Gift giving, especially during the holiday season, is a wonderful tradition -- the perfect opportunity to show how much you appreciate the people in your life, and to share your good fortune with family and friends.
And let's face it: giving gifts makes us feel good. Think about the last time you presented a child with a box wrapped in bright paper and ribbon: the light in their eyes would warm even the coldest winter day.
However, too often the winds of January bring enough bills to give us another holiday tradition: the shopping hangover. But it is possible to practice the traditional values of generosity and charity -- without putting yourself into financial difficulty. The answer is to shop prudently; to give so that you can afford it.
Which is easier said than done, given all the temptations of the malls this season. Instead, consider a gift that fits your budget and yet keeps giving all year.Many of us have a great deal already, and don't really need more "things." How many times have you lamented, for example "they're so hard to buy for, they have everything"?
That's where charitable giving comes in. Choose a cause or a charity that's close to your gift recipient's heart, and make a donation in their name. It's "triple" giving. You give the donation to an organization, the organization uses it to help others, and the gift recipient receives both the pleasure that comes from generosity and the practical advantage of an income tax deduction.
It has some very practical advantages for the gift giver, as well. Once you've budgeted how much you can afford to spend on gifts over the holidays, you simply divide that amount among those on your gift list. Most of the charitable organizations now have websites or hotlines that provide easy ways to make the donation -- meaning that you don't even have to brave the busy shopping centers and their even busier parking lots.
Just be sure that you know who you're giving the money to: the charity or non-profit organization needs to have a solid reputation and -- to qualify for the tax deduction -- must be recognized as a qualified organization by the IRS.
Some ideas to consider include religious charities such as churches, synagogues, temples and mosques. Health- or community-oriented organizations either at a national or local level may also touch the recipient -- perhaps an organization such as Habitat for Humanity, United Way, Red Cross, Salvation Army or Goodwill Industries -- are also a great way to help the gift recipient feel connected to his or her community. For the animal lover on your list, local zoos, humane societies and wildlife groups often allow you to "adopt" an animal, thus helping to maintain its upkeep or protect its habitat. And, of course, war veterans? groups also qualify under IRS rules.
Just like the retailers who often rely on December to support them through the rest of the year, charities and non-profit organizations depend on holiday giving campaigns to fund their activities year-round.
Do them -- and your holiday budget -- a favor: give the gift that truly honors the season.
Stanley J. Kershman is The Debt Doctor. A leading authority on solving financial disasters, he has been helping people get out of debt for more than 25 years. He?s also the author of Put Your Debt on a Diet: A Step-by-Step Guide to Financial Fitness (Pepper Pike Press), a practical handbook that walks you through the process of improving your money management skills. For free copies of Stanley's handy budgeting worksheets, visit www.debtonadiet.com.