checked out. Tell everyone to put the money they would spend in the family charity budget. Get together and make the gift to the organization as a group. Maybe family members have other groups. Combine your resources, you make a greater impact.
- You may want to have one caveat, children under 10 can get toys.
- For the fun part, do a white elephant gift exchange, or use a new gift. Everyone brings one item, you draw numbers and then you get to fight over each others discards. It lasts longer and it is more memorable. I assure you, the kids will want to be part of that rather than getting toys.
Put your money and politics to work for your local community.