42 Free or Cheap Ways to Give

homeless man asks for help  on...
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By Donna Freedman

A reader named Lorie Christian wrote to Money Talks News after a recent post about regifting. She suggested an article about how to give to others in ways that don't break the bank. "I get such a good feeling when I give things that others can use and appreciate," she says. "I want to find more ways to give."

Some people donate to charities and causes for the tax write-off. But those of us who don't itemize give, too, even though we're not getting anything for it. On paper, anyway. Scientists say that giving is good for us.

"There are a lot of new data that show if you're generous, and charitable and altruistic, you'll live longer; you'll feel more fulfilled; you'll feel more expressive of who you are as a person; you probably will feel more control and freedom in your life," psychologist Dacher Keltner told "PBS NewsHour."

Note: You should not give either time or money if it endangers your own health and financial well-being. But again, some of the tips below don't cost a thing.

1. Box Tops 4 Education

These little coupons, worth 10 cents apiece, show up on products from seven manufacturers, including General Mills (GIS), Hanes (HBI) and Hefty. A dime at a time might not sound like much, but it does add up. Don't have kids? Doesn't matter; Lorie Christian doesn't have kids but saves them for a local school.

2. Use Your Rewards

If you have a rewards credit card or belong to a program like Swagbucks or MyPoints, get creative about the way you use some of your loot. Cash in for a gift card to donate to Big Brothers Big Sisters, or have Amazon deliver some items to the senior center.

3. Blanket Protection

Do you sew or knit? Look for a regional chapter of Project Linus, a nonprofit that provides blankets to ill or traumatized children.

4. Freecycle It

That bike you no longer ride or that trunk full of baby and toddler clothes would be welcomed by folks who can't afford such things. See if there's a local chapter of The Freecycle Network, or put unwanted items up for grabs on the "free" section of Craigslist. For safety's sake, leave the stuff on the porch or in your driveway or offer to meet the new owners in a public place for a drop-off.

5. Trade In Ink Tanks

Recycle your printer cartridges at Staples (SPLS), Office Max (OMX) or Office Depot (ODP), and then use the store credit to buy art supplies to donate to a school or office items for a nonprofit.

6. Share Your Magazines

When you're done reading periodicals, cut off the mailing labels and ask permission to leave them where people gather, such as a laundromat, food bank or social services agency. Or see if the elementary school can use them for educational or crafts purposes.

7. Rehome Those Sporks

Someone can use those sealed packets of plastic utensils you get with takeout orders at work or home. For example, Christian has donated these to schools, community groups and a food pantry.

8. Reshelve Those Books

The American Library Association maintains a resource page on organizations that accept donated books. Any outgrown children's titles might find homes at after-school programs, public health clinics or social service agencies.

9. Coupon for a Better World

CouponMom.com began by Atlanta resident Stephanie Nelson, who exhorted fellow couponers to collect free or nearly free items for food banks. While the deals aren't as great as they once were, "it's still possible to 'buy' free products [with] coupons when items are on sale," Nelson says. Her site matches coupons to sales at hundreds of drugstores, supermarkets and dollar stores across the country. If you can't find local stores there, search for regional coupon bloggers.

10. Pick Up Recyclables

Do you walk for exercise? Take a bag and pick up cans and bottles along the way. Your neighborhood gets a little cleaner, and the money can go to your favorite cause.

11. Donate Pet- or House-Sitting

A Seattle neighbor used to hire me to check in on her cat when she took short vacations; after the first couple of times I asked that she make a donation to charity instead of paying me. Maybe you could do the same. Ashley Jacobs, community manager for the Wise Bread website, took this idea a step further. She started a side business called Sitting for a Cause and donates 50 percent of her profits to animal charities ($2,600 in 2014).

12. Lend Your Phone

Maybe someone in a nursing home or veterans hospital would like to call family/friends but can't afford it. If you have unlimited minutes, talk to a social worker about sharing your phone for an hour at a time.

13. Give New Eyes

Replacing your glasses? Leave the previous pair with a group that will find new users, such as Lions Clubs International or New Eyes. A number of optical chains (including LensCrafters (LUX), Sears Optical (SHLD), Target Optical (TGT), Pearle Vision and Sunglass Hut) also recycle glasses.

14. Give New Ears

A number of groups accept hearing aids, including Lions Clubs International's Hearing Aid Recycling Program, Help the Children Hear and the Starkey Hearing Foundation.

15. Donate Blood

Not everyone can do this, but it makes a great impact: A single donation can save up to three people. My life partner recently got his "16 galloneer" certificate. He's my hero.

16. Puzzle Power

Finished with a jigsaw puzzle? Maybe a senior center, after-school program or group home could use it.

17. Animals Can Heal

If you have a friendly pet and a lot of time to dedicate, get certified as a therapy duo. The American Kennel Club has a list of groups that provide training. Pet Partners is a nonprofit focusing on multiple species of therapy animals.

18. Give New Life to Old Coupons

Expired coupons can be used for up to six months by military families overseas. The Krazy Coupon Lady offers donation details on her website.

19. Give Your Time

We can't all be lawyers doing pro bono work or physicians providing free care in impoverished areas. But you might be able to coach youth sports, hand out water at a charity 10K, set up chairs at a poetry slam, help keep a park clean.

20. Shop Clearance Sales

My best buy ever was finding stretchy knit gloves at two pairs for 33 cents. I bought 100 pairs and gave them to a shelter. If you see toys, warm socks, clothing or other items at a price you can afford, donate them.

21. Be a Mentor

That could mean being a Big Brother or Big Sister, but other options exist. Maybe you could invite a teen to job shadow you and see if he or she really has what it takes to be an architect or large-animal veterinarian. Perhaps a youth in your place of worship needs to spend time with adults who care. If you're in a professional organization, offer help/advice to newcomers in the field.

22. Plant a Row for the Hungry

Got a garden? Add a few more plants and donate the surplus to your local food bank, shelter or soup kitchen. The Plant a Row for the Hungry program has helped gardeners in the U.S. donate more than 20 million pounds of produce since 1995.

23. Teach Somebody Something

Put it out in the universe that you're willing to share information on your specialty, whether that's science or cooking or archery.

24. Pass Things Along

Clothing, books, housewares and other items can benefit Goodwill, the Salvation Army, Value Village and other charities. But please make sure it's usable; this is not a free pass to get rid of your worn-out stuff.

25. Help Your Neighbors

Know someone who's physically unable to handle certain chores? Offer to pull the trash can to the curb, shovel the snow, clean leaves from the rain gutters in the spring.

26. Donate Your Hair

Someone who needs a wig might be able to use your lustrous locks. Mary Hoover, who blogs at Mission: to Save, lists several organizations that accept clippings.

27. Give Linens a Second Life

When sheets or towels are too worn-out to use, see if the animal shelter or animal rescue groups can use them.

28. Work with Kids

If you can make a firm commitment, sign up to coach sports, lead a Scouting group or teach a Sunday school class. Don't be offended when they do a background check.

29. Donate Backpacks

Schools and social service organizations can likely find a match for ones in good condition. If a couple of bags languish in your closet, give them another shot at usefulness.

30. Sign Up as an Organ Donor

Some people's religious or personal preferences nix this one, but please consider it if you can. And tell your family, so your wishes will be known if the worst were to happen.

31. Give a Car

Ready to replace your old car? Weigh the few hundred you might get in a trade-in against the good that the vehicle might do for someone else. I have "sold" two old-but-still-usable cars for a dollar each to relatives; not having a vehicle loan can be a nice financial boost. Or donate the car to charity, but use Charity Navigator's tips to make sure you do it right.

32. Donate Gift Card Balances

Just a few bucks left on that Walgreens or Target card? Offer it to a group home, family shelter, animal rescue agency or some other organization.

33. Have Charitable Parties

I've read about birthday bashes whose guests are asked to bring canned food or pet supplies, which are later donated to food banks or animal charities. Worth talking to your children about, since our kids tend to have enough/too many toys.

34. Buy One, Give One

Anytime there's a BOGO sale on spaghetti sauce or socks, keep one and donate the "free" one. Easy enough.

35. Share the Miles

If you've accumulated a lot of frequent-flier miles, consider sharing some with groups such as the Red Cross or Make-a-Wish. Some airlines have their own programs. "Donating Miles to Charity" on About.com offers details.

36. Get Something, Give Something

When things come into your life unexpectedly – gifts, workplace incentives, whatever – consider whether someone else could use it more than you. The $5 Starbucks (SBUX) card your dentist gave you because she was running late would make a nice door prize at the next PTA meeting. That basket of treats sent by a business colleague might be welcomed at the family shelter. You don't have to give away everything, but doing it now and then is a good self-awareness exercise.

37. Register as a Bone Marrow Donor

If a match is ever found, you'd be saving someone's life.

38. Donate Your Coins

Empty your change into a jar every night. Every so often, wrap and donate the result. If you're on a tight budget, donate just the dimes or just the nickels. It'll take longer, but you'll still be doing some good.

39. Bring Your Own Bag

Some stores will give you a small credit when you bring your own reusable sack. Save those pennies and nickels, and eventually you'll have enough to give away. Again, it's not much, but suppose everyone did it?

40. Do Without

Every so often, skip that fast-food meal/cupcake/beer and put the money you would have spent into a donation jar. A little self-denial is good for us, and the saved cash will be good for someone else.

41. Give Away My Coke Rewards Points

Those codes can help such causes as Goodwill, the USO and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Don't drink soda? Rally friends and relatives to collect them and volunteer to enter the codes yourself.

42. Get Creative

I just read about a 17-year-old girl who raises reindeer as a 4-H project. She offers holiday photos with the critters,and in 2014 raised $700 for homeless youths. You have something to give, too. Figure out what that is, and give it.

Readers: Have any other ideas for free or cheap ways to give? Leave them in the comments below or on the Money Talks News Facebook page.
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