How to give back without spending big this Christmas

Person adopting dogs at shelter

If you’re struggling to keep your own bills and day-to-day expenses covered, it might be difficult to include charitable giving in your budget. And as Christmas 2020 approaches after an unprecedented year of global financial instability, you may be tightening your money belt by another notch.

A September report by market research company Toluna found a third of Australians plan to cut down spending on gifts this year, with another 35% expecting to reduce their Christmas event budget.

Many charities will also be feeling the economic effects of COVID-19 now and into the new year. With social restrictions limiting traditional fundraisers, donations are expected to fall more than 7% by the end of the year, with a further 12% drop forecasted for 2021, according to research from wealth management firm JBWere. 

So, if you’re running low on Christmas cash but still want to give back this holiday season, you may have to think outside the box. Get cracking with these five ways to contribute to your community without blowing your Xmas budget.

Do a pre-Christmas spring clean

You might already be planning a closet and cupboard makeover, so why not make it a giving endeavour? 

There are two ways to approach this. You could find good quality items you’re not using, sell them online and donate the earnings to a charitable organisation, community group or research facility. 

The other route is to take well-preserved clothes, knick-knacks and furniture to an op shop for them to sell on or donate to families in need. With this option, you want to make sure the items are worth donating (this isn’t a holey sock dumping ground) and keep the season in mind – nobody is looking for fur coats or snow gear at this time of year. 

Volunteer your time or skills over the holidays

The month of December warms our summery hearts, causing an influx of new volunteer applications from professionals and families taking advantage of the holiday break.

You might choose to bring food and good cheer to less mobile Australians through Meals on Wheels; deliver gifts and food hampers to struggling families with St. Vinnies or The Smith Family; work in the kitchen of a homelessness shelter or women’s refuge; or tutor kids struggling with literacy. 

In some cases it’s more the merrier, as many groups will have additional Christmas drives and events in their calendars. But a lot of charities are also overwhelmed by the sudden uptick in volunteer requests and processing requirements. So if you want to provide the best support possible, a good approach is to apply and start helping out early so you know the ropes well before Christmas Eve.

Give blood, if you’re able to

This is a great (and free) thing to do year-round if your health and wellbeing allows it. The Australian Red Cross will often do call-outs for donations of specific blood types, but you can also make an appointment to give blood or plasma any time.

It is useful if you book ahead as donation slots fill up quickly, especially outside office hours in metropolitan areas. The Red Cross recommends waiting 12 weeks between full blood donations, or 2-3 weeks between giving plasma or platelets.

there are age, weight and health requirements for you to be able to donate.

Adopt a pet (instead of buying one)

If you were planning on heading to a pet store this Christmas, turn towards an adoption shelter instead.

Animal shelters often see more surrenders over the holidays as people buy pets while they’re on break or celebrating, only to realise they aren’t equipped to handle it. So you’ll be rescuing a lonely animal – probably paying less for your new playmate than you would at a store – while you help lighten the load for animal shelters. 

You can visit major organisations like the RSPCA as well as specialised rescue centres for small animals like guinea pigs and rabbits or reptiles and birds. These organisations often rely on adoption fees to keep doing their good work saving and caring for animals, so you’ll be contributing to that effort too.

Bank with financial institutions that are giving back

While it’s a more subtle approach, you can support social and environmental causes by choosing to bank with certain providers or using specific products. 

For example, the Community First Low Rate Pink Credit Card charges a $40 annual fee, but donates half of that to the McGrath Foundation each year you hold the card. Over at Bendigo Bank you can donate a percentage of the interest you earn through the CommunitySaver Account to nominated organisations like Oxfam Australia and St Johns Ambulance.

At Me Bank this month, they’re quadrupling donations to the National Breast Cancer Foundation through their Everyday Transaction Account. Every time you make a transaction with the linked debit card, ME will put four cents (instead of the usual one cent) towards the foundation’s work. Since this won’t cost customers anything, it’s a great way to give back if you're struggling financially.

Or, if you want to take things a step further, consider switching to a bank, insurance provider and super account which are B Corp certified. This requires organisations to prove and maintain a certain level of environment and social responsibility when it comes to employee treatment, energy consumption, supplier affiliation and business transparency.

Find more advice for staying ethical and saving money here.