Buy. Buy. Buy. More. More. More. This seems to be the mantra of the holiday season, especially when it comes to shopping and gifts. Everyone says that the reason for the season has become too commercialized, but that doesn't stop most people from buying extravagantly and overspending.
Make this year different for you and your family. Focus on helping and giving back to others, instead of just plain giving. This is a great way to get everyone involved -- from kids to teens to adults -- as well as make your holiday season more meaningful. Participate in one or all of these ways to give back:
1) Sponsor a child. We've all seen the TV commercials that show the African babies with distended bellies. But when was the last time you actually thought about how that child was getting food or clean water? There are many different organizations that you can donate to monthly to help a specific child. Most offer information about the child, allowing you to get to know him or her and see their yearly growth.
2) Donate blood. If you're low on cash but want to help others, this is a terrific way to help. According to the American Red Cross, every two seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood. Blood is the gift that keeps giving.
3) Trees for Troops. Service members' families sacrifice throughout the year, but the holiday season can be especially tough because they want their loved ones to be safe at home. Trees for Troops helps to deliver a little bit of holiday cheer. "We believe a real Christmas tree is an integral part of a family, plus it is a naturally grown U.S. tree given to a U.S. military family," says Amy Mills, the program coordinator for Trees for Troops. "They are truly appreciative of a gift that reminds them of their childhood." Members of the public can get involved two ways: donate money through their website or participate in the Trees for Troops weekend (Nov. 30-Dec. 2). A consumer can purchase a tree or make a donation for a tree at the tree farms that participate in this weekend program. Mills says there are 700-800 participating farms across the country and FedEx, a partner, then delivers the trees to more than 65 military bases in the U.S., as well as in Kuwait, Bahrain and Spain.
4) Shovel snow. For some, clearing the driveway or a path to the mailbox can be a chore. Grab your shovel or snowblower and lend a hand (bonus points if you do it before your unsuspecting neighbor gets up in the morning).
5) Shop locally. A study done at the Maine Center for Economic Policy shows that every $100 spent at a locally owned store yields an additional $58 to the local economy, while spending the same amount at a chain store contributes only $33 to the community. By buying local, residents can have a big impact on the local economic activity and well-being of their community.
6) Make special deliveries. There are always people in your neighborhood who could use a helping hand, especially during the winter months. Bake cookies for your elderly neighbor. Take dinner to a family who might not eat three meals a day. Get a group of friends together to go shopping for toys, and then donate them to the local school to hand out to kids who might not get gifts this year.
7) Donate clothes and jackets. Do you really need five winter coats? Go through your closet and donate gently used clothes, shoes and jackets. The Salvation Army and Goodwill have drop-off centers practically in every city. If you have women's suits or dresses, you can donate them to Dress for Success, a company that provides low-income women with business attire for job interviews.
8) "Adopt" an animal or shelter. You don't have to necessarily bring the pup home, but make a donation to a shelter instead of giving gifts to your friends and family. Your donation can help with rescue efforts, pet health and upkeep on the shelter. Not only do you get warm and fuzzy feelings, but also most donations are tax-deductible.
9) Teach or tutor. If you have a proclivity for a specific school subject, offer your assistance to local students. This can be especially helpful around the holiday season, as middle school and high school students are taking midterm or finals tests.
10) Play games. Run by the United Nations World Food Programme, freerice.com is an online game that helps you learn, while also battling hunger across the globe. For each correct answer you get in the trivia game, 10 grains of rice will be donated, paid for by sponsors. Brush up on your vocabulary and feel good about helping end hunger.
11) Donate change. No matter how small, every little bit counts. Encourage your children to save their coins to donate to the Salvation Army bell ringers the next time you go to the grocery store. And maybe give the couch a good shakedown.
12) Help children of prisoners. According to Angel Tree, 1.7 million children have a mother or a father serving time, making the holiday time especially hard. Parents in prison sign their child up for the program through Angel Tree, and then Angel Tree passes along these names and gift suggestions for the child to churches throughout the country. Church members purchase and deliver the gift to the child on behalf of his or her incarcerated parent.