the best way to spend your money this holiday season

Photo Credit: Jonathon Pendleton

Photo Credit: Jonathon Pendleton

Yes, it’s true.  I did buy two (living and breathing) pigs today.  And by the end of this post, you’ll understand why.

I’m sure you saw the little red Starbucks cup that was getting its 15 minutes of fame last week – it was all over the news, Facebook, Twitter, your grandma’s knitting circle, etc.  And I’m sure you, like most reasonable people, saw the absurdity in the statements being made about its nonreligious design.  I’m Christian, and let me tell you, I don’t give a flying flapjack that baby Jesus isn’t plastered all over their coffee cups.  And you know why?

Because coffee is not what Christmas is about.  In fact, it’s not all about Jesus either.  Now, don’t get out your pitchforks and torches ready to storm my door, all Beauty in the Beast style, because I said that.  I have a valid reason behind my statement.  Yes, it is definitely a celebration of Jesus’ birth, and I will never discount that aspect of the holiday.  But I don’t think that Jesus is so egotistical that he wants to just throw a huge birthday party for himself every year.  I think it’s more about taking the time to remember the message that Jesus sends:  One of feeding the hungry and clothing the naked.  One of sheltering the homeless and giving hope to the hopeless.  One of loving those around us even when they don’t necessarily deserve it.  And that’s a message that everyone, whether Christian or Jewish or atheist, can support. 

I think instead of focusing so much on the political correctness of the holiday, we need to use the season as a reminder to focus more on actively showing love for others.  And yes, I know this can be hard when Janet in the cubicle next to you cannot stop talking about her weekend plans long enough to do her job, but it’s important to take a step back, remember our blessings (like the work ethic Janet so obviously is missing), and give to those who need a little help. 

Note, this doesn’t necessarily mean you have to adopt a homeless person and shelter, feed, and clothe them for the entire month of December.  It may be as simple as cleaning the dishes after your Thanksgiving dinner so that your mother, who more than likely spent hours preparing that spread, can take a break and actually enjoy the holiday.  It could be helping your cousin study for his math finals at the end of the semester or bringing in homemade cookies to work (unless your baking sucks – then store bought is fine).  Not everyone’s budget allows for large cash donations nor do our schedules always allow us to volunteer, but you’ll be amazed the impact even these small gestures will have on those around you. 

However, if you have the means to go above and beyond your personal sphere of influence by giving back to charities, then I think you should.  I strongly believe in helping out your community in whatever way you can, and if that means giving up your Monday coffee or Saturday morning sleep-in time, then I think that’s a sacrifice you should make.  And you know, I think a lot of us want to start getting involved.  The only hold up for some many millennials out there? We get stuck as to how to take that first step.  Who should I be donating to?  Where is my money going? How do I know which organizations need volunteers?  Well, for those of you caught up in this step, here’s a little help:

First things first when picking out your charity(ies): Where does your heart lie?  Are you passionate about animals?  Education?  Children?  Figure out what really matters to you and spend your resources there.  I would hardly ever volunteer if it was solely to clean poop at animal shelters.  Not my style.  So don’t pick a charity just because you think they have the greatest need or your friend is really into it or it’s popular (i.e. the Ice Bucket Challenge of 2014). You’re much more likely to stick with a volunteer or donation schedule if it’s something you actually care about.  Now back to the advice.

WHEN DONATING YOUR TIME

Finding a charity that fit my passion was really hard for me at the beginning.  When I graduated college, I knew I wanted to get involved but had no flipping clue where to start.  My friend was about to join the Junior League and suggested I jump on that bandwagon with her, and jump I did.  However, during my time there, I found that I didn’t much fit in to their model:  too many meetings and not enough time in the nitty gritty.  I wanted to actively help people who needed help, not fundraise or organize events.  Thus, I quit.  During my time with them, however, I did learn about another volunteer organization in the city, School on Wheels, that seemed to fit right in with my schedule and what I wanted to do.  So, on New Year’s Day 2013, I signed up to tutor homeless youth one hour a week and have been doing it ever since.

I was lucky enough to stumble upon mine and end up loving it.  I know others aren’t so fortunate.  So here’s my advice:  Ask around.  Use Facebook and Twitter to let people know what you’re looking for and to get suggestions.  And always remember, Google is your friend.  You may have to make a few phone calls to see whether there is a specific need at your charity that matches up to your schedule, so don’t be afraid to pick up the phone to ask.

WHEN DONATING CASH

Look, I don’t care where you donate, but one thing you should know about is the charity’s expense ratio. 

Almost all charities have administrative costs (that cover the normal operating activities, employees’ salaries, etc.) along with fundraising costs (that help generate donations).  You can’t avoid them any easier than you can avoid gaining those 5 lbs over the holidays – apple pie, come at me.  However, some organizations spend a mighty big chunk of donated money to cover these expenses.  For example, if you donated $100 to the following organizations, this is how much would actually go towards covering all those costs:

March of Dimes:  $33.60

St. Jude’s: $31.70

American Cancer Society:  $39.40

Kind of sucks, huh?  You think you’re giving $100 to benefit sick kids and less than $70 is actually getting to them.  However, don’t get too caught up on this ratio.  St. Jude’s, for instance, uses 2/3 of those admin costs to fundraise, which enables them to get more donations (someone has to produce those Jennifer Aniston commercials).  Just know what it means and try to keep it to a minimum. 

Now, this brings me back to the pigs.  I regularly donate to Cross Catholic Outreach, a (obviously) religious organization that caters to the poor and the homeless.  I fell in love with this organization because while they are Catholic-affiliated, they don’t push the religion onto those they help.  They are truly focused on aiding the poor, and their expense ratio is super low (only 4.74%!).

So when I got an email asking to buy a pig for a poor family to raise and breed them, I immediately clicked the “Donate” button.  I mean, I had spent just as much on Thanksgiving decorations this past weekend as it would have taken to make a difference in a family’s life, and when you take a step back and look at it that way, it gives you some perspective on how blessed we really are. 

They have many causes to donate to, so if you are feeling generous, visit the link below feel free to browse their “Christmas Catalog.”  However, even if this organization doesn’t tug at your heart, seriously consider looking into giving a part of yourself to your community this holiday season (and thereafter).  I mean, really, what are two pigs going to cost you in the grand scheme of things?

Cross Catholic Christmas Catalog

Happy Giving!

Photo Credit: London Scout

Photo Credit: London Scout